Well it is 21 years since I started Britain Unlimited so it has finally come of age. Yes I am old enough to know when 21 was still a thing. Anyway, I have decided after all this time to start a blog on themes to do with the British people covered in this site and general things which take my eye about British heritage in general.
As I’ve started the site with the Romans (yes I have heard about Stonehenge and all of the people who came before in these islands) I thought it might be an idea to start with a big anniversary for them. 2022 marks the 1900th anniversary of the building of Hadrian’s Wall. I live in Hexham, Northumberland nowadays which is just a little over 5 miles from the wall so it seemed the right topic to start with.
A lot of it is under the care of English Heritage or the National Trust but some places, like Vindolanda, where most of the current archaeological work is going on, are run by charities. If you walk from the west at the Solway Firth between Scotland and England to the other end at the aptly named Wallsend near Newcastle upon Tyne it will take on average six to eight days, although some hardy souls have done the 73 miles in three! There’s a Milecastle, needless to say every mile, to guide you on your way but they are Roman miles and so the wall itself covered 80 Roman miles.
The northern frontier of the Roman Empire was entirely built by the soldiers of the legions, mainly from local stone or sometimes of wood and earth ramparts. When it was complete it had a maximum height of about fifteen feet and was about ten Roman feet wide (about 3 metres). There was a walkway along the top so that the troops could look down on the heathens to the north. Not that there wasn’t trading between the two and there were several gates along its length and lots of industries developed along the route to service the soldiers and their horses. So, it was a bustling and thriving place literally in the middle of nowhere. To one side of the wall was a large defensive ditch called the vallum. The whole edifice took about six years to complete and it is estimated that it was home to around 9,000 soldiers in its heyday.
I remember an item on the local television news when curators from the Great Wall of China came to visit to compare notes and they had a look of bemusement on their faces. Where is the wall? Well in places only the foundations survive underground and in sections it only rises to about two feet this is because the stones were used (stolen) by the locals to build buildings after the Romans left for several centuries. Not just local farmsteads mind you but massive places like Hexham Abbey. If you go down into the crypt today you can see some of the original stones and carvings.
So, don’t be put off. People still do the walk because of the outstanding scenery thereabouts and there is enough of the wall left in places to get some idea of how the soldiers, lived, ate, drank and died. Oh, and there will be enough different types of weather in a single day to satisfy even the most budding of meteorologists.
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