Sunday, July 15, 2007

Logbook: Hadrian's Wall I

Img_1522(Note: I am actually writing this on Saturday, July 28th. So much has happened over the past two weeks that I have been more than a bit daunted by trying to recap it in this Logbook. Rather than try to cram it all into one immense posting, I have broken it up into a few -- still quite lengthy -- sections. Also, rather than try to write it as one continuous narrative as I normally do, I have decided to present it in a day-by-day format. It would take a book to share all the details, but I have done the best I can to "share the experience." I hope I have been successful.)

Friday 13th - Edinburgh:

I took the airport shuttle from Edinburgh's Waverly Bridge out to the airport and met my Mom's flight which was only slightly more delayed than it had been shown on the airline's website. When she emerged from the arrivals area she looked pretty beat and explained that she'd had a pretty bad flight. I thought about giving her a break by getting a cab back to the city, but decided to get her right into the swing of things on The Voyage instead. I explained that "taxis are for tourists" and steered her to the shuttle bus stand. Half an hour later I ushered her into our hotel room and gave her some time to sort out her gear, take a shower and catch her breath. It was early afternoon by then and she said she was hungry so we walked down the block to a deli for a sandwich. When I was asked what I wanted to drink, I looked at the selection and inquired what an "Irn Bru" was. The clerk replied: "Irn Bru is the other national drink of Scotland, a sugar drink that will give you a buzz and rot your teeth." Pointing to the guy standing next to me she added, "Just ask him, he's a dentist." Img_1492Seizing the opportunity, I turned to the guy and said, "I'm due for a checkup, can I come see you?" He explained that he was booked up, then said "Wait a second..." and asked another guy in the deli if he'd mind giving up his appointment that afternoon. The guy replied that he'd be all too happy to postpone his appointment, so the dentist turned back to me and said "Be in my office around the corner at three o'clock and I'll see you then." Perfect! My mom was still in a bit of a daze, but she caught the gist of what had happened to realize that I'd just made a dental appointment with a guy I met in a deli and said, "I guess that's how it works on The Voyage, eh?" I dropped her off back at the hotel for a nap and went to see my new dentist who gave me an excellent examination, explained that the problem with the tooth that had been bothering me was indeed a slight chip, did just a bit of grinding to smooth it off then gave me a cleaning and a clean bill of health. I thanked him and asked him what I owed him, to which he responded by shaking my hand and saying, "Good luck on The Voyage!" I was stunned. A free dental exam and treatment from a complete stranger... You just can't make this stuff up. Thank you, Martin! I got back to the hotel where my Mom was just waking up and explained what had happened. She shook her head in amazement then pointed to the pile of my gear in the corner of the room and said, "I was just thinking about the fact that everything you own is in that pile on the floor. Between that, the dentist and everything else today, I can really see how things work in your life." Welcome to The Voyage, Mom! In the evening we walked around the neighborhood a little bit, had an early dinner and called it a day.

Img_1494Saturday 14th - Edinburgh:

Since Mom had never been to Edinburgh before and this would be her only day in the city, we decided to combine getting some exercise with doing some sightseeing by walking pretty much all over town. From the hotel we walked to one end of "The Royal Mile" -- the central street of the city -- to visit Holyrood Palace, the Queen's residence in Scotland. It turns out that my Mom has always been a fan of Mary Queen of Scots and that time in British history, so we did the audio tour of the entire Palace and grounds. I have never known much about British history -- and understood even less -- so I enjoyed the overview the tour provided and pretty much exhausted my Mom with questions by the time a couple of hours had gone by. I still don't understand it, but at least I know more than I did. From the Palace we walked the length of The Royal Mile, stopping at Starbucks to enjoy a good cup of coffee (for a change), wandering into a variety of shops (with everything from kilts to bagpipes to shortbread and toffee) and paying our respects at the cathedral of our favorite beverage, the Scotch Whiskey Museum. When we reached the end of The Royal Mile we'd had enough of being tourists and made our way back to the hotel via some of the city's parks and quieter side streets. We spent a little time in the afternoon sorting out our gear for the two weeks of trekking we had in front of us, then had another early dinner and called it a night.

Sunday 15th - Edinburgh to Newcastle:

We began our day with a big breakfast followed by a final packing of our gear, the stashing of my excess gear at the hotel and a walk to the train station. Minutes later we were on our way to Newcastle, the starting point of our "Hadrian's Wall Walk" and the beginning of our adventure...

(Note: This is probably as good a point as any to insert a few comments about "what, how and why" we had planned to "Walk the Wall": For me, it all began over twenty years ago when I was touring Northern England and Scotland and happened to stop at a B&B which featured "Hadrian's Wall" as a local attraction. I had heard about the famous Roman Wall during my studies in college and took a few minutes to walk behind the B&B to check it out. What I saw was an immense pile of rocks about 100 meters long in the shape of a foundation for an extremely large wall. I was amazed by the breadth of it -- about nine feet wide -- and stunned to think that the two foot high pile I was looking at was once 18 feet high! It was inconceivable to me that this Wall once ran uninterrupted for the entire 84 mile width of Britain almost two thousand years ago. I couldn't get my mind around it and decided at that moment I would have to come back some day to check it out. Fast forward to two months ago on The Voyage when I realized I would be in Britain this month and there is no better time to fulfill my destiny! My Mom and I have had so many great walks in places around the world that I emailed her and asked if she wanted to join me. True to form she replied almost immediately with an emphatic "Yes!" She added that she didn't know anything about the Wall so she had done some research on the web and found that it looked like an outstanding walk with an amazing theme. She had also found a company that specializes in supporting "Wall Walkers" with pre-designed itineraries, pre-arranged accommodations along the way and a baggage-forwarding service so we wouldn't have to carry all our gear. Way to go Mom! It all sounded great to me, so we picked our time frame, called the company and set it up: A place to stay each of nine nights with our bags waiting for us when we arrived at each stop. All we would have to do is walk 84 miles in 8 days! Now, back to our story...)

Img_1527Upon arrival in Newcastle around noon, we walked across the train station to the city's Metro and figured it out enough to catch a ride a few stops where we emerged across the street from our first night's accommodations -- a modest but satisfactory little inn -- and checked in. According to our pre-arranged itinerary, our walk the next day was scheduled to be a long, 16 mile segment. Although it was described as "flat and easy" -- mostly along the river through the city of Newcastle and out into the suburbs -- Mom mentioned that she was a little daunted at the prospect of walking 16 miles in one day. Since it was only early afternoon, we decided we could make it a little easier on ourselves by knocking off a few miles that afternoon. So we grabbed our day packs and walked a short way to the official beginning of the Wall at the ruins of the Segendunum Fort. We took a very brief glimpse at the site then posed for a picture at a tiny remnant of the Wall and set off. Because none of the Wall remains in Newcastle -- besides the one where we took our picture -- the walk starts out as just a decent "city walk" and we cruised along the river for a couple of hours until we reached the heart of the city. Having covered almost five miles, we had significantly shortened our walk for the next day and left the path to catch the Metro back to our hotel where we had dinner and hit the rack. As you will soon find out, it was an excellent decision to do our "pre-walk."

To be continued...

No comments: