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Hadrian's Wall by Land and Air

akex and two skyschool team members at hadrians wall

Daniel Kaye |

On 4th September 2023, Alex Ledger sent a message that read “Guys, I have a little project in mind and the forecast currently looks very good and flyable for next weekend. We can sleep in the van and take the trailer with all of the kit. Are you keen?!”

When Alex invites you on a ‘little project’ you never quite know what you are getting yourself into, as Rob discovered in 2016 when he was drafted on board as the support driver for Alex’s John O’Groats to Lands End by Paramotor trip.    

On this occasion the plan was for Rob and I to act as support crew, while Alex ran the length of Hadrian’s Wall, which is 84 miles in total, starting in Bowness-on-Solway and finishing at Wallsend. Alex promised that while he was running Rob and I would be able to fly as often as possible. How could we say no?!.

On Saturday 9th September morning we duly loaded up and hit the road. We decided to stay as flexible as possible with our structure for each day, giving Alex the freedom to run as he saw fit and listen to his body as and when he needed to. All that I had on my mind was to fly at every opportunity we could, giving us the chance to take in the incredible scenery above Hadrian’s Wall.

On Day 1 Alex began his run at 14:56 leaving Rob and I to go on ahead and scope out a suitable take off/landing field. We stumbled upon the perfect location near Cawfield Quarry, and with the farmer’s wife’s blessing, all we had to do was wait for the wind to drop. When it did, we had a perfect sunset flight over the rolling hills of Northumberland National Park. 

Daylight faded fast so we returned to the LZ. Upon landing we were met by the farmer who asked, while chuckling, “what’s the point of putting a crash helmet on!?”. We had a good chat, packed up the kit, and headed to pick Alex up. We found him in the dark with a malfunctioning iPhone but fortunately in good spirits. He had had a good day, his body was holding up, and he had accomplished 29.4 miles. We headed back to Cawfield Quarry, cooked up some dinner and hit the sack. 

The following morning we woke up to thick fog in the valley but perfect conditions above. Alex and I decided to make it interesting by taking off from our friendly farmer’s field again, flying back to drop him off at yesterday’s end point. From there he would continue his run, I’d pack up, and Rob would collect me and the kit. We cooked up breakfast and headed for the field. The fog was clearing, with pockets in the lower lying valley. This was going to be a flight to remember. We took off with the wind in the perfect direction for us to use the farm track - it felt like the perfect runway and allowed us to keep the wings dry due to all of the dew in the long grass.. Alex radioed to me saying we couldn’t miss the opportunity to fly up and over the hill where he would be running in just a few hours. I can honestly say this was one of the best flights I have ever had, and while it doesn’t do it justice, the picture below can offer an insight. 

Cawfield Quarry became the perfect spot to stop once again for a coffee. Tanya, the owner of the mobile coffee van, whose glowing Google reviews I can confirm are totally justified, gave us the coffee we needed to crack on. Alex had a hilly day ahead of him, while Rob and I decided to visit Vindolanda. We went in with no expectations and left blown away. Vindolanda was a Roman Auxiliary fort sitting just south of the wall under occupation between 85 AD and 370 AD, nearly 2,000 years ago. Arguably the most interesting discovery amongst the ruins were the Vindolanda Tablets, a set of wooden leaf tablets, the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain, lists, invitations and requests for more beer, all inscribed with carbon based ink.

We emerged from the depths of the museum to find the rain had kicked in. Alex’s luck with the dry spell had run out!

When we found him he resembled a drowned rat. He couldn’t escape the rain. Even when trying to seek refuge behind some trees he found himself soaked by the passing cars. The relief on his face when he climbed into the van spoke volumes. Despite the rain, he had accomplished another 29 miles. 

Day 3, the final day. We were called upon by Alex early in the day. The shin splints had kicked in affecting his right leg. Having learnt how to deal with them somewhat on his South West Coast Path run, he bandaged his leg and cracked on. A couple of hours in he realized that beating the 48 hour mark was doable. He cranked up the pace and left the pain behind. I decided to show some support and take myself outside of my comfort zone, as I am not a runner, by joining him for the final stint. We found an RV point 5km from the finish line. I prepared myself, half expecting that I’d be able to keep up with a tired Alex for the final stretch. How very wrong I was. Dead set on smashing 48 hours he was a man on a mission and left me in the dust. Still, I made it to the finish line where we were met by Rob, who popped the cork on a bottle of much deserved prosecco. He had done it, 84 miles, Coast to Coast, in just under 48 hours.

It had been a great mini adventure in a part of the UK that previously none of us had properly explored. For the first 1.5 days the weather had been perfect for flying and running, however the second 1.5 days the weather turned out to be typically British. Yet it had not dampened our spirits and in many ways added to the whole experience as it made the previous 1.5 days of good weather all the more special and unique. The next time Alex sends a message saying “Guys, I have a little project in mind. Are you keen?!” I certainly won’t be saying no!

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