As we walked on the rocky pebbled path through the mist strewn countryside of Northumberland, I thought to myself ‘I finally made it.’ A portion of the wall began to form through the fog in the distance, and though the hill was steeper than I had imagined I pushed through with a smile. I was in the presence of 2,000 years of history, in the most unlikely of places. Hadrian’s Wall has been a destination I had dreamt about visiting for years, and it was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.
The trip to Hadrian’s Wall was arranged by English Heritage for our group of history-loving travel bloggers who had attended the Traverse 14 Blogging Conference in Newcastle. We left bright and early to drive through forgotten villages and dramatic rolling landscapes in England’s most Northernmost county. It amazed me to see pieces of the wall jutting out of pastures, blending in with the sheep and fields as if they weren’t built by Roman soldiers two millenniums ago.
Hadrian’s Wall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and an incredible reminder of the engineering prowess and power of the Roman Empire. It stretched over 80 miles, from the Salway Coast in Cumbria to the town of Wallsend (fitting I think) near Newcastle. Fifteen thousand men spent six years building the wall, and their everyday lives can still be explored at the various sites along the wall.
Over the years, the wall began to disappear. It’s stones were used for roads, and the rest was slowly taken over by the lands. Luckily, in the 1930’s a man by the name of John Clayton stepped in and made it his life’s work to preserve, research, and document this extraordinary site. Today the site is maintained by the English Heritage and the Hadrian’s Wall trust- although the future of the latter is now uncertain after this week’s news.
We visited two major sites along the wall, Housesteads Roman Fort and Chesters Roman Fort- both very impressive and surprisingly intact. Housesteads is about half-way down the wall and is one of the most well-known sites left over from the Roman Empire. Here you can walk along the former barracks of Roman soldiers, see an ancient toilet, and take in the panoramic views of the strikingly gorgeous countryside.
Chester’s Roman Fort is a two-part visit including a fantastic Victorian-era museum and the best preserved Roman cavalry fort in the UK. The museum is very special as it gives visitor’s a unique look at what a typical Victorian museum would have looked like. The artifacts lining the walls are from the collection of John Clayton and display the many sculptures, inscriptions and Roman knick knacks he found during excavation.
The fort itself was used for around 300 years and is a great place to see what life would been like for the soldiers. There are well-preserved bath houses, spa rooms and office quarters, overlooking a beautiful flowing river. I really enjoyed exploring this site in particular, but admittedly got sucked in to the calming river for far longer than I should have.
I can’t tell you about my visit to Hadrian’s Wall without a mention of one of the fantastic English Heritage guides. When I first saw him, I figured he was just a fun prop for visiting kids. It turned out he was an archaeologist whose costume was a historically accurate representation of a Roman centurion. I really enjoyed speaking with him, and it really added to the experience.
My visit to Hadrian’s Wall was easily one of my most memorable trips in England so far. I was so happy that my built-up expectations of the site were not only met, but far exceeded. If this one isn’t already on the bucket list, I would suggest you add it stat.
Have you been to Hadrian’s Wall? I’d love to hear about your experience!