Saturday, 12 May 2012

All in all it's just another walk on the wall...............May 11th.
  Today there are just three of us, a trigadgie: Dave the vogelmeister, Ben the halfmarathonmeister and me. We have chosen to walk a section of Hadrian's Wall, the Roman construction that crosses England from Wallsend on Tyne to Bowness on Solway. Some people living in the south think it is the border between England and Scotland, ignoring the fact that part of Cumbria and a large chunk of Northumberland lie north of the wall.
  The walk is from Birdoswald Roman fort to Steel Rigg near the wonderfully named Twice Brewed. It is a linear walk so requires some organisation or the use of a bus which qualifies the walk as a real gadgie day out.  (See To be a gadgie   August 27th 2011)
 We drove from Newcastle west along the A69 to a spot near Henshaw where we turned right on a minor road signposted "National Park Information Centre" and left the car in the centre's park  (£3 for a whole day and you can use the ticket in any National Park car park) on the B6318, often called the Military Road.
Booted up we waited for the AD 122, a bus that runs from Newcastle to Carlisle keeping quite close to the wall. The bus only runs from early April to late October and there are not many in the day so if you want to use it check the timetable.
Teacher: " Who can tell me why the bus has the number AD122 ?"*
It is possible to do this walk without a map but should you want one OL43 covers the most interesting parts of Hadrian's Wall. The Twice Brewed National Park Centre is at GR752668

Whilst waiting for the bus we watched a class ofjunior school children emerge in a crocodile from the nearby YHA and walk towards their coach. As they stood waiting their teachers got a shield for each child from the bus. The shields were rectangular, brightly coloured with golden designs, a triumph for Blue Peter presenters. The children formed up into four groups and made a "tortoise" and in turn slowly charged the teachers who pelted them with soft balls. It was great fun for all, participants and observers. I should have taken a photograph, but the thought police would be on my trail.

                                  The AD122 bus, figured it out yet?
We took the bus to Birdoswald Roman fort, the journey takes about 40 minutes and after a quick look at the fort and a chat with a couple of Americans who seemed to think it always rains in England we set off east along the wall.

The start of the walk; just outside Birdoswald. (Which also has a YHA)

                       Birdoswald Fort: there is much more really.
 The wall walk crosses fields high above the River Irthing which was in full spate, not surprising considering the rain that has fallen recently.  There are some bits of graffiti carved into the wall by bored builders some 1890 years ago (a clue). They are not always suitable for children but fans of  A Life of Brian will fondly recall Biggus Dickus.                                                                                                                              After about a mile the next point of interest is the remains of the Roman bridge at Willowford. There are two major points of interest: first there is a considerable amount of the eastern pier remaining and second, the river is now some hundred yards away. History and Geography in one easy lesson.

  The eastern pier of the Roman Bridge at Willowford.

  At the farm just beyond the bridge evidence that many buildings along the wall were built from stone removed from Hadrian's border line lies in a stone in the barn wall which has the builder's name carved into it.
 A poor picture; the stone above the plaque is carved and is clearly visible in real life, honest.
       A few fields beyond Willowford the  path has to leave the actual  wall as it goes through the village of Gilsland (you need to cross a railway line, beware of trains)  but soon rejoins and continues across fields to Holmhead where we stopped to have a look  Thirlwall Castle. A 14th century small castle on the Tipalt Burn it is a ruin, but a nice one.
                                       Thirlwall Castle.
  So far the walk has been easy, across fields with only gentle slopes but after Thirlwall Castle the wall starts to climb to its most exciting stretch, along the Whin Sill, the dolorite extrusion that made a natural defensive line for the wall in the first place and provided strong foundations for castles such as Bamburgh.
Some two miles on we madeWalltown a Herbiespot and sat in the sun outside the information centre. Nearby a pond fills the hole left by quarrying for whinstone, highly suitable for road building.
                          The pond at Walltown.
 From here the wall has been built along the edge of the Whin Sill making it difficult to attack or easy to defend, whichever point of view you take. For sentries patrolling the wall there would have been clear views to the north and south, cosy milecastles every Roman mile (1618 yards or 1480 metres) turrets, two between each milecastle, and forts, several on the wall itself and more close by, settlements with pubs probably.
( A well preserved milecastle site is at Poltross  Burn which is the boundary between Cumbria and Northumberland at Gilsland)
                        Milecastle number 48, Poltross Burn near Gilsland.

                                The wall follows the line of the Whin Sill.
 We passed through a Roman fort (Aesica) at Great Chesters. In the centre was an arch which could well have been the vaulted roof of the fort's "strong room" and in one corner was an altar people had left coins on it as an offeing. Suspicious lot aren't we ?

The altar at Aesica fort. I have no idea how the bus has reappeared but experience has taught me that if I remove it I could lose everything, so it stays. Could make you think about 122 though.
  Not far from the fort we came to Cawfield, another whin stone quarry which had been allowed to destroy a section of the wall!.
It is possible to take the Roman Military Way which runs parallel too but below the wall itself and is the remains of the high speed road supplying the wall and forts.We opted for this easier way but soon lost it, perhaps the money ran out for the Romans too. Actually at this point it runs very close to the wall itself.
At this point Dave told us that, as secretary of his running club he had been asked to read out a circular announcing that a gay running club was being formed on Tyneside.
"Is it called 'Out and About' ?" asked Ben.
And then, as we approached the end we saw a Newcastle United fan lamb to really make the day.
                                         Mint sauce, mint sauce.
We were now near Steel Rigg and the road down to Twice Brewed.
Crag Lough is my favourite part of the wall and although we didn't walk past it today it was clearly visible as we finished, so here it is, again.
                              Wall, Whin Sill and Crag Lough.
 Back at the National Park Visitor Centre we compared pedometer readings.
Reliable Higear said 11.76 miles, two ped Dave averaged 11.63, the Benbragometer had run out of battery and the 69p App was a total disaster having switched off again.
Dave measured the walk as 10.1 and I measured it at 10. But taking in wandering around castles and forts 11.5 seems reasonable. A good walk with quite a bit of climbing involved but very interesting. And we didn't go to the pub!
*Please Miss, Hadrian had his wall started in AD122.
 Books of the blog:
For really serious wall reading J. Collingwood Bruce's Handbook to the Roman Wall revised by David J. Breeze is probably the best.
For lighter reading David J. Breeze and Brian Dobson's Hadrian's Wall  takes some beating.