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The Hadrian's Wall Experience

Ride Date 15 October 2023

By Ren Withnell

We recently watched something, I can't recall, Escape to the Country, Villages by the Sea, something like that. It mentioned and showed a little of Hadrian's wall and Sharon commented she'd never seen it. I have. 

Let's put some context in here though. I've seen a tiny section of it, I parked next to a bit of it and stood on it. I've not "walked" it, I've not studied it, but I have seen a small part of it. I have zero intention of doing any more than this today either, Sharon's experience of Hadrian's Wall will be similar to my own. Penrith is not too far from the westerly end of the wall so now seems an appropriate time to give Sharon this life enhancing experience. I'm sure she'll never be the same again.

The weather is fair today and Her Ladyship has decided to take Envy the Z250SL out for a run. It's cold outside and both Sharon and I are wrapped up tightly in many layers as we give the bikes the once-over then set out into the blindingly bright low autumnal sun. 

Penrith is part of The Lake District and when the marketing folks sell us The Lake District we are guided to believe it's all vast mountains, deep lakes and remote valleys. It's not all like this in the real world. The lands around Maryport yesterday were were flat and arable, here around Penrith we are in gently undulating farmland. It is peaceful and pleasant and I'm happy to be here but I'm mindful it's not like the brochures.

Armathwaite is but a small village yet we park up and take 10 minutes to have a little look around. It feels peaceful and remote even though I know the M6 and A6 are just a few miles away. I'm always surprised how the tiny village halls in these places advertise Yoga classes and social events. I struggle to imagine there's enough folk here to warrant an instructor or event organiser making the effort. Perhaps there really is nothing else to do on a Friday evening than knit and natter while an amateur local historian espouses the vibrancy of the village during the industrial revolution.

Fat rolling hills, trees and fields, a country lane and stone walls at Armathwaite
The scenery around Armathwaite is soft and gentle.

Brampton on the other hand is a veritable hive of activity. It is one of countless market towns up and down the UK with what would once have been the market area now used as parking for the cluster of small local shops in the buildings around the periphery. Think Settle, think Petworth, think Ledbury, they're all of the same ilk. 

I have this thing that once you've been to one UK city you've been to them all. If you fell out of a plane and landed in Birmingham, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Manchester, Leeds, or Bristol, unless there was a particularly notorious landmark in view you'd have no idea where you were. It's only when I think of all the small market towns around the UK and how similar they are I realise that this was probably the same even in The Middle Ages. It's what worked then and it's what works now. 

A regular market town, unfortunately the road works rather spoil the looks
Brampton is a pleasant market town, the roadworks aren't helping the look though.

The major difference is personally I rather like the small market towns of the UK. There's enough going on to be interesting without being overwhelming. You can buy that which you need (and not much else) and there's usually a cafe to be found. And we've found one. Quite unlike yesterday's cafe this one is a tad on the pretentious hipster side but I'll forgive them as the tea is going down rather well. 

We find Hadrian's eponymous wall, Banks East Turret 52a according to the information board. It is a wall, incomplete, quite low and in ruin. The information board helps us to imagine the tower that once stood here and the quality of the stonework is clear to see. It must have been quite an undertaking building this thing just to keep the midge ridden Northerners at bay. 

Imagine being a legionnaire here in say 300AD. Freezing your nether regions in the winter, eaten by midges in the summer, shaking your spear at angry Highlanders shouting "See yoooo Jimmy!" and lifting their kilts at you. You must have been a very naughty legionnaire. Yes yes yes, I know. The kilt is a modern affectation. The wall was more a marker and trade passed through both sides a great deal. The northerners (nor anyone else) wouldn't be speaking English for millennia. My history is as accurate as Mel Gibson's Braveheart.

Sharon smiling in the sun at Hadrian's Wall, just a low stone wall these days
Sharon is clearly moved and overwhelmed by the whole Hadrian's Wall Experience.

Speaking of lovely English market towns and cafes? Alston is quite lovely although rather steeply positioned. I find parking atop of the village and we practically slide down the footpath in search of more tea. Google maps shows us several options but there's a problem. They are either permanently shut, no longer a cafe, or this being a Sunday - closed. We had passed a cafe in the countryside north of here so we clamber and crawl back up the main street and get back on the bikes.

Looking out from under an ancient wooden market shelter is the village of Alston
Alston is lovely too, no cafes for us today though.

Nook Farm Shop and Cafe is thankfully open. We partake of their tea and perhaps a slice of their cake too. I am reliably informed that calories on holiday don't count, my ever growing lardy belly disagrees. 

The route back to Penrith takes us over Hartside pass. I enjoy the twists and turns such as they are and take a moment to stop at the site of the now burned down Hartside Cafe. Eeeee when I wur... shut up Ren it was about 10 years ago. I recall being in the cafe on a particularly cold and wet day, huddled in a corner with a group of other equally frozen riders trying to eek a semblance of warmth from my cuppa. It's a shame it's gone and seemingly there's no sign of a return either.

Lookin out across the vast valley from Hartside pass the skies are ominous
Hartside Pass' views always were quite sinister.

Penrith allows us to refill the fuel tanks and grab a couple of supplies. Back at the plastic lodge the heating is making life far too comfortable as is this evening's meal. As this is our last night we wrap up against the evening's icy blast and make the short walk to the bar come restaurant.

It's fine. I mean the prices are a tad high for both meals and drinks but not quite reaching the levels of extortionate. It's modern and smart and open and airy. It, well, yeah. It's obviously aimed at summer which is when most people will be here. The heating is on as well as a few space heaters in the large conservatory lounge thingy. I'm happy with my coat and my Pepsi, I'm just not quite getting the "Cosy meal by the fireside" feeling I'd like when it's cold outside. No I'm sure it's perfect on a warm summer's evening.

And that's it, another day done. By golly there's a firm breeze outside now and it's bitingly cold. Sharon has the heating cranked up and it's T-Shirt weather inside. It is nice. If it is nice then why do I insist on camping even when it's blummin' miserable? "It's because you're tight Ren!" I hear you cry. Yes, 'tis true I am a miser of the highest order. There is just a bit more to it than that. 

I was going to say I enjoy the challenge. Enjoy? No, not always. I gain a sense of achievement, I get satisfaction. As I learn how to stay warm and deal with the rain and the cold and either fix or deal with the discomforts I am finding I am starting to enjoy cold weather camping more often than enduring it. Still, if we were camping Sharon wouldn't be teasing me by flashing a little of her ankle at me would she. Oh I say! I caught a glimpse of her knee too. Excuse me a moment.

Advertise here - contact ren@bikesandtravels.com

The Horror Of Luxury Remember folks, Ren does these things so you don't have to. Poor lad, Sharon's given him nothing to moan about.
A Piece Of The Lakes, Rethinking Maryport Ren is long overdue a reassessment of the town of Maryport so while he's doing they The Dynamic Duo have a look around the area too. There's hot tea, good food and decadent living.
The Hadrian's Wall Experience Ren takes Sharon for a (very limited) Hadrian's Wall experience. There's a lot of tea to be consumed too. It's another day of leisurely exploration.
Home From Penrith There's time enough to enjoy a little detour on the way home from Penrith. Ren is also pondering his atypical indifference towards a place he feels he ought to adore.

Reader's Comments

Upt'North ¹ said :-
Oh dear....
Firstly, wash your mouth out with soap and water. Smutty devil.
Secondly, are Penrith and Maryport in the Lake District?
Thirdly, when you go back, ride the Military Road, the B6318, it's a peach on a sunny afternoon, not for the bends but the views.
Fourthly, Alston is definitely past its best. The old railway tearooms are a decent stop though if it's open.
You're welcome.
18/01/2024 00:05:01 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Is the glimpse of Sharon's knee just a step too far for you Upt'? I shall endeavour to keep a handle on the levels of debauchery on here. I won't mention I once say her elbow too.

I shall add a link below to a map from lakedistrict.gov.uk. I can't speak for the map's accuracy but it appears to show both Maryport and Penrith are indeed in The Lake District.

I don't know how to remember the B6318... I'll try. As for Alston, I don't know the town well enough (clearly) to form an opinion on it's demise. I wonder why it's past its best?

18/01/2024 07:25:29 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
Thank you for your endeavours. They are much appreciated.
That is a splendiferous map, but it's all in the detail. In this case the purple line. Nuff said.
The 6318 offers great views of the wall, with cafes in Haltwhistle along with a splendid railway station.
You'd like Haltwhistle, it's honest and rough around the edges. The best sort of town.
Oue experience of Alston of late is that it appears to be dying on its knees. If you can find a cafe open it's usually dire, although I'm told the Station Tea Room is worth a visit. We'll see. Maybe.
Sharon doesn't let you read the map does she? Pffffffftttttt.

18/01/2024 09:01:13 UTC
ROD¹ said :-
The b6318 looks like a good call, and could easily be added to a Kielder Forest route.
Thanks Upt'.
18/01/2024 12:36:46 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Ah... yeah... right. It's all in the detail.

The careers advisor said we should do something we are good at for a living. Turns out I'm good at being wrong, making stupid blunders and being an idiot. I did consider being a comedian but it also transpires I'm not funny. It seems the only career option left to me now having clearly demonstrated I'm a buffoon is politician. Can I count on your votes?
19/01/2024 07:22:39 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
You've got mine Ed, although as I won't be arsed to go to the polling station can you send me a postal vote please.
What will be your first changes to the state?
Free petrol for Batt'ies?
Free bacon and lard butties for Batt'ies at every service station?
The insistence on keeping all oil powered machinery, vehicles and power stations running forever?
The ban on washing vehicles of any type. Ever?
Decriminalisation of the cutting down of speed camera's and wind turbines?
I'm in. Just need a name for the party now.

19/01/2024 08:51:51 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
I think there's already one that meets most of your requirements Upt' (although not actually a party as it's a limited company majority owned by the odious Mr Farage).
19/01/2024 11:43:50 UTC

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