A Journey to England to See Hadrian’s Wall

Happy August, everyone! I swear time flies faster and faster every year, and this year feels worse than others. Today I want to share the last stop on our tour into the Scottish Borders. We ended our Heart of Scotland Tour at Hadrian’s Wall, the part that I was most looking forward to when the day started. It wasn’t just because of the numerous Donald Trump and Game of Thrones jokes I was able to make (which was a lot, I’m a regular comedian). Before we left I had looked up pictures of the Wall, expecting it to look like a miniature Great Wall of China. While it didn’t quite live up to those expectations, it was still a pretty great addition to our trip.

Hadrian’s Wall: An Amazing Feat of Engineering

By AD 100, Roman army units were found along the Tyne-Solway isthmus in Britain, thanks to Julius Ceasar and his Gallic Wars. Emperor Hadrian visited the northern border of his empire in AD 122 and the result of his visit was his famous Wall.  Original plans included a wall made of stone or turf with a guarded gate every mile or two and observation towers in between. It was to be 4.6 meters high and 3 meters wide, with a deep and wide ditch fronting it. It was later decided to include forts in the plans; these would be found every 7 1/3 miles and house one single army unit. Once the forts were added to the plans, walls were narrowed to 2.4 meters to speed up the building process. A Vallum was built on the southern side of the Wall as another level of defense.

In total, 15,000 Romans and locals built the wall under six years.  Hadrian’s wall spans almost 80 (Roman) miles (73 miles) across the UK. The eastern most 30 miles were built of turf, but the rest is stone. For almost 300 years this was the demarcation of the Roman Empire and the north. Once the Romans left England, the wall was mostly dismantled by local farmers to build their farm buildings, pens and other borders. What’s left of the wall has been labeled a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1987) and is now maintained for visitors to see.

Hadrians Wall Close Up
It’s so uniform!
Hadrians Wall from up top
Looking down on the wall from the top of a hill. You can see how wide it was.

Pretend You’re a Roman on Patrol

We stopped along the road to snap some pictures, but the main attraction was Housesteads Roman Fort. Alternatively known as Vercovicium this fort is the most complete, and best preserved, Roman fort along the Wall. You can still walk around the entrance gates, barracks, bakehouse and bathhouses, among other areas. Housesteads was built 1,900 years ago as a fortress on the frontier of the Roman Empire. It was set at the top of an escarpment, allowing the soldiers a commanding view to the north as well as to the south. They could see Scotland and any dreaded barbarians as well as their own backyard.

Hadrians Wall Housesteads
Housesteads Roman Fort, looking down from the to top of the Wall.
Hadrians Wall Housesteads 2
Housesteads Roman Fort
Housesteads Roman Fort 3
You can see the wall in the distance.
Housesteads Roman Fort 5
At one point, this was a bakehouse.
Housesteads Roman Fort 4
The entrance into Housesteads. This looks in from one of the gates.

People Can Walk the Entire Length of Wall

Not only can you go and visit some of the original forts, but you can actually walk the entire length of the wall via the Hadrian’s Wall Path. While we were driving along, we saw plenty of hiking parties: people out with their dogs, groups of young adults, and families walking along the wall. In about six or seven days, experienced walkers can complete the trail; there are plenty of lodging and camping options to spend each night. Doesn’t that sounds pretty awesome? The Path is the only walking trail that goes from coast-to-coast and follows a World Heritage Site the entire way.

Hadrians Wall Path Sign
The Hadrian’s Wall Path signage.
Hadrian's Wall Path
Part of the pathway. We saw people along this section eating lunch before heading off again.

A Firsthand Account

One thing that stood out to me was that there wasn’t just one wall. Actually, there was one Wall, but plenty of other walls alongside it. Because farmers borrowed (read: stole) bits and pieces of the wall for their own uses, there are a lot of other walls. And they all look pretty similar, at least to my untrained eye. Granted, once you see Hadrian’s Wall, you realize what you’re looking at; I had a pretty good laugh at myself when I realized how silly it was to confuse livestock walls with the Real Deal.

After gathering your tickets at the entrance, it’s a bit of a walk to get to the museum, fort and wall. It’s a bit of a steep incline which wasn’t suitable for the older ladies in our tour group. But the walk up the hill was definitely worth it. You had a commanding view of the countryside on both sides of the wall. There’s a great museum at the top complete with a video and interesting finds from Housesteads. This fort is so special because of the extensive excavation that has gone on in and around it.

But I came to see the Wall. So, we cruised through the museum and made a beeline for the top of the hill.

At Housestead, you can walk on top part of the wall, instead of just next to it. We walked a few feet of the wall and took some pictures. It was a nice moment to just sit and look north. We turned away from the wall and walked through the fort, enjoying the signposts while it slowly started to drizzle. Truth be told, we didn’t spend that much time actually enjoying the wall like I thought we would. I expected to be taken aback by the astounding beauty of the place. While it is beautiful, it wasn’t as amazing as I thought.

But of course, I was still reeling from Melrose Abbey, so maybe it wasn’t the walls fault. Have you ever looked forward to something that left something to be desired? I hope I’m not alone!

Hadrians Wall
“I’m gonna build a great wall.”
Hadrians Wall again
“On the Wall, a man gets only what he earns.”

Final Thoughts

That’s all she wrote, folks! From Hadrian’s Wall we drove home, stopping once in Jedburgh to stretch our legs and a second time to take in the views from Scott’s View (named for Sir Walter Scott). The tour was wonderful, full of history and interesting details, plus personal touches from our guide. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. I can’t recommend this tour, and tour company, enough. Tell me what your favorite guided tour moment is! I love not having to plan an entire day, but rather show up and sit back while someone else tells me where we’re going and why it’s important.

I hope you enjoyed heading into the Scottish Borders with me. Our adventures will be take us back to Edinburgh for the rest of the week. This weekend was not only Ryan’s birthday, but also J.K. Rowling’s birthday, which we also celebrated by spending a morning checking out her old haunts. I hope you’ll join me for a post all about Harry Potter inspiration!

Suz

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