So, just after last years Great North Run i decided my running days where going to be put on the shelf for a while and i was going to try something new. I had already taken up Judo and ill still be competing on the mats and my acrobatic daughter has me as a stand in stunt base in her cheerleading squad. But i need to be outdoor, in the open air and away from the daily grind. I was also looking to get close to wildlife, something i love with a passion.
I had recently read the book ‘Walking the Nile”. By adventurer Levison Wood and there was so much in the appealed to me i thought to myself, this is what i want to do. Not the Nile maybe, but walking. Long distances away from the home life of modern times.
Where does one start living in the north of England.
Hadrians Wall. 84 miles tunning almost coast to coast.
With many great views and a lot of history to learn on the way, passing though countryside with chances to meet much wildlife. Great starting point.
I have invested in a half decent camera to get some shots of the wildlife, nature and scenery on this adventure and the training runs ill be doing leading up to it.
Since the destination is now set, i have since found a fellow taxi driver who shares this passion for the outdoors and is just as keen to complete the distance of the wall as i am so now that i have a destination, a companion, some basic equipment and a camera, its time to start training for the walk.
Penshaw, Cox Green, Fatfield.
We arrived at the base of penshaw hill at around 0915 with pretty much perfect conditions. A blue sky with a gentle breeze and the low winter sun omitting just enough heat to keep us comfortably warm. I strapped on my camera and rucksack weighing a total of 20lbs and off we went, up the hill towards the monument. About halfway up the steps you can take a left and head west into the woods that surround the hill. We did just that, heading into the woods. It wasnt long before we where greeted by a friendly dog owner, then another and another, until we passed through a gate into heavier woods on our right where we only came across one more dog and owner. We did come across a colourfully dressed mountain bike with a GoPro cycle camera attatched to his head. He was kind enough to wait for us to pass before throwing himself downhill inbetween the trees and other obsticles at crazy speeds.
We soon left the woods into a muddy field where we had to take care we did not slip, then out of that field onto the cox green roadside and downhill we headed to the riverside. All pretty easy going so far.
Once we hit the river at the oddfellow arms, we continued west on the southbank of the river, through a gate and onto a gravel path that sticks with the water. Bringing both inclines and declines in veriety to assist out training.
It wasn’t too long before we were passing dog owners and more walkers. So far it had been an enjoyable trek, until we where looking out at the river and noticed something strange.
Out of the river a few trees sprouted outwards, and two furry wet legs and a matching tail hung over the branch, the body was limp and lifeless, the head rested sadly on the branch that its front two claws had been previously clung to. Because of the riverbank we couldn’t get too close but that would not have mattered either way. The poor guy was dead and probably had been a while. It had the colouring of a German Shepard but we could only assume it had been a Fox that had maybe fell into the river and been washed downstream and became stuck on these particular set of branches. Whatever had happened it was sad to look at and a brief reminder of how difficult life can be in the wild.
The sadness soon fades as the river opens up and we meet a spectacular view of the river under that blue sky. Who knew that the water could be so beautiful.
We continue past the well known James Steel park on out left hand side then the fatfield bridge. We dont cross just yet we stick to the south side until we reach the next crossover bridge which just happens to be the a182 motorway. Luckily theres a small footoath bordering the highway so we cross the river safely and head back east on the north side of the river with the sun now on our right hand side.
We had been walking for an hour and a half and covered 7km in distance before my fellow walker recommends a quick break. We find a nice spot on the edge of the river and stop. He removes his pack and from it he takes out a small carrier bag, two bread buns, a pack of bacon and a portable camping stove.
“I thought i’d suprise you” he said. And suprised i was. Bacon sandwiches. I don’t think i had appreciated anything as much in years. It didn’t take long before i was eating the best bacon sandwich in the world in a beautiful setting surrounded by the wilderness. No other people where around, just singing birds, a softly flowing river and a pretty blue sky. Perfect.
After we ate we gathered all our rubbish and carried on eastbound back overthe Fatfiled bridge staying on the northside and under the old railway bridge that was part of the out of use Victoria Viaduct.
This side of the river seemed more populated with more houses, pubs and roads. More dog walkers, less greenery although still enough to feel like we are out in the wild and quiet enough to spot a bonny little red breasted Robin. I took out my camera slowly and got focused on it, then it twittled off onto another branch, by the time i focused on its new location it hopped off again, this went on for around 15 minutes before i gave up and decided i need to be faster with the camera or more patient, or maybe a combination of both. Im new to photography.
We where soon back opposite the Oddfellow arms pub on the opposite side of the river where a nice green footbridge allows us to cross back over. This is where things got tough. “What goes up must come down” said some famous scientist a couple years back. In the case of today what goes down must come up. We spent the first half of the walk going mostly downhill, so to return to our start position we had to go uphill. We set a fairly fast pace and made our way up the hills, past stables and farms, through the same muddy field and into the woods, continuing uphill towards the rear or penshaw monument, we passed a park ranger and commented to each other how much we would love a job like that before realising we use too much oxygen if we talk. We reached the top tree line feeling like we had conquered Everest then looked at the open feild that led the rest of the way UPHILL towards the monument. We where both breathing heavily and sweating profusely but kept the same pace we had started with at the bottom and it wasn’t five minutes more of digging out heels into the slippery mud before we where dropping out rucksacks on the monument and taking a well deserved sit down. We shared a couple oreo and shortbread biscuits and admired the view from the top of penshaw hill.
On reflexion i think we did well. We walked just shy of 7 miles in just under 3 hours. Taking breaks for dinner and photographs, we did ok. We could have probably done the same distance in 2 hours if we had stuck our heads down and pushed. But then we wouldv’e missed the purpose of it all. To be out in the wild.