50th Hadrian’s Wall

To begin some perspective, Stone Henge is five thousand years old and people proabably worshiped there or whatever they were doing for a long time before that. The oldest pyramids are also around five thousand years old and graves in the Valley of the Kings could be older….not going to check this. The Great Wall of China was built around fourteen fifty and the Great Wall of Groton finished in 2018. So, as things go Hadrian’s Wall is in the middle of all the grandiose building projects. However, the wall was built to delineate the uppermost limit of the Roman expansion into the British Isles and they never did get to Ireland. It is easy to check the history of the wall and Roman lands but the thing that interests me is how they came, they conquered and they went back home. We were in the Roman villa in the Cotswolds which was a very inviting, clement place. Not so at the wall. We were there on the Solstice and the wind was whipping around and chillingly cold. It can’t have been a welcome post to men from warm, dry Italy. The Scots….the various tribes that would some day become the Scots, were always trying to take back their land and overthrow the invaders….I can’t imagine why…and the wall was built to keep them confined. And it was very effective for several hundred years. It took only six years to build and in addition to the wall every mile along it was a small tower with living quarters that was manned and there were larger fortresses along…several of them, also manned, and that wall was patrolled every moment of every day.

Their cisterns were morticed with lead and some of that is still intact. You can see it, gray, between the big stones. They had to haul everything up that very steep hill to the garrison including water but they had locals working for them. It would have been a hard life for those workers. Now there are sheep there….hundreds of them as there are everywhere in the north. 

England is very narrow there and the wall is only seventy three miles long but it spanned the country…much like the Ice Wall in Game of Thrones.

The foundations of the Roman military garrison and the small village that grew up outside its walls are still there, snug up against the wall. We had a tour guide who explained the purpose of the rooms that would have been there and most especially their water, latrine and sewage systems. For the next two thousand years or less, people would empty their slops into the street or a cesspit if they were lucky but the romans up there on that windy hill had the equivalent of flush toilets. In some ways it is sad that Rome could not keep it together and due to internal fighting had to leave Britannia. In many ways they really did bring peace and prosperity to Britain. They allowed people, men, to become Roman citizens after twenty five years of military service and all their decendants  were then citizens. Citizenship brought many benefits not the least of which was a pension. The reason more of the buildings are not standing is that in the next fifteen hundred years the locals took them to build houses, churches, etc., because they were already quarried and shaped saving thousands of hours of labor. One stone which was inscribed with a commanders name was taken out of a hearth in a private home and donated back to the museum.

We visited the military museum and they had a half hour film taken above the wall along its entire length. As the camera went along they superimposed views of what it would have looked like in AD 150. They know what the buildings looked like because they have many examples of Roman architecture. The Roman Empire did not build by half measures.

The wall is truly impressive, high and thick and couldn’t have been easily scaled. It is a thing here in Britain to walk all over the country and walking the wall is very popular. I was surprised at how many people were there with us.

I know folks back home wondered why we would go all the way to England to visit Hadrian’s Wall…after all, it is just another stone wall. A funny thing, as we crested the hill and could look down upon the wall snaking its way across the country side I said, “Is that it then?” Everyone laughed…they probably thought I was unimpressed but it fact England has a surfeit of stone walls and I was just making sure! Being at the wall was to me like being in one of the great cathedrals and I had the same shivery, otherworldly feeling. (The fallen columns are the temple) (The floor of the hypocaust warmed room was tiled with stone…not wood as I earlier surmised). 

Haltwhistle, the town we stayed in, calls itself the ‘Center of Britain’. The town is situated half way between the coasts of the Irish Sea and the North Sea and half way up(or down) the country from north to south. Kids keep moving the sign and I can understand that…very tempting. We wandered into the local church which was built in the 1300s and lo, they were having choir practice. We were invited to come in and view the church and we stayed to listen to them and Eric couldn’t stand that the bases were sharp and he kept chiming in with the correct note (softly) but someone noticed and invited him to join them. I think the choir mistress was getting fed up with them not hitting the right note. That experience is not unusual, everyone in this country has been gracious and welcoming.

There are defibrillators everywhere in this country! They put them in the old red phone booths and stick them on walls sort of willy nilly and you have to call the police station for the unlocking code and then I guess just follow the instructions and wait for help to come. The thing is, you have to have your heart attack next to one of them and hope you are not alone.

And last…here are two not very intrepid travelers on a windy hill with the past spread out around them. 

About Clio

I am an organic gardener with thirty years experience, a former minister, a former home-schooler, (they grew up), a current clarinet and flute player, knitter and spinner, and swimmer. I am interested in food security issues, food and policy issues, food preservation and encouraging people to become more aware and pro-active about their own food supply. I teach home food preservation, especially water bath and pressure canning, beginning organic gardening using bio-intensive methods, and give talks on food and food security for groups.
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