Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hadrian's Wall

When I was in junior high, one of the highlights of my week was riding my bike to the library. The old Schaumburg Library is now a Baptist mega-church, and the new one is a huge edifice next to a grocery store. Such is Schaumburg. But, somewhere in the stacks, I discovered Rosemary Sutcliff, who wrote wonderful historical fiction about Bronze Age and Roman Britain. One of my favorites was Eagle of the Ninth, which was set along Hadrian's Wall and was actually made into a film this past year.

I wish that watching such films would send today's junior high kids to the library to learn more, but I have my doubts.


Carlisle has been called Luguwaljon and Luguvalium and Caer-luel and Cumberland before Carlisle, was visited by the emperor Hadrian around 122AD, and had a lovely stone fort by 130 AD, which was the largest and strongest fort along Hadrian's wall. It's a pretty city with a nice Victorian covered market and friendly people. Our innkeeper there was a sweetheart who put up with us arriving way too late, made us a lovely breakfast, and showed us the best way to Hadrian's Wall.

Hadrian's Wall was ordered by said emperor to keep the northern border of Roman Britain safer from those nasty Scots and Picts. It was an imposing thing, about 5 feet tall, with a deep ditch to the north and a double ditch-and-bank device called a vallum to the south. There were milecastles, small "fortlets" built roughly a mile apart along the Wall, and turrets evenly positioned between those. The Wall itself was about 2m thick, although that varies.

Along the length of the Wall were also several Roman forts, among them Brisoswald, Housesteads and Vindolanda. At Vindolanda archaeologists have discovered Roman writings, including a birthday party invitation from one officer's wife to another.

I love how land is used in Britain. In the US, we're afraid to subject tourists to poo poo. In Britain, they graze critters everywhere, and the tourists have to sometimes watch where they step. But the critters are friendly, as Mary learned.

We picked a really lovely day to visit the Wall. Little did we know that cold, blustery weather would set in by day's end, with rain finally sending us south.

We missed out on an ale at Newcastle, which would have been wise, but we had points south to visit and knew we'd be, again, arriving too late for our innkeepers to be very polite. But at least we warned them via e-mail, and they were ready for our motley crew.

So another item checked off my life list. Mary and I have decided that we want to walk Hadrian's Wall sometime before I get much more old and creaky. Sadly, though, she wants to walk it with two girlfriends and I want to walk it with her. We'll iron that out someday!


  1. Can't all of you walk the wall together?

  2. I thought of that. I even told her, "You bring Caitlin, I'll bring Cheryl!"