Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Walking The Wall Day Two

We started off at Steel Rigg on our second day walking towards Housesteads. Hadrian's Wall was indeed the 'Edge of Empire' when it was built. It stretches coast to coast from Bowness-on-Solway in the west to Wallsend in the east, a distance of 73 miles. It was built on the orders of the Emperor Hadrian and was begun around 122AD. Although both the height and width varied from place to place it was roughly 10ft wide and 16-20ft high. The building was done by the soldiers of all three of the occupying Legions - the Legio II Augusta, Legio VI Victrix Pia Fidelis and Legio XX Valeria Victrix. Roman Legions contained skilled craftsmen including surveyors, masons,blacksmiths and carpenters. They had plenty of experience at digging ditches as well - at the end of every days march they would have to set to and build a marching camp before they could start thinking about making a meal or getting some sleep. The life of a Roman soldier was not for wimps! They certainly got plenty of experience of digging ditches on the Wall as all the way along it to the north ran a deep V shaped ditch which was up to 3 metres deep in places. The only places where there was no ditch was where the steep crags made it unnecessary.

All along the Wall at roughly one mile intervals were gates each defended by a small guard post known as milecastles. This one is Castle Nick milecastle which is built in a dip in the landscape. In between each mile castle were two turrets which acted as observation posts.

My own photo of Sycamore Gap is rubbish so I've borrowed this one from here. I saw this view from the road but wasn't able to stop and take my own photo. It is, apparently, featured in the 1991 film 'Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves' and is now known as Robin Hood's Tree! And, yes, it is as steep as it looks:)

Another of the stunning views to be had as you walk along this section of the Wall.

We're actually walking on the Wall here rather than beside it. This is looking back along the way we've come and we are beginning to drop down towards Housesteads Fort now.

We're still pretty high up though.

I'm not sure how excited most of you will be able to get about some ruined walls but this building was in its day the central and most important building in the fort. It was the Principia which was the administrative and religious centre, the legionary standards were kept here and it also housed the strongroom where the soldiers pay chest was kept.

This is the fort's hospital, it's built around a courtyard (the grassy bit) and to the right you can see the walls of the small rooms where ill and injured soldiers were cared for. The area between the courtyard and the wards was a covered walkway which went around all four sides of the courtyard. The Roman army took great care of its soldiers, all the men were trained in first aid and some specialized as doctors or orderlies. Every unit had medical staff who were highly trained in surgery and the treatment of wounds and they also had knowledge of pharmacy and medicines. You might find this level of care surprising but the Army played a crucial role in the Roman Empire so it was necessary to keep the men as fit and healthy as possible.

This one of the granaries, the stone pillars supported a timber floor to help keep the grain dry and vermin free. The basement where the pillars are had ventilation holes in the side walls.

This truly was the Edge of Empire, Housesteads is unusual in having Hadrian's Wall as the north wall of the fort. Behind me as I took the photo was the Roman Empire, ahead of me on the other side of the wall was the untamed country of the barbarians!

Here you can see the Wall snaking on down the hill and then up and over the steep ridge ahead towards Chesters but I'll leave Chesters and Vindolanda for another day. I thought some of you might be interested in the following description of the end of a long days march for a Roman soldier from the site of Roman Britain! There's a great deal more about the Roman Army here for those who would like to know more.

 The Roman marching camp was constructed in the following manner:

 The area would be scouted and the best site chosen. The centre of the site would be marked by a flag; this would preferably be placed at a point slightly higher than the surrounding topography. The camp engineer would take sightings using a single groma - a simple instrument which allowed the efficient sighting of right-angles - placed at the designated centre, and the positions of the intended gateways would be marked by other pairs of marker flags at measured distances paced out from this central point. Upon the arrival at the camp site of the bulk of the force, each unit would move to its assigned position within the marked-out area and would dump its gear. The strongest and most experienced centuries would be first, and they would march through almost the entire length of the marked out area before turning aside and making camp; in this way the most experienced troops were set to work on the defences nearest to the enemy. Every eight-man contubernium in each century would assign each of its members to different tasks: If the camp was made in hostile territory, a proportion of the force would be used to form a defensive cordon around the remainder, who would prepare the encampment. The bulk of the force would be used to construct the camp defenses, usually comprising of a single ditch and an inner bank formed from the ditch outcast, with a row of staves implanted in the top of the bank. If there were sufficient men, the defenses may be more elaborate, perhaps built of stacked turves. Whilst the heavy construction fell to the rank and file, under the watchful eye of their centurions, some legionaries were excused the dirty work and as a consequence were termed immunes (Latin immunis, free or exempt from...). These would be required to perform the less arduous tasks; clearing the camp interior, unloading baggage, erecting tents, cooking dinner, tending horses, etc. The first half of the force would already be employed building the forward part of the camp by the time the commander arrived and took up position at the centre. He would probably begin with a meeting of all centurions and officers to discuss any immediate defensive problems. During the time that it took the rearward half of the force to reach the encampment, most of the defensive circuit would already have been delineated by a bank and ditch.


Dog Trot Farm said...

Only in my dreams could I imagine such a wonderful and informative trek. Thanks for thanking us along...

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

This is splendid - I am enjoying every step. The photos are amazing.

Mary said...

Amazing hike.................wish was younger and could come over and do it.

When in the LAKE DISTRICT in 2011, we enjoyed Hardknott Roman Fort nr. Hardknott Pass in Eskdale, 9 miles NE of Ravenglass. Bob was enthralled by the whole thing of touching the Roman built walls etc. I breathed in the fresh air, amazed at the stone walls running for miles across the farmland, and the stunning scenic views - magnificent.
Have you been to that one Rowan?

Great post and such a lot of always teach us so much, thank you.

Hugs - Mary

George said...

Loved the photos. I, too, missed that great photo at Sycamore Gap.

Unknown said...

I will be sharing this with the boys! They make pretty good Romans! What a great trip x

Rosie said...

That really does look like rugged walking and as you walked you must have imagined what it might have been like for those marching soldiers. It must have been a very harsh life for them but it sounds as if they were treated fairly well:)

Lynda (Granny K) said...

Thank you for the interesting post. Those Romans must have felt very far from home.

Diane said...

I was 15 years old when I visited this area - time for a revisit I reckon. I love the Romans xxxxx

Thimbleanna said...

So Interesting! I have so many questions -- is the wall still continuous? If a modern road comes crosses the wall, do they bridge over it? Your photos are wonderful -- thanks for sharing them!

Rowan said...

You can follow the whole length of the Wall on the Hadrian's Wall Footpath and a good deal of it is still visible to a greater or lesser degree. I think that in the urban areas od Solway on Bowness and Wallsend it tends to disappear under buildings but no roads cross over it as far as I know. I don't know it well though so could be wrong about this.

Mac n' Janet said...

Though we've been to the Wall before and visited Birdoswald your visit is making Mac want to do some walking up there before we get too old.

Louise said...

A really interesting post, I enjoyed your photos :)

I'd love to have done Classical Studies. I never had the option and now I really don't have the time to investigate the possibility but maybe one day, it is something I'd love! I'd like to walk the wall one day too.

Louise said...

Gorgeous photos, I really enjoyed this post :)

P.S. sorry, I accidentally left my comment on 'part one' on this post, so I've commented twice here and not at all on the other. The first comment here was in reference to part one!

Patricia said...

Thanks for sharing this Rowan, it's been so interesting. Amazing photos.
Patricia x

Sandi@ Rose Chintz Cottage said...

Another interesting post, Rowan. You asked about my tea biscuits. They would be considered the same as England's scones. I also bake scones but when I make mine, I add more sugar as well as fruit; raisins, currants, dried fruit, etc. with some spices. Sometimes I cut them into triangles. Thanks for your visit.


Shane Pollard said...

There's a lot to be said for being invaded - especially by the early Romans - their architectural knowledge and building skills still evident today!

How interesting to have the remains of an early hospital - their soldiers received very special care in those times.
I'm glad I wasn't undergoing surgery then however without anesthesia.

A fascinating post and your knowledge of the history is wonderful - thank you Rowan.