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Lessons From Off the Beaten Path

Roseanne: We left our boots at the end of the trail. After walking 97 miles over six days across northern England, we were exhausted. My boots had served me well in this trek from sea to sea, but they were filthy, worn and always damp. I bid those boots and the hike along Hadrian’s Wall farewell, knowing the memories of this journey with my husband John would stay a part of me forever. No souvenirs or tangibles were necessary.

Built by the Romans in 122 A.D., Hadrian’s Wall traverses England to mark the northern limits of the Roman Empire. The path starts in Newcastle on the North Sea, crosses the countryside, and ends in Bowness on Solway on the Irish Sea. I’d been thinking about walking Hadrian’s Wall since reading an article about it 10 years ago. Somehow, I felt drawn to the experience. It felt more like a calling than a holiday. But nothing prepared us for what we encountered and that, in and of itself, is a life lesson.

John: Roseanne had talked about this trip for years and though she does not like the term “bucket list,” this was at the top of hers. The more she talked about it, the more intrigued I became, and so sometime last December we committed to hiking Hadrian’s Wall in August. We trained, we read books, we bought supplies and we booked the trip with a company that specializes in these expeditions. I love traveling with Roseanne and knew that even though this trip would be challenging, it would be the adventure of a lifetime.

We flew from Philadelphia into Glasgow and took a train to Newcastle, where our hike began. Water packs, rain gear, maps and supplies in tow, we set off for our first day on the trail. We hiked out of the city and into the country, covering a staggering 19 miles on the first day. We arrived exhausted at a lovely little B&B on a farm where we were told to leave our dirty boots at the door and dinner would be ready in about an hour. We had a lovely meal and conversation, and went to bed with the sounds of the farm singing around us.

Roseanne: We set out each morning at 7:30 a.m. and walked until 5 p.m. — straight. We hardly ever stopped. Each morning started with an enormous English breakfast, a meal so big it took you through the day without even thinking about food. Instead, we focused on each day’s end point.

The map and trail posts were easy enough to follow and only twice did we get lost, once completing a large circle and once upon terrifying roads not meant for pedestrians and open fields with angry bullocks. Those extra 13 miles were the times that challenged our partnership. It would have been all too easy to assign blame, but when lost in the middle of a foreign country, we found it was better to work together.

There was a level of endurance that the trip demanded. I was fairly certain that I had broken my foot on the first day of the hike and made the huge mistake of thinking that it would be a good idea to walk across the country. I kept those thoughts to myself since the trip was my idea. We walked, one foot in front of the other, for eight or nine hours a day.

John: Each day we stayed at a different B&B and saw different parts of England. As we wound our way into the countryside, we began to see more and more of the wall and by day three we were walking alongside the wall. We met lovely people on the hike and saw a wonderful performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with an ancient abbey as the backdrop. Over dinner with other walkers, we would discuss politics, current events and history. Brexit and Trump would always come up.

 Roseanne: Each evening we would arrive at a lovely B&B, our bags already delivered. The innkeepers were always inviting, as were the other guests. They, too, were often “wall walkers;” we were like some rogue group of part-time athletes. The questions were often the same: “What motivated you to do the walk?” “Did you think it would be this difficult?”

There was always a curiosity. What is your story? And likewise, we asked that of the innkeepers — “What made you open your home to us ‘walkers?’” The authenticity to connect was charming, and produced a unique relation of spirit.

John: The time that Roseanne and I spent walking together was often spent in fairly quiet contemplation, taking in the scenery and occasionally sharing thoughts with each other. There was a pleasant “both on the same page” quality to our journey that made it all the more enjoyable.

Roseanne: I loved the emptiness of my mind as I walked. I just looked at the world, took in the smells, the beauty, its presence, and I celebrated it. Even when my feet ached, I thought, “I’m so lucky to have this experience.” Once I asked John, “What are you thinking about?” and he answered with a fairly lengthy list. I thought woefully, “Oh, I wasn’t thinking about anything.” I almost felt bad for not using my time well, but in truth I just loved the immense time to think about nothing and be fascinated by everything.

John: I learned I can walk a long way and wake up and do it again. The muscle aches subside and the adventure ahead kept me motivated. I learned that there are more sheep than people in that part of the world, and there is a genuine kindness and civility in the way people engaged with us. They were always willing to help, and we always felt welcome.

As always, I enjoyed watching Roseanne connect with people. She has a genuine interest in others — who they are, what they did, what brought them here, what their lives are like. This I know: A better traveling companion I will never find.

Roseanne: Britain quite simply exudes kindness. Eventually, what struck me was how catchy it was, and I thought that I, too, could be this kind. I could bring this kindness back to the States.

I never did figure out why those we met were so kind, or why they cared so much to listen to our stories and offer their own, but I learned about the power of shared stories. I learned that I want to cultivate more kindness with others and within myself. I learned that I have a remarkable endurance. And I learned that the person, internally and externally, you travel through life with makes all the difference.

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