Here is the next part of my report on my trip to Hadrian’s Wall last summer. This report is getting awfully long and spread out over the year, but it’s my blog so that’s how it’s gonna be.
Our Hadrian’s Wall hiking trip started with an awkwardly long wait at a bus stop in Hexham, where nobody knew whether a bus was going to come because the time table had been changed that day. We waited for half an hour and then coaxed a bus driver to drop us off somewhere around 1-2 miles from our B&B. Seriously, living in the UK makes you absolutely love NS/Hermes/Veolia, when you go back to Holland (other Dutchies living abroad might know what I’m talking about).
We didn’t see much of Hexham itself, since we just went to our B&B, The Dovecote, straight away, which was in Humshaugh (pronounced Hams-hof???), a parish nearby. We had a great time there, the hosts were very nice! There was also a lovely garden to have tea in. The weather was pretty great – in August it’s even sunny in Northumberland! I’m afraid the rest of this post is going to be loaded with pictures, since I just took so many nice ones! Particularly the sky was so beautiful throughout our walk!
Then we encountered the first bit of Wall! So I suppose now’s the time to finally give some background info on Hadrian’s Wall, since I like history and facts and historical facts.
Hadrian’s Wall was the frontier of the Roman Empire for the greater part of three centuries. It stretched across North England from coast to coast for about 80 miles (approx. 120 km). Not much is left of the original Wall. The Wall used to be up to 6 metres high! This Wall was completed in only six years by three legions (about 15,000 men). And they did not just build a Wall; a Milecastle was placed every mile as well as many forts along the frontier (about one every five Roman miles). Also, a military way was built along the Wall, as well as two ditches on either side of the Wall. Along our walk, it was easy to follow these ditches as they are still visible in the hills! All in all, a very impressive feat of engineering! We did not walk along the entire frontier, only the centre part between Hexham and Carlisle, where most of the Wall ruins are to be seen.
The construction of the Wall started in 122 AD by order of Emperor Hadrian (who would have thought). Hadrian’s predecessor Trajan had expanded the Roman Empire massively. Hadrian thought the size of the Empire was becoming almost unmanageable, and invested more resources into defending and maintaining the Empire as it was. This is where the Wall came in, as a defence mechanism. It is often thought the Wall was built to ‘keep out the barbarians’, but this view is a bit outdated. In fact, many findings show that it is likely that many ‘barbarians’ or: natives of the land, settled close to the Wall to trade with the Roman soldiers.
Hadrian’s successor Antoninus Pius didn’t bother much with the Wall, and instead built his own Wall: the Antonine Wall. Built 160 km north of Hadrian’s Wall, it lies in what is now the Scottish Lowlands. However, Antoninus could not conquer the Northern tribes he wanted to conquer, so his successor Marcus Aurelius abandoned the Antonine Wall and started using Hadrian’s Wall instead in 164 AD. Emperor Septimius Severus tried something similar to Antoninus and went back to Antonine’s Wall, but again failed.
In the 4th century, the Roman Empire started losing its grip on its territories. 410 AD is the estimated end to Roman rule in Britain, and Hadrian’s Wall was abandoned. Much of the stone was reused for the building of other structures. We came across some B&Bs and pubs on our way that were built from Wall stones! In the 18th century, many stones were also used for roadbuilding. John Clayton, a Newcastle town clerk, did much to preserve the Wall in the early 19th century. He bought some of the land on which the Wall stood and carried out excavations. He also managed to restore some bits, which are the somewhat higher bits you come across when visiting the Wall.
Initially, the Wall was supposed to be 3 meters wide, which was changed halfway through building to 2 meters. In the East (from where they started building), the switch between the two plans can be seen. While the foundations here are 3 meters, the Wall itself is only 2 meters wide.
On our first day we came across this interesting finding, which I thought was one of the highlights! This is a temple dedicated to Mithras, an old Persian god worshipped in the Roman Empire. The Romans were very tolerant about religion in the sense that they included many ‘foreign’ gods into their religion. In their view, praying to many different gods increased their chances of getting what they wanted. I think it’s quite unique to find this mystery cult temple dedicated to an Eastern cult so far away from the cult’s origins! It shows the cult had literally spread to the furthest edges of the Roman Empire, including North England.
We soon came to Northumberland National Park, England’s northernmost national park. This nature reserve is known for its dark, gloomy skies, which you can see well on the picture above. This is where the most ‘dramatic’ section of the Wall is located (you know, the bit you always see on postcards).
Next time, I’ll write about our visit to Housesteads Roman Fort, in the late afternoon of our first day hiking.