Saturday, November 23, 2013

Day 19: Hadrian's Wall

After breakfast, we made for Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall. We arrived at quarter to 11 (would have been there sooner but the satnav took us over a railway crossing which played party to a crawling freight train - then some idiot parked right in front of us - English roads, sadly, rely on common sense) and had to pay and display (£4).

Annoyingly, the visitor centre was still in scaffolding despite the website’s promise of it being open in by then! To top it off, there were portaloos in the car park.

We trudged the long route up an immense slope to the fort, dodging clusters of tiny half-spheres of ice and piles of sheep shit. I began to regret not bringing an extra jacket.

The fort, even in ruins, was very impressive, crowning the ridge, though it seems owned by sheep now. We made for the museum which doubled as a ticket office (loos notable by their absence). The OVP continues to be amazing. The museum pieces are quite good - did not watch the video.

Housestead's Roman Fort

We ventured out to the fort and swiftly froze. My ungloved hands worked furiously on the SLR but still ached before they went numb. We started at the vicus (more sheep shit ahoy!) then entered through the south gate. This part was rebuilt in the 17th century to protect against raids. I geeked out over a worn step (the telltale dip in the centre of the stone a sign of many feet over the centuries). Who else had stood there? Other tourists hoping for a similar revelation?

We walked through the commander’s house. I briefly hid in the granary because the wind kept biting into me. The ruins sufficiently protected me for those few seconds. I reached the north gate and caught my second glimpse of the infamous wall (the first glimpse had occurred in the car - earlier we had driven past a piece of the wall in suburbia that I’d looked at months ago in Google street view!). It lay beneath the steep slope leading up to the fort. Irritating tourists were walking on it, ruining my photos.

The latrines - in my house, this is known as the "library".

We brushed past the east gate and several lumpy patches of grass and weeds before reaching the latrines. Noticeable by the plumping, they were positioned in a corner so all the crap flowed downhill away from the fort. There were (still present) water basins made out of stone in the centre, presumably to wash one’s hands?

Back to the south gate. As we passed a hypocaust, Cazy seemed bemused by it so I informed him, “Hypocaust!”

“In English,” he requested.

“...hypocaust!” I repeated, grinning.


There was a hospital (two other tourists seemed surprised that the Roman Empire wanted to keep their soldiers in good condition) which we stepped into before viewing the many, many barracks. We doubled back to the west gate, pausing at the bakery. The gate closest to the infamous wall was locked in with fencing. After watching overs leap over, so too did we. I was determined to leave the fort via a gate like a Roman, damn it!

Then up we went to that beckoning piece of Hadrian’s Wall (connected to the fort). A track ran alongside it into a grove of trees but there also appeared to be gravel in a central dip on the wall. I was shocked when Cazy started walking on it but I was also drawn to the lure of trampling over history.

More tourists than soldiers have walked this wall.

The trees shaded us and I shivered. The walk revealed a very sharp drop to the valley below on one side of the wall. The gradient was much more pronounced on this side of the fort. We saw a lake through the trees. We stopped at a rise in the wall, took photos and returned to the museum.

Sandwiches and souvenirs for both of us. Hot chocolate for me - and I also braved the portaloos back at the car. Not bad - they flushed. This basic was operated by a pedal. 

Next we drove to Corbridge “Roman Town”. Mercifully, parking was free. Cazy used these facilities - he was smart to wait for this opportunity! The OVP got us in and we enjoyed the museum. The kids can follow stuffed lions around to learn about the Romans - someone had stuck one of the lions on an ancient sculpture which made me smile.

I can has history?

Outside awaited sun but it was still a little chilly. The audio tour was very informative, leading us down Staingate Road - AN ACTUAL ROMAN ROAD. With drainage gutters down the side. Very impressive columns proved to be the entry to the granaries - not something cooler. But still epic! There was an effective ventilation system in place to keep corn dry.

Get your mind out of the gutter!

We traipsed past a courtyard area which had held the first fort on the site - a wooden structure that burned early on. Then we were taken through the ruins of the barracks and workshops before I was directed to a “temple”. I was far more interested in the strange hill in the workshop area. I stood on the temple’s worn entrance stone - I like adding pressure to the weight of history.

The mysterious hill.

I then got to descend very small, very narrow steps from ground level to an underground cellar (it's now bare beneath the blue sky!). When Cazy came over, I jokingly suggested it was either used for grog or treasure.

We left after the audio tour tried to sell us membership to English Heritage. 

I was awed by the two sites and wondered why some people I know aren’t excited about Roman Britain. I sure am!

The Romans overpowered the populace for 400 years. Australia has only been around for 200 years...there is a much different perspective on invaders here in Britain. 

Bad dinner choice afterwards. But now thinking of bed


Scotland tomorrow!!!

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