The big trip

Trip of the week: walking into the past on Hadrian’s Wall

This year marks the 1,900th anniversary of the ancient wall

Stretching across Cumbria and Northumberland, from coast to coast, Hadrian’s Wall formed the northwest frontier of the Roman empire for almost 300 years. This year is its 1,900th anniversary: the Emperor Hadrian came to Britain to build it in AD122, says Sean Newsom in The Times.

Although parts of the wall have been lost down the centuries, its remains are still visible across significant stretches, and in recent years, archaeological finds have shed light on the lives of those who manned it. A single day is not enough to do it justice, so go for a long weekend, basing yourself near its central stretch.

Once a principal supply centre, the ancient town of Corbridge has a museum that features excavated remains including two “mighty” granaries, and a water trough with U-shaped depressions formed by countless people leaning in to fill their buckets.

But the wall’s greatest “archaeological wonder” is the fort of Vindolanda, where ordinary articles, such as wooden loo seats and hobnailed boots have been found, perfectly preserved in the wet, airless clay, together with writing tablets of the kind that were routinely used by the Roman army, but which have rotted away elsewhere. You can read about plans for birthday parties, and orders for turnips.

Today, food is easier to come by in these parts – and some of it is excellent. You might stay at Hjem, a Michelin-starred restaurant-with-rooms, and sample the “melt-in-the-mouth” lamb at the Matfen Hall hotel.

But on a trip like this, a touch of asceticism is called for: try a long walk along the wall to get “a taste of its rigours as it rollercoasters over the crags”; and visit Housesteads Fort, which provides a glimpse of “the frontier as everyone pictures it – high, remote and tormented by an almost continuous wind”; this was a “remorseless” posting if ever there was one. 

For accommodation, see crabtreeandcrabtree.com and restauranthjem.co.uk, and for anniversary celebrations visit 1900.

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