Prehistoric Britain…

Tribes. Tribal convictions was where the conversation turned slightly sour. Declaring to an ex-squady (who has always voted Tory, who has always pledged allegiance to the Queen and who would always have voted for Brexit), that you didn’t identify yourself as being British was never going to go down too well.

We conversed what “tribes” we felt we belonged to, radiating from the self outwards. For me, the most important tribe is my immediate family, my wife, sons and daughter (even my faithful old pooch). Nothing is more important than that tribe and nothing will ever come close.

As one goes further afield, the extended family (siblings, parents) as well as close friends come next, more geography dispersed and with that a weaker bond. Outside of that, it is our streets, avenues, villages, towns, cities, counties, countries, continents, planet, solar system, galaxy and the universe that make up the outer laters of our tribal onion and with that a lessening connection as we move away from the core and what is most important.

True bonds have strong metaphysical connections, spiritual if you will. The bond with my immediate family is strong.

The bond with my extended family is not strong (as this site has described over the years) although the recent reconnection with my sister is starting to repair what was broken for many years.

The bond with my close friends remains a constant, with quality not quantity reigning supreme.

The bond with my neighbours is divided, some super strong, some super strained (and Covid has widened that gap even further).

The bond with my community solid, I’ve always admired the Scouse way, never one to shy away from a debate, never one to take things lying down, always one to take it on the chin and fight back (the political establishments don’t stand for us and we stand strong and proud to our core values and principles, a real spirit of togetherness).

The bond with my nation is broken, feeling totally disconnected from Westminster, from the population at large (due to recent election and referendum results).

The bond with my continent is still there just, the love of mainland Europe and friends I’ve met and kept in touch with over the years is still in tact (and will be after we officially disconnect at the end of the year).

As for my planet, never has the population of the Earth been so divided as it is now, each nation state doing their own thing, preserving invisible borders and protecting “their” resources within non-material lines, not caring about the whole, only their part, infecting every corner of the world with the promotion of self, destroying our “little blue dot” in the process.

The challenge my bimbling comrade gave me was an honest one. Politics aside, why did I have no connection with Britain. As we hiked over the hills of Northumbria, I pondered this question as we gazed upon the historical sites and came to the conclusion that I had no real idea about the history of Britain, beyond what TV had taught me over the years (Monty Python mostly).

What did the early landscape of Britain look like and how did it become an island? How did the inhabitants of Britain evolve over time and how did they organise themselves into tribes and communities, and perhaps the most intriguing question of all, what made them British?

Maybe after finding out all of those facts would I be able to make a more informed judgement on whether I identified with being British or not.

So without going too far down the rabbit hole and borrowing some facts primarily from Wikipedia ( I say borrowing, its more like stealing really – what all Scousers do apparently, its in our DNA according to some!), I uncovered the following timeline, with a particular focus on the area where I live now, Wirral.

Palaeolithic (Stone) Age

Clearly there is no real way to validate the true timeline of a period that dates back almost one million years, but the collective understanding on how things evolved in the Britain are based on population migration from the continental mass of Europe (you heard it right Brexiteers, we are all immigrants!), as well as the geo-morphological aspect due to several ice ages and tectonic movements.

Our first hominin ancestors lived in Britain around 900,000 BCE, and is presumed to be Homo Antecessor, a few stages and several million years after the monkey-to-man thing happened (curse you black monolith!). These folks were amongst the first Hunter-Gatherers and we assume this via various Stone Age tools and animal bones which were found in Happisburgh (in Norfolk) and carbon dated to that period.

The map of Britain as you would expect looks very different one million years ago compared today, with Britain being a large peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides, much like a Wirral on steroids.

Between 700,000 and 500,000 BCE, Homo Antecessor was replaced by Homo Heidelbergensis, whose brains were significantly larger than that of its predecessor, and with that extra capacity, expanded its intelligence and thought processes. Historic finds around this time have uncovered early flint tools (Pakefield, Suffolk) and with flint comes fire, the catalyst for real advancement of the species.

At the end of that era, the first mention of glaciation creeps into the history books, and Britain is almost completely under ice, thus driving our early human ancestors back south and east to the warmer climates of Europe.

Around 450,00 BCE, as luck would have it (for the Brexiteers), the land-bridge that connected Britain to France (Weald-Artois Anticline) was cut for the first time (small at first), creating the English Channel (though I suspect La Manche was more of a La Rivière at the time).

400,000 BCE saw the first Neanderthals set foot in Blighty, and Swanscombe Man was recovered from a bog in Kent, along with several hand axes, mammoth teeth and jaw bones. Early indications were that these ancestors spent most of the time in the south west of England, not venturing too far north due to densely populated woodlands making hunting more difficult, and less habitable conditions (temperatures mostly and the proximity to escape when the inevitable ice flows came back.)

And that is exactly what happened for the next few hundred thousand years, ice flows in, Neanderthal flows out, that was until 125,000 BCE when the rising sea levels completely cut of Britain from Europe (much to the rejoicing of Tommy Robinson’s Neanderthal forefathers).

It was around 45,000 BCE when the first evidence of Homo Sapiens was found, as my last post stated in Kents Cavern in Devon and it was this period that the Neanderthals were completely driven out of Britain by the new kids on the block, never to return and eventually die out altogether only five millennium later..

Several more periods of glaciation took place, again driving “humans” (as they are now known) back to Europe until 11,700 BCE when the Holocene warming begins, melting huge volumes of ice, rising the sea levels and starting to hint at Britain that it may not be a peninsula for much longer.

Up to this point, humans lived freely across the land in tribes, no invisible borders existing, free to roam from country to country in search of sustenance and security within nomadic tribes. All that was about to change however with the dawning of the post-fire evolutionary catalyst, the agricultural revolution.

Mesolithic Age

With things warming up nicely in Britain around 9,500 BCE, our ancestors began to migrate north and with that form structures to live, a good example of early settlements were found near the Vale of Pickering in Yorkshire (Star Carr) and although nothing much exists there today, finds included the remnants of deer (headdresses presumably used as either hunting aides or ritual adornments), boar, bear and wolf, as well as some rarer finds like amber, hematite and unsmelted iron pyrite object d’art used as prehistoric Pandora (jewellery).

Post holes and evidence of early hearths dot the landscape here and reveal what could be one of the first real settlements on mainland Britain, and it is shortly after this period where the Wirral gets its first proper mention in the history books.

Excavations in Greasby (more recently signposted as Gravesberie, a nod to its ancient past), revealed the exact same footprint as found in Star Carr 800 years earlier, uncovering flint tools, signs of stake holes and a hearth used by a hunter-gatherer community., and other evidence from around the same period has been found in New Brighton, where I live with my own tribe today.

As most of us know, East Anglia and vast parts of the Netherlands are still below sea level today, but many may not know (until recently myself included), that until around 6,200 BCE, the two were connected by marshlands known as Doggerland.

Around this time, a great ice sheet in western Norway side off into the North Sea causing a mega tsunami which flooded the entire area, and with the associated sea level rise cut Britain off from the continental land mass completely, never to return. Little did I know that we have only been an island for just over 8,000 years.

At this point, the agricultural revolution had been spreading like wildfire from its origins in the Middle East (Jericho and Aleppo being the first known structured civilisations to pop into existence), and around 6,000 BCE, the Isle of Wight off the south coast of Britain gave birth to wheat cultivation.

Neolithic Age

So it was around 4,000 BCE that saw a marked shift from hunter-gatherer tribes to organised collectives in Britain, with humans now able to create and store food for the first time, and with it the advent of rules, regulations, hierarchies, ownership, greed and conflict (not an exhaustive list by any means).

To date, the most impressive nod to the Neolithic movement can be found on Orkney, an island off the north coast of Scotland. Skara Brae is a prehistotic village made out of stone around 3,000 BCE. Cut deep into the landscape and with the exception of the roofs which would have been thatched, stands strong today, with fully formed semi-subterranean houses giving real insights into how we used to live during that time and not too dissimilar to how we construct our homes today, with central living spaces, cooking areas and sleeping quarters all close to heat sources when the weather turns gnarly.

Britain wouldn’t be Britain without a good henge, and it was around this time when thoughts turn to the sky for the first time. Obviously the most famous of the henges (Stonehenge) began its construction around this time, but it wasn’t the the only one (I’m sure Strawhenge and Woodhenge were early iterations of this, only for a big bad wolf to go blow them down), with hundreds of these ancient sites still dotted around the landscape today.

It was clear that henges were constructed for a few reasons. Firstly, as a place to bury the dead. Excavations at most sites reveal this, with buried remains found at various points across the sites, our Neolithic graveyards. Secondly, as a monument or a place of worship. To me it is no coincidence that all henges are circular, a nod to the sun. Typically henges and barrows (burial mounds) are aligned to both the summer and winter solstices when the sun is at its highest and lowest points in the sky, signalling death and rebirth, with new life and new hope around the 25th December when the sun (or should I say son) which aligns to the northern stars (forming a crucifix would you believe) starts its ascent.

Clearly this was the first signs of thinking beyond tribes and that there was something more to the physical life as they knew it. The ancient druids of Britain clearly recognised the importance of the cosmic bodies and the wider Universe and as such erected such monuments, creating rituals and sacrifices by way of appeasing “the maker”.

Society was starting to mature at this point in Britain and settlements far and wide were springing up, again around the abundance of natural resources and sources of food, and at this point the tea-cup bearers of Europe (the Beaker People) crossed the English Channel and settled in, bringing with them new technologies and of course “heavy metal”.

Bronze / Iron Ages

It was around 1,800 BCE that bronze and iron working took off in Britain, with ores being excavated and smelted from various quarries across the land, rendering stone and flint tools obsolete, and with that added durability came an increase in crop production and an uplift in the standard of living, for some at least.

In terms of a class system, it was around this time that the haves and have nots were created in Britain. Those who claimed the ownership of the land became the masters of others and as the land was carved up, so the invisible lines were drawn up on ancient parchments so that villages became towns, towns became cities, cites became counties and counties became countries, carving out Britain into the three component parts we know today (England, Scotland and Wales), owned by the few and worked by the many (not much has changed since then).

As borders were created, so were barricades and strongholds, and with that the increase in Iron Age hillforts to protect the land owners and what was “rightfully theirs”.

Whilst we don’t have many prehistoric reminders on the Wirral, a short journey over the border to Wales gives us a taste of what life was like back then. Nestled on top of many of the Moels (hillocks) in North Wales are the shapes and ruins of Iron Age hillforts, a particularly frequent stomping ground for my family, neighbour and I, with Moel Arthur being a particularly impressive site.

Coming to the end of prehistoric Britain and before the Romans came to rape and pillage our fertile lands, Wirral was inhabited by a Celtic tribe known as the Cornovii and artefacts discovered in Meols (on the north coast) suggests that it was an important port from around 500 BCE, with traders coming from France and the Mediterranean to exchange minerals and rich ores mined from North Wales and Cheshire for foreign goods, setting up the first sea-faring trade routes in the area.

What did the Romans ever do for us.

What happens next will be the subject of more research and a future post, taking us up to the modern day, with Romans, Vikings, Angles, Normans, Saxons and likely more marauders not yet known, all scrapping for a piece of Britain’s green and pleasant lands, a real- life game of Risk or Age of Empires.

So with all of that knowledge committed to both my brain and cyberspace and reflecting on the original challenge, has a foray into the past given me a better insight into the history of Britain, of course it has. Has it made me any more British than at the start of my journey, no not really.

What we now know is that until 6,000 years ago, we were physically a part of Europe and now we are both physically and metaphysically not which is a real shame.

That said, I do feel a spiritual connection to certain places in Britain, none more so than the aforementioned Stonehenge but even more so on top of Glastonbury Tor, for me the most magical place on Earth, acting as it were as a nexus point to several ley lines that convene at the hills top. The druids knew it and that esoteric knowledge has been passed down to non-materialists and panpsychists ever since.

The energy of that place is unlike anything I’ve experienced, and tapping into into makes one realise that there is so much more to life than being British, being “Universalish” is something that we all should aspire to be, maybe then we can truly evolve, choosing lover over fear, as one…

Foraging: First steps…

I guess there are a few reasons why have decided to take up a more agrarian lifestyle (or at least the start of one).

Weary of the bloatedness that accompanies eating meat in significant volumes has led to a pescatarian diet over the last six weeks has already reaped rewards in a two kilo weight loss, and its a more sustainable way to live. Spending time during the same period rambling across the green and pleasant lands of England, and getting back to nature has given a fresh appetite to put materialism to one side (after the basics hunter-gatherer equipment has been bought and delivered from Amazon – naturally), wanting a life of less that gives me more as a result, and its a more sustainable way to live. Detoxifying the body by reducing alcohol and sugar intake, flushing out unfriendly bacteria and negative Covid knots via the esoteric practice of kundalini yoga and with it a new vigour for life outside the norms of society.

Sadly, I am a hypocrite (and my nineteen year old learned and wise-beyond-his-years offspring concurs this on a daily basis without the need for prompt) and I acknowledge that. Working in an industry which is doing precious little to address global warming and investing in renewable energy sources burns deep within my eco-citizen higher self. With over twenty years invested and with retirement just around the corner (albeit a long, long corner), I have too much invested to just walk away.

My mission is simple, do what I can to be more sustainable now as an individual and as a family (even though on the grand scale of things that is insignificant). Try to improve sustainability and promote green issues in the workplace (knowing that a cultural shift from within will help change the mindset of others on a larger scale than the self or the family). Once I do eventually retire, look towards an off-grid lifestyle, becoming self-sufficient by living off the land and via renewable resources, and if possible go a step further set up a new family (an eco community), starting off small and growing over time, with mind, body and soul at the core.

I’ve admired Jacque Fresco for so long and his Venus Project vision, but it stagnates in this rule-bound material world and having a fully operable and autonomous collective which sits outside the taxation system in the US is in my opinion a tall order to achieve.

I may face the same obstacles in the future here in the UK, but there is hope. One Planet Development in Wales is starting to allow applicants to set up sustainable small holdings to help reduce the countries carbon footprint, something Westminster hasn’t done yet across Offa’s Dyke and may not do, ever.

My recent micro-expeditions over the last six weeks has pushed my retirement thinking further forward, to the extent where it is all I’ve been thinking about for the last seven days since returning from Roman Northumbria. It’s clear to me that not only will I need to detach myself from most of the day to day operations I do now, but I will need to acquire brand new skills and an improved physical prowess should I succeed in what will be the final chapter of my Book of Life.

So like Alice, peering down the rabbit hole into an unknown world, I have started to do some research on what skills I will need. Although the list will be long, it will need to be exhaustive and complete by the time I exhaustingly hit fifty five.

Thumbing through the pages on the internet last week, I decided it was time to get back to basics, real basics, and with that I tried to get an understanding of prehistoric history of Britain, and more specifically the Wirral where I currently live.

Whilst I intend to craft a full post which addresses those historical knowledge gaps from the Palaeolithic age, through the Mesolithic and on to the Romans era, what I have uncovered thus far is that the first Homo sapiens remains in the UK were found (rather remarkably – coincidentally?) at Kents Cavern in Devon where I took the family a few weeks back. These remains carbon-dated to around the year forty thousand BCE and exhibits found revealed our true hunter-gatherers forefathers (and mothers); animal bones, archaic tools and means of illuminating the deepest and darkest caverns by using flints, dry mosses and shells (ancient Yankee Candles).

The trip to the caves fascinated me as did the lifestyle, free from the problems we have today, although they had entirely different problems and dangers to face of course.

Survive they did and we are all evidence of that, but how did the sustain themselves and their tribes, what methods did they use to succeed?

Leaving the hunting aside for another post, my focus turned to gatherering, and what we call foraging today.

Buoyed by my mid-morning blackberry breakfast in Northumbria last Sunday, I did a bit of research and was delighted to find that there was a foraging course in Ruthin (small market town in North Wales) which just happened to coincide with my sisters birthday in a couple of weeks from now. So with debit card already in hand, I dutifully booked us on the course (including my eco-wife to-be), and acquireds a few beginners guides and tools, ready for our first foray into foraging.

Annoyingly, I was off ill from work this week, the kundalini yoga on Tuesday seemed to release many built-up toxins and with it a serious migraine ensued which lasted all of Thursday and Friday, and with it an unwelcome return of my tinnitus, turned up to eleven. Already sprouting cold sores on the lips, I put myself into a dark room and nestled under a duvet for two and a bit days, unable and unwilling to focus and concentrate on the deployment of intelligent IT monitoring systems at work (A.I. won’t get ill, one of the benefits of my work for my employers further down the line after my presence becomes redundant, a victim of my own success).

During my bed-bound sabbatical, I did manage to watch some YouTube videos on foraging, sometimes drifting back off to the land of nod.

There were a few videos that stood out for all would-be pickers:

1. Ray Mears Wild Food

2. Ray Mears Bushcraft

3. Ray Mears Wild Britain

4. Wild Food UK Back To Basics

I guess when it comes to cult of personality and living off the land and it’s resources, Bear Grylls instantly springs to mind. I have liked watching his shows over the years, but find them somewhat contrived and of course a little extreme, sensational not educational.

My quick bimble through some of the online guidance revealed some important principles before taking the first step outdoors:

1. Acquire advice from professionals first

2. Acquire reference books to validate what you forage and if it is safe to eat and don’t taste test

3. Acquire some basic foraging kit (waterproof clothes, gloves, bushcraft knife, foraging bag)

4. Acquire a diary to catalogue where and when you forage

5. Only acquire what you need for yourself/family. Only take a third of the fruits available

6. Don’t take on the edge of agricultural land, especially if the foolishness is brown, likely due to pesticide spraying

7. Don’t trust identifying apps like Google Lens

8. Don’t uproot plants on common land or agricultural land unless permission is granted

9. Sample small amounts during initial forays to make sure one isn’t allergic to the plant

10. Give plants a good wash before consuming to remove dirt and bugs, especially at ground level

Feeling a little better this morning (although looking a whole lot worse due to the “scabification” process on my bottom lip), I headed out towards the old beach line on the coast.

As I passed houses and front gardens with a more watchful eye than usual, I found quite a few interesting trees and bushes, all of which were bearing fruits. On one road alone (all with one hundred yards) I found what I believe to be hawthorn bushes, rowan bushes, a cherry tree, a pear tree and an apple tree.

The road itself has a lot of history. Wellington Road has a set of sea-facing villas, built one hundred and fifty years ago by James Atherton, a local luminary and merchant at the time. The villas still stand strong today with majestic views across the Irish Sea, each unique and picturesque. They are all built on an old tunnel system which dates back hundreds of years when bootleggers would use them as stores for forbidden fayre, the sandstone caves providing good hiding hold for non-taxable contraband.

Taking a fruit from each bush/tree for validation when I got back home (except for the apple and pear trees which were pretty obvious), I headed off to the old cliff line, known locally as the Red Noses (due to them being sandstone proboscis that stretch out to sea). These are now set back from the beach down to the creation of the UK’s longest promenade, built over one hundred years ago, leaving the cliffs a few hundred metres back from the shoreline and with it a thick growth of vegetation.

My old faithful and now off-lead comrade loves it there, as all of the long grasses, bushes and shrubs provide him with plenty opportunities to sniff around and roam for critters.

The main source of foraging here appears to be nettles and blackberries, the small stretch of greenery also lies next to a train track and the bushes grow wild up to the protective railings and are mostly impenetrable (except perhaps with a set of fishing waders which may look a little odd).

Whilst this brief outing was more a “recky” rather than a gathering for breakfast or replacing the “Friday Big Shop”, I did take a few blackberries on the way for sustenance, some sweet and some sour, but sweet anyway in the knowledge that I know they are there and my empty jam jar at home sits waiting for the first foray into preserve making.

Returning home through the back streets, yet more nettles and blackberries grew at the side of the local nine hole golf course, giving me even more evidence to suggest that even in urban areas, opportunities are out there, one just needs to look…

The Road Less Traveled (Part 2)…

A quick check on the pedometer and kilometremeter from the night before revealed thirty one thousand steps stepped, twenty six thousand metres walked and one hundred and nine flights of stairs climbed.

All things considered, besides a few hotspots on our feet and dehydrated calves, we were both in fine shape for another bimble, knowing the stats would likely pale into insignificance when compared to the day before (and they did).

Our plan was to hit the third English Heritage site hard and take a walk around the small village of Chollerford, following the River Tyne downstream, both officially walled out from the day befores efforts.

We filled up our water packs once again and headed off to Heddon-On-The-Wall for a spot of breakfast in The Three Tuns public house, a full English breakfast (veggie option for me) setting out our stall for the days calorie burn.

Sadly, once again the establishment along with all others we could find in the area were all closed, again due to the Covid opening hour restrictions, so feeling a little despondent we headed back to Chollerford, parked the car at Chester’s Fort and walked back to the village for an early morning brew at The Riverside tea room before we took in all that the site had to offer.

With strong black coffee quoffed and caffeine surging through the bloodstream, we took the short walk back to the fort, stopping off briefly to pet a bouncing golden retriever, so full of life and energy, easily enough to raise our spirits of the breakfast that never was.

As if by some divine influence, we soon passed a copse of blackberries bushes and took a hand full, munching the sweet fruits in time to the sound of our own footsteps.

Once inside the fort, it was apparent from the outset that this site (for me at least) was the better one of the three. The exposed brickwork foundations still very much in tact which gave more clarity as to what each building’s function was.

By far the most impressive of constructs were the drainage systems, central heating systems and especially the almost intact bath house.

Some think that central heating systems are a relatively new concept, but in the days before gas fired boilers and radiators, the Romans would heat up stones and place them in cavities under the floors to heat the rooms. Genius.

To think they had highly effective baths, saunas and steam rooms over two thousand years ago is almost unfathomable, almost as unfathomable as to where ancient civilisations obtained such knowledge in the first place.

So much has happened on Earth in such a small time period (since the last ice age which ended 12,000 years ago in Britain according to wiki), it’s not wholly unreasonable to conclude that some of the more “out there” theories of panpsychism or the esoteric akashic records (eternally existing streams of consciousness and information) may hold they key to our historical advancement as a species.

Sadly, the bridge that spanned the River Tyne at Chester’s Fort is no more, but the ruins of the towers that sat strongly either side still remains to this day. As we peered across the river, we saw a fisherman, arcing his fly line beautifully into the crisp morning air, nestling sweetly on the surface of the fast flowing water, catching what was most likely a trout. Nothing quite like fresh fish for Sunday lunch, from riverbank to plate in less than two hours.

I came across a small shard of loose stone which was cut squarely so to form the shape of a wonky pyramid. I’d like to think it was cut by the hand of a Roman soldier two millennia ago so popped it in my pocket as a free keepsake (something I’ve regularly done over the years from mountains I’ve hiked or climbed).

After our tour of the site was complete, we headed back into Chollerford to take our river ramble on the opposite side to the fort, and stopped a while to talk to some friendly locals out walking their dog, who told us to keep an eye out for Biggus Dickus.

No it wasn’t the grave of Graham Chapman (as mentioned in Part 1), but a rather large Roman phallus carved into the stone for all eternity.

As we sat and rested, the deviant in me unpacked the drone and took it for a flight across the wall and inside the ruined bridge tower, followed by a swift flight over the river and around the fort, albeit from a significant height. Technically there were no signs on display that one could not fly a drone over the site, but I took the executive decision anyway to do it regardless, feeling the thrill of a would-be archaeologist as the aerial shot revealed the full extent of site in all of its glory.

The strong wind alert started to alarm so the flight was ended more quickly than I would have liked, but nonetheless the final output was worth the risk.

Feeling happy that we had done the area justice, we headed back to base camp for our Sunday roast at the Twice Brewed public house (vegetable nut roast for me), which was washed down with two planks of their finest draft ales.

With three third of a pint glasses on each plank, we tasted all six ales on offer, ranking them from best to worst as one does, the last glass staying full to the brim after we both agreed that it tasted like the waste water from a vase.

All that remained was the two hundred mile drive back home, which was thankfully both swift and uneventful.

We are already thinking of the full seventy three mile walk for next year, when hopefully tea rooms and public houses resume normal service and pre-booking can be resigned to the annals of history. The good folks of Northumbria are fabulously warm and welcoming people, very friendly with a dry wit and humour not too dissimilar from that of my birth city of Liverpool.

A great trip full of fond memories already, and with it a gentle reminder to all that beyond the wall of chaos, there is a calm out there, you just need to disconnect and look for it.

The Road Less Traveled (Part 1)…

“Apart from better sanitation, medicine, education, irrigation, public health, roads, a freshwater system, baths and public order, what have the Romans ever done for us?”…

An all too brief sojourn to the North of England last weekend revealed a great many things to me. Firstly, how unfit I am. Secondly, what a truly regimented and technically advanced bunch of folks the Romans were and finally how little I know about Britain before the BC/AD switch over (when one had to get a new bloody watch – thanks Jesus!).

As mentioned in previous posts, I feel like my eventual journey to a life off-grid (when I retire at fifty five which is one thousand, four hundred and eighty two working days from now) has started in earnest. I have (with the exception of the ego-less and anonymous WordPress) disconnected myself completely from the chaos all around. I have removed all apps from my phone (except this one and Spotify), ceased all current affairs programmes and daily news briefings (relinquishing my BBC TV licence in the process and using the one hundred and sixty six pounds a year more wisely), moving to a plant-based diet (with the odd fish thrown in for the essential oils) and getting back to nature (as frequently as I can) and becoming fitter, healthier and stronger (by exercising the mind, body and soul daily – via various and varied means).

My neighbour “B”, has waxed lyrical constantly over the last twelve months about the best holiday he ever had which was exactly one year ago. He and two others “walked the wall” from the aptly named Wallsend in Newcastle in the East to Carlisle in the West, a grand total of seventy three miles.

Being ex-British army, “B” is used to long trails over various terrains, and armed with a “basher” on his back, he and his comrades took the historical path following Hadrian’s Wall, a remarkable feat of engineering built by the Romans two thousand years earlier. Bedding down in woods each evening, taking in all of the breath taking scenery Northumbria had to offer and stopping off at tea rooms and ale houses on the way, it was clear his mission (which he chose to accept) left a marked imprint on him, something I wanted a slice of myself.

So last weekend, I booked a youth hostel (partly due to the potential inclement UK weather in August and the limited time we had) and headed North for a few days of bimbling, the Twice Brewed public house our nexus and convening point after a hard days trekking. 

It was clear that as soon as we got there, things were different. After dropping our bags off we took a “recky” to map out our routes for the next couple of days and after we had done that, an evening meal and a few local ales would send us off to sleep after a long week in work for the both of us. Sadly, one is never too far away from the chaos and new order of things these days. The pub was fully “pre-booked” for the whole weekend, putting a bit of a downer on two optimistic ramblers.

We once again took to the road and found ourselves a pub in the small village of Haltwhistle, which had the remarkable yet somewhat unbelievable claim of being in the dead centre of Britain. Nevertheless, a quick reveal on Apple Maps confirmed the fact, here we had a village which was just south of the old border between England and Scotland which was indeed at the land masses epicentre, much to our bemusement. 

The Covid plastic sheets that draped from the ceilings and bar area put this previously quaint old English pub in a different light, so after quick meal washed down with a pint of Black and Tan (Guinness) for me at least, we headed back to the hostel to crash for the night. 

Eager to get out there, we set off just after the crack of dawn and headed up the road to see our first glimpse Hadrian’s Wall, taking the first of our thirty thousand steps for the day, a little over fifteen miles. 

Although a life off-grid will eventually mean that I will need different types of energy solutions (renewable and recyclable) to provide the power to my gizmos, my fully pre-charged tech would allow me to capture some photographic (camera phone) and video evidence (drone) of our trip, something we could look back on with fondness in the years to come. 

As we reached the first trail post, we were reminded straight away that even trekkers have to abide by strict rules and regulations, a sign of “No Drones” clearly emblazoned on the gate post. We have a lot of freedom in the UK (especially when compared to other countries) but I grow so weary about what we can and cannot do, feeling somewhat physically and emotionally constricted and trapped at times, which actually has the opposite effect on me, as conformity brings out the rebel and pseudo-anarchistic side of my nature, as it did the previous Saturday in Liverpool when the wife and I went to a freedom demonstration in Liverpool. 

Our first stop on the wall was at Sycamore Gap, a natural dip on the ridge line made even more impressive by the presence of solitary and majestic Sycamore tree, arguably the most famous tree in England made even more famous in the film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, where (if memory serves) Kevin Costner meets Morgan Freedman for the first time, clearly nowhere near Sherwood Forest in Nottingham a hundreds of miles south. 

After a few minutes contemplating a fly over with the drone (which didn’t take place due to the relatively high winds and the lightness of the device), we took some obligatory snaps and headed on in the direction of Newcastle and our destination for the morning, Housesteads, an old Roman village. 

The scenery as we passed over this historical site was breathtaking, the impressive wall still standing (albeit at a diminished height these days) sat behind quarried cliff faces, man-made lakes and deep dykes cut into the landscape where the terrain flattened out. 

As our path progressed, we stopped off at a small wood where “B” and his band of merry men (not Messrs Costner and Freedman) slept upon beds of soft lichens and mosses one year earlier, seeing a trap set by a would-be poacher to put in his pot at the close of day, empty for the time being. 

We made it to Housesteads, the first of three English Heritage sites we would visit over the weekend, and in my opinion the least impressive (although it was still a site to behold). To paraphrase Eddie Izzard, it was “a series of small walls” with pictorial and explanatory texts describing what housed the various functions and inhabitants in case the early morning imagination wasn’t firing on all cylinders yet. The beauty about our early morning trek was that there was no one on the path. We were alone, like solitary soldiers of yester-year, clocking off after a night shift at one of the many mile markers look out posts. 

After resting a while at the cafe with an English scone (clotted cream, strawberry preserve and a hot brew as bedfellows), we talked about how impressive a site like this must have been two millennia ago and how was it that a wall can still be standing after all this time, yet we needed to exchange our “broken” iPhones every two years. 

We retraced or our early morning steps back along the ridge line, save this time dodging fellow ramblers, trail runners and a large variety of their canine comrades whose numbers had grown exponentially over the last few hours. 

Our next stop was Vindolanda (pronounced Vindaloo-via by me as I couldn’t remember its name well after 13 miles trekking already on the clock). Again reminded that drones were not allowed, we took in some well earned lunch at the cafe, donned the now obligatory face mask to see the various treasures and findings the site owners had uncovered over recent years. 

The site itself was much more impressive than the last, with some of the staff recreating how pottery was made with a live kiln exhibition, which was followed up by a walk around the village, traipsing through gate houses, barracks, senior officer buildings and stables. A recreation of Hadrian’s Wall gave one a vision of how impressive this erection must have been back in the day, and with the dykes cut into one side how almost impenetrable and impregnable it must have been for the marauding Celts on the other side of it. 

As the sun started it’s journey back to the horizon (albeit in the west), we headed back to base camp to take some early evening refreshments. A look over our shoulder revealed an old tree, devoid of life but on the horizon the vivid and lively sycamore, a gap within a gap, photo of the day safely etched to the memory of the phone.

As the ale house next door was still fully booked (no cancellations but we managed to secure a Sunday roast slot the next day) we resigned ourselves to a few beers from the hostel bar (which of course had to be imbibed outside to to lockdown measures) and a house pizza rather than going back in the car to the “atmosphere-less” and “plasticated” public house a night earlier.

The ale at the hostel was supplied from the micro-brewery attached the to the Twice Brewed public house next door, we simply couldn’t resist the pull of one of the drinks on offer, wryly smiling as we ordered Ale, Caesar! in elevated voices (with a hint of a Graham Chapman lisp in Monty Python’s Life of Brian who played the amusingly named Biggus Dickus).

Imagine our amusement when the next round of drinks included two bottles of Holy Grail, which were allegedly tempered over burning witches and reminding us that our mothers were hamsters and our fathers smelt of elderberries..

As it turned out, our fifteen mile bimble and long working week had caught up on us anyway, so we took to the hostel bed a crashed out before twilight, replenishing our energy stocks for what was to come tomorrow.

As I lay there, my eyelids closing to the huge gravitational forces that they were now under, I was reminded (somehow or by something) of the poem by Robert Frost titled “The Road Less Traveled” and how poignant it was, on so many levels,

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference”

That poem summed it up nicely. Adjacent to Hadrian’s Wall is the Military Road, which is busy when compared to the trail on the ridge (especially in the morning). Sure our trip to Homesteads would have been quicker if we took the Military Road, but as Frost penned, the road less traveled made all the difference…