A Merry Time In Old (And New) England — Part 3

Last week was uber busy with getting a big mitigation report out for one of our work projects. That really limited my time to visit other blogs, so I hope you’ll forgive my shorter-than-normal comments or apparent absence. It also meant I didn’t spend as much time with my PerNoReMo as desired, but I hope to make better progress this week. So today we’ll finish up the travelogue posts from my September trip to England with “The Walk” along a chunk of Hadrian’s Wall.

My husband and I didn’t do the full route. There just wasn’t time, and frankly, there’s not much to see of the Wall on the western and eastern ends of the route. So with limited time, we did a “best bits” section from near Corbridge to Brampton, which was still a nearly 40-mile stretch of walking in four days. We also took one day off from walking in the middle of those four days to spend a full day at Vindolanda, an incredibly well-preserved Roman fort and village with ongoing archaeological excavations.

We started out from Corbridge with a visit to Corbridge Roman Town, which predates Hadrian’s Wall and was not only a fort but a major distribution center for goods going to the forts and other defenses in the area.

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After spending the morning at the site and museum, our taxi (graciously reserved by the previous night’s B&B host) arrived to take us to our starting point for “The Walk” at The Portgate, north of Corbridge. I took a great photo of my husband at the stile to enter the field, but the one of me is terrible, so you’ll just have to imagine us climbing over the field wall to get started.

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We didn’t reach the first stretch of visible wall until later in the day, but the stone walls that divided so many of the fields were built mainly from stone from Hadrian’s Wall. Why quarry new, when you have high quality supplies at hand?

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The drizzle stopped soon, but the day stayed cool and gray. But who could care about that when the countryside is beautiful and the Roman ruins add an air of ancient mystery?

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At the end of the first day, about eight miles of walking, we reached the outskirts of Chollerford and visited the ruins of an old Roman bridge before heading up to our next B&B at Humshaugh. We could see Chester’s Fort across the River North Tyne and snapped a few photos, but everyone told us our time the next day would be better spent walking to better-preserved sites.

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So the next morning, we set off again, walking the route with two American brothers who had stayed at the same B&B. It was fun to have company that day, even for two introverts.

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The countryside was so different from what we’re used to seeing in suburban DC.

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And really, there’s no place in the US where you can visit a Mithraeum—a temple dedicated to the god Mithras. Hikers along the wall still leave offerings at the altar. My husband (in the dark clothes below in front of the altar), left a coin and a request for some sun. While I don’t have the photos to prove it, we really did get some sun while we stayed at the Mithraeum for lunch.

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This second day of walking was reportedly twelve miles. But all four of us were convinced that was only as the crow flies. The actual ups and downs had to make it longer! So we couldn’t spend too long at any one place and continued our westward trek to see Housesteads Roman Fort that afternoon.

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And more walking to make it to our next B&B before dark. Yes, that’s me in the purple shell.

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Of course, some of the steepest parts of The Walk were at the end of the day when we were all exhausted.

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Fortunately, the next day was ours to spend at Vindolanda, one of the best preserved Roman sites in the world.

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Soil conditions at Vindolanda allow for amazing preservation of organic material, which often doesn’t survive for archaeologists to find. Basketry, leather, and most spectacular of all, wooden tablets on which letters were written, have all been recovered. Any trip to Vindolanda must include its museum, where so many of these artifacts are on display.

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After the day at Vindolanda, we had another two days of hiking. However, if you’re not an archaeologist, one turret starts looking like another, as do the mile castles. So, we’ll leave Northumbria with a final image.

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We were exhausted by the time we reached Brampton for our final night before the trip back to London and then home. But while I’ve enjoyed all of our vacations, this one was the best to-date for me (and I suspect my husband, too, but he doesn’t like to play favorites). Someday, we’ll go back and see more of the country, I’m sure.

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Hope everyone is doing well and—for many of us in the continental US—surviving this plunge of far too early polar air!

49 thoughts on “A Merry Time In Old (And New) England — Part 3

    • It was impressive, especially for a couple of archaeologists. 🙂 The mist and gray skies of the walk were what we expected. The sun and near-80 temperatures in London are what really threw us! We didn’t bring warm weather clothes, so we found ourselves wishing it would cool down.

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  1. Your photographs are fascinating, thank you for sharing them. I’m sorry the British weather wasn’t kinder to you, but we do get excited when we see blue sky!
    I hope to visit Hadrian’s Wall one day. I’ve walked part of Wade’s Causeway which is interesting and in similar countryside – parts of that were used to build stone walls in the area.

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    • Well, it was sunny and nearly 80 in London, so we didn’t mind a bit of a cool down. 😉 Luckily, the only truly rainy day was our last one of walking, and that wrapped up soon after lunch. A nice lunch of warm soup at Lanercost Priory really perked us up, too.

      Humans can be practical (and maybe a bit lazy 😉 ), so I can’t really blame later folks for “pillaging” those “now meaningless/unneeded” features for building materials. If I had to protect myself against the rievers, I’d probably make use of Hadrian’s Wall, too! I hope you’ll get to enjoy the walk someday. It’s really beautiful—and great exercise.

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  2. Experiences like this must be intriguing for archaeologists. So many interesting historical sites. I’ll have to stop back later when I get back to my hotel room. This tiny phone doesn’t do justice to these great pics!

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    • You should be focusing on your conference and the sights in New Orleans! 😀 And there are some amazing restaurants in that city—if you can put the calorie count out of mind. As cold as it might be down there, remember—it’s a heck of a lot better than most points north!

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      • That’s true. Much colder for my guys back in Ohio. Tomorrow New Orleans is supposed to get back into the 60s, so I’ll have one nice day before I have to head back.

        Was nice to come back and see your photos on my computer. They’re wonderful. I would love to visit that area. As for the animal with the horns, I bet his vision’s still better than mine, especially after a long day…

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        • For a relatively small country, there’s so much to see in England. And I admit, the lack of a language barrier makes it all the more enjoyable. 😉

          There were a few rams that had extra curly horns like this one, and I’ve never seen anything like them before. So wild to see up close! But yeah, years in front of a computer screen have done a number on my eyes. Two astigmatisms led to progressive lenses. 😛 And I have a pair of traditional bifocals from computer work and reading. Wonderfully attractive, right? But they do lower the eyestrain significantly!

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          • I love my progressive lenses. It’s my contacts that fall short. Can’t see distance great with them; can’t see great close up. Pretty soon I suspect I’ll be in glasses all the time. At least I’ll save money on contact supplies…

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            • I could never do contacts. When I was younger, they really weren’t designed to do much for astigmatisms. But more importantly, I could never put something like that in my eyes. Moisturizing drops are hard enough. 🙂

              The progressives are great for normal wear, but I was starting to have trouble with them for computer work. The “mid range” lens area probably isn’t large enough to be comfortable for more than a few minutes.

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    • England’s a fabulous place for a vacation, and I really hope we can get back there someday. Until then, the photos are nice reminders of a wonderful trip. Even if the sheep and cows weren’t all that interested in us. 😉

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  3. Beautiful countryside. Imagine all the people needed to build that wall–wow! Thanks for sharing your photos–makes me feel like I’m on a few minutes vacation before diving into work this morning.

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    • Soldiers in the Roman Empire spent most of their time on work projects rather than fighting. So they’re actually the ones who did most of the construction work. Auxiliary troops, who comprised the bulk of the army in Britannia, were from conquered areas and sent to lands farther from their own. It was an effective way to reduce the risk of rebellion. So many of the men who built Hadrian’s Wall and the various forts were from areas now in Belgium and Central Europe. But soldiers in the area could have come from as far away as North Africa. I suspect that’s where the trace amounts of North African DNA in my husband came from. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Dianne! How that fellow can see his surroundings is beyond me! Of course, there aren’t any natural predators about, so maybe good peripheral vision isn’t all that important anymore. But I know it would drive me nuts. 😀

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  4. Nice photos of the peaceful countryside and ruins. I wish I could say I could walk all those miles, but I couldn’t do it. I’m blame it on being older than you. Did you stay at B&B’s overnight or camp? Have you ever been to Machu Picchu? The sound of that place fascinates me, but again, I don’t travel well. Sigh. So glad you got to enjoy this lovely trip.

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    • I bet we’re closer in age than you think. I want to appeal to a broad age range, so I don’t give specifics here on the blog, but I recognize a lot of your cultural references to your school days. 🙂 We stayed at B&Bs and a small inn on the trip. We’ve never been big on camping, especially when the nights can be cold. Okay, we’re wimps.

      I haven’t been to Machu Picchu, although I know some folks who have. It’s a major trek to get there in very rare air. Everyone is amazed at the experience, but I don’t think I’m up for that much adventure these days. A really good virtual reality system would be great for seeing those places we’ll never get to visit physically, wouldn’t it?

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      • Well, if we’re close to the same age, there goes my excuse for not walking all those miles you walked. I guess I have to admit I’m out of shape and lazy. 😛 Virtual would work for me. I’d love to see Machu Picchu, but don’t think I could stand the trek.

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        • If I lived in Florida, I’d find it really hard to exercise in that heat and humidity. It’s bad enough in Maryland in the summer. Although, we’re in the midst of record cold highs and lows just now, so some of that warmth sounds kind of nice…. 😉

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  5. I’ve enjoyed this post very much, along with all your others of your visit here! Really interesting, especially seeing places I’ve never seen before – I guess it’s the same in the US, people haven’t necessarily seen all the sights of interest in their own State. Hope you do come back again!

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    • That’s so true. I grew up not far from Chicago, but I rarely visited there while I was growing up. And yet it’s a great city with fabulous museums, theaters, restaurants, and the like. I’ve probably spent more time there now that I’m living in Maryland than I ever did living in Illinois!

      We really want to see more of England on another trip someday. And Canterbury is one of those places we’d love to visit. 🙂

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  6. J, these are beautiful! I so envy you for getting to visit and view these amazing places. Talk about history. Tell me, does the air FEEL different? It must with all those souls who’ve walked those paths before you. Thanks for sharing them with us — I adore the sheep/ram pics–they have such expressive eyes.

    The polar air has reached the south and it’s feeling all holiday-like outside. It’ll be 72 by this weekend though but still, the cold does give us a great reason to use the fireplace. 😉

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    • Absolutely the air feels different. When you see those ruins, it’s easy to imagine all the people who came before and lived their lives in those places. And it’s not just the Roman ruins. There are remains of old farmhouses, churches, castles, and manor houses from so many periods of history. We just don’t have anything quite like that anywhere in the States. But just how that ram could see anything with those horns is beyond me. 😉

      We’ve topped out at 32 today and hit record lows in the teens last night. 72 for the weekend? We’re looking forward to mid-40s, which is still about 10 degrees below average! But I hope you’ve enjoyed sitting before a cozy fire with a good book or your husband. 🙂

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  7. Going the “Best Selections” route is probably a good idea on a short time frame.
    While the locals are yawn about it all from continual exposure, this stuff – wall , fort, landscape – is so cool. Just standing there is so cool. (People got bored with me and the Roman ruins/remnants/artifacts in Spain)
    You just feel something standing there, right?
    Totally wonderful post.

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    • You definitely feel something even just standing there. Even though the people are gone, there’s something that remains in the landscape, especially when it’s not terribly altered from those earlier times. I think those soldiers who patrolled the wall would still recognize much of the country today if they could see it.

      We’d love to go to Spain one of these days. So many places to see—so little time (and funds!). Luckily photos are a great way to supplement the memories. But a return trip would be even better.

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  8. JM, what a wonderful trip. There is something about ruins and ancient places that hold me to the spot as though those who trod there before are right there with me. I loved England and longed to see outside of London besides the view from the train window. I’ll do it again.

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    • London is wonderful, but I highly recommend seeing more of the countryside, too. With all the new construction in London, it might just be losing some of that “older air.” But other cities like York, villages, and rural areas still hold so much of it. It’s funny how all the locals complained about the rail service, but it was amazingly good from our perspective. I don’t think the English could believe that American train service is as bad as we said!

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    • You get to go back that soon? You are so lucky! 🙂 The scenery in Northumberland was absolutely breathtaking for me. The panoramic setting on my S4 got a heavy duty workout there. If you can spend some time at Vindolanda, be sure to check out their museum. Corbridge Roman Town also had a good museum and impressive ruins. And then there are ruins of old houses and churches and beautiful standing buildings. Stunning!

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  9. Pingback: Around the Archaeology Blog-o-sphere Digest #10 | Doug's Archaeology

  10. I can only imagine what the “good luck” symbol looks like. How funny you can’t post it on your blog! I love the photos. And wow, even if you had never mentioned you were in England, I think I’d know it in a heartbeat. Just about all of your pictures screamed England to me. Especially the one of you walking along on a foggy day. 🙂 I must do a trip like yours with my kids. I think they’d have fun — but they probably wouldn’t be allowed to climb the ruins, huh? 😉

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    • Well, guys are focused on certain parts of their anatomy at times…. So I bet you can get a good picture in your mind. 😉 While the wall itself isn’t supposed to be climbed or walked on, the excavated forts are in good shape, and you can go into them. So the kids could definitely have some fun with them! We saw quite a few kids having mock fights and running around to their hearts’ content. So if something like this would fit into a vacation, I’d say go for it!

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  11. I’ve watched many documentaries on Hadrian’s Wall and Vindolanda and after reading and seeing your pictures, I want to see them even more so! Fantastic pictures 😀
    The Romans did love their phallic symbols, the most interesting one I saw was a doorknocker at the Naples Museum that was found at Pompeii. Their collection was quite extensive too ;D
    Thank you for sharing your trip JM.

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    • If I remember correctly, archaeologists have also recovered groupings of them that would have hung like wind chimes outside the front door. Somehow, I can’t see that catching on as a style in our modern world. 😀 I know I keep saying this, but I would definitely recommend all the places we visited to anyone heading to England. And definitely, if possible, taking a few days to really walk the countryside. There’s no better way to see the land and the people.

      Hope you’re having a great weekend!

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  12. Thank you for reminding me of a delightful book, James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small.” But you’re right, that’s Yorkshire!

    As an archaeologist, you must’ve gotten a big kick out of the all the Roman history. For whatever reason, despite their heavy presence in Europe, I haven’t seen a lot of the old Roman architecture (except in Italy, where they have an entire CITY full of Romans). The thing is, I could go a million times and never see everything I wanted to see, and that’s the great thing and the tragedy of travel. But you already know that.

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    • There was a point in high school where I thought I’d be a vet—and it was all because of James Herriot’s books. Then came the night I was babysitting at a neighbor’s house, and their dog was going into labor. So not only was I minding the kids, I was checking on the dog to make sure everything was going okay. It was. But the process was enough to make me realize I didn’t have the stomach for any kind of medical work. Good thing I learned that fact before applying to vet schools!

      Finding the Roman architecture in Europe can be hit or miss. Some countries have far better preserved ruins (and more of them) than others. England is great for them. I think we also expect to see the huge monuments in Rome. After all, that was home and the power base. So for me, it’s more impressive to see what those legions were up to on the distant frontiers. The forts, towns, baths, palaces, and such that you can see at the end of the world in a place like England really speak to me about the power and influence coming from the Mediterranean. Of course, that is the archaeologist in me speaking.

      One human life just isn’t long enough to see it all, is it. But that shouldn’t stop us from traveling and enjoying what we can see.

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