Last weekend my wife Joanna and I did a 26-mile trek over two days along the only remaining sections of Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, from Lanercost Priory to Brocolitia. We had planned to do this trek for several months before this. Joanna had done various sponsored runs before, but we wanted to find a challenge that we could do together, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to run. Also, we wanted to raise money for the charity Hearing Link, which has really supported me and other people living with acquired hearing loss and their families. Joanna comes from the North East originally and knows the area quite well, so it seemed an obvious choice for us to trek along Hadrian’s Wall.
As the weekend drew closer, I began to feel increasingly worried about it. I had done some training with Joanna and my dog in Epping Forest, but it is very flat there compared to the steep hills of Northumberland. I was also worried about camping in wet weather and if I would be able to hear what people were saying to me on the walk. I was also concerned about my poor balance, particularly on uneven ground and steep hills. To be honest, I was also worried about my level of fitness, being a bit overweight and whether I would actually be able to make it or not.
When we arrived at the campsite in Haltwhistle, the weather was surprisingly sunny and warm. I kept thinking that I just hoped it would last and not rain, particularly when I saw the size of our small tent. Before dinner, our guides for the weekend explained what the trek would involve and what to expect. I was really worried then as it suddenly dawned on me just how strenuous and tough the next day’s walk was going to be. I started to doubt my ability to do it again.
That first night, I didn’t sleep well at all in the tent. I kept tossing and turning and I just couldn’t make myself comfortable. When I woke up the next morning at 6.30 am, I felt pretty rough, but I was keen to get going. There were about fifteen of us in the group and we all set off together. However, we started off on a really steep hill, and halfway up, as I was completely out of breath, I thought that if it was going to be this hard, I doubted whether I’d be able to finish it.
As the day went on, I started to relax and enjoy it more. There was a real sense of camaraderie and human spirit in the group as people were helping and encouraging each other along. I was struggling to keep my balance on the hills and so a kind fellow walker lent me his walking pole to help steady me. This made a big difference to me and helped me to keep my balance. I also found it difficult to hear what people were saying when we were walking along, as it was very windy, but it was great that people wanted to talk to me. They helped me along with their words of encouragement and patience, although I couldn’t really hear what they were saying.
At the end of the first day’s trekking, I felt really tired with sore feet and aching limbs, but I was really pleased that I had made it. After dinner at the campsite, a rather charismatic and eccentric local man dressed in a Roman tunic gave us a highly entertaining talk about life as a Roman legionary in the Emperor Hadrian’s time and the various weapons that they used and armour that they wore to go into battle with their enemies such as the Ancient Britons. He asked for three volunteers from the group to wear some of the Roman legionary costumes and helmets that he’d brought along with him and re-enact battle scenes with various swords, shields and arrows while he explained how they marched against and killed each other in battle in rather graphic and gory detail.
That night, I had no trouble sleeping after walking all day. Out of sheer exhaustion, I slept like a log. In fact, I snored so loudly I was told that I had kept most of the group awake. The next morning, I woke up feeling refreshed and raring to go, despite my aching limbs and sore feet. The second day was really strenuous but well worth it. It was tough climbing up those hills but when we reached the top and took a breather, the views were breathtaking. The sun was shining brightly and I could see far down the valley and across the fields filled with sheep and newborn lambs.
I could see Hadrian’s Wall stretching for miles ahead of us along the tops of the lush green and purple hills like a giant curvy and sinuous backbone. I thought about what an amazing feat of engineering the Romans had achieved two thousand years ago. They spent a decade and involved thousands of men building the northernmost frontier of their empire and then defended it for nearly 300 years. It was a truly vast and spectacular sight.
The people Joanna chatted to along the way talked about why they were doing this challenge and how much it meant to them. They had all been personally affected by cancer or other serious medical conditions and disabilities among their families, their friends or themselves. They were all a truly inspiring and wonderful bunch of people. There were also some real characters in the group, who entertained us all along the way singing songs and telling funny stories.
Towards the end of the trek, I was really struggling to keep going but Marco, one of our guides, was very patient with me and encouraged me to keep going at my own pace. I was lagging at the back by this stage, but I knew that I was so close now to the finish I was determined to conquer it.
At the finish, we all felt an amazing sense of personal achievement as a group and we all congratulated and hugged each other. From my own personal perspective as a hard of hearing person, I felt that even though I had doubted my own ability to do this, I had pleasantly surprised myself that I could do it, through sheer determination and by believing in myself. For my next challenge, watch this space!