“Why Hadrian’s Wall?” you ask. I’ve been interested in Roman history and the great leaders that amazing culture produced for many years. A few years back I was in Rome and saw Villa Adriana, Hadrian’s villa outside of Rome, which thoroughly enchanted me. When we began planning this trip we decided to see England first and make our way north to Scotland. I wanted to stop along the way and visit Hadrian’s Wall.
Many people commented that “it’s only a pile of rocks” in barren fields in the middle of nowhere. I was told that every farmer and builder in Northumbria used stones from the wall to edge their fields and construct their homes and churches. Despite all this negative input, I continued to plan to not only see the wall, but to lodge by it, and to visit Roman sites in the vicinity. I’m so glad I ignored all the nay-sayers because seeing the wall, standing upon the wall, and visiting the fascinating sites nearby, has been the highlight of my trip.
What most interests and amazes me is the enormity of the task the Romans undertook: to build a wall that traverses, the breadth of the country from Carlisle Castle on the west to Tynemouth Priory and castle on the east–73 miles stretching over hilly, craggy, rough, and wooded terrain sparsely populated by local inhabitants who had few resources other than what the land provided. There weren’t any cities or bountiful fields or livestock available to the Roman soldiers stationed in the area. Their first fort, Vindolanda, was built of wood in about 80CE well before Hadrian’s legions arrived in the 120’s. Extensive archaeological work has gone on at Vindolanda for the past forty years.
Hadrian was interested in consolidating the Roman Empire not growing it. To hold the northern most part of the Empire he directed 20,000 troops to Britannia to build a military complex and a wall dotted by forts situated at one mile intervals along the length of the wall. These soldiers created an extensive complex, raised livestock, cultivated crops and built relations with the surrounding people. The original wall was 15-20 feet tall with a ditch on either side. The flat-bottomed ditch on the south side of the wall was called the vallum. On the north side of the wall, the sentries gazed out at the land of the Picts.
In some cases, Roman women lived within the fort complex. There is a fascinating tablet recovered at Vindolanda from Claudia Severa inviting Sulpicia Lepidina to a birthday celebration. This is the oldest extant written communication by a woman to a woman found in Britain. An amazing discovery–a treasure. It is remarkable to imagine women carrying on activities that traverse culture, time and boundaries.
We stayed at the Vallum Lodge which is about 200 meters from Twice Brewed pub and the Visitor’s Center in Once Brewed. Our hosts were warm and helpful. They have lived in the vallum for generations. The lodge included: chickens, ducks, two dogs, a rooster, a pony and three youngsters. Many of the folks we met there were walking the wall–sometimes 10-12 miles/day. Not much late night revelry among this group!