In terms of scenery, landscape and Roman remains, this is by far the best day of walking so far. After the long, flat and wall-less stretches that we'd done yesterday, the spectacular series of roller-coaster crags, Roman wall that stretches as far as the eye can see and the well-preserved archaeology at numerous sites along the way, it's easy to see why this is the most popular stretch of Hadrian's wall.
Indeed, from our base at Green Carts farm, it isn't long before we find ourselves following our first real stretch of authentic Roman wall. Mile castles, turrets and disused quarries litter the way and the fort at Housesteads (Vercovicium), unlike that at Vindobala, provides a tangible insight into life on a Roman fort.
With the help of the well-maintained signs throughout the site, it is easy to visualise the barracks, hospital and even latrines that served the 1,000 men of the First Cohort of Tungrians, (an auxiliary unit raised in the Tonges area of what is now Belgium) who were once garrisoned here. These men appear to have earned the respect of the native celts, with one possible origin for the name of the Fort being "place of the able fighters" (although latin scholars, for obvious reasons, favour the alternative translation: "the settlement on the slope").
We spend 30 minutes or so wandering around the site and devouring our packed lunch before the weather on this exposed spot takes yet another turn for the worse.
Back on the path, things brighten up a bit as we make yet another steep descent to Sycamore Gap, an iconic image associated with the wall, made famous by the Kevin Costner movie Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. The 'gap" is in fact a nick in the Whin Sill, a meltwater channel, carved by the vast volumes of meltwater that flowed beneath the ice sheets that once covered this area.
From this captivating spot it isn't long before we descend the ridge towards Once/Twice Brewed, a well known and long standing resting place (from where our lodgings at Windshields farm are a convenient half kilometre stroll). The Twice Brewed Inn stands in the shadows of Steel Rigg, one of the most dramatic parts of the Wall and again we experience warm hospitality, a good pint and a healthy range of eating options.
The accommodation is yet again basic but comfortable, including rather invigorating shower facilities (see below). A hearty breakfast is prepared for us on site the next morning by the versatile barman from the previous evening.
A fantastic day's walking in some pretty adverse weather conditions, we are tired but enthused by what we have seen today. Boosted by the news that our sponsorship total continues to rise and with no serious injuries or blisters (yet) we are all looking forward to what promises to be another excellent day tomorrow.
We wake well-rested and, with a long day's walking ahead of us, keen to get cracking.
With some parting advice about the cows and some gentle banter at the expense of our gluten intolerant companion, we make our way back to Heddon-on-the-Wall to pick up some provisions, before picking up the westbound path that will take us past the Vindobala Roman Fort, Harlow Hill, Halton Shields, Chollerford, Chesters and, eventually, Green Carts farm, our objective for the day.
We are hoping, as well, to finally catch a glimpse of the elusive wall. In particular, we have high hopes for Vindobala, which is just a few kilometres along the path.
I'm not sure what exactly we were expecting, but we are somewhat underwhelmed by what we see at Vindobala.
I'm sure if Jude had been with us he'd have been able to point out the basic outline of the fort, the headquarters building in the centre, the bath house and the wall itself. He would have explained that a Mithraic temple had been discovered here, where live bulls would once have been sacrificed. He would have shared the story of the famous Vindolanda tablets, the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain, which were discovered here. He may also have known that in 2010, the remains of what is thought to be a young girl with her hands tied were discovered in a shallow pit in what was the barrack room. She is believed to have been murdered about 1,800 years ago.
But, of course Jude isn't with us and in his absence we philistines see only a field and a couple of curious sheep.
Unimpressed we march on, as the storm clouds darken overhead.
A few miles on, of more immediate interest to us is the Robin Hood Inn at East Wallhouses, another chance to enjoy a quick refreshment and to shelter from the gathering storm.
On the road again, we are by now passing through gently undulating farmland, but the wall itself remains largely hidden from view. With three miles to go to Chollerford, after a gentle climb, another pub near Portgate proves too tempting to pass by.
Although the weather has by now taken a turn for the worse, the low heavy cloud and wintery showers seem appropriate for the remote rural landscape.
With tiring limbs, a further refreshment stop at Chollerford is vetoed in favour of pushing on the remaining 3.5 kms to our lodgings at Green Carts farm.
Again, whilst our accommodation is basic, the hospitality is generous. After showering and changing, our landlady offers to drive us a couple of miles to the local pub (the Crown Inn at Humshaugh) and her husband (the farmer) comes to collect us later. The food is good and, despite our tired limbs, we pass an entertaining evening together in good company and high spirits.
"Lessons of the past through the music of the future"? Underworld and Public Service Broadcasting live in Berlin
This is the fourth in a series of short articles following a recent trip to Berlin. The first article, A weekend in Berlin, provides some historical context while the second, A bike tour through Stasiland, describes a bike trip from Neukölln, taking in the Soviet War Memorial at Treptower Park, the Stasi Museum and the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial. The third article recalls a football match in the forest, FC Union Berlin, an unforgettable experience at the incomparable "Stadium by the old forester's house" (Stadion An der Alten Försterei).
This article, a review of two gigs we were lucky enough to see during our stay in Berlin, emphasises the German capitals credentials as a fantastic destination for live music and nightlife.
Notwithstanding the dark historical story the city has to tell, the stimulus for this particular visit to Berlin was the announcement that influential electronic music pioneers Underworld would be playing at city's Columbiahalle as part of their European tour. Located in the Kreuzberg district, next to Tempelhofer Park, Columbiahalle has been an important venue for live music in Berlin since 1998. Its size and vibe provide the perfect setting for an Underworld gig.
My first encounter with Underworld was a life changing event at Irvine Beach Park in Scotland 20 years previously. Underworld's music has been a constant presence in my life ever since.
With the recent anniversary of the seminal Dubnobasswithmyheadman album and high profile gigs on BBC6Music, as well as a new album to promote (Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future), Underworld have been in the public eye recently.
In Berlin Underworld were removed from the pressures and expectations of promotion and, compared to the relatively restrained performance on 6Music, they seemed to be having a great time. That's how it looked from where I was standing/bouncing anyway!
They belted out classic barnstorming anthems like Dark and Long, Rez/Cowgirl and Born Slippy, alongside new material like I Exhale (an instant classic) and Low Burn (haunting and persistent) from the critically acclaimed new album.
As always with Underworld, the visuals were stunning - drawing you deeper into the music. Hyde, ever the showman, performed his trademark high-energy, high drama, high camp dance moves which, in my mind at least, define cool. Smith, the technician, always a captivating presence behind the console, joined on stage by prolific DJ and producer Darren Price, who replaced original band member Darren Emerson in 2005.
From T in the Park, to V98, Irvine Beach Park to the Manchester Evening News Arena, Underworld gigs have been a regular source of unbridled hedonistic pleasure for me. But their music is so much more than disengage-your-brain rave music. It has a depth, timelessness and resonance that is unusual for dance music. Dubnobassinmyhead and Second Toughest in the Infants sound just as good today as they did twenty years ago. From dingy student flats in the pre-dawn hours to the final few strides of the Verona marathon, Underworld is the music of my life. With those friends with whom I have shared their music there exists a special bond. To those unforgettable moments, Columbia Halle, Berlin, Germany now joins that list.
But the music didn't stop there. For us the weekend was a doubleheader.
Arriving on Thursday, we had originally planned to return home to wives and family on Saturday. That plan was swiftly mothballed when Public Service Broadcasting announced that they would also be playing Berlin (at the adjoining Columbia theatre) that same weekend.
My brother and I have a long harboured fascination for the Apollo space programme, kick started by Kennedy's inspirational "We choose to go to the moon speech" and its imploration to constantly test yourself and seek out new challenges. I count among my favourite books Andrew Smith's inspirational Moondust, which explores the moon landings from the very human perspective of the 12 men who walked on the moon.
So, imagine a hip young band that embraces our fascination for the moon landings, incorporates historical audio from the time and has a contemporary electronic sound. This is basically Public Service Broadcasting. I've tried to explain the attraction to a number of people, but doing so makes for rather awkward conversation. I guess you just have to be there!
Less intense than the Underworld gig two nights before, PSB was nonetheless a fantastic way to round off our trip to Berlin. The venue was small, bright and well serviced (if that counts as a criteria on which to judge a gig). On the big screen behind the band, vintage newsreel footage accompanied each song. The highlight of the playlist was undoubtedly "GO!", which culminates in Apollo flight director Gene Kranz asking his flight controllers if they are ready to land on the moon. Only if they all affirm can the historic landing go ahead. Armstrong’s famous ‘Eagle has landed’ rings out and the audience joins in with a final euphoric chorus of ‘Go!. Again, perhaps you have to be there!
The band were well received and were happy to mingle with fans after the gig. As polite and well mannered as you'd expect from someone who habitually performs in a bow-tie and tweed jacket and refers to himself as J. Willgoose, Esq, PSB are unashamedly proud of their geek credentials (in fact, beneath the carefully contrived exterior I suspect there may be an alpha male jock in disguise!).
PSBs self-proclaimed mission is to inform, educate and entertain audiences around the globe. They certainly did that in Berlin. Teaching the lessons of the past through the music of the future, they have just finished their European tour and new material is expected later in the year. I for one, will be very interested to see where they go next.