Saturday, 1 June 2013
Breakfast wasn't the best at the Cornerways B&B, in Carlisle. The bacon looked like it had been cooked by body heat alone and, by way of contradiction, the egg had been crucified, a Wayne Bobbitt sausage completed the items on the plate which were all swimming in bean sauce. This was bewildering as I couldn't actually see any beans. I declined the extra round of toast and left as quickly as I could.
The sun was shining, finally. Although this seemed like a wonderful backdrop for my triumphant procession to the end of the Hadrian Trail, it proved to be a hindrance. I got very hot, very quickly and, whereas, I had been cutting back on water over the last few days as I was not getting through 3 litres a day, now I was getting through the water fast.
My mission was to walk the final 15 miles to Solway village and get back to Carlisle again before my train left at 3:30pm. I got in the walking frame of mind early on and powered on.
I ignored the sights of historical interest, the beautiful view was now background scenery, even the iPod was off. It was a time for concentration and reflection.
It was strange to consider the journey I had come on in just 5 days, and I am not talking about the distance. I had changed. I was now a confident walker ( although I hadn't cracked the camping thing yet). I had started today with no plasters on my feet and I was not missing them. I hadn't taken my daily dose of Nurofen and I didn't feel i needed it. My feet had toughened, the skin had become like leather. My shoulders had also changed shape, they felt stronger and wider. My calves and thighs were rock-hard and my buttocks could crush boulders...small ones. When starting out my backpack had felt awkward on my back, like giving a friend a piggyback on a drunken night out down the street. You're always relieved to put them down. The pack felt natural on my back now, it was almost part of me, it actually stopped feeling heavy.
On the second day of the challenge I honestly had doubts that I could do it. I contemplated giving in and was already preparing my excuses for those at home. Day 3 was the big turning point. It was as if my body had said to me, ' You idiot Rich! You did no training and look at what you've done to our feet!' My body rebelled, it ached me, it bled and blistered me and even when I wanted to rest, it would not allow me to.
On day three we had come to a compromise. I would ensure that we would try and sleep in a proper bed each night, if we could, but we would carry on with the walk and the body had better get itself sorted. To my amazement, it did!
I can't remember exactly when the last visible feature of the wall disappeared, but by the time I'd crossed the marshes around Port Carlisle, the trail was following a large grassy bank. The wall disappeared again and I lost the trail, my compass told me which direction it should take and I found a length of wall jutting out into the mudflats around the bay. I think that was the end of it. A sign said that a great Roman fort originally stood on the sight, but no visible signs were left. Things was danger of turning into a bit of a damp squib.
I hadn't expected fanfares, or a welcoming committee with a ticker tape parade or a medal, but there was no ending. Nothing. I needed an ending, I needed closure.
Wandering further into Burness-on-Solway, more by habit than direction, I spotted a wooden signpost I recognised, it was the final sign for the Hadrian's Wall path. I was so happy. It directed me to a small path that ran down to the waters edge. The tide was out, but I followed the path to a secluded garden where ornately carved benches were dotted around and at the centre was a small wooden structure. Carved above the entrance was the face of Emperor Hadrian and beneath, in red, were the words: "Welcome to the end of the Hadrian's Wall path, Ave Terminvum Vallis Hadirani Vagusta Pervenesti"
I have no idea what it meant, but that didn't matter.
On the floor was a tiled mural of wading birds in the bay. It was nice, simple, but in some way fitting. I was satisfied I had finally finished. I had my end.
I took a moment to catch my breath and take it all in. I felt a strong and profound sense of achievement flow through me.
Moments later, I was joined by an Italian walker who'd I'd spotted several times behind me on the trail from Carlisle. We swapped stories and I asked him to take a photo of me, he obliged and then asked me to take one of him - with my camera! I did and he asked he immediately left quite happy that I had this memento of him being there.
I picked up my bag, took one last look across the bay, took a deep breath and left to find my way home.