Friday, 3 October 2008 I want to see a good bit of Hadrian's Wall today, but the morning starts out gray and drizzly, so I decide
to take a drive up to Allendale. The late Pete McCarthy, in his amusing travelogue McCarthy's Bar, mooted several important
rules of travel. Chief among these was "Never pass a bar with your name on it." Likewise, I can never pass up the opportunity to
visit a dale with my name on it. I've been here twice before, and each time the routine is the same: stop briefly in Allendale Town,
continue up to Allenheads, go up over the moor between east and west Allendale, and wander the narrow back lanes. There's one stretch
of road marked "Unsuitable for long vehicles", which is not far from being unsuitable for any vehicles. Even in my tiny Chevrolet
Matiz, I have some difficulty making the sharp turn after a bridge.
This is old lead-mining country, and there are some remnants of the industry, notably long stone chimneys running up the hillside, designed to channel toxic fumes from the smelters down in the valley bottom to the moors high above. Acid rain, for sure...contemporary descriptions I've read of the Yorkshire Dales, which supported similar activity, make it plain that this countryside, now lovely and bucolic, was anything but at the time.
By the time I'm done with my tour, the sky has cleared, and it's a beautiful (if breezy) day. I cross the Tyne, park in the Pay and Display lot at Steel Rigg, and set out eastward along Hadrian's Wall. This section of it runs mostly along the top of a ridge called Whin Sill. My mind boggles at the thought of hauling all of this stone up here; by the same token, it would be nearly as difficult to haul it down, and so, fortunately for us, this is probably the best-preserved section of the wall. It's two and a half miles from Steel Rigg to Housesteads Roman Fort, or Vercovicium [Wikipedia], with a lot of up-and-down over the crags. About halfway along is Sycamore Gap, with the so-called Robin Hood's Tree. It seems to me that anything in the UK that smacks of romance or legend is inevitably named either Robin Hood's This or Arthur's That, depending on whether the namer is Anglo or Celtic. In this case, there is a disappointingly modern explanation for the name: Sycamore Gap was featured in a scene in the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the one with Kevin Costner. What Robin Hood was doing prancing about Northumbria is unclear. I suppose Hadrian's Wall is as suitable a stand-in for Sherwood Forest as Costner is for Mr Hood.
The fort, unusually, sits on the south side of the wall, with an east-west axis, and affords a splendid view over Tynedale. I linger a while before retracing my steps to Steel Rigg. On one short stretch passing through woodland, the trail is actually atop the wall, the only place on its entire length where mounting the wall is not expressly prohibited.
By the time I get back to the car, I have developed a pretty serious backache, right in the center of my back, just below the level of my shoulder blades. It remains uncomfortable even when sitting, and I squirm through dinner at an Italian restaurant in Hexham's Shambles. I'm beat from the walk and intend an early evening, but Bob is in the Heart of All England (which, come to think of it, is a bar with my name on it), and I meet a few other locals, as well. Stay much too late, and, back at the B&B, pour myself a bedtime dram of Glenmorangie from a bottle I bought at the local wine shop yesterday, a dram I plainly do not need.