Welcome to Hadrian's Wall - Coeur d'Alene Press: Outdoors

Welcome to Hadrian's Wall

Cd’A man follows famous England path for 84 miles

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Posted: Thursday, July 22, 2010 12:00 am

COEUR d'ALENE - Day one was only going to be five miles. Phil Corless expected it to be a nice, easy walk.


"It nearly killed me, because I was sleep deprived, jet lag. I thought, 'What have I gotten myself into?'" he said.

Plenty. Good and bad.

What the 45-year-old Coeur d'Alene man had gotten into was a 84-mile walk along the famous Hadrian's Wall that runs the entire width of Northern England.

In July, he joined a group of 35 walkers from England, Scotland, Ireland, Holland and the United States as they made their way from east to west.

They followed the remains of the wall and small lookouts built by the Romans in 122 AD to keep the Scottish out of England.

Corless paid a price.

He suffered swollen legs, blisters, weariness and a shortage of sleep. While he admits there were times he felt he was faltering, that he couldn't go on, that he wanted to hop on a bus instead, he pushed on.

Because come down to it, he wasn't just for the scenery, the camaraderie or to see this wall ordered built by Roman Emperor Hadrian.

He walked in honor and memory of Joseph Salmon.

The 3-year-old son of British couple Neil and Rachael Salmon died in 2005. His parents established the Joseph Salmon Trust to provide financial support to families who have lost a child by paying for funeral costs or covering time off from work.

"We lost our wonderful son in 2005," says Rachael Salmon, Joseph's mother. "Nothing in our lives thus far had prepared us for the shock and devastation Joseph's death left behind."

They said they were fortunate enough to be able to afford the funeral and a memorial to their son, but they wanted to do more for others who weren't.

"A couple of years down the line, having had some stirrings about what could we do in Joseph's name, we decided that a charity that could help people with the financial impact of losing a child, would be a welcome one," she said.

Enter Phil Corless.

Last year, he decided he wanted to do two things: Visit a place he had never been, and help raise money for the Joseph Salmon Trust.

"I lost a brother when I was young. We had a family. Not everybody has that," Corless said.

So in October, he began training, often walking from his Coeur d'Alene Place home to a downtown eatery for lunch, than the return hike home, some 14 miles roundtrip. Come winter, there were endless circles around the upper track at the Kroc Center.

He was ready for the six-day, 84-mile adventure that began overseas.

Or so he thought.

In July, he took a 2 1/2 hour plane flight to San Francisco, then a 7-hour layover, and finally, 10 more hours to the United Kingdom.

It was time to walk along the wall that once stood as high as 20 feet and as wide as 20 feet, but was now reduced to a few feet in some areas, higher in others.

And climb, too, because every mile small forts had been built, referred to as "milecastles" and enough still stood that ladders are needed to scale them.

Corless was expecting a fairly flat path.

Wrong again.

That was just the first of a few mistakes the stay-at-home-dad and father of two made.

"Turns out, this is very hilly. And because you're walking through people's fields, it's uneven, so every step is a risk of a sprained ankle."

"Everybody, even seasoned walkers, were taken aback. It was a lot more strenuous than we thought."

Then, there were the rural sheep fields. Funny, really.

"That was like walking through a landmine," he said, laughing.

Their longest and most difficult one-day hike stretched out for 18 miles.

There were a few twisted ankles, a few aches and more pains, but nothing a little rest didn't cure.

"You see walkers off several miles ahead, it is amazing," he said.

At night, they stayed in hostels along the way, basically barns with bunk beds.

"One night we were in a 200-year-old barn, which felt like it," Corless said. "There were 30 of us in there on bunk beds. Some of these bunk beds were designed for kids."

But the bunks weren't the biggest problem when it came time for a good night's rest.

That would be the snoring.

"We had quite a symphony going of snorers," said Corless, adding that he too snores, quite loudly.

"My wife tells me I'm a window rattler, first degree," he said, smiling.

Because he feared keeping others awake, Corless laid there, awake well into the night, nodding off at 3 or 4 in the morning, only to rise at 7 to begin the next's day journey.

"I was exhausted a lot of the time," he said.

But it was a good tired.

The sights and sounds of rural England were unforgettable.

"When you get to the best preserved area of the wall, that's spectacular," Corless said.

"Everywhere you go, when you see a house or church or a farmer's wall, you know that some of it was made from the stones of the wall."

The 6-1 Corless carried a little too much for the trip. His pack totaled about 30 pounds of clothes and gear.

"I should have had about 10," he said.

He even tucked in a five-pound electronic notebook to send updates back home.

Too bad he never got a chance to use it.

"Every one of these hostels promised Wi-Fi," he said. "Every one of them, the Wi-Fi wasn't working."

Corless said, looking back, it was such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he wishes his wife, Karen, and their two children could have joined him.

"I had one thought in my head at the end of this walk. No more adventures," he said. "This was the one and only time I go off without my family. I have no urge to go walk across England. I never would have done it, if not for the charity."

Yes, the charity. Through it all, it's what drove him to the finish line.

Misadventures aside, Corless is most proud that he raised $1,700 for the Joseph Salmon Trust.

"We helped them further their goals," he said.

And hey, he lost 25 pounds along the way, too.

"I've got another 10 to 15 to go before I'm happy," Corless said with a laugh.

Sounds like another hike is down the road. This one, the kids are coming.

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