Friday 31 July 2015

Low Force, High Force and Bleabeck Force - North Pennines AONB

We already knew that we wanted to see the famous High Force waterfall
Low Force waterfall from downstream 
in the North Pennines AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and when Dave spotted a route on The Walking Englishman which encompassed not only this natural wonder, but also its companion waterfalls of Low Force and Bleabeck Force as well, we decided that this was definitely a walk for us. We wanted sunny weather to get a pretty sparkle off the water and yesterday turned out to be just about as perfect as it gets! Grey and overcast here at Appleby, but as we drove an hour to Middleton-In-Teesdale (we got stuck behind a tractor), the skies cleared and the sun came out. Part of our drive was along the B6276 which is an amazing road for views. It's quite narrow with a steep drop on one side so the driver can't look about them too much, but the passenger can see for miles! So beautiful!

We parked up at Bowlees Visitor Centre on the B6277, not far past
Decorated wall stones
near Bowlees 
Newbiggin. The Centre asks a £2 donation for the car park and we could then walk along the Pennine Way for free to all the waterfalls. I spotted a couple of damp admission tickets on the ground by Low Force and we later learned that another car park more conveniently situated for High Force will not only charge £2 for parking, but also £1.50 each admission to the private footpath on their side of the river and their visitors are fenced in so don't get anywhere near such a good view. A couple of men had risked climbing out over the fence! Anyway, back to Bowlees and, if you will be nearby during the school Summer Holidays, the Visitor Centre is organising weekly events for kids. Wild Wednesdays include various nature and art activities at just £3 per child. The building itself is elegant with lots of local arts and produce on sale, and a pleasant cafe! We bought good traybake slices to takeaway at the end of our walk!

The only potential problem for us with the Bowlees route was the Wynch
The Wynch Bridge 
Bridge. First built in 1741, it was believed to be the earliest suspension bridge in Europe - until a chain broke plunging three of a group of haymakers into the river in 1802. One drowned. The current bridge replaced the repaired original in 1830 which makes it 185 years old although it looked as though the wooden floor planks were considerably newer. There's a confidence-inducing (not) sign warning against more than one person crossing at the same time, and saying that if walkers overload the bridge and it collapses, then it's basically their own silly fault. I got myself across as swiftly as I could and saved my admiration of the views for the safety of the riverbanks!

We were back on Whin Sill dolerite by the riverside. The same molten
Low Force from the pre-bridge side 
lava that helped create High Cup is widely in evidence at the Forces. Stepping on the rock made me think of the Giant's Causeway in Ireland - somewhere I have not yet visited, but would love to go. Low Force is the first of the three waterfalls we encountered and it can be viewed from both sides of the Wynch Bridge. The thunder of the tumb,ling water is exciting to hear and, not only does the path get close, but it is possible to step out onto the rocks and practically into the spray. Obviously the rocks do get slippery so this an entirely 'at your own risk' endeavour! The well-worn gravelled path heads alongside the river so is very pretty to walk and mostly level and easy, although not wheelchair accessible as there are odd rocks and tree roots to navigate.

I loved this stone sculpture of two sheep which protrudes into the path. It
Keith Alexander's sheep sculpture 
was made in 2002 by local artist Keith Alexander. One side is inscribed, "A wonderful place to be." and is attributed to A Walker. The other side reads, "It reverts to scrub. Once it's gone, it's lost." A Farmer. We learned that this area is home to the largest ancient juniper wood in the country and were surprised to see boot disinfection points on either side of a path section. An infection is attacking the trees so walkers are asked to wash and spray the soles of their boots to help prevent tramping disease across an even wider area.

High Force is a truly impressive sight! There are three shelves on the
High Force 
water's descent so it is furiously churning by the time it crashes into the river below. The waterfall is not on such a grand scale as Iceland's Gullfoss, but it is much warmer so we could stand and gawp for several minutes without needing to rush for cover! This photograph was taken from cliffs downstream and it is also possible to stand at the top of the falls watching the water rushing downwards. It was incredible to think that this is the same wide sedate Tees we crossed several weeks ago. As we continued upstream on our path, I wondered whether water creatures can tell that there is a huge waterfall up ahead. Does it exert any pull on the water behind or is the force purely at the point of the drop? Certainly the feeding ducks seemed completely oblivious! We were lucky to also see a pair of huge dragonflies flitting over our heads.

In comparison, Bleabeck Force is tiny! It is also unfortunately situated
Bleabeck Force 
opposite an ugly quarry, but we turned our backs on industry in order to appreciate the stream waterfall. The area here is part of Moor House - Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve which covers 88 square kilometres of upland habitats. It is Britain's leading site for research into the effects of changing climate on the natural environment. The Reserve is also famous for its unique Arctic-Alpine plants which have survived here since the last Ice Age.

Our lunch stop was up on a hillside overlooking the river and with gorgeous views across the valley. It was sheltered with rock slabs as seats and soporific in the sunshine. We had sandwiches with delicious ham from Tebay which is a great place that our friend Hedley had told us about. It is basically a motorway services on the M6, but instead of hosting outlets for the usual mass-produced food chains, this one is a farm shop with a deli counter, butcher counter and a huge range of foodstuffs. We bought pies, ham and vegetables on our visit and could easily have stocked up with dry goods, drinks and jars too - if we had the room! We are debating whether to make another stop during our journey south tomorrow!

Lunch was pretty much the most outwardly point of our walk and Dave
navigated us back to Bowlees with his specially printed out Ordnance Survey map, combining footpaths and tracks, some of which appeared not to have been walked in years. We passe a renovated Primitive Methodist Chapel which was a lovely building and now looks to have been converted into a holiday let. There was also a still-in-religious-use Wesleyan chapel and we racked our brains to remember who Wesley was and how long ago he was influential. The return leg wasn't as dramatic as the outward, but was still pretty in its own right and we felt very happy about being out walking in sunshine after a couple of days when most of our time was spent in the caravan or awning.

Overall, this wasn't a particularly strenuous walk. We were on the move for a little over four hours and covered about seven miles, but this did include lots of photography stops so our pace wasn't as embarrassingly slow as it might seem. And on the good side - nothing hurt!


Tuesday 28 July 2015

It's been a #ShopLocal day in Penrith

We caught a glimpse of historic Penrith last week when we popped in to
Penrith Millennium Trail marker 
see the RSC broadcast of The Merchant Of Venice at the cute little Alhambra cinema. (A great venue with very comfortable seating and sensible ice-cream prices.) If you didn't see this production, do keep an eye open for encore screenings as it is excellent theatre. The mirrored golden set is a wonderful idea and the performances are, as you would expect, superb. I particularly liked the portrayals of Antonio and Portia. The play was scarily contemporary in its plot and message with the intolerant attitudes driving the story being, depressingly, pretty much the same four hundred years ago as they are today.

Penrith is a misleading town! It appeared run-down as we drove in, but
Blue plaque for William Pearson, Charge Of The
Light Brigade participant 
supports an impressive array of upmarket independent shops and cafes. The Millennium Trail was laid in the year 2000 and consists of 83 pavement markers radiating from the town centre. There are a number of walks taking in these markers and map leaflets are available from the Tourist Information Office. Penrith also has eight blue plaques, although we only spotted this one pictured, commemorating the life of a Charge Of The Light Brigade participant. We saw buildings dating back to the 1700s and 1600s and there are many gated alleys and twittens (or whatever the Cumbrian word for twitten is) all of which are signed. Photography is tricky as streets are either not wide enough to get enough distance or streaming with traffic, but this is certainly an interesting town to visit. We strolled around for an hour so before we began shopping in earnest.

Our first port of call was Cranstons butchers where we picked out two beef truffles for our dinner tonight. If 
Herb display on
St Andrew's Church fence. 
we eat before I finish this post, I will let you know what they are like!
Rich, dense beef patties topped with onion, bacon, grated cheese and a pat of garlic butter; bake in the oven for half an hour. Fantastic! Cranstons has been in town since 1914 and, with produce like this, I'm not surprised!

Lunch for me was a delicious Eggs Benedict at The Lemon Tree cafe where Dave had a Pastrami and Emmenthal grilled sandwich. Friendly service, but they shot themselves in the foot with their portion sizes - we didn't have room left for dessert even though the pudding menu was very tempting! The Lemon Tree is in the Devonshire Arcade, an elegant structure originally opened in the 1860s as the entrance way to the market. Among the independent shops here is a good greengrocer where we stocked up, and a fishmonger's shop that looked enticing. We considered their locally smoked mackerel but already had a fridge-full.

Outside the arcade, nearby by in the centre square is a very dangerous
shop! JJ Graham's was established in 1793 has been in its current location since 1880. They had lots and lots of items to tempt us! We did manage to escape without buying cake, but only because we were weighed down with Scottish jam and local butter, a pie each for lunch tomorrow, and lots of cheese. We tried samples of a Norwegian caramelised Gjetost and a Porter cheese from nearby Cahils Farm - and bought both! I will bake another soda bread loaf to do them justice.

Luckily we got away without getting rained upon although it is coming down heavily now and we seem to have a couple of leaks in our new awning. Not too impressed with that. The zips on the front doors are soaking wet even though they appear sheltered by canvas which is dry. There is a caravan supplies shop in Penrith where we got some black streak cleaner this morning. Perhaps we should have looked for waterproofing spray as well?

So be warned! 


Monday 27 July 2015

Just a little local walk around Brampton

I am still suffering from our High Cup Nick walk last Thursday. My
shoulders and quads ached from the boulder descent for two days until I discovered a tube of Ibuprofen gel in our first aid box. I had forgotten we had brought it! The gel has made walking, especially up and down the caravan step, much more comfortable, although our gentle four mile stroll on Saturday was pre-painkillers. Dave said he didn't mind ambling at a much slower pace for once and the loop took two and a half hours. Uphill slopes were fine, but downhills had to be done with real baby steps to avoid stretching my legs too much. And stiles were just painful! Fortunately, after the first half hour or so, I could feel my muscles relaxing into the exercise, but still had to be careful not to stumble when the path was unclear.

I'm not sure where we walked, which will no doubt annoy anyone hoping
to follow the same route. Sorry! I know we started downhill through the cow field in front of our campsite and I took a photo back upwards to the caravans in a line. Bailey is the furthest left of the right-hand group. There are effectively two five-pitch sites here, separated by sheds and trees.

We came to a stream and a ford through which we could have gone, or
we could have used the handy bridge. There was a nice light in this wooded area and it felt tranquil. Not as magical as Dufton Ghyll, but somewhere pleasant to pause and ponder a while. We turned right, not crossing the stream and found ourselves leaving Brampton Watermill which has a large old millstone as its signpost. Crossing the road and up past Espland Hill Farm, we were ambushed by ridiculous numbers of flies. I mean real cover-your-head-with-your-jacket flies. Yuk! They stayed with us for ages as we walked along a narrow overgrown track on the edge of woods looking out over cow and sheep fields. In compensation, we did spot some fabulous fungi and met a black Labrador called Harvey.

We met the Pennine Journey route again around here. Our footpath
forked across a tough grass boggy field which we floundered in for several minutes before spotting a bridge across the stream in its centre. If you find yourself here, don't follow the direction indicated by the footpath sign! Instead walk on another twenty yards or so and you should see the bridge in the middle of the field to your right. Dave is pointing back from the bridge to the track in this photo. You might notice the lack of path linking the two!

I coped with varying field-exiting contraptions including incredibly
wobbly basic stiles, low narrow sections of stone wall with metal bars across, and this new-fangled metal gate with footpads. We had not seen one like this before. It was solidly built and easy to manage. The gate led into a weird area of messy land. It looked as though a drainage ditch had been dug some time previously and the spoil from it left alongside to return to nature. Mostly overgrown, there were also part-submerged builder's sacks and Dave nicked his leg on hidden barbed wire. The cut bled, but doesn't seem to be infected.

We were intrigued and concerned by a fenced-in duck pond, populated
by dozens of birds. There looked to be far too many for the space and the water was filthy. What was weird was their swimming back and forth, packed together in a shoal like fish. It reminded me of the obsessive circular swimming we saw an otter doing in an aquarium zoo once. The ducks looked healthy enough and there was a big heap of grain inside the fence, but the whole set-up didn't 'feel right'.

Our path continued in a dead straight line until we found ourselves emerging onto the road by Clickham Cottages, one of which has a large black and white toy dog in its window! I appreciated having got out for the fresh air, but was absolutely knackered which is both irritating and embarrassing. I am obviously nowhere near as fit as I think I ought to be! Since this walk, we have had two quiet rain-bound days in and I am pretty much back to moving normally now. I need to be - we want to go and see the waterfalls at High Force and Low Force this week and I can't still be hobbling for that!

Friday 24 July 2015

The Pennine Way! Dufton to High Cup Nick

OK, so we didn't walk much of The Pennine Way yesterday, but I am still
Volcanic Whin Sill at High Cup Nick 
loving being able to wrap myself in a hint of its 'glamour'. Imagine: Simon Armitage woz 'ere! We got lucky by arriving at Dufton's little car park in time to snaffle the last-but-one space. You'd probably need to be up before dawn to park there on a sunny weekend! Walking through the village to the start of our footpath allowed us to appreciate the pretty cottages, have a brief chat with a local woman who wished us sunshine for our walk, and to spot an MOD red flag. It was more drooping than flying, but checking the map at its base established that we would need to be several miles off course in order to get ourselves shot at. Hopefully we wouldn't get that lost.

Dave had been concerned about the first leg of our walk which would be
I'd heard about 'the red flag
flying' but not seen one before 
a pretty much continuous ascent for a good hour or so. A description on The Walking Englishman suggested his party were 'jiggered' by the top and they are experienced walkers. As it turned out, the gradient is not particularly steep, just relentless, so we were able to keep going with a few breathers, more an excuse to turn around and admire the view you understand, not just that we needed to pause. I do love an expansive view and this has to be one of the best. As we got higher and higher, new miles of countryside were revealed and it felt quite special to be there. We had expected to be sharing with lots of other walkers because this is one of the most famous routes, but were alone for much of the climb. We did pass a man expertly rebuilding a dry stone wall, continuing an apparently rare art form these days, and his sheepdog, Nell, managed to sucker Dave into throwing a stick for her to rush off after - only the once though!

A wonderful view 
Levelling out, close to High Cup Nick itself, we passed this 'infinity
Hannah's Well 
stream' known locally as Hannah's Well. A narrow waterfall fell to our left, crossed the path and then dropped away over the sheer cliff to our right. Dave had found a leaflet in our campsite's information hut about the geology of High Cup Nick so, for once, we were confident that we knew what we were seeing. The sheer Whin Sill layer was created about 295 million years ago by molten lava rising up within the earth then seeping sideways before it could build up enough pressure to explode as a volcano. This magma layer cooled over a period of maybe fifty years to form the sheet of dolerite igneous rock which is, in places, up to 90 metres thick. The Whin Sill is the first such area where geologists worked out how it had been formed and so any other 'sill' worldwide is named for this one.

High Cup Gill is a distinctive valley caused by glacial erosion. It was
Approaching High Cup Gill 
exciting to see it opening out ahead as we approached. The first photograph on this post shows the Whin Sill on each side close-ish up, and this photo is from further back to show the curve of the valley. We walked along one side, occasionally brave enough to get close to the edge and peep over. Steep grass slopes alternate with areas of tumbled rocks and boulders and, on the far side, we could see fissures caused by water coursing down over long periods of time. Sheep and cattle in the valley appeared smaller than toys.

The valley apex is known as High Cup Nick because there is a cleft in the
From the top looking down 
cliff through which a stream flows. Grass banks gave us a respite from the wind and a place to eat our apple and sandwiches. It was cold here though so our break was curtailed after fifteen minutes. We already knew that The Walking Englishman's wife had not enjoyed the boulder scramble down from High Cup Nick into High Cup Gill, but from the very top it doesn't look too bad. Certainly the boulders are more stable than your average Spanish scree path so I thought I would be ok. This was a mistake! The start IS ok, but then we turned a corner and spent the next hour on a basically terrifying descent that I hope never to have to attempt again! My leg and shoulder muscles are aching still today.

From the bottom looking up 
Once safe on the valley floor, there isn't a path as such but our direction
Sticking by the stream wasn't always an option 
was obvious as we had to walk the length of the valley in order to get out again. I certainly wasn't going back up those rocks! We got even more of a sense of High Cup's majestic height from looking up than we had done looking down. Arriving near the farm at the valley entrance, we had to cast around for our route out, but once we spotted that it must be via the farm itself we were fine. We were tiring by this point though so chose to cut off a mile by heading part-way towards Dufton on the narrow road. Fortunately traffic is very light and there were verges onto which we could leap. A footpath after about twenty minutes allowed us to briefly join up with the Pennine Journey route. I was delighted by the artistic red stripes in the dry stone walling here. The red seemed to glow more brightly than it appears in the photo but hopefully you can get the idea.

Red striped stone walling 
Then, at about the five-and-a-half hour mark and as we were both getting a tad fed up, we stumbled across a magical place to finish up our walk. Dufton Ghyll, managed by the Woodland Trust, is a serene and tranquil little oasis of trees, lichens, babbling brook and ancient stone. If felt like the kind of place where fairytales ought to be set and I loved the greenish tinge to the light. We failed to see red squirrels, but I was amazed how just this change in what we did see around us had such a lightening effect on our mood. And, as if by magic, we exited Dufton Ghyll right by Dufton car park!

Dufton Ghyll 
We walked for a few minutes over six hours in all and think our route was probably about ten miles. Persons experienced in scrambling down rocks could easily cut a half hour off this time! Looking back up the rock scramble, we might have been better off hugging the grass on the right hand edge and then coming down on grass too. However that would have given us nothing to cling on to so might have taken longer. Probably a course on basic Rock Climbing For Nervous Girlfriends is the answer, but it really didn't look too scary until the moment when it suddenly looked even scarier to try going back up! I did enjoy my great sense of euphoria at having finally completed the descent.

One aspect of our walks that I do appreciate is seeing so many free
range herds of cows and flocks of sheep in huge green pastures. I soreally do hope that this way of farming doesn't become a thing of the past - a quaint tourist attraction. Global policy makers are currently in New York negotiating Sustainable Development Goals. Some see factory farming as the best way to feed the world. They think only about the large quantities of “cheap” meat, ignoring the health issues and drastic environmental problems that come with it. Two European Commissioners are negotiating the future of the food system on our behalf. We must urge them to choose humane, sustainable farming – and not put factory farms forward as the false solution to feeding the world. Compassion In World Farming has a quick click to send a message to our European Commissioners, but this must be done by the 31st July. Please add your voice now.

Thursday 23 July 2015

Our first Cumbrian campsite and a petition for chocolate-lovers

We didn't have to drive very far yesterday to reach our next campsite. We
A warm welcome to Appleby! 
are now pitched up at Croft Ends Farm, just outside Appleby-In-Westmorland. There are actually two campsites here, each of five pitches. One is the official Caravan Club CL, a pretty green field with hardstanding pitches. The other is more of a caravan storage area surrounding a large grey space and electric points and taps along one side. Guess which we are in?! We are disappointed as we were told over the phone when booking that both are the same, and they are the same price - our most expensive CL yet at £16 a night. £2 of that is for the awning which is definitely cheeky considering how much effort it took to bash tent pegs through the hardstanding. If you stay here and want an awning up, make sure to bring heavy duty steel pegs and a proper metal hammer. The standard mallet made no impact at all!

Croft Ends Farm campsite 
On the plus side, each pitch has its own water tap and grey water drain
The locals are curious 
and there is a nicely planted corner with a bench from which to gaze and ponder. Waste and recycling facilities are close by in the CL field next door, and there is also an Information Hut there with lots of leaflets, walking maps, DVDs to borrow and a small selection of books. We have a pleasant view across a field of cows and calves up to hills that are invitingly close by. The wind is blocked by a caravan storage barn too, which is a relief after the gales of Gilsland.

We took a wander around Appleby town on Tuesday afternoon. It is
Picturesque bridge in Appleby 
steeped in history - the first settlement here believed to have been Viking - and contains several buildings of Elizabethan times and older. In common with many towns hereabouts it used to be fortified with walks and gateways. Doomgate has to be my favourite street name so far! We have missed the annual horse fair which happens in June and the town has had a market charter since the 1100s. Nowadays there is a good range of independent shops and cafes including a good greengrocers and butchers. We got jam and cheese at the bakery-grocer which has an interesting range of products but is distinctly pricey! We noticed property in estate agents' windows is suddenly much more expensive than Northumberland and the Borders.

We have lots of potential walking here to evocatively named places such
Duck and her ducklings in Appleby 
as High Cup Nick, High Force and Low Force. We are also within easy reach of Penrith where there is the Lonsdale Alhambra Cinema amongst other attractions. We took our seats there last night to see the RSC broadcast of The Merchant Of Venice. I wasn't sure if it would be able to match the fabulous inventiveness and spectacle of last week's NTlive Everyman, but it's not a play I have seen before and the synopsis was certainly intriguing. We were very impressed with the venue itself and the seats are wonderfully comfortable. Plus no rip-off refreshment prices in the interval - an Expresso Magnum ice cream was £1.60. We both loved the play. A surprising set of bronze back wall and floor gave it an unusual appearance and I liked the three caskets dropping in almost as if in an old episode of The Adventure Game. (Remember that?!) I can't say I liked any of the characters. Their portrayals were superb, especially Antonio, Portia and Shylock, and the suitor Aragon, but what a bunch of devious self-serving hypocrites! There's much to think about and the introduction was so right in saying how uncannily accurate this four hundred year old play is in showing us our own world today.

On Tuesday I signed a Care2 petition speaking out against Cadbury's
unsustainable palm oil usage, the deforestation it causes and their procrastination on moving to sustainable sources. Cadbury know there is a problem in their supply chain and have vowed to make their palm oil deforestation-free, BUT not until 2030! Why not NOW, Cadbury? The rainforests of SE Asia are disappearing at an alarming rate due to the production of unregulated palm oil. This is causing extensive habitat loss and extinction of critically endangered species. Will there still be anything left to save in fifteen years time?
Please add your name to this petition asking Cadbury to act now.

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Saving the best for last - Vindolanda Roman Fort and Museum

We chose to only visit two of the big attractions along Hadrian's Wall in
Roman bust at Vindolanda 
order to have plenty of time to appreciate each rather than rushing to fit too much in and getting ourselves overwhelmed. We enjoyed our visit to the Housesteads Roman garrison on Saturday and were expecting a similar experience at Vindolanda on Monday, with the possible addition of watching a couple of actual archaeologists too. As it turned out, we only spotted a single archaeology-type person and she was pushing a wheelbarrow, not uncovering treasure in front of our astonished eyes, but the site at Vindolanda surpassed all our expectations and was definitely the highlight of our Hadrian's Wall weekend. Slightly cheaper than Housesteads and with a free car park, Vindolanda covers a large outdoor site as well as having an extensive museum to house a selection of its incredible finds.

In common with the Anglo Saxon village we visited at West Stow in
Experimental towers at Vindolanda 
Suffolk, archaeologists at Vindolanda in the 1970s indulged in a spot of experimental archaeology by building replicas of wooden and stone variants of Wall towers. These not only gave us the opportunity to understand how such towers would have appeared above foundation level, and to climb right up for a great overview of the whole site, but also allowed their builders to see how turf banks subside over time and how long materials could be expected to last in local weather conditions. A total of nine forts have been identified on the site. The first half dozen were wooden constructs, each built directly on top of its predecessor and only lasting less than a decade.

A photo looking down from the stone tower at
Dave taking a photo back up 
It was interesting to see the difference between an area currently being
excavated and appearing to our untrained eyes as complete chaos, and the areas previously excavated, rebuilt and neatly covered over with protective black sheeting and gravel. The walls are much more vertical for a start! Identified buildings included granaries and food stores, workshops for leather and metal, large houses for the elite and tiny circular huts that might have been Britain's first prisoner of war camp, bath houses, wells and water courses, gateways and shops. The whole potential area stretches for hundreds of metres past what is already on show. We were told that excavations began in earnest forty years ago and there is easily another two hundred years of work still to do! Volunteers are encouraged to sign up to help!

Once into the indoor museum, I was astounded at the quality and variety
Reconstruction of a temple dedicated to water nymphs 
of artefacts on show. The first case had a display of leather shoes eerily reminiscent of similar display cases at Auschwitz. Natural fibres hardly ever survive so long, but conditions in the Vindolanda soil are perfect for preserving leather, cloth and even tiny wooden tablets inscribed with notes and letters. I had not previously been aware of the extensive writings found here. Over 300 messages so far unearthed are described as the most important British collection. They even include the earliest writing known to be by a woman - a birthday party invitation annotated by Lepidina. I also gawped at dozens of coins, beautiful glassware, intricate jewellery, ... ! This truly is an incredible collection and it is still being added to, season by season.

Near to the museum are three reconstructions: a typical house, a shop
Swallows' nest under the cafe eaves 
and a small decorated temple. We were surprised how similar the structures and their organisation are to modern equivalents. Similarly, many of the unearthed tools and utensils are practically identical to their twenty-first century counterparts. Take plastic and electricity away and we really haven't changed much at all!

The museum gardens are elegantly landscaped and used to be the private home of the man who began seriously excavating Vindolanda. We were led to find swallows nesting under the eaves by their yelling - can you just see a chick peeping out? There were yellow wagtails too. Our only other good sighting has been a particularly bold mistle thrush on our campsite.

Prior to Vindolanda we had strolled briefly around Haltwhistle, famous as
Tim Foxall spatulas 
the geographic centre of Britain. It is a lively town, touristy but not too much so, and with a good mix of independent shops. One window display that caught our eye was this one for hand-crafted spatulas! Following a map to the nearby industrial estate we met Tim Foxall who was happy to chat about his business working local woods into these eyecatching utensils in a tiny open-sided unit. At the moment, he and his team of three are busy cutting spatulas for Edinburgh Festival. They plan to take 900 to sell!

We are on the move again tomorrow morning. Not far this time, just about fifty miles, and next time I blog it will be from Appleby-in-Westmoreland.

Monday 20 July 2015

We visit a Roman garrison and Dave is interviewed for a magazine

More Roman history on our first full day by Hadrian's Wall! Not so
New gate in an old gateway,
Hadrian's Wall milecastle remains 
surprising really! Dave plotted out a circular-ish walk which began at Steel Rigg car park and took us out to the former Roman garrison at Housesteads, then back along the Wall to Steel Rigg again. The route was about seven miles, plus wandering at Housesteads, and we were both impressed with ourselves for actually going after a long night of not much sleep due to strong winds and rain. We imagined we understood how the conscripted Romans must have felt when plonked here after having grown up in warmer climes. For sunnier photos, the BaldHiker blog also did a version of this walk in February last year!

Our outward walk allowed us to look over towards Crag Lough and we
Peering down to Crag Lough 
braved the crag edges to look down on our return journey. This bit of the route was a brief foray into National Trust territory! We presumed that 'Lough' is pronounced as 'loch' rather than the 'ough' being said as in through, though, trough or tough. The sheer rock face of the crag is particularly impressive from a distance and it was fun to watch the ant-people slogging up and down the slopes. We later found out just how steep a couple of those inclines are and even rerouted ourselves to avoid one - especially as the strongly gusting wind had already threatened our stability once and the path did look to be awfully close to the edge!
Crag loch from a distance 
Our destination of Housesteads was pretty busy with a bit of a ticket
Communal latrine at Housesteads 
queue. Dave did slightly begrudge our paying to get in because there weren't actually any staff checking as we entered the main outdoor part of the site! However, English Heritage do such a great job of maintaining free access all along the Wall here though that we didn't really mind. Entrance cost £12.60 for us both, plus £4 for our car park ticket. Foundations and low walls of several buildings have been excavated in the garrison complex and we learned that the same basic layout template was used across the Roman empire so archaeologists can be confident of their identification of each structure's function. Unsurprisingly, the garrison commander and his family lived in spacious splendour while the Legionaires were cramped eight to a room in the neighbouring barracks. The best preserved building is the communal latrine where the fresh water channels and basins are still clearly identifiable. Other interesting outlines included this granary foundation which seemed to have been inspired by Carnac in France!

Granary at Housesteads 
I was disappointed that dozens of tagged cube blocks secured behind a
Genii Cucullati representation 
fence with a weather station merited no explanation at all. It looked like some kind of experimental set-up to measure erosion and weather effects? Instead, inside the museum-shop building were a good number of artefacts found onsite including jewellery, buttons and clasps, glassware, parts of shoes and chain mail, and a partially eroded statue of the goddess Victory. I liked this shrine stone which had been recovered in very good condition from a dwelling in the civilian village of Vicus. (Vicus had grown up alongside the garrison as a place to trade and for the soldiers to spend the leisure hours and their pay!) The trio are the Genii Cucullati, hooded deities who were commonly worshipped across Northern Europe some 1700-1800 years ago.

We ate our sandwich picnic huddled against a bit of stone wall in Vicus,
So cold that even the
trees are wearing woollies! 
and I also managed to try a few samples of English Heritage wares in the shop, partly by sheer cheek! I can happily recommend the All Butter Raspberry Curd which is richly fruity and delicious. The Traditional Honey Mead has a good strong and sweet flavour, but wasn't the smoothest mead I have ever tasted. We also bought Biscuit Tiffin slices to have at home with a reviving cup of tea and they were gorgeous with lots of rich Belgian chocolate! I can't find them in the English Heritage online shop though so guess you would need to visit a site to buy them!

Walking back to Steel Rigg into the wind and drizzle wasn't our most pleasant hiking experience ever, but we were still proud of ourselves for having gone out on a non-perfect day! We saw a flock of house martins swirling after insects and watched them for a few minutes as they didn't care about us at all and flew very close. And another highlight of the day, which I nearly forgot to mention, was crossing the Pennine Way! I've read so much about this famous Way and have no intention of ever trying to complete its whole route, but happily walked it in the 'other direction' by stepping over it!
The Pennine Way! 
And now for something completely different:

You might or might not know that Dave used to be a professional
musician and one of his former bands, Raw Material, was pretty influential in the Prog Rock scene. Their records are still sought after and discussed which makes me rather proud of my Dave's contribution! I was contacted a couple of months ago by a journalist who had found Dave via a theatricalEastbourne post I had written about him. Dave did a long phone interview and, I think, enjoyed reminiscing about his time in the band. Now Issue Seven of Flashback magazine is on sale so you can read all about it too! Flashback specialises in uncovering previously overlooked music from the 1960s and 1970s. I am reliably informed that in the Raw Material article there are even photographs - complete with dodgy haircuts!