Carlisle to Newcastle via Hadrian’s Wall
I left the Lake District the same way I arrived – with a big grin on my face, looking forward to the next part of this awesome road trip. It was time to head further North and even more excitingly… north of the wall!
I headed to Carlisle as my stop-gap on the way to Newcastle primarily due to its proximity between the two points and also because it was close to the border of Scotland, meaning I could add another UK country to this UK road trip.
Leaving hostel life for a series of AirBnBs made for a welcome sea change. As adaptable as I can be to most sleeping situations, it is nice to have your own room from time to time. I stopped off at a back street barber in Carlisle first for a trim and kinda wish I’d gone to see Sweeney Todd instead. Apparently it had been a long day for Emma and she was “dead tired”. As her last client, I must have sapped the rest of her strength and by all accounts, her hairdressing capability as well. Donnning my mighty Saints cap to hide Emma’s attempts at a short back and sides, I headed to meet Ryan, my AirBnB host for the next two nights.
One of the things I love about travelling is the ability to make friends wherever you go and it was clear from the get go that Ryan and I were going to get on. The house was lovely, the 3 dogs were friendly and great fun and Ryan and I hit it off like we were old friends. In order to maintain my budget, it’s rare for me to head out of an evening on this trip, preferring to read or write wherever I lay my hat that night. Ryan and I ended up just chatting all night, drinking wine and watching TV, it was a really relaxing night and I felt like I was spending the night at a friend’s house, rather than a being a guest of someone elses.
The following day, I heading into Carlisle to get my feel for the place and do my obligatory cathedral and castle tour.
Carlisle does have quite a vibrant history and the castle is the most sieged in Britain, due to its proximity to the Scottish border. Remnants of the city walls are prominent and some of the architecture takes a nod to its medieval history but to be fair, it doesn’t have much else going for it. You can tell that the people of Carlisle feel the same and the feel of this city has undertones of boredom and forsakenness.
One of the few things I have excelled at on this road trip is parking my car somewhere and not making a note of where I parked it. I knew it was near the town centre and I was taking advantage of free Sunday parking but they were the only clues I afforded myself. What fun! After about 30 minutes of curious wander, I located the car and decided to take the brief journey across the border and visit England’s favourite neighbour – Scotland.
For me and for thousands of lovestruck young adults before me, Gretna Green was the easiest place to get to after leaving England. Due to a law passed in the 1800s, the age of marriage without parental consent was raised to 21 years of age. This law however, wasn’t passed in Scotland and once this became knowledge to the young lovers of England desperate to be married, they fled to Gretna Green where they were able to be married by the local ‘blacksmith priests’ who found themselves taking on very different duties to just making horseshoes. To this day, people of all ages still make the pilgrimage to Gretna to get married ‘over the anvils’ and get caught up in the romanticism of the past and what has made Gretna so famous.
I took a wander around the museum there, ensuring I touched all the anvils to make me lucky in love and then sat at my table for 1, surrounded by a notable number of tables for 2 and enjoyed a plate of neeps and tatties with game stew before heading off to play ‘where’s my bloody car’ again, a game which I was getting really quite good at.
I arrived back at Ryan’s place and despite seeing all that Carlisle and Gretna had to offer, I still had plenty of time to write my Lakes blog and watch another movie. Ryan and I then spent the evening putting the world to rights, making sure we didn’t disturb the other AirBnb guests (a chinese couple) who were also staying.
The following morning, I headed off to follow Hadrian’s Wall all the way to Newcastle, with a plan to stop at every Roman site, wall walk and museum along the way. Unbeknownst to me that English Heritage and the National Trust had other ideas.
One of the best things any traveller can take with them when on the road is perspective. I have been to a number of museums where my ability to absorb and learn was thwarted by the shouts and screams of many a school class. This can be annoying but if I look at it from another perspective, I am really happy these children are out and are learning and hopefully getting inspired by what they see. With that viewpoint, I could look around with a much calmer temperament and somehow find an inbuilt noise filter. Happy days.
This perspective was needed when I came to realise that every Roman site, wall walk and museum managed by English Heritage (aka all of them) was closed Monday – Friday during the winter months. This is frustrating when I had only the one plan for that day but looking at it from a different perspective, I’m glad they’re not wasting money just to accommodate me (I didn’t see anyone else about along the whole track) and will be able to use the money saved to better preserve more of England’s amazing heritage and keep more popular sites open at that time of year. I was able to wander along a few areas of the wall which weren’t behind closed gates or on farmers land and enjoyed picturing what it was like during in Roman times. Then those thoughts turned to Game of Thrones and what would happen if I went north of the wall and if I would see a Wildling or Jon Snow. Sadly I didn’t see either but it was great to visit, nonetheless.
I stopped off in the little village of Corbridge, famous for its pants (which apparently are drinking fountains) for a late lunch and then made my way to Newcastle.
Newcastle, like Liverpool seemed to have made such an effort to be a great city but unless you can change the mindsets of the people who live there, it’s never going to feel great to a tourist. On my drive into the city centre, I watched as an apparent criminal was chased and tackled by the police and due to the fact I had arrived too early for my somewhat alarmed AirBnB host who couldn’t possibly let me in until after 5pm, I stopped for a drink in one of the cities many pubs. After a very failed attempt to be picked up by an extremely drunk man (at 4pm!) where he fell onto my table, knocking my pint flying, I decided to leave and make the slow journey to my bed for the night and a host who was the exact opposite of lovely Ryan in Carlisle. I was a good man though and adhered to the many house rules without complaint and we got on fine. Apparently there was a Ukrainian girl was staying there too, in the room next to mine but I didn’t see her once.
I spent the Tuesday wandering the streets of Newcastle, taking in the castle (not that new anymore) and the cathedral as well as crossing its many bridges and enjoying the contemporary art at the Baltic Gallery. As I say, Newcastle does lend itself to being a brilliant city but they just need to get the people who live there onboard. Upon asking one of the locals what there is to do in Newcastle, I was met with “F*ck all man” as a response. However, I managed to occupy my time and enjoyed what I saw of the place.
Wednesday morning saw me visiting the Angel of the North, which was a site I was really happy to see due to its infamy and after feeling that I had covered all I wanted to see of the place in a day and a half, headed towards the beautiful city of Durham and the Beamish Open Air Museum, which I cover in my next post, as I start to make my way back down South.
For a full album of photos from Carlisle to Newcastle, search Wandergrin on Facebook and like the page.