EPS Girls Walk the Wall for Charity
By Jenny Henderson, School of Metallurgy & Materials
As I looked down at my Mum who looked like she had just gone to sleep, I promised her there and then that I would raise money for MND.
Mum was a healthy 78 year old when in August 2010, she developed difficulties in speech, followed by problems with chewing and swallowing and her head drooping. A few months later she was diagnosed with a rare form of MND, Bulbar Palsy. She bore the illness bravely with no complaint, and on 27th November 2011, she died peacefully asleep.
So as an avid walker, it made perfect sense to do a charity walk...but where? After some research, Hadrian’s Wall seemed like the perfect choice, a complete walk of 84 miles. Walkers tend to walk the Wall in either 6 or 7 days that seemed too easy...so 4 days seemed like a great challenge!
Then my friend and colleague Dana asked if I wanted her to join me and also raise money for Leukaemia and Lymphoma in memory of her sister.
On Saturday 7th September 2013 we travelled up to Newcastle and onto Whitley Bay by train.
On Sunday 8th September 2013 at 8.50am outside Segedunum Fort, our adventures began. It was a hard slog of 14 miles of tarmac to get out of Newcastle, there is one section of the Wall just at the back of the Fort, but I knew there would be a lot more to come!! We passed the Millennium Bridge, where the Great North run begins, where there was a Sunday market on the streets running alongside the River Tyne, but we had no time to try some of the tantalising foods....we had 21 miles to complete! Eventually we came out of Newcastle, making our way to Heddon-on-the-Wall, no sign of the Wall but we were walking on long straight ditches; you could just imagine the Roman soldiers marching the same path. We had to step up the pace as we were staying at East Wallhouses Farmhouse and the local pub stopped serving food at 8 pm!! The meal tasted absolutely delicious I can tell you.
On Monday morning we had another 21 miles to face us. We had been warned of rain, but hopefully it would keep away until later in the day. We walked straight out of our farm onto the path and we started on the Vallum, which is a linear ditch and not always that obvious on certain sections of the Wall, so we savoured walking on it that day. We came across an enchanted wood, The Stanley Plantation, which is part of an estate and I could not resist having a photo taken of me at the grand entrance! The first time we saw the Wall was at Planetrees; we were like excited children, its whole size and enormity was just breathtaking. We carried on to cross the Roman Chesters Bridge, they were two originally but the earlier one was superseded by this grand bridge for sporting chariots!!
Travelling on we came on to what was the highlight of the walk for me: Sewingshields which has, in my opinion, the finest scenery along the whole walk, where the Wall swoops up and down the undulating hills. There are regular ‘milecastles’ (turrets) along the Wall set at 1620 yards intervals and it is thought that the Romans judged the distance by marching from one to another, an equalivent of 1,000 marching paces. Anyway I digress, as you look across from the Wall with a sheer descent in front of you, you look straight across to what is now the Northumberland National Park. We stopped far too long here taking in the breathtaking views, having time to think of Mum and how proud she would be that I was doing this walk.
The weather quickly turned, the promised rain came in and boy did it come in. One moment it was cloudy, the next it was horizontal rain, hail, thunder and lightning. It was getting late and we had to get down towards Housesteads and yes to the pub which stopped serving food at 8.15 pm – a recurring theme of our whole walk!! If you think getting down was just a matter of walking down steep grassy paths...think again! It was, in parts, sheer descents of big boulders and screed, with rain running down them like a river. It was treacherous! I am not sure how we got down, but Mum was looking after us that day. We eventually made it to the pub, but boy what a sight we were when we walked, sorry paddled, in pub that night!!
Walking out of Once Brewed was a steep ascent, which after the last two days was always going to be tough – especially as we were now both sporting blisters, just to add an extra dimension to our walk!! From the top of Milecastle we looked back to where we had walked the previous day and the undulating hills; a sight that will be with me all my life. We had a couple more of interesting descents...boulders and screed...but at least we were not doing it in the rain this time!! We were walking a mere 18 miles today and friends of mine, who were holidaying in the Lakes, joined us halfway along the walk at Birdoswald, then walked with us to our end point of Newtown. Once we reached Birdoswald from then on it was relatively flat, which was much needed as we were getting a little weary. We’d previously had several encounters with cows and young frisky bullocks on our walk and on our way to Newtown we came across a field full of cows that took far too much interest in our walking group. They very politely came right up to the kissing gate to welcome us into their field...if you ever had any encounters with cows, or ‘bovines’ as I like to call them....this is not a good idea! So by this time, all I kept thinking of was my warm B&B and no cows were going to make me do a 2 mile diversion!! So with a lot of banging of sticks on the kissing gate, the cows scattered and like good Roman soldiers, we marched pretty dam quick up the hilly field to the next kissing gate!!
This was always going to be tough on so many levels. It was 24 miles and our last day, my emotions were running high. This was it, all the planning and training of the last 12 months was coming to fruition. My thoughts were with the generosity of all those that sponsored me, all the tweets from complete strangers, who had donated and supported me along the way, the Facebook and text messages each night, encouraging us on for our next day adventures, all coming to an end. So with a slight heavy heart, a picture of my Mum in my pocket, we started our day nice and early, with a full breakfast inside us, we stepped out onto our last day of adventures. Again, we had the promise of rain, but it was not too bad, it hit us in the middle of the day, but in fact was quite pleasant and refreshing this time, mainly because we had no steep declines to cope with! We walked the Roman ditches, skirted Carlisle along the River Eden, having the river on the right of us most of the way was kind of reassuring.
We approached Bowness-on-Solway, with the Solway Firth on our right; the end of our walk. The official end is The Banks, a modest promenade centred upon the wooden path pavilion. The Roman timber structure sits above a well and within a garden overlooking the Firth Solway. As I approached, with tears in my eyes and a slight heavy heart but with huge pride of achieving this mammoth trek, I placed Mum picture on the wooden ledge so she too could look across the Solway and saviour the moment with me. After all, this walk was all about Mum.
I have raised £1,300 for MND and kept my promise to Mum, together we walked the Wall, and she has shared our laughs, sometimes our fears and encountered the bovines. All I am thinking of now...is where are we going for our next Challenge?
Jenny walked the Wall in aid of the Motor Neurone Disease Association, the only national charity in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that funds and promotes global research into the disease and provides support for people affected by MND. Motor Neurone Disease is a progressive disease that attacks the motor neurones, in the brain and spinal cord gradually preventing messages reaching muscles, which leads to weakness and wasting. More information can be found at www.mndassociation.org
Dana walked the Wall in aid of Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research which is the only UK charity solely dedicated to research into blood cancers, including leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Every year 30,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with a blood cancer. For further information go to: www.beatingbloodcancers.org.uk
If you would like to support Jenny and Dana’s causes please visit their Just Giving pages http://www.justgiving.com/jenny-henderson and http://www.justgiving.com/Gordana