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Hiking historic Hadrian’s Wall tough, rewarding

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In early September I completed a seven-day walk of Hadrian’s Wall in northern England.

My legs and knees still attest to that fact. And forget the fad diets — I tip the scale 14 pounds lighter.

So what is Hadrian’s Wall?

In 122 A.D., following his visit to Britain, Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered his wall to be built. It was planned as a continuous wall with a milecastle every Roman mile (1,000 marching paces of the Legions).

There are also two turrets equally spaced between each milecastle. The wall, with its defensive ditches and large forts, stretched from coast to coast, a distance of 84 miles.

It goes west from Wallsend on the Tyne estuary to Bowness-on-Solway on the Eden estuary. The latter only about 250 yards from Scotland. The wall formed the most northern frontier of the Roman Empire; it is an amazing engineering feat and, to my mind, rivals the pyramids. It was manned by auxiliary legions drawn from all regions of the empire. At any time more than 20,000 men were garrisoned on this wall.

In the fifth century the empire started to crumble and came under increasing attack, and so Britain’s legions were withdrawn to shore up the homeland defenses.

The Roman rule lasted 400-plus years, and almost 2,000 years later parts of this wall are still very evident.

The wall has disappeared in the urban centers but on the hills, crags, gullies and moors there are still about 20 miles existing. I decided to complete the walk in one continuous day-to-day effort.

The different and friendly people I met and the scenery, plus fair weather equaled a fabulous experience.

The single key highlight was that my nephew, William, and his son, Harry, joined me for the weekend buoying me up and without a doubt their presence made the walk even more memorable.

In retrospect, it was an increasing physical challenge. Each day was approximately 15 miles over very different terrain, footing and elevation. I carried a 22-pound day pack (mostly water, sandwiches, waterproofs, etc). The distance was exacerbated as the delightful farmhouse bed and breakfasts are often an additional two to three miles away from the trail.

Although I “trained” on our People Trails I found that pre-conditioning helped but did not really prepare me.

The sobering reality of being a reasonably fit 73-year-old was that I could only partially bounce back overnight. So, coupled with poor sleep and some aches, I slowly became more weary.

However, still upright and on schedule, I finished the official 84 miles. If the distance to/from the B&B’s is added, then the total was 96 miles. If you are planning a trip, to Scotland, I encourage you to stop for a day walk. There are some easy road access points. Over the weekend I met many Brits, often with their dogs, doing just that — seeing the wall up close and having the plus of a leisurely walk on the crags.

I expect that might be my last long distance walk, fortunately Hadrian’s Wall was a super ending point.

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