Friday, 14 August 2015

 All In all it's just another walk on the wall......August 13th.
  An extra gadgie walk; not all of the team are too keen on walking Hadrian's Wall but Dave and I are having a trip along a section of the Roman Empire's northern boundary today. As there are the two of us and it's a linear walk we are making use of the AD122 bus which runs in summer from Newcastle to Haltwhistle along the military road close to the wall itself. It is called the AD122 as that was the year Hadrian laid the foundation stone for his wall.
For those of you who don't know about the wall it is 73 miles long (117.5 km) and crosses England from the Solway to the Tyne. It marks the northern boundary of the empire and arguments still rage as to its purpose. There are many books on the subject, or Wikipedia. Most of it has gone, used for other buildings centuries after the Romans left but much remains, particularly the foundations of the milecastles, forts and turrets that were built along its length. Because much of it is in open countryside it is a popular walking area. It is not however the boundary between England and Scotland as some journalists seem to think. I live north of the wall but live about 60 miles south of the border between England and Scotland.

We drove to Hexham, left the car in the huge car park and caught the AD122 to Greenhead.
Now that's a car park. Hexham is posh enough to have a Waitrose Supermarket and a sports centre on one site. Park free all day too.

 The trip got off to a bad start, the driver was seen pouring water into the radiator. We left the bus station but headed for the company depot where mechanics did things to the engine before we set off again. Near Acomb the driver stopped and called headquarters to say the engine was overheating. He was told to carry on. He stopped again near Chollerford, same complaint, same reply. Eventually we made it to Greenhead and started the walk.   From there we planned to walk the wall east back towards Hexham. A map is useful OS OL 43 Hadrian's Wall covers the trip. Having said that the wall is so popular and the path is so well marked it is possible to do the walk map free but if you want to know the names and sites use one. If you are a keen Romanist a better map is the English Heritage Roman Wall map which has greater detail of all the forts and camps and aqueducts and temples and latrines and bath houses.
From Greenhead village a road leads uphill. (NOT THE B 6318 which is the "Military Road" which runs parallel to the wall to Heddon) We walked up the road for a short distance before spotting the marker on the left which takes you through somebody's backyard, across a field before joining the Hadrian's Wall Path. It goes close to Thirlwall castle which looks more like a bastle house and was built in the 13th/14th centuries. Worth a visit on another day.

Thirlwall castle from the path. Thirlwall means "Gap in the Wal," apparently.
From here on we were on the wall path. We crossed several fields, going uphill alongside bits of wall and the ditch that was part of the whole frontier system.

In the top picture the shaped facing stones are clearly visible. In the lower picture they have been recycled leaving the rubble core clearly visible.
Close by is a Roman fort, Carvoran and the Roman Army Museum, well worth visiting on another day but we walked on to Walltown Crags, and beyond.
                     One of the turrets, numbered on maps of the wall from East to West. There are two between each mile castle, 36A and 36 B for example. Many of them had information boards once, in German French and English but they seem to have been removed. Hopefully for refurbishment or replacement.

The Acorn symbol is used for long distance paths in the UK, easy to follow on the wall

It is well worth pointing out that there are a lot of ups and downs on this path, the wall is not built on level ground but follows the Whin Sill, some of the ascents, and descents, may be short but they are steep.
Eventually we reached Aesica, a Roman Fort on the wall, now in a farm field but the standard "playing card shape" is easy to pick out as are the corner turrets, the gates and in the centre, fenced off is what may have been the bullion box for the camp's money.
We declared this camp a Herbie Spot and sat in the sun, backs to a Roman Ruin and ate lunch. No special treats today.
                       Fort wall at Aesica (Great Chesters on the map)
                                                           An altar in the fort at Aesica
                                                      Still gets offerings!
Remains of an arch in the centre of the camp. Could have been the strong room
Lunch over we carried on to Cawfield Crags. Today this is a pleasant picnic spot as up to 1944 it was used as a quarry which, flooded, makes an attractive stop off. Shame they ruined a bit of wall.
                                         Old quarry workings at Cawfield Crags.
Still climbing up and down we passed Bogle Hall, walked on Whindshields Crags, passing mile castles and turrets and the popular parking site at Steel Rigg. A good place to see the wall without walking too far!
                                                     Turret near Steel Rigg. An extra, it's not numbered.

                                                   Milecastle 39, and footpath.
 The Vallum defensive ditch south of the wall
                                                   A trig point, probably not Roman but this is for Helen.
No walk along this stretch of wall is complete without pausing at Sycamore Gap, made famous in the Kevin Cosner film Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. If you have seen the film you will remember Robin made it from Dover Beach to Hadrians Wall, over 300 miles, in a matter of minutes. A true Hollywood hero.
                                                   Robin's tree
                                           Did Kevin have to walk uphill to find Marion?
Beyond this section is my favourite bit of wall, Crag Lough. The wall is built on the edge of the Whin Sill, two hundred feet above the Lough which usually has a few ducks and swans on it and occasionally peregrines have nested there.

                                                Crag Lough from the wall path
                          And from the farm to the east.

The last mile of our walk, up and along Hotbank Crags brought us to the fort at Housesteads, (Vercovicium) probably the best preserved on the wall itself, although nearby Vindolanda is a bit more interesting. Housesteads has a museum, information centre and gift shop which fortunately sold ice cream.
                                                        Housesteads Fort                                                                                            From here we caught the last bus* of the day back to Hexham, enjoyed a pint for Dave in the local Wetherspoons, soda and lime for me as driver. And I would have loved several pints. It had been a hot day with a gentle breeze to cool us. A perfect day for walking. The south of England suffered heavy rain today, tomorrow it is our turn and the usual gadgie walk is cancelled.
The wall walk, particularly this section is a great day out. Nice to see so many people walking sections of it, even short ones. Lots of young people out too, they don't all sit at their computers all day. Met several Germans, Netherlanders and Americans, all enjoying themselves but English Heritage needs to do something about those information boards.

The Matrix MMXV  SPQR
                                                            steps                               miles
LIDL3D                                             31172                               11.9
Dave's LIDL3D                                 26409                               12.41
Dave's USB                                        25201                               11.93
my Garmin etrex 20                                                                    10.72

* The AD122 runs from early  April to late September between Hexham and Haltwhistle Run by Tynedale Coaches and driven by friendly drivers.

All three maps:Contains OS data Copyright. Crown Copyright and Database right 2015