A Wall to keep out the Barbarians

Trip Start May 31, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, April 7, 2007

We awoke at 7am to be graced with an immaculately sunny morning. I would've been happy to have a bit of a snoozie for one more hour but we had another active day ahead with much to see (and drive).
We continued northbound on the A1 meaning to pass Newcastle when Ed saw a sign that clearly excited him. It read Hadrian's Wall.  As he motioned to turn the car and drive back towards the exit, he told me that Hadrian's Wall were the remains of a Roman wall stretching from sea to sea across northern England.  Why have I never heard of any of this?  There was an ancient Roman wall running through England and I didn't know about it? Me, the history nerd?  I was instantly intrigued and we both agreed we should check out this wall.  
We passed through a lovely little town called Hexham and crossed the River North Tyne to where the first site of the wall was:  Chester's Roman Fort.  We were the first ones there so we had a nice chat with the lady in the office before buying our tickets.  She succeeded in convincing us to get the English Heritage membership which gives you free access to the hundreds of heritage sites in the UK for an entire year.  
So as new members of the English Heritage we went on to explore the ruins of this old roman fort.  Unfortunately there were no audio guides but the explanatory plaques were enough.  The Romans invaded Britain and gradually moved northwards mostly reacting to opposing tribes.  In 70 A.D, under Vespasian, the Romans decided to conquer the entire island and although they beat Scotland, they could not sustain their victory so they retreated back to England.  Later, the emperor Hadrian suggested that the boundaries to the empire's frontiers should be singled out, and where there were no natural barriers such as rivers, artificial barriers should be erected.  Hadrian's Wall was built to separate the Romans from the 'barbarians' of the north. 
Forts with different purposes were built all along the wall.  The fort we were standing in now was built as a permanent troop base to protect the point at which Hadrian's Wall had to cross the River north Tyne.  It housed a garrison of about 500 soldiers, many of whom came from the region of Asturias in Spain.  It had a lavish bath house close to the river bank and the extravagant quarters of the commander.
After witnessing the amazingly well-preserved city of Pompeii, these ruins were not much to look at.  What was absolutely stunning were the surrounding dales and the river that flowed through it.   I found two trees on the slope of the river bank and sat down on the grass just listening to the water and the birds chirping contently.  
The lady at the site's office had mentioned a good site where the wall was best seen just 8 miles up the road, so we hurried out toward Housetead's Roman Fort.  As we were driving we spotted bits and pieces of the old stone wall serpenting through the pastures.  A few hikers were walking all along the wall which led us to assume that this was a popular trekking circuit.   The scenery certainly was enough.
Housetead's Fort was situated high on an escarpment commanding glorious views of the surrounding lands.  Sheep grazed freely here and although the wind blew furiously, the warm sun rays acted as an insulator for the cold.
Known as the Vercovicium or hilly place, the fort garrisoned a contingent of about 800  Germanic soldiers, complete with a hospital, granaries, barracks, a Commandants' house, and administrative offices. On either sides of the fort we could see the wall stretch East and West getting lost in glens and small groves.
It was close to noon and we were getting hungry so we headed back out to the highway in our need to travel north, as north as we could go. 

English Heritage Membership 69.00
Parking 2.00
Petrol + Food 35.00
Total spent  106
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