Day 25. Bellingham to Haltwhistle. 20 miles - 'How I learnt to stop worrying and enjoy my birthday'.
Today I turned 29 for the first and final time. I awoke to grey clouds and walked the unnecessary mile back into town (though Glenda and her home were both lovely, just a little out of the way). I went straight to the bakery to get my obligatory slice of cake to find the bakess having a crafty morning fag just outside the door. She rather grumpily served me, loudly did not wish me a happy birthday, and so the day began. My first destination of note was Hadrian's wall, a fantastic monument that I had walked the length of with my friends back in 2015. The path to get there consisted of wet farmland, pine trees, oceans of mud, and not a lot else. I briefly chatted with 2 pennine way walkers (and told them if they saw a man matching my Guess Who description to say hi from me) and was slowed considerably by the boggy path - I can see why Hadrian ordered the wall built precisely where it stands, the land immediately north of the wall (much like the incredibly disappointing Game of Thrones) was uninhabitable.
Still I made the wall in decent enough time and immediately remembered just how much it undulates, taking in every possible inch of rise and descent along the ridge, still it is amazing to me that such a large amount of roman stone remains. Built in 122AD huge amounts of the fortification are intact and would still to this day comfortably stop an invading army of drunken Scots in their tracks. Once more, like on the West Highland Way, I was struck with a quiet melancholy, having been here before with friends only to now hike here alone. Furthermore the path was fairly busy. I'd become very accustomed to singing at the top of my voice or talking to myself when surrounded by nothing but desolate Moorland or sweeping hills, but here I had to pretend to be a normal person again, quite the culture shock after so long in the true wilderness.
Despite my slightly sour mood and the incessant drizzle it was hard not to be impressed with Hadrian's penchant for masonry, and there were more highlights to come. The Sycamore Gap is a famous tree due to its use in a Robin Hood film and for countless advertising shots, and it doesn't disappoint. It's apparently ancient, although I always wonder how people know how long that tree has been there for. It looked in great nick so I reckon people keep planting new ones when the previous tree gets a bit rough around the edges and then just stay quiet about it. Still it was very pretty.
The final highlight before reaching the town of Haltwhistle for a well deserved rest day was the Twice Brewed Inn and Brewhouse. Confusingly situated in a hamlet called Once Brewed, the pub is excellent with a wide range of beers brewed in house. I deliberately left the wall, hopped onto the B Road, and jumped inside before I could get any more soaked (as if that were humanly possible). I ordered a pint of the excellent 'Sycamore Gap' (see I told you) and ate and drank to my heart's content, knowing Haltwhistle was just around the corner.
Of course around these parts 'just around the corner' means another 5 miles of dull lane walking, but I got there in the end. Haltwhistle very loudly claims to be the centre of Britain, a mathematical impossibility, and even the launderette was called 'The Centre of Britain Launderette', I suppose civic pride can do strange things if left to ferment too long. As birthdays go this one was pretty average, but the thought of a whole day tomorrow to do nothing but sit around without having to walk made up for the gloom that surrounds Hadrian's Wall and Bellingham.