The Roman track to the wall from Chapelburn follows the River Irthing – where even the river looks paved – this is a tributary at about 30% - it looks man-made, but it isn’t!
(You can tell it isn’t because if you look along the river, it looks the same:)
Beyond here, the path winds up the side of the gorge through a Roman quarry, next to which there is an arrêt on the inside of a tight meander of the river – maybe 200ft high, and just wide enough for a path along the top.
The wall crosses the river at a Roman bridge. The erosion on the outside of the meander means that one bridge footing is 200m from the river, and of course the other has been washed away:
The modern bridge to the left has only been there since 1999 – lowered into place by Chinook helicopter so as not to disturb the archaeology. Before that, it wasn’t possible to walk the wall from end to end.
Setting off from Greenhead (where I spent a very comfortable night at the pub), I crossed a farmyard, where three geese were making a noise fit to wake the dead. The lady tending them said, “They’re all old ganders. Their geese have long gone. They know that this is the time of year they have to bat the hell out of each other – they just can’t remember why!”
A bit further on by Thirlwall Castle, I met a proud ewe and her lambs.
Here’s a pheasant admiring some very flat stones in a dry stone wall. I wonder why there’s no trace of Hadrian’s Wall near here?
They’ve gone to a lot of trouble to put signposts up for the tourists – but some are more informative than others….
They’ve also spent public money on sculpture…..
I can’t help thinking a Roman would find this object out of 2001 – A Space Odyssey a bit random. He’d probably think the metal would be of more use as a thousand spear-heads or knife-blades! (He’d appreciate the quarry, though.)
I’m bemused by these beautifully finished walls in the most unlikely places. (This is Walltown Crags.) I can hear one Roman saying to another, “Look, I don’t give a damn how unlikely you think it is for a barbarian to scale this cliff. We’ve got our orders, so just get on and build the bloody thing!
This weird feature doesn’t make any geomorphological sense:
(That’s probably why the map says, ‘Quarry (dis)’ )
At Walltown Gap, I met a Park Ranger and his assistant, who was carrying a fancy GPS system on a pole and a tape measure. They were plotting the tracks people make, so as to model the way people walk up and down the steep bits of the path. They said that a better understanding of how people choose their footsteps on the way up and down will enable them to intervene to reduce the erosion from walkers’ boots in a less intrusive way. It sounds tricky to me!
Once upon a time, the wall went across this quarry lake….
We didn’t always worry so much about preserving the archaeology. The workings finished in 1944, and in 1975 they finally removed the machinery.
At least this fellow seems quite happy with the way it is now..
Here’s the classic view I enjoyed whilst eating my lunch at Turret 41A.
The Romans very wisely decided to build the wall along the Whin Sill, both to exploit the natural barrier it provided, but also the ready source of stone. It’s important to realise that the Whin Sill has been there 150,000 times longer than the wall!
With time to spare, I took a bus to Housesteads fort – a 10 minute drive with Stacey’s Coaches for £1. The reverse trip was with Traveluxe for 85p. “Stacey’s charge you more? Well, Staceys, what d’you expect?” Good to know that competition in public transport is working!
It does take a bit of imagination to convert today’s appearance of Housesteads Fort…
…into what it used to be like:
But far and away the most impressive site is actually a couple of miles from the Wall – the Roman fort of Vindolanda.
The quantity of artefacts found here is truly staggering – over 1000 items of Roman footwear, for example. The Vindoland tablets (over 500 of them) tell of everyday life in the fort. The most telling for me was an invitation to a child’s birthday party – proof that women and children were there, and also the genteel tones of the invitation prove that, at least for the privileged, life wasn’t always brutish and short.
We heard of a wooden crate of Simian ware – ornate earthenware bowls made in the south of France, that had been shipped to Vindolanda, packed in straw, but on arrival the crate had been dropped, and all 50 bowls broken. Just imagine the effort to get that stuff from the south of France by horse-drawn cart. If only they’d known, they could have got them at Bardon Mill, just two miles down the road….
..where they are still being made locally. Here’s the kiln during a firing…
All in all, Hadrian’s Wall was a great way to spend a few free days, getting some fresh air and exercise.