Saturday, December 17, 2005

Birdoswald to Walton, April 2004

After a leisurely breakfast and a slow, lingering morning at "Hill-On-The-Wall," we retrace our steps to the Museum and ruins of the Roman fort at Birdoswald.

We walk the ruins of the fort, then enjoy a relaxing alfresco lunch in the cool spring sun. The prior day's long, rugged hike from Steel Rigg along the basalt spine of the Great Whin Sill, combined with the late departure, makes cabbing to Walton an appealing alternative for Mary, Madeline and Philip.

I decide to hike to Walton alone. I'd guess it's only six or eight miles—an easy couple of hours. As I depart Birdoswald, I pass a family hiking eastbound; still within sight of the fort, I encounter another hiker, also heading east. I don’t meet or see another soul until I arrive at our lodgings at Town’s Head Farm in Walton, late in the afternoon.

At one point, far out of sight of any human settlements, I stop and am puzzled by what sounds like at first, the laboring engine of a massive truck—which never seems to get any closer or more distant—then a roaring jet engine, which curiously also neither approaches or retreats. I stand perfectly still for a few minutes, trying to identify the source of the odd sound.

Then I realize it is the wind, sweeping through the forests and fields through which I am walking. I stand still for a few more moments, have walked into a past where man does not seem to exist. I have rarely felt, so intensely, the tranquility of being so utterly alone.

At my feet, there lay a feather—long, elegant, delicate yet powerful. I pick it up, tuck it carefully in my hat, and wear it for the remainder of the hike. It now sits beside me where I write, my one souvenir from that ancient lonely place.

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