Hadrians' Wall stretching as far as the eye can see.
Hadrians' Wall stretching as far as the eye can see. Garry Williamson

"APART from sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public or

"APART from sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?” my partner Garry asked about this time last year.

"Brought peace,” I answered.

"And,” he cries, "they built a wall!”

"That's not in the script,” I murmur, stalking away - as much to show him I, too, know Monty Python's Life of Brian word for word, as to avoid the glint in his eye.

It's the same glint that had me walking the 870km Spanish Camino pilgrimage and the 190km Coast to Coast path across England.

"It'll only take us six days,” he calls after me.

"Nope,” I call back, determined to hold firm to my resolve never to hoof it across another country.

"Only 135km,” he reasons.

"Still nope.”

"History every step of the way,” his voice follows me through the house.

I hesitate - my first mistake.

I turn to find him right behind me. Mistake #2.

We make eye contact. Mistake #3.

"Bugger,” I sigh.

Garry Williamson and Rowena Robertson at the highest point of Hadrian's Wall on wild and windy Winshields Crag.
Garry Williamson and Rowena Robertson at the highest point of Hadrian's Wall on wild and windy Winshields Crag.

A few months later, we're standing at the site of the ancient Roman wall fort of Segedunum at the start of the Hadrian's Wall walk which will take us from Wallsend in Newscastle-Upon-Tyne on England's east coast to Bowness-on-Solway on the west coast.

"I can't believe I'm walking across England again,” I muttered as we left the Wallsend information centre and museum where a nice young man - who's never walked the wall but is more than happy to encourage others to do so - put the first stamp in our official Hadrian's Wall passport.

We walked to the start of the path where we shrugged ourselves into our backpacks, I readjusted the laces of my hiking boots and we were off.

Sadly, very little of the wall remains in Newcastle, so our first day was pretty much negotiating traffic and people as we made our way through the city and along the long, modernised river front.

Hints of Newcastle's industrial past can be seen from the water-side path, below which much of the shoreline is closed to the public because of contamination from a long-disused bitumen plant on the other side of the river. It's not pretty, it stinks and, while neither of us would admit it, our burning feet were already yearning for the feel of grass beneath them.

Sycamore Gap with its landmark tree.
Sycamore Gap with its landmark tree. Garry Williamson

Eventually the cement and frenetic pace of the city was behind us and, five hours after we set out, we reached the village of Heddon-on-the-Wall where we headed for the nearest pub and celebrated the end - almost - of day one with a restorative ale.

With no accommodation to be found in this quaint little town, we walked another soul-destroying three miles to the village of Wylam where we pulled up stumps at the Ship Inn and downed a couple of celebratory pints.

After a shower and a bite to eat we did what all pilgrims on these cross-country walks tend to do at day's end - set out to explore our surroundings. On foot of course, because after walking that far already, why not walk a bit more?

It was also freezing, so we were drawn to warm sounds coming from the Fox and Hounds, another of Wylam's historic pubs where, instead of the normal free bar snacks of peanuts and pretzels, we were treated to hot, thick soup, crusty home baked bread and a hilarious night with the locals.

Next morning, we headed out in patchy rain which quickly turned to hail. With nowhere to take cover, we dragged on wet weather gear, put our heads down and ploughed on.

With every step of this 27km day, we were starting to think Hadrian and his wall were nothing but a myth, perpetuated to induce mugs like us to travel 20,000km to take a long, cold walk in the rain.

Cattle guard the ancient wall.
Cattle guard the ancient wall. Garry Williamson

But after 22km of ice, wind and water we found ourselves standing in front of our first substantial piece of almost 2000-year-old masonry - the remnants of Planetrees fort, just outside our next stop of Chollerford.

Finally touching stones hand-hewn and set in place so many centuries ago by Roman soldiers - also so far from their homeland - was mind boggling, and we couldn't wait to see more.

Our digs that night were the historic George Hotel - a sprawling lodge with so many floors and rooms we discovered the quickest way to the restaurant and bar was via the fire escape at the end of our wing.

Day three (a casual 21km stroll) gave us many more low, wide sections of the wall with its deep ditch running along side it. Known also as a vullum, the ditch provided further fortification against the "barbarian” Picts from the north.

We made our way past numerous ruined forts and, in a muddy paddock off the beaten track, discovered a tiny pagan church dedicated to the god Mithras.

Hadrian's Wall facing east towards Crag Lough.
Hadrian's Wall facing east towards Crag Lough. Garry Williamson

Legend says Mithras's early life, filled with pain and hardship, ended in the defeat and slaughter of the primeval bull - a killing which allowed the life force of the bull to be released for the benefit of humanity.

Now, England's Right to Ramble laws allow walkers to cross private farmland, much of it dotted with skittish but otherwise friendly, harmless sheep. The rest, though, is inhabited by cattle - big, antsy bulls and, while we were there at least, overly protective cows with calves at foot.

And as one who suffers from acute bovinophobia (fear of cows) and its even scarier big brother taurophobia (you can guess what that is), Mithras's act of humanity struck of chord of terror in my heart because nothing - and I mean nothing - scares the bejeepers out of me more than climbing a stile from one paddock to the next, hoping to see sheep and, instead, coming face to face with a big fat mumma cow and her baby. The fear my epitaph would read "Death by mad cow” was my constant companion.

Cattle and rain aside, though, Day 3 also brings you to the National Trust-owned Vercovicium fort, now known as Housesteads, where the ruins give you a snapshot of life along the wall and you can stand on the edge of the Roman Empire and marvel at 360 degree views across Northumberland.

While days three and four of the walk are the steepest and hardest, these two sections take your breath away, with long sections of wall stretching as far as the eye can see along the tops of towering crags guarding the gently sloping farmland far below.

Rowena at Housesteads ruins, one of the best preserved forts along Hadrian's Wall.
Rowena at Housesteads ruins, one of the best preserved forts along Hadrian's Wall. Garry Williamson

Among those crags and in blinding rain, we came to the famous Sycamore Gap, named after the solitary tree growing in its dip. From here you pass Milecastle 37, perhaps the best preserved fort on the wall, and can detour to Vindolanda, which was once a key military post on Britain's northern frontier and is, today, one of Europe's most important and ongoing archeological sites.

Home that night was the curiously named Twice Brewed Inn outside the equally curiously named village of Once Brewed. According to local history, Bonnie Prince Charlie once dined at the inn and disliked their coffee so much they brewed it a second time. Hence the name.

Meeting up with Gympie's Lyn Smith and Bronwyn Saunders in this tiny pub in the middle of nowhere was both a huge surprise and an utter delight. Our fellow Gympieites were part of an organised tour walking the opposite direction to us. While we always opt for a self-guided, by-the-seat-of-your-pants, anything-can-go-wrong-and-often-does type of experience, Lyn and Bronwyn took the element of suprise out of their wall walk by leaving the booking of accommodation and walking schedule to the experts. No matter how you walk the wall, though, it's worth doing.

Rowena's stamped Hadrian's Wall passport.
Rowena's stamped Hadrian's Wall passport. Garry Williamson

We woke on Day 4 ( a short 13.6km stroll) to more rain and light hail and a hard day climbing the crags that would take us past the most northern and highest points of the wall and Great Chester's Fort where my bovinaphobia raised its ugly head yet again.

After running the gauntlet of cattle in muddy field after muddy field, we finally reached Gilsland Hall - a huge hotel that has had many incarnations in its lifetime, including a convalescent hostel for pregnant single women and, through both world wars, a stopover for soldiers on their way to the front.

The next stamp in our passport was Birdoswald fort where the scenery was more spectacular than the ruins themselves.

The final two days, to the city of Carlisle and on to the end of the walk at the village of Bowness-on-Solway were unexceptional. While there is some lovely scenery and good coastal views along the tidal Solway Firth, there's, sadly, no wall to be seen.

There is, however, the satisfaction of standing under that final guide post, knowing we've walked in the footsteps of the ancient Roman auxiliaries who lived and worked in the shadow of Hadrian's Wall.

"And that,” Garry said to me with a triumphant smirk as we stamped our passports for the last time, "is what the Roman's have done for us.”

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