Sunday, July 23, 2006

Hadrian's Wall

We spent this morning exploring the history of Hadrian’s Wall, first at the Roman Army Museum and then at nearby Vindolanda. The Army Museum has an engrossing ‘Eagle Eye’ film, which combines aerial photography and CGI reconstructions to give you ‘then’ and ‘now’ views of the wall and supporting fortresses. Ironically, the museum building is itself built out of stone pillaged from the wall in the eighteenth century.

After the museum we walked up to the wall itself. It was a bit of a hike, but very picturesque when we got there; with the wall snaking along the top of some crags. We got the obligatory photos before heading back. As we were trekking back down the crags Jim commented on the barrenness of it all, noting that if Hadrian had built a wall like this across Texas there’d be a chair-lift up to it, a roller-coaster back down again and a hot-dog stand at the top. I’m sure he was right, but I’m glad that they haven’t done that here.

The discovery that makes Vindolanda worth visiting is the stash of written material recovered there; everything from personal letters to duty rosters and inventories. It has given us a huge amount of information about daily life in the Roman Empire around the 4th/5th century. The modern site has a museum covering a lot of the written material and some physical reconstructions of buildings, notably sections of the wall, as well as the actual fort itself laid-out in well-labelled ruins.

We didn’t really have time to do Vindolanda justice as it was getting late and Jim was tiring already, so after a brief look around we grabbed a quick lunch and got on the road home.

The Northeast of England is nowhere near as well connected as the Northwest; you can travel to Glasgow by unbroken motorway from either Exeter in the Southwest or Folkestone in the Southeast, but if you want to go Northeast the motorway runs out at Leeds and then you are on narrow, winding, roller-coaster A-road occasionally broken occasionally by a stretch of the motorwayed A1.

We wasted a lot of time in convoy behind tractors and slow-moving bulk haulers as we drove south but did eventually make it to the M1. Just as on the way up, there was a major accident ahead of us which closed the motorway for several hours, but again we were able to navigate around it without much difficulty (Let’s hear it for GPS!)

We stopped at some services for dinner and I made the mistake of trying Wimpy’s take on KFC. Ugh; some kind of a crisp spicy batter over chicken absolutely dripping in oil! I eventually gave up on the chicken and just ate the fries, as they were without doubt the healthiest part of that meal!

We eventually made it home at around 8:30, unloaded the car and then I ran it up to the Avis office car park to avoid the Congestion Charge in the morning. I SO enjoyed climbing into bed when I got home!

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