Hadrian’s Wall – Day 4 (hitting the Wall)
It’s the third day of the Walk, but before that epic journey recommences we are Vindolanda-bound, having been assured by everyone who has ever been up here that it is a ‘must see’ place. Sadly it appears only two breakfasts are provided this morning (we are later to discover Sandra Pt1 found the third in her oven when attempting to insert the dinner into it). Being the magnanimous, self-sacrificing, unselfish hero I am, I volunteer to forego the reheated protein and ‘make do’ with cereal and fruit (and don’t let on that I might actually prefer this option anyway). After all, our overfed cake-eaters Brave Heroes need their energy to keep going; litre flasks of tea and large slabs of James’ special made with love Wall Cake notwithstanding.
Fed, watered, farewells to our Bunkhouse mates said (assured by Sandra Pt1 that TONIGHT we would have the place to ourselves, though we triumvirate are now wary of promises made by the natives who merely seek to appease invaders such as we) we set off for Vindolanda. Oh, how very worth the visit it is.
I have been immersed in history already, but now I can see it coming to life before my eyes as the visitor can watch the delicate, absorbing and patient craft of the archaeologist uncovering the artefacts, later to be used by researchers and historians to create vivid pictures and stories and bring the past to life. The site is the largest I have ever seen, and the beauty of the setting merely enhances the magic. There is a sense of the past informing the future more than at any other historical site I have visited.
Our excited adolescents Brave Heroes rush off ahead of me (“ooh look a fort!”); they have not visited such sites yet this week, having been tied to Hadrian’s Wall which whilst immense and awesome in itself, does get a bit, well, samey. They have also bonded (“you don’t know maaaan, you weren’t there!”) in the face of threatening animals and violent uprisings of shoe-stealing quagmire and cow poop. I am with them, but not with them. It’s joyous to watch them; our Brave Heroes are history addicts, even more so than I.
In fact, the site is so big we are here for slightly longer than expected, which will have a detrimental effect on our future, fool-proof plans. But I digress…
From the entrance, where we are shown a model of how the impressive Roman settlement would have looked and teased with pictures of what has been and continues to be unearthed here, we walk past a fountain, Clavdivs bust (how rude!) and a headless Venus (limbless, headless, does the poor woman not have a complete statue anywhere?) and out into the dig. It is clear that I will be getting more exercise today than I have had all week which may also be a reason our Brave Heroes accelerated away to explore, leaving me behind. That, and I have already seen a Fort, museums, cathedral, towns and other people, and all they have seen is a ruined Wall and aggressive wildlife. Plus, they got to play in a fort. I am pleased that I am finally getting really good use of my walking boots, bought when we were the OP of 5 and I was to join the walk one day. Not to be, although I am determined to at least see the Wall this week!
Eventually I caught up with them and after much exclaiming at the view we wander down to the museum, where I obey the rules not to take photos despite SEVERE temptation and gawp in awe at the sheer amount of artefact that is being unearthed since the dig started over 30 years ago. It’s incredible. Tools, coins, pots, weapons, clothes, bones of all types, writing on tablets from all over the world to those guarding and living by the Wall, carved masonry; anything you can think of, it was there. My personal favourite was the letter from a woman inviting people to her birthday party. Not that exciting, you might think, but it is the earliest evidence ever found in Europe of a woman’s writing. It is proof of female literacy, and tells the tiniest story of a history of a gender which is not that well covered in general, and is first-hand evidence in the woman’s own voice. Major history/feminist happies!
We discover a cafe. Actually, we discovered it before the museum but I’m trying to make myself look all intellectual and in-it-for-the-history, so we’ll gloss over the fact food became far more important. Our cake addicts Brave Heroes will be walking later, so feel it essential to eat the most massive slices of cake they can (to be fair, all the slices were that big) to ensure blood sugar is sufficiently cardiac inducing elevated that collapsing in a heap face-first in a bog/cowpat* (*delete according to hilarity of image) is not a mishap destined to happen. Shame. That would have been a good photo.
A quick trip to the shop later and we meander back through the landscaped garden which itself contains a variety of mini-museums in various reconstructed buildings and I leave our Brave Heroes to contemplate their navels absorb the atmosphere. We had spied the Temple of the Nymphs, and Rufus Baronicus wished to make offerings. Wordus Nevynicus too, but I imagine his would be in thanks. Or for salvation!
Having only managed to absorb the first half of the dig and remains, we return to see 16-seater latrines, roundhouses, watercourses, taverns, butchers, townhouses, and finally actual real-live moving archaeologists working. RB falls instantly in love with a very fetching titian historian and WN tries to break in falls a little more in love with history.
Enough though. Our Brave Heroes must begin their walk again, and I am to deliver them to the drop-off point which is actually called Steelrig. I will be meeting them, it is finally decided, at the Roman Army Museum about 10 miles (by road, as our spacially challenged Brave Heroes keep insisting; it’s longer when walking the Wall) away. It is the shortest distance they will be walking all week (I am secretly very impressed by them, am proud they are fulfilling and ambition and pleased I can be part of it, but don’t tell them). About three hours, it is reckoned. Time for me to visit the Temple of Mithras, chill at the Bunkhouse, and meet them there. We have bought tickets for the Museum already. We should be able to go round that later, and then they can walk the whole of tomorrow, making it to Carlisle on Friday. Easy. Fool-proof. Sensible forward-planning again. Nothing can go wrong.
The Temple of Mithras is just off the main B-road which follows the route of the Wall and has been my, admittedly beautiful, straight-line of sleep-inducing monotony recently. Into a lay-by we park, where there is a parking meter (!) and a ‘Man with a Van’ coffee shop. The coffee is unexpectedly good. Into a field, round a lump of earth fort earthworks (they are everywhere, it’s like the north was infected with a bad case of Fortitis) and there appears, seemingly out of and in nowhere, the Temple of Mithras. Even now, very little is known about the Mithran cult. Very little information is here; this is history by sensory perception. Our lucky bastewards Brave Heroes had walked almost right past this place yesterday, and had stopped to marvel also. For such a small site, it makes quite an impact.
Back to the Bunkhouse I am astonished to be informed by Sandra Pt1 that we will, in fact, not be sharing the Bunkhouse tonight. It is our last night in the Bunkhouse, so it is a treat that we will be able to pack and have our omelettes (which I foolishly offered to cook, forgetting that I am really not very good at omelettes) to ourselves. A bit of a relax later and I am off to pick up our Brave Heroes. I take a book because, after all, we can’t be exact on these timings and they may be a bit late, possibly even half an hour.
Two hours later, I am wishing I had availed myself of the Bunkhouse facilities before leaving. The Museum had closed almost an hour earlier. I am alone in the car-park where signs indicate I may be fined as I did not set foot inside said museum. I tried moving to the road opposite, but in my panic attack slight worry I misread ‘dead end’ for ‘no entry’ and end up blocking a very minor country road to the vexation of a gentleman in a very large black Land Rover. Back to the museum car-park, hoping against hope our overdue scoundrels Brave Heroes will return soon. Mobile contact has been sporadic but not non-existent, so I know they are not far away. By the time they arrive, it is vital I get home to the Bunkhouse. Leather has already been tanned once, it doesn’t need it again. Sadly, desperation does not make me the most welcoming of holiday companions; I wonder, is it possible to become completely anti-social after such a short period of time? We will not be touring the Museum tonight, tomorrow now. The walking time is reduced again, they have less time so some law of physics or another says they can cover less ground. Even during the holiday, the holiday is not turning out as planned…
We spend a happy evening, uploading our photos, shooting the breeze. Discussion occurs during a smoke-break (held in the laundry room at Sandra Pt1’s insistence due to the strong winds/occasional rain; the smell of chemicals creating a disconcerting feeling in us) as to future walking plans. I leave mid-way through so do not hear the conclusions which leads to a misunderstanding of epic proportion tomorrow morning; but that is for the next blog. I, I am sad to relate, do not cover myself in roses in the incident, but plead excessive solitude in mitigation, m’lud. No jury would convict. However, as that revolting character who makes my fists itch, would say, “tomorrow is another day.” Maintaining my record 4 nights running, I am first to retire.
End of Day Four.