The benefiting sleep at the B&B in Corbridge had given me a new lease of life. I was positively bounding along again now.
I entered the Northumberland National Park, which was as bleak, desolate and unforgiving as you can expect, but it had a harsh beauty of its own.
It is in this heritage site that the real conservation of Hadrian's Wall was to be found. All the classic photos of The Wall following crests of hills, stretching on and on into the distance were taken here. The path was relentless, like following the track of a roller coaster, up steep gradients and down steep banks. Just when you thought you'd reached the hill top you had spotted an hour earlier, The Wall continued, relentlessly, on and on, always disappearing into the horizon.
Knowing that there was no real 'end' made setting targets difficult. The path was remorseless and this was just as mentally challenging than physically so.
It was late on, when I had had about enough of the endless trudge. I had been lashed by rain, but, luckily, blown along by a favourable wind that was at my back. I'd covered 25ish miles and I hadn't seen anyone in hours and it was getting late and very dark. I spotted a building a good distance away. I imagined a Slaughtered Lamb experience, or worse, another Boathouse, but this was nothing like it.
No sooner had I got in the door, I felt comfortable. For one, it was full of walkers, all swapping their stories of a day's stolid hiking. It had an effervescent atmosphere. It was a long shaped inn with the bar at the centre . I requested a tab and they didn't even ask for my card. The staff were all young and I got a feeling that the boss was probably out for the day and, so, anything went.
I sat at the bar. Something I would never do at home, but if you want to get to know what's going on, that's where you should sit.
One of the barman, David, was in his 20's and I couldn't help notice the devil's fork pronged tattoo that was protruding over the neck of his black work shirt. He opened his shirt to reveal an intricate and unfamiliar symbol. It looked like a black star with a red eye in the centre. He told me that this symbol gave him magic powers of destiny. Intrigued, but mildly disturbed, I enquired further. He told me it was a l'Cie. I said I would Google it and David disappeared out the back. I brought my iPad to the bar and logged on.
One of the barmaids, who looked remarkably like a darker version of Amelia Pond, came dancing in from the kitchen wearing a cowboy hat and was taken aback to see me grinning at her.
I told her that I was Googling her colleagues tattoo, " You've only been here 5 minutes and Dave's shown you his boobies."
I told her that I'd now been there 6 minutes and hoped it might catch on. Naughty!
I discovered that David's tattoo was, indeed,a symbol of destiny, but it only seems to exist in ... the computer game Final Fantasy 7. The barmaids both seemed less surprised than I was. "Yeah, he's got loads of computer tattoos like that on him. He's even got the X Box symbol on his shoulder."
"And Donkey Kong on his arse?" I suggested.
They both laughed, but David immediately reappeared from the kitchen and we all went conspicuously quiet.
Together, during the course of a promisingly entertaining evening, we discussed tattoos, Amsterdam, the Banana Bar and ping pong balls.
The inn was filling up now with a melting pot of quirky characters from all nationalities. A quick check of my Weird-dometre and it was off the scale!
A lady approached the bar with a handful of barmats and two posters. She gave another barman, young Colin ,instructions to advertise tonight's entertainment. Steve Bonham , The Rambling Gypsy, would be performing tonight as part of his tour of the North of England. She was also insisting that all food and drinks for Steve and his party would be included in the deal. Colin seemed to be the one who was left in charge (if that's what you could call it) for the duration of the evening and bending like Beckham, he reluctantly agreed.
I felt a little sorry for him, as, I too, had inadvertently managed to get £20 off my room, because I told him I was doing my walk for charity. This probably contributed to my coming to his defence later in the evening when some conceited, Michael Winner lookie-likie had approached the bar and raised his voice. I had entered the discussion part way through.
He opened " Can I assume that the rest of the menu is of the same diabolical standard?" Winner exclaimed tossing his menu over the bar at the fraught and overly apologetic, Colin.
"No, not at all!" replied the helpless Barboy. " Can we off you something else?"
" No! We just want a refund thank you! I don't think I can risk anything else for my wife!" Winner had his claws firmly in and he could smell blood.
Then he followed up with a finishing blow, which he gratified in the whole bar overhearing.
"That was! Without doubt! The worst chips I have ever tasted!"
I could hear my voice talking even before I realised it was me. I admit, I was four pints of Guinness to the better.
"No !" I blurted out, surprising Mr Winner and Colin "There was this place in Milton Keynes once... Awful! Cold, soggy chips they were".
Michael turned to me, " We'll these were no better!"
" You know," I said, rounding in my bar stool to face him, " I reckon, if you try really hard, I am sure you will find places that sell chips much worse than this place."
He hurumphed, dismissively.
" I presume you sent the plate back immediately to the kitchen?"
He snorted, but it was Colin that spoke next. " No, they both finished the lot!" he interjected surprised at his own bravery. Winner gave him a withering glare and Colin visibly flinched.
"Just give me my refund!" Mr Winner purposefully turned his back to me and thrust out his hand toward Colin, who duly handed over the cash.
" I bet you do this everywhere you go?" I spoke into the back of his head. Winner ignored the comment and beckoned over his submissive, canary-like wife, who had already gathered up their belongings right on cue. They left in silence, under the glare of the entire pub.
I ordered another pint.
"Gahd, I can't stand people like that guy". I was joined at the bar by Ken, a loud talking Canadian who had that amazing gift of being able to bellow loudly out of one side of his mouth.
"I'm here spending my kids inheritance!" He proclaimed.
Ken and Jenny, his wife, were walking The Wall. They had originally met in England in the 1960's and has settled back in Canada. They were enjoying their retirement years traveling. And in some style.
" I've got a team of people, I call my Sherpas, who pick up our bags each morning and take them on to our next stop along the way. That way we can hike with just small back packs and our things will be waiting for us the next inn. Tomorrow, we are at the Samson Inn , we've got the Caligula Suite. It's got a king sized bed." He gave his wife a sideways wink and she blushed.
The entertainment for the evening, Steven Bonham, approached bar,and asked for a shandy and a coke.
" Want to keep a clear head for the night?" I suggested. He was a portly man in his mid 50's and sported purple trousers and a swanky, brightly patterned waistcoat.
I told Steve that I had just Googled him and found YouTube videos of him. This pleased him no end.
"Ah yes", he smiled, modestly. "Now was that the Hexham or the Brampton gig?" I had no choice but to admit, guiltily, that I hadn't actually been motivated to press play on either of them.
"Well, I've been doing the same set in pubs for the last two weeks." Steve was performing this evening with his daughter, an attractive blond in a flowery dress and a very ample fellow with implausibly thick glasses who was setting up the speakers and mikes.
"That's a tuba?" pronounced Ken, loudly.
"Oh yes," said Steve," that man there is the best player ...well, .... in ..." Ken and I hung on for the end of this sentence, " in Europe... at least".
The three of us looked over at the virtuoso tuba player, who was currently busy bending over to attach some low cabling. His bulbous backside, to which some jeans had sunk so far down they were only superficially covering the top of his thighs, knocked over a mike stand.
"Yes, a lot of folk music lends itself to the guitar and the tuba. It's a marriage made in heaven. " Steve clasped his hands together to illustrate the point. Ken and I looked doubtfully at each other, before Ken erupted, " Hey! Bonham??"
"Yes!" said Mr Bonham. I was equally perplexed.
"Any relation?" bellowed the Canadian.
" To whom?" Asked Steve.
"Led Zepplin, man?" Ken was clearly feverish about this. " John Bonham? The drummer, man?"
Steve now had both of his drinks in hand and was turning to walk way, "Oh yes," he said unconvincingly, "er...a distant cousin."
Ken watched in awe as Mr Bonham walked away, " No kidding? Did you hear that? That's amazing! They're related!"
Not wishing to bring Ken down, but I had to interject, " Ken? You and I are distant cousins".
The rest of evening went superbly well and Steve, his daughter and his tuba prodigy were magnificent. Not a melody ended without everyone in the room remembering to applaud.
Late in the evening Ken's request for Stairway to Heaven was duly obliged on guitar and tuba and Ken's backing vocals were so strident, they required the speakers to be turned up. Half -cut Ken finished his performance with tipping half a pint glass of ale into his wife's lap, to the raucous amusement of all present.
All in all, it was a great night!
If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend the Twiced Brewed Inn. You will not be disappointed.