On one of our most recent weekend trips we went to the Walltown Crags and Roman Army museum (along with a crucial stop at a tearoom for tea, delicious cake and advice):
Things we learnt:
- Apparently it is possible to enjoy consistently good weather at Hadrian’s Wall after all
For the first time in several trips to Hadrian’s Wall we had good weather all day! This Sunday we were very lucky as the sun shone all day although it was very cold, with frozen ponds and frost being present. This was a definite improvement on previous visits involving varying degrees of rain and, once, flooding requiring an alternate route!
- There will be frontier sheep:
Throughout our walk up to, along, and away from the Wall, there were consistently frontier sheep of varying colours, sometimes seeming to challenge us on who could be on the path! Luckily they moved on before we reached their position so all was okay.
- Even when Dr Phillippo herself is not present, adventurous routes will still be taken:
Although this particular trip was led by Dr Claire Stocks, due to Dr Phillippo being away, we still took routes of which she would have approved. In order to access Thirlwall Castle, we scrambled up a steep and slippery slope. While descending the same way, it took effort to ensure we didn’t simply slither to the bottom. At other points, we clambered over stiles even when gates were available. Nevertheless, Dr Stocks made sure that we followed ‘health and safety’ regulations!
- Sadly there’s no treasure to be found at Thirlwall Castle:
At Thirlwall Castle, Dr Stocks informed us of legend that there was treasure hidden somewhere around the site, along with secret passages. Sadly, despite a quick search we managed to uncover neither of these. Nor did we run into any ghosts, in spite of rumours that the castle was haunted.
Thirlwall Castle was built at a time when the border disputes between England and Scotland meant that living in such a location could be fairly dangerous and as such was a fortified building, protecting its residents. It was built around the 12th century although it was added to over the years. It also happened to boast a prison.
- The Wall was some kind of vanity project:
In various places (including the Walltown Crags section), Hadrian’s Wall is built at the top of a rather high cliff. Less because the Romans needed to have a six-foot high wall at the top of a cliff to keep people out, than to show that they could build one – even if that wall was built at the end of the world, as the British Isles were seen by the Romans. This was also a prestige project for Hadrian, so that no one would get ideas about assassinating him if he spent his time on expanding the Empire.
In any case, with various gates along the Wall and forces regularly stationed beyond it, the Wall was less an attempt to keep people out (or in, for that matter), and more akin to Ancient Roman Border Control. That is, it was more a method to control movements rather than to halt them altogether.
- 3D Cinema can be found even at the end of the world:
Within the Roman Army Museum, along with having the opportunity for lunch (a nice and warming soup, considering the frostiness of outside) and to wander the museum itself, we were also invited to watch their film.
This film was a short, twenty minute affair, entitled ‘Edge of Empire’. It concerned the life and training of the soldiers and how the Wall and the forts surrounding it may have looked. The film followed the life of one of the soldiers posted at the Wall and an eagle who, of course, provides us with an “eagle’s eye view” of the area, including the fort of Magnis/Carvoran.
The café area of the museum also provided “food” for thought. On the wall is a pictorial representation of records detailing the whereabouts and status of the men stationed at the fort. This includes things such as illness and absence. From this record, it is clear that a large number of men were, at the time, away from the fort, some of whom were in Gaul. It is strangely specific in some ways since, although some men are simply listed as being ill, others are revealed, specifically, as having conjunctivitis.
Overall, we had an excellent day led by the lovely Dr Stocks, in which we learnt many things (such as how to navigate slippery slopes without losing our footing) along with enjoying delicious cake, before managing to safely return to Newcastle for a good night’s sleep!