Day 61 - Greenhead to Twice Brewed
The Hadrian Wall day finally came. I think of all the days in the walk this was the one I was the most excited about in anticipation. I have only been once before, as a teenager, and today was about really spending time with some of the most dramatic bits of the wall. The day started well at breakfast with meeting Lyn and Mike with their gorgeous retired greyhound, Puma. When they took him on he’d never been in a house, or played with other dogs, or been out for a walk off lead. They have clearly spent a lot of time working with him, he is now a docile and friendly animal, albeit one that is all muscle.
A brisk hill in the sunshine to get myself back up to the Roman Army Museum from yesterday. I was alert for red squirrels, having seen signs about them, but sadly they were shy today. Hopefully before I finish the walk.
And then onto the wall, joining it at Turret 45B. As well as the barrier, Hadrian ordered the building of regular turrets and mile castles from which the soldiers could look for the marauding barbarians, and then larger forts too. The wall was built to mark the edge of the Roman Empire - at the time it was built Rome was beginning to consolidate the areas it had invaded instead of taking on more land and responsibilities.
Obviously the wall is not as big as it was, but it’s still big enough to impress. And it’s Hadrian’s Wall!! I took a lot of photos of old stone today.
The sheer effort that went into building this is remarkable. Just quarrying all that stone and hauling it up the hill, before they started to erect it. But then they did have a lot of manpower, what with all the soldiers and the slaves. Interesting story about Hadrian. He was married, but fell in love with a young Greek man called Antinous. Antinous sadly drowned in the Nile, leading Hadrian to fall into a deep depression from which he never recovered. He dealt with his grief by setting up a new city in his beloved’s name, and even creating a cult for Antinous as a god. The image of the beautiful young man proliferated throughout the Roman Empire.
They built it very strategically too, using the natural contours to make the barrier even more imposing. This was specially evident at Walltown Crags, which loom over the barbarian territory. Having not been here before I watched Game of Thrones, I hadn’t realised just how much they must have used this area as the inspiration. Fortunately, winter wasn’t coming today.
The path follows the course of the wall, and the wall follows the contours of the land. And the land goes up and down a lot. Not as bad as the zawns in Cornwall, but definitely a similar idea. I find uphill no problem, but the steep downhills challenge my leg a great deal. I’m taking so much weight on my arms through my poles to try to relieve the pressure, it’s an all over workout.
This was the busiest route I’ve seen for ages. Lots of people come here to walk a little bit of the Wall, there are also those walking the full 84 mile Hadrian’s Wall national trail, and then there are those doing the Pennine Way, which runs along it too. It made a pleasant change to not be entirely alone. I stopped at Cawfields, next to a lake formed from an old quarry. There is no wall here, as the quarry work destroyed it. But there was a picnic bench and sunshine, where I did my physio exercises and ignored those looking at me askance. The selfie captures how uncomfortable they are - I thought I was smiling…..
Then more climbing up and down, with three crests visible on the hills as I approached them.
The sense of space is extraordinary here. The other high lands are far off, so the views are uninterrupted in all directions. At the top I was able to see where I had been, and where I am going. Both seem a long way.
Whilst drinking from my increasingly battered thermos I chatted to William and Laura. They had been to see Kynren in Bishop Auckland. It sounds like definitely something I’d enjoy - an outdoor show covering British history and myth that is spectacular and professionally produced but using the local community as the actors. They spoke so passionately about what they’d seen, I was sold. And then they startled me by saying that William found it fascinating as he does historical re-enactments, and obviously Laura was particularly interested in the battle scenes, as she does sword fighting. I love how you find that people’s lives are not what you’d expect, if you just chat for a little while.
Something I enjoyed last summer on the C2C was meeting people more than once as we all made the walk. It was good to bump into Debbie and Nicki again, at this highest point. They’re staying in the same accommodation, and we will be doing the same route tomorrow.
If I were to have stopped at my pub once coming off the wall I’d have just walked about 9 miles. So I felt I had enough energy to do a side trip and go to Vindolanda, about a mile and a half down the road. I confess I had never heard of this place before Colin and Norma told me about it when staying in Slaggyford. It was a Roman auxiliary fort that supported the soldiers on the wall, with a village as well as the military presence. It’s an amazing place, on a large site which is still being excavated.
One of the remarkable things about the site is that the Roman artefacts are in a layer of soil that is up to 6 metres deep. These are anoxic conditions, so things have been retrieved that would have rotted if buried less deeply. So it has provided a phenomenal number of items that are kept in the Vindolanda museum. The first wall is just of shoes - men’s, womens and children’s. I found this very affecting, seeing the evidence of normal life from 2000 years ago.
But some of the items discovered are so historically important that they are kept in the British Museum. These include the largest collection of Roman writing in the West in the form of 1600 ink writing tablets. The excellent display allowed you to examine particularly exciting letters or documents in detail. My favourite was a birthday invitation from Claudia Severa to Sulpicia Lepidina. They were commanding officer’s wives, and it was written in AD 103-105. And this tablet is the first piece of handwriting found between two women from the Roman world.
So pleased that I’d made the additional effort to get there, I retraced my steps back to Twice Brewed, my pub for the night. There are various stories which explain the name of the inn, one is that on the eve of the battle of Hexham in 1464, the Yorkist foot soldiers demanded that their beer be brewed again because it lacked its usual and vital fighting strength….. They brew beer still, and offer the best selection of ales that I’ve seen since arriving. And perhaps ironically, the one I had tonight is described as a table beer, at 2.5% the weakest beer I’ve had. That’s my sort of beer.
A quick chat with Debbie as I was eating dinner, bemoaning the fact that we had both spotted that there is a diversion on the PW for tomorrow, adding distance to what was already going to be a very long day. Early night tonight.
Distance travelled: 12 miles
Total ascent: 2013 feet
Calories burned: 1934
Local tipple - Twice brewed table beer
Dinner at Twice Brewed - good
Salmon risotto with green salad
Video of the day
New song of the day
Hard Road - Johnny Flynn
Thanks to Clare for suggesting this. It felt very appropriate, both for the suitable Game of Thrones vibe, and the reflection of what my road can feel like too. I like the slightly strained folk style vocal too, it feels raw and untrained. Bit like I feel sometimes.