Day 3 – Banks to Caw Gap
~ 14 miles / 9 hours
The morning of day 3 continued to bring stiffness, blisters, aches and pains but a full English breakfast helped us to temporarily forget about this. The manager of the Samson Inn, our accommodation for the previous night, was extremely kind and offered us a lift back to Banks for £10 (rather than the now-quoted £20 from the taxi company).
We hit the trail at 11:00 am and had the first full day of amazing scenery. Hadrian’s Wall stretched out before us, drawing a line through the countryside and running as far as our eyes could see. It was exciting to look far ahead and know that soon enough we would be at that particular spot off in the distance. We could also tell that the view from many of these spots would be well worth the hard work of getting there.
We continued onwards towards more history-laden countryside – the first stop for the day was Birdoswald Fort. We stopped for a quick look around but then continued on because we wanted to focus our efforts on the walk rather than stopping to admire, which would have added an extra hour or two on our day. Because of this, we can’t really comment on the fort itself, but we would like to return one day to see it properly.
The next thing we saw surprised us as it seemed to pop up out of nowhere. Thirlwall Castle, or at least the remains of it, stood high on a hill beside the path. It was a very picturesque location, and we discussed whether or not it was worth using some of our much-needed energy to clamber up the hill to explore it, or if we should take a quick photo and move on.
So up the hill we climbed. There was a sign telling the interesting history of this old family-built castle. It wasn’t a castle that had battles fought over it, it didn’t have a king or a queen sitting on its throne, and it wasn’t used for war. It was just a regular family who built a castle as a home to protect themselves from any potential threats.
Although it didn’t really work. The poor family eventually had to vacate their castle because of the poor choice of location. Apparently, the area was commonly raided by border reivers, so we don’t blame them for leaving!
After our wander to see the castle, we met up with the path again and continued on. There were many steep inclines and declines throughout the day, taking us by the Walltown Quarry which surrounded us with a fantastic 360° view. Poor James was struggling with the constant hills because his injuries were starting to compound. By this point he had a right shin and a left foot injury, resulting in him limping up and down along the wall.
At this point we should probably mention the weather – the skies were clear and it was a lot warmer than we had expected. In fact, it was around 20 degrees (that’s Celsius for our American readers). This doesn’t sound like a bad thing until you take into account that we hadn’t anticipated this in April in the north of England, so we were completely unprepared.
Because the path goes in one direction, and because we were walking west to east, the right side of our bodies was in the sun the entire time… But more on that later.
Anyway, we had a pleasant surprise as we were walking through one privately-owned field when we were lucky enough to spot a sheepdog in action. Around and around the dog ran, gathering up the sheep, and riding around on his owner’s quad. We were particularly impressed when the owner whistled and the dog knew exactly what each sound meant.
“The day of intense hills”, as it would become known, could only be finished, of course, by going up and down four large, steep hills. At this point, we almost wanted to cheat ourselves by just following along the base of each hill and not following the exact path of the wall. But we didn’t.
We trudged along one foot in front of the other, up and down, up and down. Our poor muscles were definitely feeling it at this point. But we kept thinking about how we were just about halfway done the walk and that thought helped get us through.
From every angle, those four hills looked amazing, and the views that stretched for miles at the top were fantastic. When we reached Caw Gap, we threw our bags down and exhaled deeply. We were half-way done the walk!
We looked forward to a big meal once we reached our accommodation and a celebratory real ale!
However, to our devastation, our campsite was another mile away from us. Exasperated, we slung our bags back over our shoulders, and the trudging continued. We followed the Military Road back a little way and turned off on a side street, finally finding Hadrian’s Campsite after about 25 minutes.
We checked into our shared-room, met our one roommate for the night – a very generous Australian who donated to our charity walk – and headed off to find the campsite restaurant or the nearest pub.
Devastation hit us again when the campsite owners told us that the nearest pub was yet another mile away (after walking the extra mile to get there in the first place, that option was quickly ruled out – our legs were battered, especially James’s), and that the campsite had no restaurant either.
There was, however, a campsite shop. So, yay?
We scanned the shelves to find something that looked appealing and filling, but to no avail. Instead, we ended up with a pot noodle each, some biscuits and a couple of bags of crisps. Not what we had in mind, and definitely not celebratory, but we knew this wasn’t a trip of luxury!
With our stomachs relatively satisfied, we headed off to the bathrooms to try the showers out. Only one word can describe the showers that we had: painful.
The showers got very hot, very fast and, remember that persistent sun we mentioned earlier? It turned out we both had very bad sunburns down the right side of our bodies, and the hot water (which couldn’t be cooled – we did try) caused plenty of pain.
Although James actually came up with a clever way to beat the system. Hoping nobody would walk in, he ran from shower to shower to rinse off, enjoying the cooler water temperature before it had time to heat up. And no, he didn’t have any clothes on so he could’ve ended up in a very awkward situation had someone walked in.
We did our nightly ritual of popping ibuprofen, stretching and drinking water before we passed out, pleased with the day’s achievements.
Have you found an unexpected surprise, such as Thirlwall Castle, during any hikes? What did you find? Have you been to Birdoswald Fort? Let us know in the comments!