The morning arrived and the last day of the walk began. The boys had decided to return to Newton and the phonebox of the living Triffids aka, the place we got a taxi from yesterday. I found this admirable, that despite the cock-up with the daily segments, these 2 are making sure they get every single mile in. For my part, I chose not to. Not just because I couldn’t stomach the extra walking, more the fact that I needed to drive for at least 2 hours once we get to the end. The signs on the M6 do say ‘Tiredness can kill” so the extra fatigue could prove to be a safety issue.
The plan was now for them to set off after breakfast and I would wait until around a quarter to 11 before setting off back to the place it all began for me, back at Bowness-on-Solway. I packed my bags, looked up the start of the path from Carlisle and stepped forth into the warm damp air of Cumbria. I was feeling pretty good. The extra rest had cleared my head of the Trammy fog I have become accustomed to. A quick stroll through the town lead to a rather beautiful public park by the river Eden.
Wooden signs pointed me in the right direction. Mick started broadcasting his position live on Facebook messenger so I knew how far behind me they were. Over the last couple of days, my comrades of the Roman Grand Designs were pacing a good deal faster than my expertly executed trudge. We were aiming to meet at the Greyhound pub en route. Unless they could catch me before we reached there.
The path down the side of the river was glorious. The movement of the water, wonderful bridges, beautiful river banks. I had found a happiness on the track. The path rolled on under railway bridges and through woods where the brambles encroached across the walkway. Dog walkers exercised their best friends. One chap had 4 different breeds swimming in the river. Stone steps took me up to winding tracks and down to steel footbridges. My eyes were full of wonder and my mind allowed me to find a comfortable feeling from the memories of my happiest stonings.
Trees to fields, sheep to cows, all the time the boys were getting closer. But this was not a race. I felt at ease knowing that should anything happen to me, if I needed to stop, that they would find me and I would be saved. With no maps, no use of Google spy and no one to follow, I hunted for the acorn symbols and took the paths indicated by the ‘Hadrian’ Wall’ signposts. My legs hurt and my feet hated me, but my mind was good. Down the sides of old farm buildings, past ponds and brooks. I was heading back to where I came from on Friday and yet I hadn’t walk a sing step on the same roads.
I reached a point where the path was diverted by white laminated signs. With no sight of an obvious obstruction, I automatically assumed this change of course was some sort of serial killer’s elaborate trap to lure backpackers down a Wrong Turn. Then I remembered the couple I had met some 10 minutes before walking in the other direction. They weren’t stuffed and mounted to decorate the wall in some incestrial love nest. This convinced me that it was safe to proceed.
By now I was beginning to flag. Having not previously come this way I was unsure of how far I had to go to get to the pub. I passed a parish hall. then some posh houses the likes of which I hadn’t seen since attending Steve’s wedding. The hill up to the village green was tough and my tiredness was starting to impair my thoughts. I couldn’t figure out the best course of action so I pulled out my phone to consult the satellites. No sooner had I opened the cover than the battery died. I had no way of looking up the direction, and no way of contacting the boys, so I decided the time was right to go old school. I found a bench, sat down and waited. Before time had a chance to make another hair grey they arrived. I don’t think I have ever been so pleased to see a couple of 50 plus-year-old men in my life.
Through the guidebook, we found that the pub was about 2km away. So just as the rain started to fall we marched on. Tracker tracks lead us to Bough-on-Sands and for the first time, roads I had previously walked. With cloud seepage dripping from our breathable fabrics we arrived at our resting place only to find they’d stopped serving food. Crisps, chocolate and Haribo’s would have to do.
Leaving the village took us on to the road without end. On my first day, I walked along this 4k stealer of hope with a full pack in desert-like sunshine. This time it was raining and I was with my friends. It was still a road where despair came to lose hope, but the company was great and we laughed our way through. By the time we got the end of that road we were ready for home, however, we still had another 6km to go.
It is funny how the closer you get to the end the further away it seems. The greyness of the sky was making its way into our mood, more paths, more roads. Even the couple engaged in charving parking didn’t draw much more than a cursory glance as we passed. The coast of the Solway twisted around until I could finally see Nina, my car. She was peering out from behind a Ford Fiester looking for me. I patted her on the roof and said “we have one last thing to do,”
Down the side of a house, the final path took us to the coast, the end of the wall, the finish. The boys had picked up stones from the East Coast to bring to the west. They got one for me as well which they gave me on the Friday night. We threw them on to the West Coast shoreline officially bringing this journey to an end. All that was left was to do was return to Nina, go and collect our bags, then drive home.
The sense of achievement is quite something. I know this kind of challenge is beyond the reach of my friends and others who suffer from ME. At times it was the thought that they would probably love to try something like this but can’t that stopped me giving up. I think we all got something special out of the adventure. I know Mick loved it and I think Steve enjoyed the fact it was a tougher challenge than he thought it was going to be. Me, I went through the mill and came out of the other side leaning one very important lesson. The next time Steve says “I’ve got an idea” just say no.
Photos by Mick Arthur