Thursday, 11 May 2017

As we walked the Stanegate.. (Northumberland)
May 9th
              At my daughters' school all prize givings and evening concerts were opened with a rousing rendition of "The Keel Row" by the senior choir. This has nothing to do with the day's walk, it's just that the first line of the song is "As I came through Sandgate, through Sandgate, through Sandgate"
For those of you from foreign places Sandgate leads down to the Tyne in Newcastle and Keelmen were the the crews who rowed Keel boats out to ships in the river with a load of coal. Must have been hard work, but they were well fed on salmon, long before pollution kept the fish away. They have returned, sure sign of a clean river.
  The Stanegate is the Roman road across the north of England, south of Hadrian's Wall. It predates the wall itself and its line is visible in several places. Today Dave and I are having a walk on the wall, making use of the AD 122 bus that runs close to the wall in summer.
The best map for the walk is OS OL 43 Hadrian's Wall but there is an excellent map of the wall published by English Heritage which gives more detail of the mile castles, turrets and forts along the wall.
We drove to Hexham going west on the A69 and parking just across the bridge over the river on Tyne Green. It's a Yorkshire car park, the one in the town has a few all day spaces but they are usually taken. But don't go into the Hexham Mart by mistake, you might get clamped.

              Park on Tyne Green by the river.
We walked to the new Hexham bus station to catch the 10.10am AD 122 bus that runs along the wall in summer and takes bus passes. We got off the bus at Twice Brewed, pub and soon to be opened new visitor centre and YHA.
           The new visitor centre under construction. It is called the Sill after the Whinsill, the rocky line that much of the wall is built on.
From the centre we walked almost due south along the road to Vindolanda, it is well signposted. After about half a mile we turned left on the road that is built on top of the Stanegate, a nice straight section as you would expect. We passed Causeway House, one of the very few thatched cottages in Northumberland.
                         Thatched Causeway House
We also passed the stump of a genuine Roman milestone.
            Genuine Roman milestone stump.

Vindolanda is the best of the Roman forts on or near the wall. It is run by a charitable trust and has the ruins of the fort buildings, reconstructions of mile castle and turret and a top class museum displaying many of the artefacts discovered during excavation. If you are at all interested in the Roman Empire in Britain it is well worth visiting but we didn't today.

                       Vindolanda from the outside.
                       and the fabled AD122 bus
Just beyond the fort we went into a field to admire a complete Roman milestone, and its wonderful sign. At this point we left the Stanegate and walked south east.

Milestone and old sign too
We followed the road to a junction and turned left. After about a half mile we found the sign post on the left and walked across a couple of fields to examine a Limekiln, always worth a look at.

Limekiln and information board. One of the better preserved kilns
Back on the road we found the gate and sign post that pointed roughly in the direction of the Long Stone. A poster advised that the land in part was Open Access and we should not leave the right of way on certain dates but we pretended we couldn't read and walked up to the ridge to see the stone, not hat it was particularly interesting or of any great significance as far as we know.
                                   The Long Stone.
Turning back along the ridge we came to the trig point and from there crossed to the site of an Iron Age settlement which was also the site of a Roman signal station. From here on the hill it is possible to see Vindolanda  to the west and Housesteads fort to the north east, hence the signal station.
                           Vindolanda from the signal station site. Housesteads can not be seen from Vindolanda.
Back on the road we walked another half mile before turning down the track to East Crindledykes Farm. Beyond the farm we paused for a Herbie Spot, sitting on rocks in a field, enjoying the sun and a sandwich, Racer bar and Caramel Cake from Cadbury. Had we walked yesterday we would have been huddled behind the rocks against the cold north east wind!
Lunch over we followed the well posted path to the Military Road which we crossed and walked along the metalled track to Housesteads.
Housesteads is probably the most popular fort on the wall. It has the fort, a museum and gift shop (of course) and is run by English Heritage. You need a ticket to go into the fort and also into the museum. I had thought of buying an ice cream in the museum as it was so warm but the lady behind the counter demanded if I had a ticket so she lost a sale. It is a good little museum and the fort puts on talks by men dressed as Legionnaires, consequently it is a popular school trip. A class of juniors were playing soldiers today. We didn't visit the site, having been several times before, but headed up to the wall itself.
         The west gate at Housesteads, Roman name Vercovicium
The section of wall you reach just beyond the fort, heading west, is the only bit of the ancient monument you are invited to walk along, the rest of the way you should walk the footpath alongside it for obvious reasons.

             Walk in the footsteps of the legions on this section.
The following few miles are my favourite section of the wall and they have been since I first walked them in 1964. The country is very hilly with lots of ups and downs. The path on the steeper slopes has been paved with large stones to prevent erosion and should the path prove too steep there is the "military way" a few yards to the south which cuts out some of the climbs.
                          Mike castle 37 and remains of the north gate.
At Crag Lough the wall climbs high above the water. There are supposedly peregrines nesting in the cliffs but we did not see them although we did spot kestrels.
                     Approaching Crag Lough. The wall is on the top of the cliffs which are part of the Whinsill which crosses Northumberland all the way to Bamburgh Castle.
Beyond Crag Lough is the famous Sycamore Gap which was used in Kevin Costner's Film " Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves"
                            Not the usual view of the sycamore.
Beyond the film set we reached Steel Rigg and turned left down the road back to Twice Brewed and caught the AD122 bus back to Hexham.

The matrix MMXVII PP
                                                                      steps                               miles
NAK                                                            27308                             10.34
Dave's 3D                                                   21490                              9.45
 ""  USB                                                      20519                             9.71
  ""  NAK                                                    20150                             9.54
 IPhone                                                        21866                             9.37
OUTDOOR GPS                                                                                9.1

If you are interested in the wall go to an organisation called FUTURE LEARN which offers on line courses on a host of topics. One is the Archaeology of Hadrian's Wall, presented by Newcastle University.  The next time it is on it is well worth following, you'll finish as an expert, reading Roman memorials, know how to examine and date skeletons and become familiuar with the structure of the Roman army.

Contains OS data copyright Crown copyright and database right 2017