In order to make our training walks for the West Highland Way trek a bit more interesting, we’ve been trying to choose some different routes and where possible do a bit of sightseeing too. Last week we took a walk along a section of Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland.
Unfortunately the day we chose to do this was the day that Storm Doris hit the UK, bringing with it strong winds, rain and sleet. This didn’t put us off though, we just put on our waterproofs and went to experience some beautiful landscapes and Roman history.
Keeping out the Barbarians
Hadrian’s Wall was built during the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian who began his reign in 117AD and ordered the separation of Roman and barbarian territories. That’s right, if you were from Scotland and the far North of England you were a barbarian! The wall used to stretch from Wallsend in the east to Solway Firth in the west and was studded with milecastles, turrets and forts.
We started our walk at the remains of one of these forts, Housesteads. This is the most complete example of a Roman fort in Britain, and was built around the same time as the wall. The weather being what it was meant that there were few visitors today, making it even more difficult to imagine that these remote ruins were once a bustling fort housing 800 soldiers as well as a supporting village. The photographs that I took do not do justice to Housesteads, but there are some amazing aerial photographs on the English Heritage website, which better show the scale and layout of the fort.
Winter is here!
From Housesteads we headed west along the Hadrian’s Wall path. The path is well marked but the section we followed is mostly grass trails, meaning that they were extremely muddy and slippery in the storm. At one point following the path above Crag Lough, the wall and path follow the edge of a sheer drop. At this point the weather was gusty, and fortunately the wind was blowing us away from the drop and not towards it or we would have has to turn back.
Watching the wall snake through the countryside made me think about the conditions under which it was built and how difficult it must have been to complete such a monumental build in six years.
After an incredibly ungraceful scramble and slide down a steep rocky incline we reached Sycamore Gap. This is a point where Hadrian’s Wall follows a dramatic dip and a single sycamore tree stands in the gap. Some of you may recognise this as one of the film locations used in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. One advantage of walking is such bad weather is that we had it all to ourselves!
Although we had originally planned to walk further, it seemed wise to turn back at this point as the weather took a turn for the worse. By the time we returned to Housesteads we were covered in mud and quite happy to get back into the warmth of the visitor centre there. Despite the weather it was definitely worth the visit and I’d highly recommend it.