Hadrian’s Wall – top of my must-see list for this Northumberland jaunt. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it marked the very edge of the greatest empire Europe has ever seen. (My) excitement levels were high, Husband and Son were more obsessed with the torrential rain. I must admit the closer we got to the wall, the worse the weather became. Still nothing else for it but to get “waterproofed” up and make the most of the great outdoors.
Hadrian’s Wall extends from Newcastle upon Tyne on the eastern coast of England to Carlisle on the western coast. When the Roman Emperor Hadrian visited the far flung province of Britannia in 122 AD, he decreed a wall be erected on the northernmost border of his empire to “separate the Romans from the barbarians.” Elite Roman troops spent 6 years building this mighty wall – 73 miles long, 10 feet thick and 15 feet high. It is the most prominent evidence of Britain’s 400 year occupation by the Romans and is simply awesome.
We parked up at Housesteads, apparently the best bit of the wall is between Housesteads and Vindolanda so we went with that and based ourselves here for our wall hike and exploration.
Housesteads is pretty interesting anyway – it has a partially excavated Roman fort – Vercovicium – one of several built along the wall to help maintain its defences. We set off to walk the half a mile uphill stretch to the fort. The terrain is rough – sturdy boots are essential. Son somehow smuggled an umbrella out of the car which impeded his walking progress, drove me mad but kept him entertained.
The little museum near the fort has an exhibition on what life was like here – the very edge of the Roman Empire. They had various artefacts on display and a child-friendly version of everything narrated by Felix the infantry soldier. They also had a great film about life on this hilltop fortress – not too long, but fascinating.
That all set the scene for us, so afterwards walking around the ruins, we could imagine how it used to be. We wandered, climbed, slipped in a lot of mud but saw the barracks, the commandant’s house and the oldest toilets ever. Needless to say these were Son’s favourite – the communal aspect in particular he found especially intriguing – little boys can be particularly gross at times.
It was pretty amazing to stand at the gate of the fort and reflect that for the Romans, this was the edge of the known world.
Our first sight of the wall was pretty amazing too. It stretches as far as you can see in both directions, dipping and diving along the contours of the land. Excavations, repairing and generally maintaining the wall is a Northumbrian growth industry.
The rain poured down all day long, but somehow this made the scenery and wall even more dramatic. The windswept heights, vast swathes of moorland and ancient ruins looked even better with black thunderclouds rolling in.
The wall is fascinating – not just because of its sheer length, but the fact it is still here, nearly 2 millenia after it was built. What a special place – ancient Roman ruins and a dramatic vista – it definitely lived up to my expectations. The weather …… well that was another matter.