Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Hadrian's Wall

Sunday 6th February 2011.

A bit of an explanation required to start with because there was no walk last Friday. There is a couple of reasons for that. Firstly the weather was very bad and despite our resolve to walk whatever the weather we decided that it simply wasn't worth it: secondly, was that I needed to go to Cumbria for meetings on Monday and Tuesday so we had decided to make a weekend of it and maybe even get some walking on Hadrian's Wall. We travelled down on Saturday, taking our time, enjoying some nice weather and looking forward to walking the next day. It wasn't to be! The weather deteriorated the further south we went and by the time we arrived in Haltwhistle, that was to be our base for the next few days, it was thoroughly miserable. The weather forecast for the Sunday was even worse and it looked as if we'd be struggling again to get out. Unfortunately the forecast turned out to be absolutely spot on, and we got up to a miserable morning.

We decided that the best we could hope for was to go for a run in the car and see if we could find any of the Wall that we could perhaps photograph, (not a bad idea for this month's photo assignment was my way of thinking). The problem with this theory of course is that I had no idea what Hadrian's Wall would look like! Was it made of stone or turf? Was it obvious or would there need to be a sign that says "this is it"? I suppose I should be a wee bit embarrassed about my ignorance, but the truth is that I knew there was a wall, built at the command of the Emperor Hadrian somewhere in the Borders, but I didn't know what it looked like or how much of it still existed. Fortunately for us, while pondering this problem, we were driving through a small village called Girsland when we noticed a group of very wet walkers getting their photograph taken perched on a wall that turned out to be the very one we were looking for! Would we have noticed this wall if there hadn't been people there? I'm not sure, but once we knew what to look for it became much easier to spot.

It turned out that we had arrived at a section of the Wall that was the beginning of a short(ish) walk between Willowford Farm and the Roman Fort at Birdoswald. The only downside was that it was still lashing with rain. We decided that at the very least we should take some photographs and decided that, despite the nuisance of it, we would get the full wet weather gear on before we set off.

Yes it really was this wet!!

Needless to say of course once we were out, and the fact that we were as suitably dressed as we could be, we decided to carry on along the track for a wee while and see how we got on. A bit of history here, just in case you are as ignorant as I was, the Wall was begun in AD122 on the orders of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. It is around 73 miles long and, east of the river Irthing, (the bit we were walking for instance), was built from squared stone and measured 2 metres wide and between 5 and 6 metres high. West of the river the wall was made from turf and measured 6 metres wide and 3.5 metres high. There were small fortlets called milecastles spaced about a mile apart along its length that each held a few dozen troops. All in all the construction took around a ridiculously short 6 years to complete. The most amazing thing for me is that it is arrow straight!

Arrow straight

From where we started we walked along the route of the wall for a mile or so until we reached Willowford Farm where it dropped down onto the low land along the banks of the Irthing river. Thinking that this would be as far as we could go we decided to carry on because we could see some information boards in the distance. As it turned out at the end of this section there is the remains of the bridge that once crossed the river. 2000 years ago the river flowed on a slightly different course so the bridge foundations look a little bit askew but you've got to take your hat off to the engineering abilities of the Roman builders.

Bridge Parapet

From here we did go on to cross the river by a modern bridge put in to help complete the Hadrian Wall Path that tracks the wall from coast to coast. By now we were drenched through but we persevered up the other side of the river and then another mile or so until we reached Roman Fort at Birdoswald. Needless to say it was closed, so no tea and cake today!

Crossing the Irthing River

From the Fort it was a case of retracing our steps back to the car. All in all it had taken us around two and half very wet hours but we were glad we'd done it. It wasn't particularly far but considering the conditions I think we did pretty well.

More Photos

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