Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Wall (of Hadrian)

Hadrian's Wall, England


Lanecost Priory
The first stop on our Hadrian's Wall tour was this priory. It was constructed mostly out of stones stolen from Hadrian's Wall, and a local reddish stone of a lesser grade. Two things that stood out: there were some carvings still visible in the rocks from the original builders (they looked like the symbol of the free masons), and there was a tomb dedicated to a baby. As babies died frequently in those days, no one is quite sure why this particular baby got such a dedicated burial.

This picture shows two things of interest: the square shaped Milecastle, and the difference in the wall between the inside and the outside ( at least I hope you can see it in this picture). 
Milecastles were so named because there was one along the wall every mile or so. Here, Roman lookouts made sure no one was trying to get across when they weren't supposed to. There were also smaller watchtowers that occurred more frequently and were smaller in construction. 
The wall itself was quite thick, and was made very sturdy in the middle by what appeared to be jumbled rocks of varying size stuck together with that notorious Roman concrete. Then, square rocks that looked like large bricks were stacked along the outside (on both sides) seemingly for appearance. The stacked ones along the outside were stuck together with concrete as well, but they did seem to either fall down easier, or have been stolen by nearby landowners for their own use, because the middle is what has survived better. 

This was at a place called Cawfields Quarry. Here it can be seen that the wall is three bricks tall in the foreground, and four tall further along. I took to counting the height of bricks at different places. The highest I counted was 14 (above ground at least) at a fort called Housesteads, which I discuss more later.
We had dinner here on our first day of exploring the wall. We had planned to do the whole thing in one day but took our time with it. I'm glad we did, as the two best parts of the wall were yet to come.

The Sycamore Gap
We came to this place from the bizarrely named Steel Rigg. I don't know if Rigg is some sort of old English word for 'hill', and steel used to mean 'nice', but I saw no steel and no rigs here. The walk to the sycamore was hilly. It was constantly up and down hills, along very narrow stone steps. I'm not sure why the Romans were so determined to build the wall here, because it seemed like a bit of a hassle. However, this bit of the wall was some of my favourite. The cows must have liked it too because there was poo everywhere, even on the wall itself in one place. The wall went on for ever, it seemed. In some places it had been covered by tall grass and in others it was seven and a half bricks high. If it hasn't been quite so hot that day, we could have walked further along the path, but as it happens we stopped not long after this photo and turned back. The cows watched our progress.

Housesteads Fort
This was an amazing remnant of the Roman times. The photo above shows a communal lavatory. In the middle are two wash basins for cleaning the hands. The two ditches on either side would have had wooden seats along them, and people would have sat with their feet in towards the middle. Their waste would have fallen into the ditch below to be washed away by the sewer system they had going. It was reliant on rainwater, but there were reserves that they kept in other parts of the fort so that in times of low rainfall, it wouldn't get too smelly. 
There were also barracks, of which only two of perhaps twenty or so survive. The largest building of all was the head honcho's house. It was even larger than the 'headquarters', where all the soldiers and the commander discussed militaristic things. His house had a stable inside it, a decent sized bedroom,  a nice courtyard, and its own toilet and bath area. So he must have been a very important guy. 

In this picture, I am pretending to be a loaf of bread, because I am sitting in what used to be an oven. There were several bakeries in the fort, and that one was the best preserved. 
As well as all the stuff inside the fort, there was a small town outside it, on the safe side of course, with the fort protecting it from the invaders in the north. This is where it is thought that many girlfriends of the soldiers lived, and where there were quite a few other shops that they could spend their hard earned money at. 
After Housesteads we went straight across the border to Scotland, and things got a little bit more Stone Age.