When in Rome ó or England
Exploring the Roman ruins of Hadrianís Wall
By Marilyn Loeser
Heading northwest from Hartlepool, it took just over an
hour to reach Hadrianís Wall, stretching the breadth of England nearly 2,000
years after it was built. From
Wallsend-on-Tyne in the east to Bowness-on-Solway in the west, the wall is a
73.5 mile monument to what was the Roman Empire.
Hadrian ordered its construction, most likely during his visit to Britain in AD
122. Although Hadrianís biographer wrote the wallís purpose was to keep out the
barbarians, itís also theorized Hadrian wanted to mark the northern most border
of the Roman Empire.
The Wall was a sophisticated piece of engineering.
Milecastles stood every mile along the wall. They are still easily identifiable
as you pass by, traveling along highways running near the wall. Milecastles were
guarded by at least eight men and in between each milecastle were two equally
distanced towers where sentries kept watch, making it easy to monitor movement
of goods, people and animals crossing the frontier. Control was strengthened
even more when large forts were built along the wall, serving as crossing
points. Around them grew civilian settlements. And on both sides of the wall
were deep defensive ditches serving as addition barriers.
By the early 400s, with the Empire in decline and Britain
becoming cut off from Rome, frontier defenses were neglected. Soldiers left,
settlement patterns changed and many of the wall's stones were used to build
houses, walls and churches.
It was only relatively recently that interest in the Wall
as an archaeological monument took place. What we see today is all that remains
of the Roman structure.
Chesters Roman Fort Cilurnum
Our day of exploration began at Chesters Roman Fort
Cilurnum, the best preserved Roman Cavalry Fort in Britain.
Fortunate for history hunters, John Clayton was fascinated
by the ruins. He exposed the fort and established a small museum for his finds
after his father had covered it all up years before in the early 1800s. Johnís
father Nathaniel, then owner of Chesters House and Estate,
the last remains of the fort as part of his parkland landscaping using hundreds
of tons of soil to create a smooth uninterrupted grassland slope down to the
John also made excavations at Housesteads Fort,
Carrawborough Mithraic Temple, Carvoran and other Roman sites, devoting himself
part-time to archaeology.
The Chester site museum today, albeit small, is filled with
relics collected over the centuries. From coins and signet rings to carvings and
tools, the museum is organized and objects are labeled in a way to make it easy
to understand their meaning in the scope of the 2,000 year old British and Roman
Although the day was bitterly cold, the sun was bright and
we walked through areas where soldiers were housed, treasures secure and
meetings held. Itís easy to make out the Commandant's House with its brick
pillars and under floor hot air heating system.
Housesteads Roman Fort
From Chesters, we traveled to Housesteads Roman Fort, the
best preserved example in Britain.
whipped through the grassland as we climbed up the precipice toward the remains.
Built around AD124, itís location in this isolated area adds to the realism of
what took place here.
fortís dramatic position, and the fact it retains much of its original plan,
makes it one of the most visited sites along the wall.
Through the entrance, there is a small museum and gift
shop, and then back out into the winter chill and a short walk toward what was
the original south gate.
Additional wings were built on the original fort in the
third century. By using your imagination and reading information on plaques near
each section of the fort, itís easy to feel the presence of so many souls ó
military and civilian ó spending their lives in or
near the confines of the
Remnants of an advanced civilization making the best of
their lot in the wilderness can be greatly understood by walking among the ruins
of what once were a hospital, courtyard, barracks and houses.
At Chesters, we saw the wall, but at Housestead, we were
able to walk along the top and look north toward Scotland, some 70 miles away.
If you go:
Visiting Hadrianís Wall, my husband and I chose Hartlepool as our base.
Perched on the North Sea and close to major tourist draws, Hartlepool also has
been chosen as the finishing point for the Sail Training International and will
welcome up to 125 tall ships in 2010.
We stayed at the Grand Hotel, situated in the heart of
in 1900 in the style of a French Chateau, guests will find many of its original
features including gorgeous plasterwork, stained glass windows and ornate
For more information check the website at
There is an admission fee at Chesters and Housestead. The
Great British Heritage Pass is your best bet if you plan to visit several
historic attractions. The pass allows entry into nearly 600 attractions in
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland including Hadrianís Wall sites.
For more information check the website
Although youíll need local transportation to visit any of
the wall sites, I highly recommend using BritRail to move around England. For
more information contact your travel agent, call 1-866-BRITRAIL or check the
Back to TravelLady Magazine