Ups and Downs of 2016

I suppose its been a good year in the end. I started off 2016 with one goal in mind, to walk the length of hadrians wall, carrying all my own equipment for the journey. A lot of planning took place, a lot of training too. I was going to be well prepared. What could possibly go wrong?……

Initially there was to be three of us doing the walk. I had discussed it with a work collegue for a while and when we decided to book our time off work and set dates to go, another friend fancied the journey too. Now there was three. 

Almost a month to go, I get some disturbing news that my work collegue had taken ill and was currently in a coma in hospital. Shocked was not the word I would use to describe how I felt when I heard the news. Only days before we had been out on the running track together and now he had taken seriously ill. It just goes to show how quick things can change no matter how fit and healthy you think you may be. Alway listen to the body. 

After the shock of the news it occured to me that Darren would no longer be able to join in on this adventure. It was sad news for us all but most so for Darren who had been a major influence on me even considering it from the start. Health comes first. 

Nathan and me was still set to go ahead, date was set, kit was sorted arrangements had all been put in place. All that was left to do was the actual walk. We had planned four days to cover the 84 mile journey, averaging 21 miles per day. Sounds simple enough, it was well within our capabilities, we had all done enough training in the build up so there was nothing to worry about.

I had took two weeks off work, week two was the walk, the first week my family and i enjoyed a few days in Carlise, mainly taking in the sights and kind of got me in the mood for the week ahead. The real problem began when i ate something in the hotel restraunt that did not agree with my stomach. As much as i enjoyed the week away with the family, im sure it would have been better if i wasnt constantly looking for the nearest toilet. 

We came home at the weekend and i had two days to pull myself together. I spent most of the saturday between the bed and the toilet, not eating at all and not drinking much, at least not anything that wanted to stay. Sunday morning i woke up and felt great and tested the water with a small lunch which settled well. Had a larger evening meal which agred with me also. I text Nathan, told him i’m ready to go, bring in the wall. I was fit to go, so I thought.

The Walk.

As per arrangement, Nathan picked me up 7am and we drove to Wallsend metro station which was only a short distance from the beginning of Hadrians wall path. Here we were on our way. We picked up a decent pace and followed the well marked out pathway that was at this point silent except our footsteps on the tarmac. Occasionally a cyclist would ring from behind and disappear ahead as quickly as they had approached. After a short while the enclosed footpath opened up and we found ourselves on the high banks of the river Tyne. This was, in my opinion, the first instance of beautiful scenery we came across.

So far we had not seen any sign that there was once a Roman wall along the path we where walking, we had that to look forward to. 

Not much further on the way we got a glimpse of Newcastle and its Tyne bridge and its prettier, smaller sister, the Millenium footbridge. With this in our sights, we took our first break, about an hour into the walk. The quayside was beginning to come alive with monday morning Workers making their daily commute while we sat on a bench, massive backpacks dumped on the ground, and supped tea from our flasks. It was here when we forst realised just how hot a day was ahead. I removed the jacket i had been wearing to discover how much i had been sweating so far, my undershirt was saturated. I had made my first error. 

We continued to follow the path along the edge of the Tyne river heading inland to greener pastures. Past commuters, dog walkers, early morning joggers and whoever else was around this time of the morning not many paid us much attention at this point. Some would greet us with a polite good morning, others would bypass our greeting with their heads dropping further in ignorance or whatever they felt if a stranger said good morning. 

Most of the way along the riverside i felt great. Full, energetic, hydrated. It wasn’t until we stopped at the Boathouse  pub by the riverside and i had a pint of Coca Cola (possibly my second mistake) that i started to feel a little off. I spent a few minutes in the bathroom before we set off again l, telling myself theres nothing to worry about and soon after we set back off on our way, i felt fine again. (That did not last).

We passed through a fun looking park with a little something for everyone before we came upon a rugby feild that we considered stopping at to cook some lunch on our portable stoves, however we passed on this opportunity for a number of reasons I don’t recall but I do know that by this point i was feeling a weakness i was not used to. I kept this to myself for now and plodded on through the Rugby pitch and what turned into the longest, steepest bank i had ever seen. (Or so it felt at the time). We passed a golf course at the bottom of this bank and again pushed on rather than stopping to fire up the stoves and eat. It was past lunch time at this point so we tild ourselves when we get to the top of this hill we would stop and eat. It never seemed like it was going to end, just when we thought we were reaching the brow, it would bend off another direction and continue on the incline. It was something I would usually ignore but I was feeling very unwell at this point. We took the opportunity to sit on a bench that was nicely placed on the edge of a steep village that kept the hills scenery changing. We again contempleted getting our food on the go but it was right by the roadside and although it was not exactly the M25 motorway it was still not ideal to be cooking up a treat. After a five minute rest we where greeted by an elderly couple (who made walking look simple) who kindly informed us that the small village of Heddon on the wall was literally just around the bend. With that we gained a burst of energy and sure enough, the top of the hill and a small communtiy was upon us. It took us no time at all to find a little deli and purchase the finest hot beef sandwiches in the world. We had a good rest and filled our water bottles before setting away. We where informed that about 5 miles further on the route, we would find the Robin Hood Inn. A pub with a large campsite where we could pitch up for the night. Sounded perfect, we set away in a hurry, eager to get to our destination to end day 1. All we saw on this last leg was hills. We walked roadside mostly on the edge of farmers fields which where worn from the thousands who trek the route every year. Every half hour or so we would stop for a quick drink. Yet every time we stopped i felt weaker and weaker. I had stopped sweating and was gulping down water to try rehydrate myself as fast as possible. Every break it was harder to start going again. At this point Nathan was getting ahead of me to see if we where close to any kind of civilisation while i was shaking and starting to feel cold despite the hot sunshine above us. My head barely looked further up from where my toes where landing after each step. I can not recall whatnwas going through my head at this point all i knew is that i could not stop or I would not start again. After what seemed like a month, we reached the top of a hill which waa hidden by a bush, and just behind the bush, was pure joy and excitement, just behond the bush, was the Robin Hood Inn. Providing for the needy. 

A quick check in, a quick glass of Cola, we set our tents up outside and preparred our evening meals. A preprepared tub of chicken Fajita mix which we devoured with joy. The sun was setting and it the beautiful tranquility of the area was regularly disturbed by the approach of airliners making the final approach to Newcastle Airport. Great. Not that the peacefulness would have helped, soon after i was being sick at regular intervals. I truly felt awful as the night set in and a part of me believed that if i fell asleep like this i may not wake up again. 

I did eventually drift off but not for long. I woke up to bring up the contents of my stomach, which was practically nothing at this point. Nathan was asleep for most of this although i occasionally disturbed him and rightfully apologised for doing so. I did find some peace that night. In the silence of the night and the lower volume of air traffic, while i had my head out of the tent i lay on my back for a while and just looked up. I saw a beautiful clear night. A sky full of stars. Hundreds of them twinkling from millions of light years away. Distant Galaxies in our Universe and i had the pleasure of them all to myself, at least for this moment. 

The morning came quickly, we woke later than planned and i had managed to get a decent rest. Opening my eyes i felt great, ready to take on the next day of hiking, yet as soon as i stood, my legs where like jelly and my head was weak and fuzzy. I was done. 

Nathan being the amazing bloke he is, happily delayed the the mornings hikes to knock up a few top notch bacon sandwiches, he also set about packing the tent and other kit up ready to go. His and mine, while i tried to gather some strength. After a long delay i decided i would be risking it to go on. I managed to get a friend of mine (who happened to be a raxi driver, to do the 60 mile round trip to pick me up and take me home for a discounted rate. The staff in the pub where helpful and kind while i awaited my ride, providing me with water and juice and waiting on me while i felt sorry for myself for quitting. 

The ride home was quiet as I now felt id let Nathan, my family and friends who had supported me, and myself down. On top of that i felt truly devestated that i could not complete the callenge i had been looking forwars to for so long. I think now i had a rough inkling of how bad Darren felt when he realised he could not make the trip either. 

Despite now being alone, an inexperienced hiker with basic equipment, Nathan bravely plodded on, competing his journey to the end, he was also kind enough to contribute to this blog which will be the basis of the next few chapters. 

Day 2: We woke to a chilly morning but with the sun breaking out, the potential of a beautiful day ahead, weather wise that is….. unfortunately my walking pal Anth seemed not all himself very pale, quiet and seeming as though sickness was upon him, chances were bleak of him continuing. After I set up the portable stove and knocked up bacon sandwiches and a cup of tea each, still no improvement to my walking partner and unfortunately for his own safety had to take the decision to take an rely taxi home. I was devastated for him as I knew the planning and preperation he had put in, being 100% would be very hard to do this trek so any format of illness would only be a danger to himself so the right decision was certainly taken, sdly he went off home.

I was then hit with a stark reality that I had 63 mile left of this walk, alone, never in my life had I trekked or even camped out, now I would be doing it alone and hitting a route that I’d very briefly researched as anth was the brains behind the whole operation. 

I left the Robin Hood pub where we camped and had breakfast which was around the 21 mile mark of 84. About an hour on I found a lovely pub on the route where I sat and got a pint of coke and planned my route and distances I’d try and hit daily.

Having already reached the 25 mile mark I aimed for once brewed as there was a campsite called Winshield  farm where there was a 10 pound fee but you could pitch, shower, there was plug sockets to charge phones etc. … it was luxurious as far as campsites could go. That was a further 18 mile to what I had reached, so at tough ask.

I did manage that gruelling trek, a lot of very steap hills, boggy terrains, warm conditions, sun beating down… but on that route I finally saw some big peices of Hadrian’s wall! At plaintrees.

 I took my bag off whig felt like the weight of a small car had a drink then got back on my way as I knew I couldn’t risk being out too late alone.

I was around 10 mile from my destination of once brewed hotel which was 200 yards away from Winshield farm campsite, when I reached the chesters roman fort at Chollerford a beautiful stone bridge and quaint little village greeted me, the first real bit civilisation I had encountered for a long lonely 3 hours…. I found a deli and had what I thought at the time was the most beautiful cold sandwich and can of pop I’d ever tasted, not sure If it was the pure exhaustion that made me think that…. fully fuelled again I got up put my heavy bag on and continued passing chesters roman fort obviously stopping for photos 

 but I knew I had to carry on just under ten mile to go already around one in the afternoon.

After what seemed days of walking through farmers fields, avoiding cattle, over fences up hills, down hills I reached once brewed pub, I could not get my bag off quick enough and order a glass of coke to get some sugar back in me after an hour or so of sitting in the beer garden reflecting on what I’d achieved I made the short journey up the road to Winshield farm. I could not wait to pitch up and get some rest which is exactly what I did. After meeting the owners of the farm and paying my pitch fees I grabbed some snacks and pitched my tent had a change of clothing and a wash and was set for the night.

A massive feeling of achievement was over me and I could not wait to sleep even though I knew when I woke up I had another 26 mile to reach my day 3 target of hitting carlisle. 

Super noodles on the stove and a can of pop and some crisps for tea, then it was time to sleep. 

Being woke up at around 3 in the morning cause of a light drizzle and winds I was relieved I’d already thought ahead and put some rocks on the sides of my tent to keep it secure took me almost 2 hours to get back to sleep, I was just thankful I did.

Day 3… 0600 on day 3 waking up to a damp field and damp tent but still the look of a potentially beautiful day in the countryside, sun was up usually meant I should be up.

To my suprise at around the 40 mile mark which I was at still had no aches pains and most importantly no blisters, I did have a stomach bug that morning but luckily the local village had a pharmacy which was sharply cured and I could get on my way after a beautiful warm breakfast and cup of tea made in the canteen by the farm owners 

..I was sat out the back of re farm building all alone looking into this huge valley of vast fields watching some gentleman chase all the sheep into the neighbouring field, the mind frame I was in this was very very entertaining.

Feeling back to all close to fully fit and fresh and rsady to go I got my bag on, thanked the farm owners and began my 3rd day of walking. 22 mile to carlisle centre was my aim and that would leave a casual 13.7 mile on the final morning from Carlisle to bowness on solway, this was the plan!!! 

The first 8 mile on morning 3 was a lot better than any other area of land I’d walked, within a 2 hour period I’d saw steel Rigg, housesteads roman fort, Vindolanda, Roman army museum and Birdoswold roman fort… pretty action packed in comparison to the hours and hours of farmers fields I was used to.

Once I’d passed all these attractions there was a lot more wall present to see which was a bonus and helped spur me on along the way. Jut a mere ten mile from Carlisle still managing around 4 miles each hour, which was pretty impressive due to the vast amount of rain that had saturated the earth the previous night.

Finally I see a sign to Carlisle, a massive confidence boost as I was beginning to feel very heavy legged and mentally weak. Walking through countryside gives you so much time to think and reflect and really makes you miss family back at home, not having anybody to talk to was such a strange feeling, always being surrounded by people and talking was something I’d came to miss on this long long walk, only the odd fellow walker in the opposite direction was my only communication.

Until I finally had the beautiful Carlisle castle in my eye line, a massive boost and an overwhelming boost of happiness, joy and excitement, I could list more and more adjectives to show how I felt at that moment but it was a huge boost that sticks out for me along the whole walk, knowing I only had 2 mile left on a long 3rd day.

I was now in the centre of Carlisle and I had a genius idea, knowing I old had 13.7 mile to do to reach a seemingly impossible 84miles finish line, I decided I would not stay in a shabby cheap tent from asda but I would treat myself  to a hotel stay for my last night. I sat and had a coffee and searched for any format of room I could stay and there was literally not one room for me to stay, as you can imagine I was completely devastated, never really felt low along this walk as something had always kept me going.

So I sat and searched for anywhere I could stay in terms of camp sites, I found one…… a further 5 miles away, I could not even begin to describe my devastation it was more of a psychological blow as I had shut off for the day only to realise I had almost two hours of walking to do again.

With the sun beginning to set I was again trudging along country lanes making my way from Carlisle to the Monkhill area where there was a small field to which you could pitch a tent for a mere 5 pound. I had to walk down a 1 mile stretch of road that cows were just roaming free cars had to give way to them never mind me as a walker, it was pretty daunting to be honest, but knowing I could pitch my tent very soon was a massive factor pulling me through it. So I got through unscathed the cattle allowed me through and I reached my destination at last, I whipped my bag off threw it to the ground I could have slept on the damp grass I was that drained.

Pitched up my tent, I was the only camper in the field that night all alone in a field miles from home, but that wasn’t going to beat me, i had a freshen up and I couldn’t face any tea I was so exhausted and had a horrible sick feeling off taking in all the countryside smells and enduring the heat. I did however manage to walk just passed the church and found a nice little pub where I charged my phone and grabbed a coke and sat and spoke to 4 or 5 of the locals who were amazed at my 3 day achievement of almost 76 mile… to be honest so was I,  how had I made it this far, alone, not knowing what to hit next, where I was going how I was going to get there but I knew in just 9 mile I had done it, I’d be at bowness on solway and on that bus back to Carlisle then on the train home to my wife and baby girl! 

I walked back to my tent for the night and lay back and set an alarm which I had never done so far, I wanted to be up early and get this final distance over with. There was only one thing for it… sleep.

Day 4: the final trek!!! Up I rose at crazy o’clock sun still not quite up but I was, up bright as a button ready to dispatch this last 8/9 mile.

Packed my tent and other camping items and decided to part company with and stick them into the bin on the camp site as I knew this tent would no longer be needed and was only weighing me down, my bag now feeling as light as a feather in comparison to the previous day, off I went. 

Cold and damp but I was well wrapped up and the excitement of getting to this finish line was like no other! It wasn’t long before I was greeted with what seemed like the greatest sign I will ever see “bowness on solway”  I was walking adjacent to port carlisle which no matter how I was feeling physically and mentally was still absolutely beautiful you could see for miles across the port to the opposite side to which more shore was there it was a beautiful morning and in the not to near distance but in my eye line was a small village which I knew 100% would be where this trek would end, and I could not wait for that moment!!!!! Finally my wife and daughter was coming into my head for a good reason this time not for missing them like mad but knowing it wouldn’t be too long before I see them, that was the ultimate spur throughout this journey!!!! 

Closer and closer and closer legs getting heavier by the step I marched slowly but surely towards this tiny village knowing that everybody would probably still be sound asleep.

My excitement began greater as I saw the wooden sign that I’ve been following for the last 4 days and it read “finish line” I again was hit by a massive confidence boost to carry me on, I cut right through some houses and I was back on the coast but up at a height a, left turn and I saw the wooden statue that was created on the finish line I felt like I was running but I assure you I wasn’t….. I’d made it!!! 

I sat on the bench which had all the history of Hadrian’s wall and all assure but Romans etc, none of that mattered at this point I was just too exhausted to think I took photos I signed the book I stamped it for me and anth had he had taken part amd got me here without physically being by my side, I was overjoyed, I’d did this, the over riding sense of achievement was immense! After such as sure out blow of loosing my walking partner then being hit by some of the obsticles I’d came across but it still didn’t stop me, the people who raised money and believed I could do it… I relayed them with all my efforts over that 84 mile walk. 

I then peeled myself back onto my feet to walk back into the village as I had a bus to catch back to Carlisle train station…. if I was a second later I’d of missed it… I sat on that bus and what seemed like a 2 second journey back to Carlisle I was really enjoying transport again! Straight into the train station I went and a swift good riddence to Carlisle for having no rooms for me the previous night, I was on the train and headed back home, I could have quite easily slept the whole way but somehow I decided not too.

Great time to reflect and realise just quite what you can put your body through and achieve without you really believing yourself that it’s possible. It’s always possible. I’m not going to say I enjoyed much or even any of it but I did it and that will stick with me forever!! 

(Italic section by Nathan Hudson).

Nathan did it. Its one think to complete this for a few weeks after, maybe even months, i was still disgusted in myself that i had let myself down and not finished the challenge but ive learned from the experience. One, is that poor preperation leads to failiure, knowing i was ill just days before inset off into a hot summer challenge was mistake enough, has the challenge been in more remote places, i could have been in real trouble. Two, listen to your body, i felt signs of heat exhaustion, dyhadration etc from well before halfway. I should have went home then really but i told myself it would pass and id make it  i was wrong. It was a while before i recovered fully. And three, its great to have friends who are there for you when you really need it, Nathan was more than helpful when it came to making the decision about home, he did not make comments that would have made me feel guilty or bad for leaving him when i decided i would go, he even signed my name in the book at the end of the walk and if it had not been for Nathan my tent would probably still be pitched at the back of that country pub this very day. 

Looking back, i’ve had a pretty insuccessful year. I failed to enter any Judo contests which i had vowed to do. I managed to crash and write off my car and I spent so much time concentrating on the wall, i missed out on lots of gym time. But in contrast, i still managed to be promoted to 3rd kyu in Judo. I adapted well to public transport, its not as bad as i remember and helped keep me fit since id missed the gym. And i enrolled and begun studying for a degree in environmental science, i even competed in a cheerleading competition with my daughter of all things. Basically ive grown this last 12 months and will continue to do so it 2017. My final thought is that while i always work hard, i will go forwards working smart too. Looking forward to some acheivements and adventures and hope to take you all along with me. 

Much Love and have a prosperous 2017.