We shall not cease from exploration

Yesterday saw an advance party (Vic and me) explore the stretch of Hadrian’s Wall Path (henceforth HWP) between Walltown Crags and Gilsland. Walltown is one of many places near the HWP that has been named for its proximity to the structure; it is not quite the most unimaginatively named as that prize must go to the prosaic Wall, near Chollerford. A placename that has oft perplexed and amused me is Wallish Walls, near Stanley (always say this in an Oliver Hardy voice) in County Durham. Is it thus called because of its relative propinquity to the Wall, it’s not really close, just, well, close-ish? Or have the walls there got fuck all to do with the Wall and they’re not really walls, just shite wallish ones?

Much as I love spending quality time with Vic, we were walking yesterday on a bright but blustery Spring day as I am having a self-enforced rest from running. Shit. I have self-diagnosed the problem as the little-known condition ‘Lewis Leg’, as made famous by Inspector Morse:

A bad case of Lewis Leg on the High

I shall of course seek a second opinion, but – and I really don’t want to bang on about this – if I don’t get a decent solution to this soon I’m going to have to forgo the following races that I’m scheduled to run in:




Shite, shite and thrice shite. Money will have been wasted and fitness will be lost; not only am I in training for the Hadrian 6in6 (henceforth H6-6), but prior to the summer I am entered for the Edinburgh Marathon: http://www.edinburgh-marathon.com/ on 22.05.11.

However, H6-6 is the prize on which I have my eye; I shall consider everything leading up to it as preparation!

Back to yesterday. We braved the winds and the first place of interest we happened upon was Duffenfoot, dominated by the ruins of Thirwall Castle. A typical primaveral scene, with lambs and snowdrops and shit:

Their pale heads heavy as metal

Battles, skirmishes and opportunistic plundering of its stone by the local populace have left the castle itself somewhat forlorn. Nevertheless its remains constitute an imposing and romantic relic, with a magical legend attached that involves a l’al spooky gadgie:

“Thirlwall Castle: Myth and Legend

Baron John returned from distant wars with great spoils, amongst which was a table of solid gold guarded by a hideous dwarf whose pitch-coloured skin proclaimed his exotic origins.  After many raids made by envious Border and Scottish Chiefs eager to seize the treasure for themselves, the castle was finally taken by the Scots and most of its defenders killed. But when the Scots battered down the door of the chamber where the table had been kept, it had vanished along with its guardian the dwarf.

One of the Scots then claimed that he had seen the Black Dwarf staggering under the weight of the table to the castle well. The Dwarf flung the table down the well shaft and leapt in after it, magically sealing the well after him. Legend has it that he remains there still, guarding his table in some underground cavern far below Thirlwall Castle’s foundations. He is under the influence of a spell which can only be removed by the only son of a widow.”

There you go. If you are a widow’s son, hie thee to Thirlwall and you could soon be the proud owner of a golden table, the like of which can found neither in Ikea nor in the eternal sales of DFS.

Easter Island profile

And  the search for the Veedon Fleece continues…. With my sensible trildren head on, we want to cover the HWP prior to the H6-6, as: we want to spend our time running, not navigating; we want to know the terrain (with specific reference to undulations, quagmires and mantraps); one of us will be doing one of the legs blindfold, with a rigorous selection procedure the night before that will involve a crow’s-feet count, rock/paper/scissors and a forage in whimsical potbilk. The leader will need to know the terrain in intimate detail, as well as being able to walk on the ricepaper without leaving a trace.

It is just as well the HWP is to be covered beforehand, as yesterday’s walk involved the crossing of the railway line tweece (the Carlisle to Newcastle line, built in 1835, is the oldest cross-country railway in the whole wild world). This will be difficult enough for the sighted (“I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives”).  Anyway, we needed to heed the words of the song; we stopped, looked and listened for a train, as well as to our hearts, and safely crossed the track before a little terrace of charming redbrick cottages (built in 1907 for the local Parlanchin family).
Being something of a literary bugger, the deserted railway track at this point could not help but put me in mind of Dickens’ ghostly tale ‘The Signalman’, or, more specifically, the BBC adaption thereof.
It is said that Denholm Elliott walks here still

And we sailed and we sailed. Our peregrinations led us, after a walk of 1 hour and 15 mins or so,  to the spa village of Gilsland, near Moscow. If you think I jest, google Moscow, Gilsland and you will have the proof, without having to eat pease pudding, hot or cold. Gilsland is not just renowned for its fart-odoured healing waters; it is a tough frontier town as befits its location, on the Northumberland-Cumberland border…whilst the village is almost wholly in Northumberland (with concomitant north-east accent),  Milecastle 48 at Poltross Burn stands proudly on Cumbrian soil. Some mythical co-mingling dubs said milecastle  King Arthur’s Stables, to spice it up for the tourists no doubt.  We spanned Poltross Burn and its miniature water-trickle (can’t really call it a fall) and another railway crossing led us, via a tortuous sideflank round the local primary school, to Gilsland.

Refreshed at House of Megs – coffee, hot-chocolate-drinking-chocolate and some stereotypical English afternoon comestibles (tiffin and teacakes), we returned whence we came. Not before I had pondered on my personal Gilsland history: for me, Gilsland has always connoted shame. In 1979, as a sixth-former, I was sent home from school camp, at Underheugh, in the company of Stephen ‘Tonky’ Thompson, for irresponsible and drunken behaviour. We had been asked along by the teachers to help with the first-year camp (latter-day Year 7s). Oh the ignominy. Oh the shame. To be fair, the worst we did was fall into a tent and wake a few of them up, but the morning after we were dealt with, rather heavyhandedly methought, by a teaching mentality that valued Power and Control above all. A right royal dressing-down was given (the words “trust”, “betrayal” and “immature” were bandied about freely, I recall) and we were summarily sent home. We were pointed in the direction of Gilsland without any rights of reply or appeal, which I still like believe was massively against our like human rights or something, for sure.

I resumed my ignominious association with Gilsland in the summer of 1985. I do not particularly want to make humorous capital out of my crapulent years but, I can’t change the past, so what the hey. After an evening’s quaffing and a girly fit at the Station Inn, in the company of Steve ‘Blade’ Foulds, Mike ‘Sergeant Garcia’ Lawson and Simon ‘Groom’ Brown, I was unceremoniously  abandoned by these three, somewhere on the backroads between Gilsland and Brampton. My offence: allegedly micturating in the backseat of Fat Lawson’s car, a heinous crime. I suspect my real crime was being an obnoxious, maudlin liaibility, an eaten-out shell of a human building, teetering perilously on the brink of collapse (and here I borrow a literary technique, the implag, used, inter alia, by Alasdair Gray in Lanark: stolen words concealed within the body of the narrative). After my ejection, like Cassio in Othello (with whom I shared poor and most unhappy brains for drinking) “I remember a mass of things, but nothing distinctly” or rather a mass of disconnected events. Stumbling into a barbed-wire fence and ripping my hand open (scar still visible on fleshy part of right hand, beneath my thumb). Unsuccessfully securing shelter for the night at an isolated farmhouse, bloodied of hand, brow and jeans, despite repeated ringing of doorbell and chapping on window (how could they refuse me, the lost lamb?). Mistaking the lights of Brampton for the marshalling yards at Kingstown. Real country dark. Eventually settling down for the remainder of the night in a comfortable red telephone box in the hamlet of  Banks. Being rudely awakened from my ancient slumber by the district nurse, as she opened the door (Dave Bell) of said ‘phone box. I hate Nerys Hughes!

I’ve just cashed me Giro and I’m prepared to spend the lot on vodka

(As ever in these matters, I am willing to stand corrected by Steven James Foulds; he is the only one remaining of the three who is likely ever to read this)