HADRIAN'S WALL


Hadrian's WallOne of the most spectacular Roman sites in Britain is situated in the romantic, windswept north of England. The Wall, as it is often called locally, was built after the Emperor Hadrian visited in 122 AD and saw the need for greater security. Hadrian’s Wall was part of his wider policy of strengthening the empire from within, a departure from previous emperors who sought to expand the empire. Although it is often said that the wall was built to keep out the barbarians of Scotland, it was actually a clever means of controlling trade and the movement of people.

The wall extends 80 Roman miles or 118km and there was a milecastle, which controlled traffic either way, every mile or so. Between these milecastles, there were 158 turrets spaced out at every one third of a Roman mile. Milecastles and turrets were numbered so that they acted like an ancient GPS, allowing a soldier gauge where he was along the wall. This amazing programme of construction was largely completed in about 6 years – a testimony to practical and logistical prowess of the Romans.

The best preserved parts of the wall today are in the south of the Northumberland National Park, where you can also find Housesteads Fort and Vindolanda, but it is possible to walk the entire length of the wall and see not only handsome reminders of the might of Rome but also some beautiful landscapes.

Arrival
Hadrian’s Wall stretches from Wallsend on Tyne in east to Bowness on the Solway Firth in the west and the line of defence continues – although to a lesser degree - some way beyond that.

Many choose to walk along the wall and there are some excellent resources online to help you choose your path, for example here or here.

For those less willing or able to make the trek, summer (actually, roughly April-October) brings the Hadrian’s Wall Country Bus AD122. This excellent service runs from Newcastle Central Station to Carlisle with connections to Bowness on the Solway Firth. A timetable can be downloaded here.

 



Birdoswald Roman FortThere are some interesting sights around the town of Haltwhistle  (pop. 3,815) with plenty of ruined castles and houses fortified against the Border Rievers (raiders consisting of both English and Scottish families). The town claims to be the geographical centre of the island, as does Dunsop Bridge in the south, but, whatever the truth, it is certainly a good stopping off point while exploring Hadrian’s Wall. 

Layout
Haltwhistle is situated on the north bank of the South Tyne River. The train station is at the end of Station Road and beside the river. There are bus stops outside the station and also along Westerley Terrace and Main Street. Hadrian’s Wall Bus AD122 leaves from the Market Place 7 days a week from April till October: check if the bus is stopping at Birdoswald as only every other service does. There are other local services too and the Hadrian’s Wall Bus AD122 timetable also has relevant local bus numbers: visit here.

Sights
Harrow’s Scar Milecastle 49 and Wall [Near Irthing Gorge, free entry] is a well-preserved example of the Roman frontier. When it was excavated, an altar dedicated to the god of the woods, Silvanus, was found.

A short 400m walk east is the Birdoswald Roman Fort [+44 1697 747602, Adults £4.80], possibly known to the Romans as Banna, and now one of the better preserved forts. There is a visitor centre with artefacts and interactive displays and a regular programme of events.

Located near the Roman fort Magna is the Roman Army Museum [+44 1697 747485, Adults £4.50, with Vindolanda entry £9] which has a big range of replica weapons, armour, and chariots as well as some real artefacts from Vindolanda. Check out the Join the Roman Army film.

Finally, if you’re Roman-ed out, take a look at the Holy Cross Church [Near Market Place, free entry] in Haltwhistle. It’s the oldest building in town, dating back to the 13th century, but the real attraction is the beautiful stained glass windows made by the Pre-Raphaelite Edward Burne-Jones.

Hotels
Chare Close B&B [Castle Hill, Haltwhistle, +44 1434 322789, £50-65] This little place is good value for money. The rooms are simply furnished but comfortable and the owners are very hospitable and friendly.

Walltown Lodge
[Greenhead, Brampton, +44 1697 747514, £30-40 per person] Brilliantly located near the Roman Army Museum and a short walk away from Hadrian’s Wall, this B&B is a gem. The rooms are nicely furnished but the views out the window are magnificent.

Centre of Britain Hotel [Main Street, Haltwhistle, +44 1434 322422, £35-55 per person] Stay in the very centre of Britain and experience good service and hearty breakfasts. The hotel is set in a historic building which still retains its 15th century pele tower against Border Rievers.

Holmhead [Hadrian’s Wall, Greenhead, +44 1697 747402, £36-9 per person] Holmhead was actually built with stones from the wall –indeed, some of them are inscribed - and it stands on wall foundations. It’s ideal for hikers as its on the Pennine Way.

Kellah Farm Cottages and B&B [Haltwhistle, +44 1434320816, £56-64] The rooms here are named after the Roman forts but there isn’t a great deal to distinguish them from one another. Still, the rooms have pretty pastoral views that make up for the distance from town. 

Ashcroft Guest House [Lanty’s Lonnen, Haltwhistle, +44 1434 320213, £39-44 per person] Charming individually furnished rooms and a beautiful terraced garden.

 


 

 

 


Vindolanda Roman FortT
he beauty of Vindolanda [+44 1434 344277, Adults £5.90, with Roman Army Museum £9] is in the everyday material excavated from here, giving us a wealth of information largely absent from traditional historical narratives. The prize find was the collection of writing tablets, dating to before Hadrian’s Wall was built and now housed in the British Museum. However, it is still possible to view some of these, as well as infra red photographs of the more interesting letters, in Vindolanda’s own excellent museum.

 

 




Housestead's FortVercovicium
or Housesteads Fort [+44 1434 344363, Adults £4.80] is the best preserved Roman fort in Britain. At its height, it housed around 1000 auxiliary infantrymen and, long after the Romans had left, it was reportedly the base for Elizabethan border reivers. In this impressive site, situated dramatically atop a ridge, the foundations of the barracks, the commander’s house, and even the flushing latrine can still be seen.


Chester's Roman Fort reliefC
ilurnum or Chester's Roman Fort [+44 1434 681379 , £4.80] is the best preserved Roman cavalry fort in Britain. It was built to guard the nearby bridge across the River Tyne and housed around 500 cavalrymen from Spain. The baths in particular have maintained some of their features such as the changing room with niches for statues of the gods. 

 

 

 

 

 



Hexham AbbeyThe market town of Hexham (pop.11,100) is Tynedale’s regional centre for shopping. Its farmers market, held every second and fourth Saturday of each month, is well regarded for the quality of its produce, all of which is local.  

Layout

Hexham is on the south bank of the River Tyne. Most tourist sites are situated between Hexham Park and the river. The main bus station can be found at the memorably named Priestpopple, one of Hexham’s main roads. Priestpopple proceeds north and becomes Station Road, where you will find the train station situated near the river.

Sights
Hexham Abbey [+44 1434 602031] was a monastery founded by St Wilfred in 674 and built in part using stones from Hadrian’s Wall or Corbridge. The beautiful current building dates mostly from the 11th century on but considerable work was carried out in the 19th century.

Dating to the 14th century, Hexham Old Gaol [Hall Gate, +44 1434 652349, Adults £3.95] is oldest purpose built gaol in the country. There are interesting exhibitions not only about the criminals who inhabited the gaol but also the Border Reivers.

Hotels
Carraw B&B [Military Road, Humshaugh, +44 1434 689857, £80] The rooms are named after famous Hadrian’s Wall forts and the house itself is built on Wall foundations. Comfortably furnished rooms and large, hearty breakfasts.

Langley Castle Hotel [Langley-on-Tyne, Hexham, +44 1434 688888, £79.50-137.50] This 14th century castle has been renovated to provide luxury accommodation but it still retains its historic atmosphere.



Roman soldiersThe quaint village of Corbridge (pop. 3,500) was built on the nearby Roman garrison town of Corstopitum: that is to say, many of the village buildings including the church and the Vicar’s Pele Tower were constructed using stones from what was, appropriately enough, a Roman supply town.  

Layout

Corbridge is located on the north bank of the River Tyne. Its Main Street and Market Place are in the south of the village, close to the river. The train station is across the river on the south bank along Station Road/Tinkler’s Bank. Buses into the village can be found outside the station. To reach Corbridge Roman Town, head west along Corchester Lane for about 1km or go to Hill St and catch Go North East bus 687 towards Hexham – the ride takes about 2 mins.

Sights
Corbridge Roman Town
[+44 1434 632349, £4.80] or Corstopitum was established in around AD 85 as a supply base for further advances north. Situated on the intersection of Stanegate Road and Roman Dere Street, this fort later grew into a bustling town of shops, temples, and well stocked granaries. The museum today houses a number of interesting artefacts such as the 3rd century Corbridge Lion, a vivid statue of a lion crushing a deer underfoot.

Hotels
Priorfield Bed and Breakfast
[Hippingstones Lane, +44 1434 633179,  , £62-8] Priorfield is a short walk away from the village centre but on the other hand it is closer to the Roman Town site. The rooms are lovingly furnished and have relaxing garden views.  

Wheatsheaf Hotel [St Helens Street, +44 1434 632020, £99] The Wheatsheaf is excellently located in the centre of Corbridge. The rooms are nicely decorated but the highlight has to be the delicious pub food.