Exercise Centurion Charge

84 miles, 4 days; walk in the park…..  Well almost if it wasn’t for the 50mph winds, hail and thunderstorms and some rather interested bulls.

A team of 13 Royal Air Force and 1 Royal Navy personnel walked the 84 miles of the Hadrian’s Wall National Trail over a 4 day period from lunchtime Monday the 23rd of May.  The 4 day exped tested physical and mental stamina whilst developing leadership, communication and navigational skills.  As an aside we have raised over £1500 for the Forces Children’s Trust.

The Forces Children’s Trust supports children who have either lost or have had a parent seriously injured whilst serving as a member of the British Armed Forces (www.forceschildrenstrust.org).
The 14 man team was made up of 12 personnel from the Defence Electronic Warfare Centre (DEWC) at RAF Waddington and 2 qualified mountain leaders coming from 54 Squadron, RAF Waddington and the RAF Leeming Mountain Rescue team.  The DEWC provides Operational Support in the form of Mission Data, Electronic Warfare Information, Doctrine, Training and Countermeasures to UK Defence.  The primary output is Electronic Warfare Mission Data for tri-service platform protection against multiple and varied threats.

Hadrian’s Wall was built under the orders of Emperor Hadrian with work starting in AD122. The wall stretched from Bowness on Solway in the West, to Newcastle upon Tyne in the East, although most of this has been plundered over the years for roads and buildings.  The remaining wall and route was made an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and a large central section still exists.  Although the wall covered 75 miles, the National Trail covers a distance of 84 miles and deviates from the route of the wall in places.

The 84 miles was split into 8 sections averaging just over 10 miles. Each section was researched and led by a member of the team with presentations along the way.  To develop communication skill and military knowledge, presentations were delivered on the construction of, communication along, re-supply of and the reason for the wall.  These highlighted several key military doctrinal points which are just as relevant today as they were almost 2000 yrs ago.

Having driven up from RAF Waddington in the pouring rain, the clouds parted into glorious sunshine for the first section of the route. Running from Bowness on Solway in the West on mostly flat terrain, taking in a causeway and paths towards Carlisle.  A nice easy day to start with before the rain, thunder and hail storms of day 2.  Starting day 2 just outside Carlisle, we followed the route of the river through the city centre and then past Carlisle Airport, climbing up into the hills as the hail and rain hit.  Everyone had a good soaking before finishing at Birdoswald fort, 5 miles from RAF Spadeadam.  Only towards the end of the second day did we see our first bit of wall although day 3 would show a lot more.  Day 3 was the most challenging and satisfying with the main remnants of the wall along this 23 mile section.  Initially climbing steadily out of Birdoswald Fort, the route quickly became significantly more vertical; taking in repeated ascents and descents along an impressive and picturesque natural crag formation.  Finishing at Chester’s fort, the last few miles challenged everybody after 10 hrs walking.  Day 4 saw less wall and more gentle terrain as the route wound down towards the outskirts of Newcastle upon Tyne, ending up with a well deserved pub dinner.  By this point there were a lot of weary legs and sore feet.  Luckily, day 5 was only a half day walking along the banks of the Tyne through the City centre.  An unexpected highlight of the day was being piped into the City centre by Sergeant Kevin Trevor of the Waddington Pipe Band who had kindly (cleverly…) volunteered to be driver for the week.  Many thanks go to him for this dull but essential role and also for supplying us with copious amounts of cake along the route.

The overall experience was extremely satisfying and at times stretched most people towards their limit, mentally and physically.  I can thoroughly recommend anyone to walk this route as it takes in some spectacular scenery and military heritage.  Many thanks go to 54 Squadron and the RAF Leeming Mountain Rescue team for lending us a mountain leader each.  Also to RAF Spadeadam for the accommodation and catering and to MASS (a leading industry partner of the DEWC) who kindly supplied the t-shirts and donated a significant amount to the charity.

By Flight Lieutenant James “Ted” Taylor-Head

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