I left early on day 4, with a hangover, but eager to put some miles behind me.
I rejoined the trail near Cawfields Quarry and reached the highest point of the entire wall when I still had energy in my legs for the climb. The view from there was breathtaking, but as often was the case there was no one around to share it with.
I have met many people on The Wall walk, and when I do people are always polite and courteous and will share a 'good morning', a 'hello' or a 'hi'. There is a real and profound sense of mutual bonding around a shared experience. It is truly heart-warming!
However, I must say, I have noticed that an in-proportionate number of the couples I have met along the way happen to be middle-aged lesbians.
Now, hold on! Allow me to substantiate this comment by evidencing the fact they have short hair, no makeup, comfortable shoes and a noncommittal air about them.
This is an observation, not a homophobic remark.
In fact, I'll have you know, some of my most cherished jpegs happen to be lesbian.
It is merely an anthropological observation and I am sure they are all very nice people and good to their pets.
I pressed on to the small town of Gildsland when the path I was following crossed the A road to the south. It was a small attractive town whose narrow roads were never designed for a large coach packed with tourists meeting a delivery lorry going in the other direction. The traffic had ground to a halt. It was at times like this I was pleased I was travelling on foot.
The next towns of Newton and Crosby were similarly contemporary with the look of the area, but rather spoilt by the inevitable appearance of KFC and Subway.
I was determined to make it to Carlisle by sunset. I was painfully aware that the patchwork of plasters on my feet had all detached several miles back and I had run out of replacements.
I stopped caring what the view was like or what point of historic interest I was passing by: I was, head down and 'in the zone' , concentrating hard on putting one put in front of another and keeping a fast and steady rhythm. This is where my iPod was a GodSend, with the setting on shuffle, I used the fast tracks to beat out the pace and skipped over the slowies. At one point Bing Crosby, inexplicably, appeared in my ear singing a lullaby. Not now Bing! I could have done this that on my first night of wild camping.
I staggered into town feeling, finally, like a seasoned walker having put a good 25 miles in. I had used Carlisle as my goal, my utopia, my place of pilgrimage, as it represented the final significant habitation near to the end my journey. However, in my exhausted frame of mind and beaten body, I had a negative perception when it came to first impressions. The place looked run down and dirty and I thought the people had taken liberties with their God-given right to be ugly. (So says the steaming, smelly Gruffalow that just entered town)
There was also an extraordinary number of bargain shops all in one area.
The was Poundland, Less Land , Less than a Pound Land, Bargain World, Bargain Basement, Cheap Zone, Half Price Palace, Low Cost Castle and Cheapo Chappies all on the same street!
It was here that my brochure, obtained at the Tourist Information Office, told me the cheapest B&Bs were to be found. I found one called Cornerways and the doorbell was answered by a huge, red faced man in his 60's who spoke with a well-heeled, Home Counties accent. I know we mustn't make generalisation about people, but I presumed he had spent a long and unsuccessful career as a Shakespearian Thespian before deciding to run a bed and breakfast with his mother. They probably lived downstairs together and would spend long evenings in together watching reruns of Brideshead Revisited and the Onedin Line, whist keeping her propped up and refilled with stuffing.
'Yaaaarss', the opened dramatically.
"I was wondering if you had a single room free for the night?" I was well aware he was making a top to toe analysis of me.
" I have one room left, the rate is 40 pounds sterling a night."
"But the Brochure says that a room is £30 a night?" I waved the brochure at him.
His eyes narrowed. "Yars, well that is our winter rate."
"Is that the winter as in the season or in climate 'cos it's still bloody cold?"
"It's the season!" I could see that the large door was slowly closing on me. The audible clack of another crushed vertebra under the weight of my rucksack prompted me to stop perusing the point and politely accept his generous offer.
The room was very small and I had to share a shower. ( Not with him and not at the same time, of course).
Before I showered I popped into a local charity shop and picked out an outfit for myself. Light blue shortsleeved shirt, said medium, but turned out to be extra large (£3), a dark, brown long sleeved cardigan with a blend of suede and corduroy, unique and another bargain at £4. I also bought some beige trousers that were never going to fit me for £3. I hoped the look might be so different as to be trendy, but at least it was clean. But I still wasn't. I went back to the b&b, had a shower (alone), got dressed into my new/old threads, in front of the two-way mirror in my room and hit the town.
I found a huge Wetherspoons pub near the station, drank more than I should have done, given the circumstances and somehow managed to find my way back to Cornerways. The door was firmly locked. It was still earlyish, 10pm, but I had totally forgotten the code for the door lock I had been given when I checked in.
Reluctantly, I rang the bell. No answer. I rang again, still nothing. Just as I was going to consider what my next move might be the door opened. It was the landlord wearing what can only be described as a huge stripped nightshirt, come smock thing.
"I take it you've forgotten the code I gave you earlier? I did repeat it twice," You can consider yourself fortunate, we don't open the door after 10. That's what the code is for. They sleep on the door mat, they do."
Entering, I started to apologise, but we were interrupted by a dull, thud-like sound from the room behind him, he seemed alarmed at this and without a word hastily returned to the room closing the door behind him.
I can only presume his mother had rolled off her wicker chair again, spilling stuffing all over the floor.
I took the chance to nip upstairs to room 5 and barricade my door for the night.