I’m up and blogging at 5am after waking up with a sore shoulder in a roomful of other men (I sleep awkwardly in new places). No-one was snoring but I was petrified of turning over noisily and waking someone. So I got up. We’re staying at the North Farm Bunkhouse and it’s quiet. Which at 5am kind of figures.
So, Day 1. Fifteen or sixteen miles from Wallsend to Heddon-On-The-Wall. We started off in a huge gang of 35 and the first few hundred yards felt like an invading army swamping the cycle path. The cyclists sharing the Hadrian’s Path were surprisingly relaxed (London cyclists would have simply mown us down) but everyone soon started to spread out into little groups of two, four or six depending on pace and level of acquaintance. Everybody seemed to be getting along tremendously well. Actually, everyone was getting along tremendously well. One of the many amazing things about this whole business has been the ongoing way it demonstrates the tendency of strangers to be well, excellent to each other. The other interesting thing has been how nobody so far seems to have felt the need to authenticate the ongoing excellence of everything by Twittering or blogging about it (I’m always a bit sceptical about events so good that everyone has to constantly stream how good they actually are to the outside world. Though I suppose I’m doing just that, technically).
I initially formed a group by myself. Basically, I was a little intimidated and needed to listen to some music and find a way into the whole thing. Meanwhile, I watched Tyneside passing and played spot-the-major-parent-blogger. So far I’ve seen Jo Beaufoix and Single Parent Dad. I haven’t actually spoken to them yet – it feels a bit too strange or difficult. Apart from Dan, every time I’ve met an actual blogger I’ve been hopeless – talking to much, interrupting, the full nervous over-compensator thing*. I just don’t come across well. I’ve spoken to some of the American bloggers, who are friendly and tremendously brave (travelling thousands and thousands of miles to hang out for a week with complete strangers – talk about virtual bungee jumping!) but not in the context of being a blogger. I’d also probably do a lot better if I could only remember all these names.**
This section of the walk was interesting but not pretty. The Tyne must be one of the most historically industrialised stretches of river this side of the Eastern Thames or the Mersey. And that industry is dead. We walked past shuttered warehouses, grimy light industry estates, long demolished docks and truncated streets with barricaded corner shops. The shipbuilders of the Tyne were gone. Things changed has we reached the city centre and the regeneration centre pieces of the Science Centre, an extraordinary, shimmering, fluid body of of glass undulating like the waves it reflected, and the mighty Baltic Centre. Bridges, old and new, spanned the Tyne in a cavalcade of engineering and architectural savvy, from Victorian ironwork to the steel half loop of the new footbridge. Two tall ships were at anchor with their young crews spread out along the main yardarms learning the drill to unfurl the mainsails.
We reached a toilet and a number of us had a 20 minute toilet break enforced by the automatic cleaning cycle of the lavatory (tip for visiitng Newcastle – bring change. It’s only a cash free economy in the most basic of ways). We were all very intrigued as to what was actually going on in there (the cleaning was evidently machine heavy and noisy) but nobody volunteered to stay inside the booth and film it. I fell in with three of Dan’s friends who’s names I’ve shamefully forgotten (Richard? Ian? A woman who writes with Richard who’s a poet? As I said, if I was better at remembering names I’d be so much better at this unstructured conversation thing) and they were great company. Woman-who’s-a-poet leant me a stick – they were all striding along with those ski type walking sticks and I was feeling left out – and we began to make good time.
The other side of Gateshead, we began to encounter the ghosts of regenerations past. It began to get more rural, though the path ran parallel to motorways and electricity pylons squatted astride the path like giant lunar landers. Modern ruins of factories and ‘Enterprize Centres’ loomed up on either side of the path, embedded in fast-growing shrubs and creepers like Mayan temples. One seemed to be an abandoned multi-story carpark. Another was a large barn built out of red planks, many of which seemed to have fallen.
Eventually, pylons, concrete ruins and motorways disappeared and we found the river. For a moment, it looked like the Rhine – church towers, high sloping banks of woodland and a broad, fast flow. Then we turned away up a steep, slope and did the first tough climb of the walk so far. Thankfully it was the last stretch of the day and we emerged out of a maze of bridle paths and golf course access roads into the middle of the new build estates attached to Heddon Village.
As ever, a word to our sponsor, or rather sponsored. Dan’s Herculean efforts to marshall all these walkers and bloggers are in aid of the Joseph Salmon Trust and you can always chip in via my own Just Giving page.
*I talk to much and I talk about the wrong things. I fall into lecture mode too easily and constantly find people listening to me politely as I rabbit on and on. Poor Dan, another friend of his and his father-in-law joined me for breakfast yesterday morning and I somehow got the conversation onto concentration camps and the British expertise in same. I mean, hello? What was I thinking? But that always happens. I probably need lessons of something. God, how I envy other people’s talent for being likeable. I’m reasonably likeable provided you can keep me contained within the persona expressed on this blog. But meet me in a real world context and it’s horrid!
**The other thing I should mention is how sensitive people are in this group. Everyone goes to a lot of trouble to make sure I or the other slightly shyer members are included without being in the least all Hemulen and overwhelming about it. I should especially note Dan’s wonderful father-in-law.