Friday, 3 May 2013

The real Iron Men

Russ, Ben and Tony at Housesteads Fort

At some point this afternoon four intrepid authors will reach the end of a six-day, 83 mile march along Hadrian's Wall, a massive achievement in its own right, but add in the fact that three of them did it wearing authentic Roman uniforms and carrying swords, shields and spears, braved blisters, back ache and helmet head, and it is truly monumental. Oh yes, and they've raised over £12,000 for charity.

I was fortunate to be able to join Ben Kane (Spartacus and Hannibal), Russ Whitfield (Gladiatrix), Tony Riches (the Empire series) and the incredibly informative Mike Bishop, author, publisher, archaeologist and font of all knowledge on the Wall, for the fourth day of their trek and it left me in awe of their stamina, courage and comradeship. By day four, they were collectively in pain from head to foot, but in true legionary style just got the head down and put one foot in front of the other.

They'd learned a few things along the way: that an eight pound helmet will rattle your brains if it's not properly padded: that hob-nailed sandals are like ice skates on rock: that a shield has a hundred ways of hurting you on the march: and if a 'friend' offers you the use of his fifteen pound chain mail armour you should tell him to stick it where the sun don't shine.

Mike Bishop leads the way over one of the many ups and downs
Day Four took in the thirteen mile plus stretch from Once Brewed to Chollerton, and begins with a hundred foot vertical climb up a rock stairway (see hobnails above, and think about the effect of a huge shield on a windy day). But it is also the finest, and most scenic stretch of the Wall, with the monument snaking its way over hill and valley and clinging to the very edge of breathtaking crags. I even had a deja vu moment at Sycamore Gap, when I realised I'd seen the tree a dozen times in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves! I wasn't the only guest, Colin and Lynette, from Cardiff, were with us for the whole stretch, and we were joined by William and his mates from Australia for part of it. Along the way we met a host of characters, including a platoon of Gurkha soldiers, who were astonished to meet three men with large spears, and generous beyond compare when they discovered that they were walking for Combat Stress and Medecin Sans Frontier

It's hard going, though, with some tough climbs. By the time we stopped for lunch in a sheep pen (to get out of the biting wind) decorated with the remains of one of the previous owners, I would have sworn Russ was going to finish the day requiring the services of one of the two charities, perhaps even an ambulance. Yet by mid-afternoon his brightly coloured shield had disappeared into the distance and I have an enduring image of the Duracell Bunny. The next time I saw him was when he stopped to rest at Chesters fort, half a mile from the finishing point at Chollerton.

We'd based ourselves at Corbridge (I can highly recommend 2 The Crofts B&B for a warm welcome, comfortable rooms and a hearty breakfast) and the town's excellent Forum Books, run by the innovative Helen Stanton, had organised a talk and signing for the evening. Over forty people gathered above the local Italian restaurant to listen to us (yes, I did feel a bit of a fraud) talk about books, writing and the challenge of walking the wall. Highlights were the spontaneous (probably) 'I am Spartacus' moment (for Spartacus, substitute Ben Kane), Mike's revelation that the nails on Roman sandals were ergonomically placed (a la Nike) to make the most comfortable walking, and Tony's announcement that it's not a good idea to rub (non-standard) vaseline on your nether parts on a tourist bus route.

It was a great night and a big success. A privilege to be there and meet so many generous people and a greater one to be allowed to take part in a small way in the adventure that was the Romani Walk.


Steven A. McKay said...

Great piece Doug! Really brought it all to life.

Louise Ann Knight said...

Great post - well done to all!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Doug - a very good piece.It was great to have you walk with us for the day.