OL43: Hexham

OS Explorer map OL43, Hadrian’s Wall Haltwhistle & Hexham – I do not own this map, but have visited it before starting this blog. Visited for this post 4th January 2018.

This post continues directly from the previous one, with my carful of six people driving northwards on our way to Scotland for the ASNC Trip to Argyll, having left Bardsey church (and stopped at Wetherby services). (Our video of the ASNC Trip is on YouTube on the ASNC Society’s channel – the section corresponding to this blog post runs from 25:43 to 27:49 for the section on the way northwards, and 30:49 to 31:43 for the section on the way back down a few days later. [1])

We would be staying that night at a hostel in Cumbria, near Gisland, and indeed very near Hadrian’s Wall. We didn’t quite go directly there though, as we needed to stop to buy dinner. This we did in Hexham, where I got off the A69 (onto which we had got from the A1 near Newcastle) and duly drove in a little. Failing to immediately see a large out-of-town supermarket, mobile phones were resorted to, and we soon found ourselves at a truly huge Tesco.

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Hexham’s huge branch of Tesco

Now, the hostel didn’t have a hob or oven for guests’ use, only a microwave, we knew, so we duly bought ourselves microwave-preparable food. This, I realised, meant that I would, for the first time in my life, be experiencing a microwave ready meal! (This fact was met with incredulity by my co-travellers.) We also purchased various pastries for breakfast, and soon were back in the car moving once more.

We reached our hostel a little before 8pm and were shown to our two rooms (a five and a three). The place was also, I believe, a dairy farm and farm shop. The living space downstairs featured a woodchip-burning stove thing that we found quite exciting; it featured a very precise temperature readout that Erithacus and Alcove Gremlin found very satisfying to watch go up and down, and which the farmers/hostel owners occasionally wandered in in order to refill with woodchips and be bemused at our weird conversations. [2]

Erithacus had acquired a new camera at Christmas which produced little instant printed photos; [3] this was put to its first use on the Trip with a photograph of me eating my first microwave meal. The experience was not terrible, indeed it was perfectly acceptable. We ate our food in shifts, given that we all needed to use the microwave.

Beds were sought after some time sitting around talking about things. It was noted by those in the upstairs room that the night was rather a cold experience.

The next morning, we breakfasted and again got out the Ancient Britain map to consider where to stop on our drive that day – we would be meeting the rest of the ASNC Tripgoers in Glasgow at 2pm, and had only two hours of driving to do, so could certainly fit something in. Although we considered going to the ruined priory at Lanercost, this was rejected once we found out that it was an English Heritage site that charges admission, [4] and so we decided to go to Bewcastle to look at the Bewcastle Cross instead. Now I, as my readers will know, had been in Bewcastle only two days earlier with my parents, and so it was that, having never been before that week, I then went twice in two days! Alcove Gremlin discovered a small candle in the shape of a gnome in her shoe, which caused much joy.

I went to find the hostel owners in order to check us out and pay the remaining balance, and after a lot of wandering around the farm, found the lady in question fully dressed up in butcher hygiene clothing busily dismembering something in the back of the café. We paid, and soon left and were on our way to Bewcastle (which won’t feature on the blog as I’ve already posted about that map), and then on to Glasgow, about which see my forthcoming next post!

Two days later

Now, I will also mention that, on the way down from the Trip, on the 7th January, we also came to this map. We were driving back from Glasgow, and were staying in another hostel, this time just a little further west along the A69, near Twice Brewed. On the way there, once we got off major roads, to my dismay the roads were getting a little icy, leading to some alarm especially as they were also rather steep. Fortunately we, going very slowly, got to the hostel with only one minor moment of wheel slip. (It was also really very cold.)

When we arrived at the hostel, I went inside to talk to the hostel lady, who was adorably small and old and the most stereotypical cat lady ever; I counted six cats in the room with her. She pointed us in the direction of our rooms, and off we went, finding them eventually. Now, we were planning to go to the pub for dinner, but I expressed my doubts about this to her given the road conditions. She gave the rather alarming reply of (something like) “oh, you’ll be fine, just keep one wheel on the grass and get a bit of a run up on the big hill, you might slide a bit at the top but you’ll get there okay”.

In any case, we moved our things into the accommodation (we were the only ones there), and in the end didn’t go to the pub. I could probably have made it, but I was a little drained at that point from a weekend of being responsible for 17 people on holiday and didn’t particularly want to, so we instead ate a dinner of toast, marmalade, jam, rice, and bananas, that being what we had in the car, and I went to bed rather early.

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Our not really dinner dinner. (The eagle-eyed among you will note that this was not the same group as drove up to Scotland with me – we lost The Many-Named to the more convenient trains, and gained Guardian of Spirits and The Uncontestedly Virile. (I did not choose his name…))

The night was a very cold experience, despite the radiators being very hot to the touch, although the buildings in question did seem to be made of corrugated iron, so there was that. I awoke in the night to pull in a heater that I found in the next room, which was an electric heater that had a little fire effect on the front, leading Erithacus to wonder why there was a fire in the room when she awoke.

In the morning, we packed up fairly rapidly and left. I had a difficult job de-icing the car as, although most of it came off with the scraper, once I used warm water to finish the job (possibly this is a silly thing to do, I am not very experienced in such things), it froze onto the screen. Fortunately I discovered a can of de-icing liquid that Mother Dearest had presciently given me just as I left home, which was very helpdul. Alcove Gremlin and I played with the de-icer afterwards, drawing faces in the frost on a table.

From there, we made it out onto the main roads, following the hostel lady’s advice of keeping a wheel on the grass, which seemed to work as we didn’t slip, and stopped at a petrol station on the A69 for some breakfast. There I was intrigued to see a ham and pease pudding sandwich on sale, not being aware that pease pudding was something that existed outside 1950s children’s literature. The Ancient Britain map came out again there, and we made a plan to stop at Escomb’s Anglo-Saxon church on the way down, about which see a future post!

Previous visits

I think the first time I visited this area was in summer 2016 on the Holy Island Trek, as we called it, the trip from Lindisfarne to Iona (about half the way on foot) that I did with my Cambridge friends, which has been mentioned on this blog several times before (e.g. here and here). Millicent, Vesper and I came to this map only on the very last day of the trip, on the last of our three days driving home from Iona.

We had stayed the previous night in a campsite a little off to the west of this map, which was notable for actually being the front lawn of someone’s house and the use of some toilets in an outbuilding. That morning, we decided before going home, to go to have a look at a bit of Hadrian’s Wall, choosing Birdoswald fort because it was reasonably close and because Vesper, who has been to most of the Wall’s interesting sites at various points, said it was good. Birdoswald is, I think, notable among the Wall’s many forts for being the one that has clear evidence of continuous use into the medieval period.

The annal – our collaborative mock-medieval diary for that trip – reports:

After our last breakfast of Weetabix mini bites, or Weetabites, as they ought to be known, we set off for the Hadrian’s Wall for at Birdoswald. Upon arriving, we discovered that we had been perhaps a little too eager in our pursuit of Roman ruins: the centre did not open for another half hour. Nevertheless, we filled the time happily enough with an inspection of a section of the Wall, followed by a session of annal-updating. It was also during this half hour that [I] entertained us with readings from the Icelandic saga version of Star Wars. [5] […] Soon enough, the visitor centre opened and we paid our entry fees. And thus, we beheld a Samian ware pot that looked in far too good condition to be an original [but probably was?], and noted the apparent diligence of the archaeologist mannequin based on the size of his trowel. Stepping outside, [Millicent] professed his adoration of Roman gates, and we may or may not have succeeded in locating the vallum. After further postcard purchases, we were on the road again.

I can’t think of much to add to that, other than that Birdoswald was just down the road from the hostel we stayed in recently. After Birdoswald we stopped twice more before our eventual homecoming, in Carlisle, where we looked at the cathedral, and in Sandbach to look at their Anglo-Saxon crosses (the Ancient Britain map’s work again).

The other time that I can think of when I’ve been to this map was in January 2017, on that year’s ASNaC Trip, the one previous to this one. That trip had us staying in Durham, from where we made excursions to Lindisfarne, Jarrow, and Hadrian’s Wall, going to the Roman fort at Housesteads.

I must admit to not remembering a huge number of interesting happenings from the fort itself other than the general impression that is covered by these pictures. There was a café/shop/museumette, where I bought a little wooden dagger to go with my wooden sword, and where we spent rather a long time looking at mead (an experience to be repeated on Lindisfarne). [6]


[1] In the YouTube video, also possibly relevant is that 27:49 to 30:49 is the rest of the way up north after leaving this map, featuring Bewcastle, since that part doesn’t correspond have a blog post as I already posted about that map.

[2] Another strange thing about this hostel was that they required guests to bring a single bedsheet with them (or hire one from them), but no other bedding. Duvets, with covers, were provided. This, of course, led to speculation as to what activities on the part of previous patrons might have led to bad experiences with dirty sheets but duvet covers of only acceptable soiledness.

[3] It was discussed that I might find the principle offensive, given my liking for multiple copies and backups of any practically possible record of my life. I don’t think I have a particular objection to instant cameras at all, I would just be inclined to scan their pictures so as to have a backup, as I do with letters and postcards that I sent. Erithacus, by contrast, believed that there is a charm to knowing that the original pinned to one’s wall is the only copy.

[4] Millicent lamented that he had left his father’s English Heritage membership card behind, as he enjoys masquerading as Dr [Millicent’s surname] and feeling as if he has a PhD.

[5] The very impressive Icelandic saga version of Star Wars in question is Tattúínárdœla saga, written by a certain American Old Norse professor with a significant internet presence, about whom one hears various interesting tales. The saga is accessible here (it’s a full length saga written both in English and Old Norse!): https://tattuinardoelasaga.wordpress.com/

(The use of the ø with acute accent rather than my œ is just an orthographic variant)

[6] ASNaCs are rather keen on mead. (I don’t know much about it, not being a drinker of alcohol, although it has been responsible for one of the two times in my life when I have had enough to get a little silly – fortunately both of those were outside Britain, one in Paris, one in Ronda in Spain, so won’t be featuring on this blog…) During my time with the Oxford Tolkien Society, the opinion was that Lindisfarne Mead was the best, but prohibitively expensive, and so we usually ended up buying from Broadland Wineries. However, among ASNaCs the prevailing view is that Lindisfarne isn’t very nice at all, and the gold standard is English Heritage mead, although again we usually end up buying the one that the Cambridge Wine Merchants sell, because they give members of the ASNaC Society a 10% discount…

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