Saturday, 22 October 2011

Hadrian's Muriel: a sad tale of a lost pedometer and disintegrating boot  October 21st.

  For those of you not familiar with our little island history you need to know that the Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a wall across what is now England in the year 122AD. Its purpose was to define the northern frontier of the Roman Empire and to keep a check on people passing through the wall in either direction. The wall was 75 English miles long, 80 Roman miles , and had forts, milecastles and turrets built at regular intervals. Although much of the wall has gone the Hadrian's Wall Path is a popular long distance walk and follows the remains or the line of the wall from Bowness on  Solway to Wallsend on Tyne.*
  Today's gadgie walk is along approximately twelve miles of the wall from Chesters at Chollerford to the wonderfully named Twice Brewed.
  The starting point is the roundabout at Chollerford, a layby on the B6320  (OL 43 GR 919706) road to Bellingham has a convenient  space for several cars and the cafe on the B6318 does an excellent bacon roll breakfast to start you on your way.
 This walk is so easy to follow you could do it without a map but the Ordnance Survey map of the wall is useful for identifying turrets, milecastles and other archaeological features.
 With pedometers zeroed and spirits strengthened by bacon (except for Ray, who, true to his principles made do with a cheese scone) we set out along the B6318, reaching Walwick (the farm on the wall) after about a mile. Turning right down a lane between the houses of the village we walked a few hundred yards to a signpost directing us across fields. The path here follows the wall itself, the walking is easy although in places the ground was muddy, mainly due to the number of cows congregating near gates and churning the field up.

This stretch of wall gives some idea of its construction but not its height. Nearby farms are probably built of stone quarried by Roman legionnaires. Vandalism or recycling, take your pick.

   Just beyond Carrawbrough Farm the path crosses the road to Brocolitia Fort and a diversion takes you to a handy Mithraum nearby.

Mithras was very popular with Roman squaddies who got up to all sorts of things in his temples. This one is near the fort of Brocolitia on the wall.

Crossing back to the north side of the road we continued on the line of the wall until we reached the remains of a turret (possibly 33b) where we decided to stop for lunch. The turret became a herbievorium.** Dave asked me how far we had come and I reached for my pedometer. It had come loose from my belt and was lost. After several expletives I grumpily settled down to eat my sandwich. My pedometer was a quality one, Hi Gear, retailing at about £20 but I had won it in an ebay auction for the princely sum of £1.74, no wonder I was mad. The situation was not helped by the punmeister's quip, "Do you think all the Roman legionnaires were in the Turretorial army?".***
   At this moment Chis and Nigel appeared, walking the wall in the opposite direction to us. As we chatted about bthe pleasures of walking I asked them to look out  for my pedometer on their way to Chollerford. Dave, who, considering he has a phone but has never been known to use it, suggested I give my phone number. I did.
  Moving on we approached what to me is the finest part of the wall, the stretch from Sewingshields (from Sigewine's shields) to Steel Rigg. Along, and beyond, this stretch the wall makes use of the Whinsill and stands high above the surrounding land, giving superb panoramas of Northumberland. At Sewingshields you can look down on the outline of medieval fishponds, Broomlee Lough and the more distant Nature Reserve of Greenlee Lough. Just over a mile from Sewingshields is the fort of Vercovicivm, better known as Housesteads and a must for school trips. The foundations of the fort are clearly visible, the museum and information centre well worth a visit and, as it is a popular site for school trips there were some bored looking sixth form girls waiting over by the fence, taking photographs and texting on their mobile phones.
  Beyond Housesteads the Pennine Way crosses the wall as it winds it's way to Kirk Yetholm in the borders.   And after Hotbanks farm the wall approaches Highshield Crags, a couple of hundred feet above Crag Lough, and my favourite spot on the wall.The crags are home to ravens, peregrines have been see there and far below there is usually a family of swans on the Lough. This spot alone is worth the walk.

           Crag Lough from Hotbanks Farm. The wall is built on the top of the craggs.                                                                                   

Dave points out the arch of a north gateway at one of the milecastles.

Ray, Brian and Dave at Hotbanks farm.
Beyond Crag Lough the wall dips down to Sycamore Gap, made famous by Kevin Costner in "Robin Hood". People who know the area and the film remain mystified as to how Robin got from Dover Beach to Hadrian's Wall in one frame. The magic of the movies !                                                                               

Ye  Olde Sycamoree Treee

From Robin's tree the wall climbs up to Peel Crags and from there the path leads to the car park at Steel Rigg. However, in order to see the crags that are popular with climbers we went round the base of the crags, admired a solitary climber and walked down the road to Twice Brewed. As we walked around the crag Dave exclaimed the sole was coming off his much loved "China Boots", a bargain from Go Outdoors. By the time we made it to Twice Brewed the sole, which was glued to the upper was almost completely off. It could have happened anywhere, if it had to happen we were at least near the end of the walk. My phone rang. It  was either Chris or Nigel, they had found my precious pedometer and would leave it at the car in Chollerford.                                                                                                                                                
This walk is a true gadgie walk as we were able to catch the AD122 bus back to Chollerford. This bus runs along the wall from April, to the end of October. The driver was extremely friendly as Dave asked to be dropped as near the car as possible because of his boot. The driver explained, "Ring the bell 100 yards from where you want to get off and leave the rest to me."                                                                                    
Back in Chollerford there was  no sign of Chris or Nigel. Brian drove a short distance up the road, my phone rang. "Your car has just passed us, no he's stopped, turned round and has offered us a lift for the last half mile. Your pedometer is safe!"                                                                                                                   
We called at the George, a very nice hotel next to the bridge at Chollerford and overlooking the Tyne. After an expensive pint it was decided to move on to The Boathouse at Wylam. Paradise! At least twelve real ales on sale. It was tempting to stay and catch a train back to Newcastle.                                                            
Dave's pedometers gave two readings. (He wears one on each hip, like John Wayne, but so do I) One said 12 miles, the other said 9.9. We both measured the walk as 12.2, so a claim of 12 relatively easy miles is a good one.                                                                                                                                  
* There are legions of books written about the wall. A good one is Hadrian's  Wall  by David Breeze and Brian Dobson.  For the more technical minded who want a stone by stone history of the wall the "Handbook of the Roman Wall" by J. Collingwood Bruce, originally published in 1863 but updated at least thirteen times (Fourteenth edition in 2006) is a must. The Great North Museum in Newcastle dedicates much space to the wall and of course the forts at Vindolanda, Birdoswald and Housesteads are well worth a visit   
** Hebievorium  A Latin phrase for eating place. (See Pliny the Elder et alia)
*** For my foreign readers, the British Army reserve is called "The Territorial Army"      
I   seem to be having alignment problems. Must try harder.