Posts tagged Newcastle

Into the WILD! Days 1 & 2 – the trek up North

Early on the morning of Saturday 15th July, backpacks as light as we thought we could manage (oh, how we laugh at that now!) we set off on foot from our home in Crowhurst to the station, a little under a mile away, bound for our week-long walk from Hadrian’s Wall to Masham; a total of around 110 miles give or take a few… 65 litre packs on our backs, we arrived at the station about 20 minutes later sweating, shaking, cursing and more than a little concerned. 20 miles carrying this? Already we were pondering what to discard there and then. But the train arrived and we duly boarded.

The trek to our destination – Hadrian’s Wall or thereabouts – was nothing if not an adventure; this largely due to the pallaver of the supposedly simplest part of our route: from home to London. Ordinarily a 1 hr 45 minute train journey, in the event (thanks to works on the line) we took a train to Wadhurst, a bus to Tunbridge Wells, then a train to Tonbridge, another to East Croydon and, finally, yet another to London Victoria. So, four trains and a bus later we had covered a measly 60-odd miles. Hah!

After a well deserved sausage from Banger Bros at Victoria Station, the next leg was equally gruelling but for very different reasons: a 7 1/2 hour National Express coach trip from London to Newcastle. If there is one thing I can recommend, nay, insist you take with you on such a journey (and indeed they will stand you in good stead on a campsite, too) it is earplugs. Initially, it appeared we were to be subjected to Radio 2 the entire way, but with enormous sighs of relief, the radio was silenced. Only to be replaced by, from the seat in front of us, the insistent beeping of a man sending text messages without predictive text. Endlessly. Most politely, Jem leaned forward and asked him if he might consider turning off the sound on his phone… He kindly complied, but no sooner had our shoulders slumped into a relaxed posture, than the hungover 18-year old at the back of the bus with a voice like a braying donkey took a phone call that lasted (in spite of her protestations that her phone battery was dying) for the next hour. I quote: “Oh my GOD! Robbie! Who do you think you are? What makes you think you have the right to know? I don’t believe you!” and more in the same deep philosophising vein. Her outraged, one-way conversation was then replaced by¬† the incessant yattering at a volume of more decibels than you’d need to employ to make yourself heard from one end of the park to the other, let alone when sitting next to your compadre, from the seat behind. Oh. My. God. Headaches all round. And the heat (take copious amounts of water) and the smell each time someone opened the loo door… But we did manage to employ the time usefully and read Trail magazine, which informed us of the wonders of the Isle of Harris (next summer?) and, oh so fortuitously, contained an article on precisely that which we were off to attempt: wild camping. It contained both useful information and handy tips, such as what kind of natural shelter to look out for, areas to avoid or aim for, how to judge it on the map, what supplies are essential (headtorch, poo shovel – nice! – faff-free food) and so on.

We had the misfortune to arrive in Newcastle just at the end of a match. The only fortunate part of this scenario was that the Toons had won and their Army were therefore in extremely good spirits. Nonetheless, entering the station concourse to find it lined with stern-looking giants of policemen was more than a little alarming. We changed our plan to stop there and have a beer and something to eat and, instead, took a train a little further down the line until we could link up with the one to take us to our final destination for the night. Our sanity, whilst awaiting said train, was saved by a charming old gentleman who asked all about our kit, where we were headed and entertained us with tales of his own experiences of walking with friends back in the ’70s – our end of the platform was a football-free oasis.

At Hexham we alighted for a drink or two, having wolfed a pasty back in Newcastle, at the Station Inn. It was here that we discovered how very much friendlier people are north of the Watford Gap. Indeed, the barmaid gave us such a warm welcome (and the establishment was so warm and cozy) that I was tempted to throw in the towel before we’d begun and opt for the B&B option (Beer & Bed…?) But, foolhardy pair that we are, we left in good time to make our connection and arrived in the small town of Haydon Bridge a little after 10 p.m. with 14 hours of travelling behind us. A 10-minute walk with ominously aching shoulders and the beginnings of blisters took us to our campsite, through an avenue of static caravans to the Reception area.

Our next hurdle was to erect our tent in the dark. The (frankly rather grumpy) owner of the campsite had apparently stayed up (good Lord! Till 10! What a party animal!) to let us in. He gave us the codes for the bathroom, pointed us to our “pitch” – a patch of grass next to the loos and alongside the river and then, in a rather doom-laden voice, announced that its level had risen three feet in the last hour. Oh, good. Looked like we’d be washed away in the night, then… It takes no more than ten minutes to pitch our tent. It’s a modern-day miracle: weighing in at less than 2kg (1.9 to be precise), it is ultra-lightweight and incredibly cozy. We got it pitched, strung up a washing line for our minging socks, changed into our thermals for bedtime (not the most attractive of attire, but boy did they keep us warm… oh… and amused), and headed to the loo block to perform our ablutions. Only my code didn’t work. Deep joy. I hung around until Jem reappeared and he stood guard while I used the Gents instead. Considering we arrived after dark and were due to set off first thing, I found myself wondering precisely what we were paying Poplars Riverside campsite for. In the event, we didn’t leave until after 9, and there was still no sign of our ‘landlords’… Thankfully, the following morning, a kindly caravan camper spotted me attempting once again and fruitlessly to enter the code I’d been given and came to my rescue. Amazing how just the one letter makes all the difference, isn’t it? He’d even copied it out in front of us!


The Lovely Jem and Haltwhistle Burn

We awoke to the stunning view of a swollen river and the sound of happy ducks, our tent being buffeted in a high wind. Then, toothbrushed, packed up again and realising we still needed to get gas for our little stove before we could even have a cuppatea, we headed off to find a route up to Hadrian’s Wall. The necessity for gas in mind, we decided to alter our itinerary somewhat and take a train to Haltwhistle where there was, our little book informed us, a camping shop. Need I go into the dramas that enriched our lives that morning? Perhaps I shall just list them: 1. The train was announced as cancelled, just as it pulled into the station (the conductor said it had happened all along the line) and was, as a result, our very own private means of transport. 2. The camping shop was closed – after all, it was Sunday. 3. The wind it did howl… We found a rather lovely cafe called La Toot which doubles up as a gift shop and whose owner was obliging enough to divert from the menu and make us a cooked breakfast. From. The. Gods. We will remain eternally grateful for that sustenance – it was to last us all the way to Greenhead.

After a rather disgruntled Jem had had a hissy fit and fistfight with the map, attempting to manhandle it into its case outside the Haltwhistle Sainsburys (where we bought some pork pies and a packet of Smash – more to follow on the joys of Smash) we headed off in the general direction of Hadrian’s Wall… after going a bit wrong (doesn’t that bode well?) and engaging the help of a willing local. From this point, dear reader, we were walking.

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