You really can’t take Coals to Newcastle

The walk across Hadrians Wall was always going to be one of my favourite parts of this journey, its a part of the country I had never visited apart from a few visits to the North East which usualoy involved cious ampunts of alcohol and very little sight seeing. I left Carlisle and first made a shortish journey up the A69 to Brampton which is the first stop on the Wall trail which would stretch for the next 50 or so miles til I reached Newcastle. Its only when I arrived I realised I hadn’t actually organised any accomodation so I sat in the Howard Arms and contemplated what to do, as luck would have it the place was also a Hotel and the rate was reasonable so I checked in. I was given the Fagin room and quickly realised the Hotels connection with Charles Dickens, he was said to have stayed there a night or two on a trip and he also being a son of Portsmouth I felt honoured to have stayed in the same place.

From Brampton I was headed to Haltwhistle and first had to walk along the A69 again until i could get off at Low Row and follow what I thought was the line of the Wall but I didnt see any evidence until I reached the village of Gilsland where the Wall itself runs right through the village and I stopped for a well earned breather on a section of the still standing stone wall. Its amazing to see it still so well preserved 1800 years after it was built so I draped my flag across it and took a picture to commemorate the most northerly part of England I would visit. Haltwhistle calls itself the Centre of Britain, I am not sure if geographically that is correct or not but it was another landmark on my Walk as I had also walked through the Centre of England too.

I faced a tough stretch the next day again along the route of the A69 but I could use a parallel road until I hit Bardon Mill and then turned North and hit a climb up to a road called the Stanegate, for about a mile it was just about the steepest climb I had attempted to date and the weather got steadily worse as the morning passed, drizzle and mist turned into a heavy downpour and the higher I went the porer the visibility got, down to around 50 yards. It was a shame because below me was a complete Roman Fort called Vindolanda, except it was almost completely obscured and I couldnt take any photos as I wanted to. The last 3 miles to my digs in Newbrough was made a bit lighter because I met a fellow walker who was a local, he virtually talked my ears off but it was nice to have some company for the final stretch.

The following day I hit the Military Road proper and that was to take me up a couple more steep banks to the highest point in Northumberland, the views were again spectacular and it seemed to me I was on the top of Britain! the descent was hilly but I could tell I was coming down from the highest point in my Hadrian walk and I trudged on to my last stop before Newcastle, the Robin Hood Inn.

I had a couple more climbs to negotiate before the blessed relief of the descent into Newcastle, I was staying in a Hotel to the West of the Toon and if im honest it was more of a doss house really, the room I was given was nice enough but it was placed on the ground floor by the Fire Exit that was used as a smoking area and also the stairs to the first floor, so there was constant noise. I awoke the next day pretty grumpy ahead of my visit to St James Park, I was meeting a chap from the NUFC Trust called Tony who had been a touch nervous about me inviting him on the Tour of the stadium with me, the relatioinship between the club and the Trust, as always, has been fractious. We were given the tour by Bob, whoh pad worked at Newcastle in various jobs throu various ragimes and eras, if he didnt know it, it wasnt worth knowing. He was once Sir Bobby Robsons chauffeur and looked after the great man whenever he came to SJP in his twilight years. The stadium is very imprssive, only the Emirates, Etihad and Old Trafford have a larger capacity, on a matchday they serve over 4,000 silver service dinners and employ 70 chefs! A huge operation.

Next to SJP there is an open cast mine where the old Brown Ale factory once stood, when it had been demolished they found a seam of coal. So, even in this day and age, you still shouldnt take Coals to Newcastle! Following the tour Tony and I had a chat about Trust stuff and I walked along the south side of the Tyne to make my way to the Stadium of Light and Sunderland.

After another sleepless night at Hotel de Doss I took the Metro to the SOL and met a lovely chap called Chris Waters, he is the Supporters Liaison Officer at Sunderland and as the SLO role is something I am very interested in it was a pleasure to chat to him about the role as he took me round the Stadium. Being a bit of a thicky I had never made the comnection with the Stadiums name and the areas Mining heritage, the light of course being a Miners Lamp. Feel free to point and laugh at me if you ever come across me on my travels. Chris was very enthusaistic in meeting me and learn about my travels so far, it has always been fun to meet someone at a club I am visiting that takes the time to ask real questions and listen to the answers.

Both North East clubs had been a joy to visit, the Premiership clubs are certainly surprising me with their support, with one exception of course.

Next stop was Hartlepool, the weather was vicious on the way down the North Sea coast which was to be expected. Before i went to Hartlepool though I had a detour to make and complete a personal pilgrimage to a place called Castle Eden which is where my Grandfather on my Mothers side was born over 80 years ago. Nowadays the village is right by the A19 and the railway line that the cottages were named after was probably a casualty of Dr Beeching in the 1960′s but it was nice to stand and look at the family house of Arthur Reid.

I found a nice cheap B&B in Hartlepool for two nights but the weather continued to be really foul and when I went to Hartlepool the next day the wind and rain continued to get worse. I was shown round by the groundsman Ian who, despite the rain to come was confident that the game on Saturday would go ahead. I was pleased about that because the game in question was against Portsmouth!

I also met the CE Russ Green who was a larger than life character and we spent a good 90 mins talking about football and in general despairing about the modern game and its excesses. I was going to look around the area but the weather was absolutely brutal by now so I retreated to my digs for the day once I had eaten lunch.

The next update will cover a trip off the route and a unique Christmas. Bye for now!

Jump!

And so began probably the toughest stretch up past the Lakes and into Cumbria to Carlisle and then across Hadrians Wall through Northumberland and ending up in the North East to start the long hike South.

I left Carnforth to head to the first stop which was Kendal, 15 miles away. The terrain got gradually sparser as I headed North up the Scotland Road or the A6 as its normally called. It was a fairly non-descript journey until I hit Milnthorpe and then the scenery to my left started to become more and more beautiful as I entered the Lakes area. I was meeting a chap called John who was putting me up in the Lakes once I had reached Kendal, he lived near Windermere at a place called Bowness which is a tourist town full of Hotels and shops for those holidaying in the area. He picked me up from a pub I found that was open, even at 4pm all of the bars in town weren’t open yet which was very odd, he took me back to his amazing house and I washed and changed. We met some’of his mates in a bar in town and he treated me to some dinner, the long walk had given me a ravenous appetite and the Carbonara I ordered went down in a matter of minutes. Adding to that was 2 1/2 pints of Guinness and I was done for the day, at 9pm on a Friday night, this walking lark certainly ruins the party animal in you.

We left Bowness very early the following morning and it was a dream of a morning, we stoppped by the Lake in Windemere in order to take some photos, it was so clear and still and gave me a good start to the day and set me up for what was going to be a difficult climb up to my stop that evening in Shap.

It had snowed just a couple of days before up on the mountains and hills of the Lake District and I was worried that once I had reached the heights of the Shap pass it would be very icy, not the kind of thing you need when you are carrying a vrey heavy pack up inclines. Luckily most of the ice had turned into slush apart from a few patches here and there and with the weather being kind to me it was a really lovely walk, the views of the mountain peaks covered with snow was a real treat. I stayed in a lovely pub called the Greyhound which was being paid for by a very kind friend of Johns, called Paul, who was also standing me a night in a place at Penrith.

I was hoping once I reached Shap it would be all downhill the next day but I was wrong, there was one section of the road that dipped down toward a river crossing and then rose again, it was a painful struggle to get back up again because it was a steep winding climb the like of which I hadn’t encountered since Devon. It was a lovely day again though so the option of stopping regularly to admire the views and catch a breather was taken quite a lot!

I dragged myself into Penrith that evening and checked into my digs for the evening with a ravenous appetite, I looked around the town of Penrith and found, down some dingy alleyway, a fantastic chippy so, even though it was a Sunday night, I had a slap up Fish and Chip dinner. Carlisle was the next stop and that was half way in this particulalry difficult section of the Walk, before I left Penrith I had a look around the Castle whivh was the one time home of Richard, Duke of Gloucester who later became Richard III. Of course the bones of Richard III have just recently been identified and found in Leicester, even despite the constant threat of raids, I’m sure Richard would have preferred to have been found in Cumbria.

Penrith to Carlisle was thankfully a far flatter and straighter journey and when I finally reached he most northerly city on my Walk I was quite disappointed that the welvome sign was so small, not sure what I was expecting really, something along the lines of the Welcome to Las Vegas sign would have been nice, but no it was a tiny sign saying “Carlisle”, I had my picture taken by it anyway.

I don’t know if you remember but several years ago Carlisle United was flooded and the ground was several feet under water, when I visited the following day the subject of weather came up and they showed me the pictures from that day, it was amazing to see a football ground full with water, happily they have installed flood defenses along the river that flooded so it shouldnt happen again. They are looking to move nonetheless and I dont blame them. I have actually visited Brunton Park before, 3 years ago when Pompey were still in the Premiership, we played Carlisle in the League Cup and I caught a train from London around 3pm that was due in 5 mins after kick off, which was a small price to pay for a cheaper fare and no need for a day off work. Sadly the train was held up just outsode Wigan North due to someone threatening to jump off a bridge, one drunken Scotsman was getting mmore upset the longer we didnt move and fell out with his wife when he exclaimed “Let the bastard jump so we can get home!”. We were delayed by around 45 mins so once I arrived at Carlisle I dashed to the ground in a taxi and arrived just as the referee blew for the end of the first half. Quite a few mates were getting the overnight train home at around 1.30am, so I had made a 14 hour round trip to spend less than 5 hours in the town.

This time I spent more time looking around the town following my visit to the club, after all it had taken me 3 1/2 months to get there, and I also took the train to Gretna Green to look around the famous eloping town for an hour, who knew it was all down to an Anvil?

My next update will be just after Christmas so I would like to wish all my followers and blog readers a very Merry Christmas, personally I shall be in Ripon hopefully enjoying the company of any of the locals of the White Horse who will talk to me.

Have a cool Yule!

Bring me sunshine, all the while….

Leaving Blackburn and looking at the West Coast clubs I was heading towards made me think that I would soon be at the most northerly point and facing some of the toughest but interesting areas in the Lake District and also along Hadrians Wall. But first up was Preston North End and a ground I had visited before. I arrived on the Sunday afternoon and it was pretty icy but that made the famous statue of Tom Finney, which is called “The Splash”, look all the more impressive.

The following morning I returned and was given a tour by a lovely chap from their community dept and I was very impressed with Deepdale, the way the 4 stands have been developed makes for a very neat and compact stadium which can generate a lot of noise, something that again we at Fratton Park could learn from if we ever get the chance to rebuild it. Before I left they got the Chairman, Peter Ridsdale, to sign my flag which I was amused by given his record with football clubs. Immediately leaving PNE I was heading to Blackpool which was a fair old trek in the 4 hours of daylight I had left, but if you we going to arrive anywhere at night then I suppose Blackpool is the place to do it.

I was staying in the exoticly named Aloha Hotel which was on the seafront just north of the North Pier, when I arrived after taking in some of the illuminations I was quite shocked to see just how un-Hawian the place was! Seeing the prices of some of the better Hotels I think I made a bad decision, still I wasnt staying in the place longer than needed seeing as there was plenty to do in Blackpool, well’as much as you can do out of season. Bloomfield Road is another new ground, another historic one too, that greats like Armfield and Matthews graced post war in that golden age of English Football. I didnt realise it was so close to the Sea, it must have seen some cold games over the years. Its now a tidy ground with corporate development around it including a Hotel, it doesn’t much resemble a Football Ground from close up but then a lot of modern redevelopments don’t. Blackpool donated a signed shirt for auction so I got that sent to Prostate Cancer to get some money for it through their own auction site. Fingers crossed it gets a few quid.

A stroll up the coast to Fleetwood followed my visit to Bloomfield Road, its about 5 miles between each of the grounds so I decided to do it that afternoon without a pack to weigh me down, it was a fun walk, the coast is really beautiful even with a high wind and a raging sea. I got the tram back south to Blackpool and took a trip up the Tower to admire the view, tyey have installed a glass plate at the top, which allows you to stand on nothing and look down. I am far from comfortable at heights so I watched others walk out and enjoy the view through the floor, whilst I hung onto a pillar and tried to take photos. In the evening I took the Tram right down to the South of the Pleasure Beach and walked the mile back to the North pier taking in all the illuminations, it was eerily quiet though out of season znd reminded me of Southsea in the depths of Winter as a kid.

Fleetwood Town have had a meteoric rise to the Football League backed by a local Fan who has backed their climb from local league football to the Professional game. They play at Highbury, which is now the only League ground called that since Arsenal left for the Emirates and it is dominated by one large new stand which houses the offices for the club. I mentioned I hadnt had any breakfast after leaving my crap hotel and they gave me a full english and after meeting one of the players they presented me with a Fleetwood Hat and Scarf, which was a nice touch as I headed to the frozen north. A friendly club and I wish them well.

Last of the coastal clubs was Morecambe, which was a short boat trip and then a long walk through Lancaster. I stayed in a nice little Morecambe B&B that evening and treated myself to some quality fish and chips for tea. My time at the club was great fun, I spent time with the manager and many of the team and took lots of photos, many of the staff there seemed genuinely interested in what i was doing and also the enormity of the Walk.

I left Morecambe and headed out up the seafront in a gale and heavy rain which was a shame, because I wanted to enjoy the Eric Morcambe statue, but the weather was so foul that even the sight of Eric couldnt brighten the atmosphere. I was headed to a place called Carnforth which was the first stop on my trek up past the lakes, Carnforth is famous for being the place that the film “Brief Encounter” was shot, it was a love story about a couple that met in a Rail Station cafe and in tribute I stayed in the Carnfoth Station Hotel. I was surprised that the owners of the hotel weren’t maing much of the link really, perhaps because they were redecorating. The Station itself has a museum which was interesting to look around, I vaguely remember seeing the film when I was young and marvelled at the dialog, they don’t make films like that any more.

Next update details my trek up the Lakes and walk across Hadrians wall toward Newcastle. See you then.

It’s not grim up North

Following the evening of emotion and culture at St Georges hall in the evening, the next morning I headed to Goodison to take the tour of the place in the company of a delightful lady called Carena. She was a pcoket dynamo of a girl with a charming scouse accent and her friendly excitement in showing me around contrasted to the slightly frosty reception I had received at Anfield. Everton call themsleves the Peoples club and that shone through. During the tour I met the kitman and he gave me an armful of energy drinks and also a Phil Neville shirt which I decided to give to Ian for his hospitality.

Afterward Roy from SOS got in touch again, he had been onto Liverpool and had secured some complimentary tickets for the Europa Cup match at Anfield that evening against Young Boys of Berne. They ended up being in the Press Box area so included a free hot buffet and half time soup, very nice indeed on a very cold evening, Liverpool had redeemed themselves somewhat. I was disappointed with the home crowd and the Kop but the Berne fans were raucous and at one point unveiled a baner with a message of support for the Hillsborough Families which brought a standing ovation from all sides of the ground. The game was quite open and featured a young Liverpool side who played well in patches but struggled to keep posession, it was clear that to win the game the big guns would have to come off the bench so on came Gerrard and Suarez to help push the home side into a 2-1 lead but Young Boys came back once Liverpool had taken their foot offf the gas and got a deserved late equaliser. What was really fun to see and very unusual was the Young Boys players all went over to their travelling support and celebrated with them performing some rehearsed routines, you could never imagine any British team doing that.

I walked away from Anfield with Roy to meet my hosts at the Irish Centre not far from the ground, they were deep’into a quiz when i arrived and when it finished the bar had a whip round to raise money for my cause which was very kind of them, especially as I was no help at the quiz.

Tranmere was next on the club list and whilst I was taking some pictures around the ground the team was training on the pitch, I spent 15 mins watching the manager taking them through some game situations and it was great to have an insight into what a training session was like for a pro team. Tranmere looked well drilled and are leading League 1 as I write and when they face Pompey at the weekend I think it may well be very tough for them to get any kind of result.

Following my visit to Prenton Park on the friday I had to walk back to the ferry and begin my walk to Blackburn, I was headed to Goodison to give myself a starting point to go from on the folowing Sunday, the reason being was that 3 very good friends of mine Paul, Jim and Alan were coming from Portsmouth to spend some time with me, I hadnt seen them for some time so it was great they were coming all this way for a couple of days of fun in Liverpool. Much to our amusement Paul had been in charge of booking the Hotel and he had struggled to find somewhere in the City centre so had booked something that described itself as being 20 mins from the City centre was at least 40 by train at a place called Eastham Rake. Chester was nearer.

On the second night out Jim had bullied us into playing spoof at regular intervals, a game where each person holds up to 3 coins in there hands and each person has to guess the total number held by the group, if someone guessed correctly they we out and the rest played in, the loser had to submit to a forfeit that was decided by the first person out. As the alcohol flowed the demands got more and more outrageous and I got stung for one round of 4 drinks that cost 26 quid! I was tasked with buying 4 double whiskeys and the always helpful Paul suggested I get one particular whiskey, I didnt realise it was not on the discount list so when the waitress told me the price I swore at him quite a few times! It was still great fun to see my best friends and a real boost to my morale as I headed towards a very tough Winter in the north.

I had to head back to Lancashire to sweep up the 3 clubs that are just a few miles from each other north of Manchester and first up was Blackburn, before I got there I headed through Chorley and Malc once again came to my rescue and took me to stay on his sofa in Bolton to save me paying for a night in a b and b, he is turning out to be one of the most valuable people I have met on this walk in terms of getting me help.

The Rovers Trust had arranged for me to stay in a Hotel opposite Ewood Park called the Fernhurst for 2 nights and on the Wednesday I visited the club for a tour and photos and received a complimentary ticket to that evenings game against Bolton. I had seen 4 score draws so far as a guest of clubs so when Bolton took a very early lead I assured the Rovers fans around me thzt they would equalise. I was wrong as Bolton ran out fairly easy 2-1 winners and the fans around me were not happy because they had jot seen a win in some games. Afterward I went to the Blues bar to quickly meet Claire and Dawn from the Trust and we discussed how they were doing and I gave them as much advice as I could give based on my experiences of when the Pompey Trust started. Its fair to say they harve a tricky job on their hands not just with the club but with fellow fans, I wish them every success in securing the future of their club.

Just up the road are Accrington Stanley, a club that were reformed in 1968 which makes them the same age as myself and of course if you are also as old as me you will remember the milk advert that made them famous in modern times. It involved two scouse kids discussing the merits of drinking milk with one saying “My dad says if you dont drink milk you’ll only be good enough to play for Accrington Stanley”, his pal replies “Who are they?” with the final reply being “Exactly!”. Stanley were very good to me and bought me lunch before I finished my days walking arriving in Burnley that afternoon.

I was being hosted in Burnley by Steve and his wife Nic, they actually lived in a place called Heptonstall which is next to Hebdon Bridge. on the borders of Lancashire and Yorkshire. A stunningly picturesque village set in some of the most beautiful countryside it was a pleasure to spend some time there. The first evening we went to the local pub which had a quiz night and we were joined by several fellow quizzers that included a Film Producer, Actor, Musician and a set designer! We won quite handsomely and I wasnt a weak link with my knowledge of daytime TV and Sport coming up trumps. The Landlord fnd out about my guest visit and made me speak to the pub who then had a whip round for my cause, it was hugely generous so I must say a big thanks to all at the Cross pub in Heptonstall.

After visiting Burnley the next day Steve gave me a tour of the area and I saw more of the stunning scenery around Hebdon Bridge, it was a real treat and set me up for my walkback through North Lancashire. Talking of that I had another really nice surprise on my walk back through Blackburn, a couple I had met through the Rovers Trust Claire and Tris were lending me their house for an evening, even though they werent there! Plus I got taken out to Frankie and Bennys for pasta by Dawn and Simon from the Rovers Trust so I cant thank them all enough for their support over the days I was there.

So, after my visit to the West Coast I face the toughest part of my trip to Carlisle and Newcastle, lets hope the weather is as kind as the people up here!

Speaking Truth To Power

And so back to Bolton. I was again at a club on a matchday so they were playing a game against Barnsley game who had brought a fair few raucous fans. The club had kindly given me a ticket and took some photos prior to kick off but my Pompey Pal in Bolton had found a contact that had a Box for the game. So, once I had done the photo ops with thir keeper Bogdan and the club mascot, whilst avoiding some odd toast shaped mascot, I got taken up to the Box to join my hosts and watch the game.

Now it was really nice to be invited into a Box to enjoy some nosh but I can safely say its not the way I like to watch a football match, give me standing and singing any day. The gallows humour of the Bolton fans I was sitting with was entertaining though, even if the 1-1 draw wasn’t. A shoutout to the Barnsley fans who were noisy throughout despite some over officious stewarding who enforced standing but only with the odd kid.

Heroes to a man.

The following day I was joined again by the Barretts who walked with me from the Reebok to Wigan, it was only a few miles but it was nice to have some company again and we were blessed with a lovely sunny day again. When I arrived I was greeted by Dawn and her active son Keegan who asked a lot of questions, some of them even relevant to my walk. They lived some miles from Wigan and they treated me to Sunday dinner. Keegan gave me some sweets, which was very kind of him, well I thought so until I was told he hated them because they were too tough for his teeth!

The tour of the DW was fun, another new ground ticked off, and after that I headed towards merseyside via St Helens and Prescot, unbeknownst to me a Pompey fan called Dave Sargent who I had got in touch with via Twitter lives just a mile or two from Prescot so he met me for a pint and kindly gave me a lift to my digs for the night. Top fella that Dave is he also picked me up the following morning and bought me breakfast at his favourite cafe in Prescot, chers Dave!

My walk into merseyside took me into a place that I didnt even know existed outisde of one mans imagination and that was Knotty Ash, there were no reported sightings of Diddy Men or Tickling sticks which was a shame. Nor any tax men either.

I took a long route to Anfield and Stanley Park through Queens Drive and was quite excited when I walked past the sign saying Anfield borough, being locked in terrace housing, some of which is being knocked down and regenerated, Anfield the ground suddenly looms up at you out of nowhere it seems and has the power to enchant. I grew up with Liverpool dominating football in the 70′s and 80′s so this was a ground I was very much looking forward to visiting having never managed to come to watch Pompey over the years. I walked around the ground taking some pictures and chatting to some security staff and then heased across Stanley Park to walk to Goodison Park, the home of Everton.

I timed it at a leisurely 9 minute stroll between the two grounds. Notts County and Nottingham Forest may be closer, but there is a river between them, I will have to wait until I get there to time the walk to see who is the winner.

My hosts for the next 3 days were Ian and Shirley who lived on the Wirrel side of the river in a beautiful house with great views across the Mersey to Liverpool in a place called New Brighton. Ian is a staunch Evertonian and they were great hosts for my time there, it is a real pleasure to know that I have a base and can spend as much time as possible exploring an area or City such as Liverpool. I jumped on the train to New Brighton and was picked up from the station to settle in for the evening. The following morning I took the train and bus back to Anfield to participate in my visit, whrn I arrievd at reception though the was confusion about what was happening, no one seemed to know I was arriving! It transpired that the person that Sue had been liaising with had left the employ of LFC and my arrival arragements had fallen through the cracks, a bit of a shame but no big deal. They arranged to put me on a tour which unfortunately didn’t take in any of the interior of the ground because the TV cameras were being put up for the Europa Cup game the following night. It was very disappointing not to see the famous “This is Anfield” sign but I suppose it couldn’t be helped.

I walked back into town to complete the walk to Tranmere that afternon and a mooch around the town centre took me towards the famous Liver building and the Ferry (a)cross the Mersey. It was a gorgeous day, bright sunshine but very chilly, and it was probably the perfect day to enjoy the Ferry and the great views of both sides of the river, I couldnt have planned it better. I completed the walk to Prenton Park in short order and then headed back to Liverpool by train.

Earlier in the day I had contacted the Spirit of Shankly who are the Liverpool Trust and spoke to a chap called Roy, he had invited me that evening to a talk by Phil Scraton called “Speaking Truth To Power” at he beautiful St Georges Hall about his work on the Hillsborough disaster and the conclusions drawn from the recent report that had been published. It was a powerful evening, full of emotion and utter incredulity at the way the authorities conducted themselves on that day and in the weeks and months afterwards, many times there were gasps and shaking of heads from the audience at some of the ways that the Police forces involved behaved.

Simply put, Hillsborough was a disaster waiting to happen and a catalog of failures by all the authorities involved in arranging the fixture led to the deaths of the 96 Liverpool fans that day. The sad thing is that Police forces up and down the country still have a determination to demonise Football Fans and treat them with appaling disdain, like animals that have to be controlled. We should all do our best to change the culture of how fans are treated when attending football matches and the excuses that have been built on the lies of Hillsborough must stop.

I was incredibly humbled to be there and my thanks goes to Roy and all at SOS for allowing be to be present at a very special evening.

Next update completes Leg 3 and sees me heading further north as the reported coldest winter for yonks draws in. Yikes!