I’m a reasonably-fit 41 year man. I’m mildly asthmatic. I’m vegetarian. I live (and grew up) in Northumberland. I’ve done several Mountain Training courses, including Mountain Leader training — although not the assessment, due to the pandemic.
To me, there’s four reasons why you’d want to do a multi-day hike:
- Personal challenge
- Social aspect
I was looking forward to tackling the 84 mile / 135 km Hadrian’s Wall Path (HWP) with a friend at a fairly leisurely pace. We’d planned on being away for six nights and taking it easy. However, on the morning of the day that were due to meet in Carlisle, he tested positive for Covid.
My plans went out of the window, and I spent the afternoon re-jigging my plans for a solo trip. Most people do the HWP in either four or five days, so I expected to be back on Friday afternoon. Once I started walking it, though, I realised I might be able to do it pretty quickly.
In fact, all three of the other reasons for doing the walk (scenery, history, and social) went out of the window as well. After all, I grew up in Northumberland and so have visited Hadrian’s Wall many times. I live in the county, so the scenery is spectacular but not new to me. And obviously the social aspect was gone.
How I did it
I got the 06:38 train from my home in Morpeth, changed at Newcastle, then got the 09:30 bus from Carlisle. I then left Bowness-on-Solway at 10:30 on Monday 4th April, and arrived just less than 72 hours later at Segedunum in Wallsend, Newcastle at 10:00 on Thursday 7th April.
This map isn’t accurate in terms of my exact route, but gives you an idea of where I started, finished, and stayed over.
I camped at Bleatarn Farm campsite (lovely!), stayed in a room at The Twice Brewed Inn (cosy!) and camped at Pitch on the Wall campsite (awful!) near Heddon-on-the-Wall. I walked 35km / 21.75 miles on Monday as it was very flat, 33km / 20.5 miles on Tuesday (less flat!) and then I’m not sure how the 72km / 44.75 miles was split between Wednesday and early Thursday morning.
This involved walking for 10+ hours per day, including hourly stops for sitting down and drinking water. Every other hour, I also had something to eat. On Thursday, I packed up at 03:30 in the rain and walked from 04:00 to 10:00 with only two stops. This was the only day I developed two small blisters.
Completing this challenge, one that I set myself only on Monday afternoon, was a great feeling. It was a bit of a grandstand finish, as it was touch-and-go as to whether I’d get to Wallsend in time! In the end, I walked myself into a kind of semi-trance-like state fuelled by sugar and caffeine.
As with any walking trip, there’s things I learned about myself and about my equipment. For example, while I listen to music virtually all the time at home, I didn’t even listen to a single track while away. I think this is because I was listening to my body.
That’s not to say that music didn’t go through my head. Everything from songs my mother sang to me as a child to some of my favourite tunes of recent years accompanied me, depending on how fast I walked.
Here’s a list of things that proved to be good ideas or purchases, and those that weren’t as good. This isn’t by any means a definitive list of what I took with me!
- Walking direction — walking with the prevailing wind from west (Bowness-on-Solway) to east (Wallsend) is the only way I could have done this at the speed I did.
- Boots — I saw some people mention in various places that they did the HWP in trail running shoes. I’m not sure how I would have coped without decent quality, waterproof, worn-in hiking boots. It’s very muddy in places!
- Walking poles — I’ve used two poles while walking for the last few years and it’s made a real difference to the impact on my knees. They also help you not to fall as badly (or at all) if you slip!
- Accommodation types — being able to use the drying room at Twice Brewed Inn was so useful. It really makes a difference if you’ve packed a dry tent and equipment.
- Inflatable mat — although it looks like the specific ultralight version I bought recently is discontinued, getting a camping mat that goes inside your sleeping bag is awesome. I also wouldn’t be without my Jungle Blanket.
- Stopping every hour — I wore my trusty old basic Casio watch instead of my fancy smartwatch. This has the added bonus of being able to be set to beep on the hour, which reminded me to stop, take the weight off, and have a drink. As I said above, every other stop I also had something to eat.
- Merino wool underclothes — these were a last-minute substitution for compression tops/bottoms and were fantastically soft and warm. They also wick sweat away from your body.
- Waterproof coat — I own cheap and/or old waterproofs, but decided to invest in a decent quality one before setting off. It paid me back in spades, along with my insulated jacket (I mainly slept in the latter).
- One-person tent — I really enjoy using my tiny tent for overnight expeditions, but for multi-day treks, it has serious drawbacks. First, I can’t sit up in it, meaning that if it’s raining I have to lie down to eat. I also can’t comfortably get changed inside it. My particular tent also pitches the inner tent before the outer, which is great in summer, but not so awesome in the rain… Next time, I’d take my two-man tent.
- 65-litre rucksack — even before I knew that I’d be doing it solo, I was really concerned about which bag to take. My existing ones didn’t fit the bill, neither did one I bought from the Montane outlet. The one I went with was fine but annoying in little details regarding straps the placement of some clips. Also, I wonder if I could get away with a 48-litre or 55-litre rucksack?
- Specific dehydrated meals — on the whole, I think dehydrated meals used with my Jetboil are a marvellous invention. However, there was one in particular that caused me repercussions in the night on Wednesday. I’ll not name which one, because the brand is usually awesome, and I think it’s my body’s intolerance to large amounts of Vitamin C…
- Cash — I took plenty, just in case, but didn’t need any. Everywhere does contactless because of Covid. Still, I guess it’s nice to have some as a backup.
- Camping facilities — at the end of the day, it’s nobody’s fault but my own that I wasn’t really prepared for the last campsite to be any more than a couple of portaloos in a field. I should do my homework.
If you’re reading this and thinking about doing the HWP, then great! Go for it, and I wish you the best of luck. I’m looking forward to doing it at a more leisurely pace sometime in the future.
However, when I do, I’m going to walk it from Carlisle to Corbridge, as the start and end of my walk were boring. Also, the HWP doesn’t even follow the path of the wall in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I can understand why as otherwise it would involve busy roads and passing through less-than-salubrious areas, but it’s still a bit of a shame.
The other thing worth mentioning is that it’s possible to pay a company to take bags between accommodations when walking the HWP. This means that you can walk with just a light pack. I’m not at the stage of my life where I’d consider that, but you might.