It was a good feeling having our "rest days" now coming thick and fast. Only two days after our easy four-mile morning walk between Garrigill and Alston, here was our scheduled seven-mile walk to Steel Rigg. It did not promise to be 'easy' though. However, the first steps of the morning were very easy. After breakfasting (both on healthy options again) and packing up in the hostel, we made the short level walk beside the railway line to the Pennine Way north of the town. We could now enjoy the benefit of our effort in walking an extra mile and a half the previous afternoon, as we were starting right on Hadrian's Wall north of Greenhead.
Once we had passed Thirlwall Castle, the gruelling up-down-up-down pattern of the morning was established. A long grassy climb was followed by a slight drop towards the Walltown Quarry visitor centre. Several minibuses of tourists and youth groups were arriving for their history-themed day. Derek and Emma were spotted; they had started out earlier and used their time to explore some of the Roman sites in more detail. They were walking all the way to Bellingham this day, so they were soon pulling out ahead of us at their customary high speed.
Hadrian's Wall was impressive as it clung to the crests of the earthworks and hills along this horizontal eastwards line towards Newcastle upon Tyne, or more truthfully Wallsend. The physical demands on the lungs and the ankles were incessant, and we became quite tired much earlier in the day than usual. Thank goodness we didn't have the normal 15 miles to cover. Signs encouraged us to walk two abreast, either side of the worn path, in order to avoid erosion of the historically sensitive site.
All the way along the wall, we could see B6318 road running parallel to our right. We knew that our hostel and pub for the evening would be on that road. It had just turned midday when we reached the picnic site, a converted disused quarry at Cawfield Crags. We elected to sit ourselves down and have an hour-long lunch break and eat all our food items. I mentioned to Jimmy that the pace at which we were walking today would have to be increased again tomorrow, as we just wouldn't cover the miles required otherwise. After a long and lazy rest, we tardily pushed ourselves up on our walking poles, and recommenced the march to Steel Rigg.
After a couple more sharp ups and downs on the Roman wall, a longer steadier climb ensued. We knew we were now approaching the highest point of the day, and the highest point of Hadrian's Wall - Windshields Crags. We were both looking forward to this, as it would be another encounter with that old friend the trig point. As we were walking up, a freely moving and casually dressed chap was walking down. Eye contact increased and I realised that it was Jim G0CQK from Newcastle upon Tyne, another friend met through the SOTA programme. "How did you know we would be here now?" I asked. Jim replied that he had read my 'report so far' that I posted online while in Malham, and the schedule on my website. He had driven out from Tyneside and walked westwards from Steel Rigg on the off-chance that he might meet us coming the other way. Together, we climbed back up to the summit of Windshields Crags where I got the camera out, and Jim produced a cool bag containing a bottle of local real ale, and a bottle opener.
Jim's daughter Kay had accompanied him on the walk, and she took over camera duties on the summit. Jimmy set about trying to convince Kay to study for her Foundation amateur radio licence. We sat and rested on the pleasant sunny but breezy summit and enjoyed the beer.
The walk with Jim and Kay down to Steel Rigg car park went very quickly, as things often do with a change of company to talk to. It was about 2pm in the afternoon, and Jim offered us a lift down to the youth hostel. Seeing as none of this bonus transportation would cover any part of the Pennine Way route, we accepted, for an even earlier-than-anticipated finish to they day. Jim said that he hoped to see us again in a few days at the end of our walk, and we thanked him and Kay for coming to see us today.
Once Brewed Youth Hostel was an enormous and very commercial style establishment. The menu was large and elaborate, and we selected our evening meals while checking in. A huge lounge with plenty of games and tourist information was directly ahead. To its right was the large dining room, and to its left was a games room, heaving with teenagers. We dropped our gear off in the dormitory and made our beds, before adjourning to the pub next door. The area of Once Brewed is next to an area, logically named Twice Brewed. Next door to Once Brewed Youth Hostel is the Twice Brewed Inn. This pub seemed to have many recommendations, so I was keen to try it out.
All three of the hand-pulled real ales available on the bar were sampled. Of these, the Golden Plover was distinctive, but my favourite, and in fact the best pint of the entire Pennine Way was, appropriately the Teacher's Pet. Jimmy and I had a game of chess in the bar over our drinks before I took advantage of the internet cafe to catch up on emails and post a note about our progress so far on various messageboards. This seemed to nicely fill up time for the afternoon, before we returned to the hostel for our evening meal. We had heard that the food at the Once Brewed YHA was particularly good, and I did enjoy my prawn cocktail starter, as Jimmy did his vegetable soup. The main course of chicken kiev was acceptable, but somewhat disappointing when compared the other mouth-watering dishes that were being served. Satisfaction resumed with the desserts of jam sponge and chocolate chip pudding.
This hostel had a licence to serve beer, but because of this, guests were not permitted to drink their own alcohol in the hostel. At over £2 for a bottle of ale, I figured that I was better off with another pint over at the Twice Brewed Inn, so back there we went. Back yet again at the hostel later, we killed our remaining time reading brochures in the lounge and scoffing snacks and chocolate from the vending machine. Only a couple of hours after tea we were feeling hungry again. We were itching to get started again in the morning!
There were only three out of eight beds made up in the dormitory when we went to bed around 10pm, so we pinched an extra pillow each from other bunks. We then slept very soundly for nine hours, despite the much shorter walking day.