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Report 1057: Newcastle and Hadrian's Wall

By PatrickLondon from London, England, Summer 2006

Trip Description: A brief look at Newcastle/Gateshead and three days walking the central section of Hadrian's Wall.

Destinations: Countries - United Kingdom

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Art Trip; Sightseeing; Walking/Hiking; Independent Travel; Package Tour; Single Traveler

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Page 1 of 5: 17/18 June: Preliminaries: Why Hadrian's Wall? And an overnight in Newcastle

photo by Patrick Wallace

Newcastle is famous for its bridges, the latest being the "winking" Millennium bridge; another new icon is the SAGE concert halls in the background

I'm really a fairweather stroller rather than a dedicated hiker, but I decided to try a walking trip on Hadrian's Wall. I was feeling put to shame by Kaydee's report of her coast to coast walk, and by seeing from recent TV documentaries what beautiful things there are in my own country that I don't know: and by the fact that an old friend who is a keen walker would be visiting me soon, and I wanted to know what I could manage.

If you don't know about the Wall, let me just explain that it's one of the basic things we're taught about (or used to be) in history in the UK: in the AD 120s the Roman Emperor Hadrian decided to consolidate his frontiers, withdrawing troops from the furthest advances into present-day Scotland, and building a wall right across the country, with regular observation turrets, controlled crossing points and military forts.

Although over the centuries after the Romans' departure much of the stone was re-used (the path passes a barn with a Roman builders' marker in its wall), much of it remains and was partly rebuilt/consolidated in the 19th and 20th centuries. There has been continuing archaeological excavation of the forts and other sites, with all sorts of fascinating detail about daily life at the time. Most of what is visible is in this central section of the Hadrian's Wall Path, which is organised as a National Trail. Some of the finds are also in the British Museum in London, but here (principally at Vindolanda, which is actually part of an older defence system) you see them in situ.

The simplest option seemed to be the three-day short break offered by Contours, but there are plenty of operators offering similar breaks. This short trip covered only about seven to eight linear miles a day, and as it turned out, covered all the bits I'd have been likely to want to see, along the central section of the Wall.

Saturday 17 June

I'd decided to spend the night before in Newcastle so I could see the new developments in the area, but since I'd delayed booking the trip while I watched the weather, the cheapest train fare I could now get was £74.50 (which turned out to be First Class) rather than the £25.50 I could have booked a few days earlier. Moral - don't hesitate: book and adjust your arrangements to suit rather than the other way around.

The journey was fine, but I can't understand why GNER's First Class has such wide tables that make it so much more difficult to get in and out of one's seat.

I'd heard Newcastle city centre wasn't exactly awash with hotel rooms, and the cheapest I could find at short notice in the central area was the Travelodge at £60. Clean, comfortable, anonymous, coin-in-the-slot: usually that would be fine for me, but it's not for everyone's tastes, and I'm not sure it's worth that price.

The centre of Newcastle is a handsome collection of late Georgian streets in a golden sandstone: but the effect is not so much Bath as Edinburgh or the "Greek" style in Glasgow. The steep streets down to the Quayside area are even more reminiscent of Edinburgh; but there are efficient (and cheap, by London standards) electric buses connecting the Quayside to the rest of the city centre.

I emerged from an ordinary sort of tandoori meal just off the Quayside in time to see the Geordie passeggiata in full Saturday night swing. It seems the latest Rough Guide rates this a must-see (heaven knows why). Scally lads and lasses hunting in groups, the girls duly bling-ed, boob-tubed and belly-ringed: here a hen party in matching tiaras, there a woman apparently detached from one - dressed in a Victorian corset and directoire knickers with rather a lot of feathers on, and huddled in a corner with her mobile trying to find her friends. All this conviviality has its downside, though: back at the Travelodge the room next to mine seemed to have attracted a couple of very loud and drunk girls about 1 am, screeching, banging on the door and generally making a hullaballoo, to the point where I had to go downstairs to get the night security man to have a word with them.

Sunday 18 June

A gentle stroll over to the Baltic (art gallery), the Sage (stunning new concert halls) and the "winking" Millennium Bridge. A range of exhibits at the Baltic:

  • a switchbacked tunnel of wire mesh and crumpled newspapers, with umpteen video screens relaying TV programmes from all over, disorientating you with their babble as the footing became more unpredictable, with steps up and down and ultimately an aluminium slide to deposit you outside like a child at play or a piece of luggage at the airport
  • a collection of photos and videos by Sam Taylor-Wood, some beautiful, some not (I liked the man playing "air cello", but the stop action films of fruit decaying and a dead hare being eaten by maggots didn't do much for me, nor David Beckham sleeping: yes, I did get the cultural history references, but she isn't Dürer or Andy Warhol)
  • a collection (which I did find beautiful) of tiny coloured rectangles on a grid, a bit like DNA charts if you looked closely at them, or undifferentiated grey if you didn't let your eyes rest on them: but if you did wait and look carefully, you could see colours emerging in ripples, waves and drifts.

Time to watch the Millennium Bridge rise and fall in its "wink" to let a boat pass under, then on by train to Hexham and the Hadrian's Wall bus. By now, the weather was very wet, and my heart was sinking, but it stopped as I got off - just as well, as there was about a mile to walk into the village, to the first B&B booked through Contours:

Mingary,Humshaugh, Hexham NE46 4AG: telephone: 01434 681406.

Newly converted stone barn in a very pretty village: very comfortable, very friendy welcome. They ferried us (myself, a couple from Canterbury and another from Canada) to a pub in the next village for an evening meal (and back again afterwards). The pub was a bit overwhelmed by the numbers, as was I by the size of the steak and ale pie. I hadn't yet had the walking to earn it, after all.

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