Post 153: 13 April 1997: Day 9 Acomb Youth Hostel to Once Brewed Youth Hostel – 15½ Miles
Today was the highlight of the walk as we reached, then walked along the finest section of the Wall. As we passed through the fields and lanes, we had time to reflect on what it must have been like for the Roman Legions marching towards the Wall. We started to feel a sense of excitement as the wall, situated on some of the highest land in the area, drew closer. We arrived at Wall, a forgotten village, described in few, if any, guide books and yet having a delightful church, a fine aspect above the River North Tyne, two spacious village greens and a close proximity to Hadrian’s Wall. Its very name excites whoever walks this way to the Roman Wall, as it signals the arrival is imminent.
At last we reached Brunton Turret 26B – the Roman Wall. This was a place to rest awhile for, not only had we reached Hadrian’s Wall after 114 miles of walking, we had reached the highest stretch of the Broad Wall to be seen and perhaps the best preserved turret on the Wall. To the west of the turret, the Wall was constructed in its broad gauge 10ft (3m) wide, whilst on the eastern side the Wall was in its narrow form of 8ft (2.4m) wide. The turrets rear wall of eleven courses stands some 8ft (2.4m) high. The Roman Wall stretches from coast to coast, a distance of 80 Roman miles or approximately 75 miles. The only other people there were a mother and child and I asked her if she could take a photograph of us on this special arrival ‘on foot.’ She duly obliged wondering what all the fuss was about.
We continued to Cilvrnvm (Chesters) Roman Fort to see the substantial remains of a Roman bathhouse and bridge and a museum displaying many artifacts, from the locality, portraying Roman life. This large bridgehead fort guarded the location where the wall crosses the River North Tyne. The best preserved example of a Roman cavalry fort in the country, at any one time it would have accommodated four to five hundred troops. The museum houses important Roman sculptures, altars and inscriptions, including a bronze tablet, similar to the one found at Ravenglass beach, recording that the ordinary Roman soldier had to serve for twenty-five years before being awarded Roman citizenship. Outside the fort is a bathhouse, this being one of the best preserved buildings of Roman Britain and across the river were extensive remains of the eastern abutment of the Roman bridge. The fort is in the care of English Heritage who provided us with an excellent cream tea.
For the next six miles, it was necessary to use the modern road overlaid on the Roman Wall, although there was much to see and visit to take our minds off the ‘tarmac’ pounding, including the remains of turrets, milecastles, the Vallum, the Ditch, the Military Way, as well as the temple to the god Mithras.
Milecastles were built every Roman mile to protect gateways through the wall, allowing the local population to pass through on payment of a toll in money or goods. Spaced between each milecastle were two turrets, which were used as watch-towers from which soldiers could view the surrounding countryside.
To the south of the B6318, running parallel with it, is the Vallum which is a continuous 36 metre (118 feet) wide earthwork with a central 3 metre (10 feet) deep ditch and flanking mounds. It is thought that it provided a defensive boundary along the rear of the wall.
Just off the road, Brocilitia (Carrawburgh) Roman Fort remains in the form of a raised grassed area in private ownership; however, English Heritage look after an area around it, which includes the fascinating temple to the god Mithras (mithraeum). The temple has a small ante-chapel, screen, and nave, flanked by benches leading to a temple sanctuary containing three altars; the altars are replicas, the originals being in the Museum of Antiquities, Newcastle. Conventina’s Well is situated to the west of the fort.
On leaving the road, near Sewing Shields, we reached the highlight of the walk as we followed the line of the wall, giving panoramic views of what in Roman times would have been the ‘land of the barbarians’, but is now the Northumberland National Park.
The lake of Bromlee Lough came into view, then soon after we visited Vercovicium (Housesteads) Roman Fort, which boasts some of the finest Roman remains. This is a substantially excavated fort on the dramatic crest of the great Whin Sill, overlooking the Northumberland National Park. It is spread over 5 acres (2 hectares) and, within the confines of the four walls, contains the only visible example of a Roman hospital in Britain and well preserved Roman latrines with a flush system. The granary base is in evidence, especially the pillars that once supported the wooden floors, as well as the ruins of the barracks and headquarters. To the south west of the fort is a museum, which has an interesting collection of finds from the area.
Superb walking above Housestead Crags, Hotbank Crags, Crag Lough, Highshields Crags and Peel Crags eventually led to a quiet lane and the modern, purpose built, Once Brewed Youth Hostel and the National Park information centre. We had retained a ‘little’ energy for the evening visit to the Twice Brewed Inn, conveniently situated only a couple of hundred yards away. A plaque on a windowsill states:
‘In 1745 General Wade (later Field Marshal) passed this way with his army marching to cut off Bonnie Prince Charlie who was advancing on Carlisle. This General stopped at this Inn but found the beer too weak. He had the publican taken away and forced him to brew again.’
We were able to swap stories with walkers doing the Pennine Way, they having completed two hundred and seven miles of their two hundred and seventy mile marathon. One such walker in the hostel was clearly in a state known as ‘The Pennine Trance’, as he didn’t talk to anyone at the evening meal, but sat alone staring into space. After so many miles of barren walking, the condition tends to occur frequently in this vicinity, being confirmed when he failed to arrive at the pub, never to be seen again.
We also met an Australian ‘doing’ Europe in two days. Well actually two weeks. His itinary included Scotland, the Lake District, Wales, the South West of England and Hadrian’s Wall. It is doubtful whether his feet ever touched the ground.
I had read in other walking books that there are Pennine Way groupies in the vicinity of Hadrian’s Wall. These are women, who hang about the campsites and hostels on the path, pick up chaps who are walking the Pennine Way. Such groupies could prove a distraction from the wall; such are the dangers long-distance walkers must encounter. Would the groupies be attracted to Hadrian’s Way walkers? I imagined that this pub could be a regular pick up point, but it must have been their night off as fortunately we didn’t see any!
14 April 1997: Day 10 Once Brewed Youth Hostel to Haltwhistle – 3 miles
The last day was three miles to the official end of the walk but, walking to the railway station at Haltwhistle, a further two and a half miles were added. If catching a train in the afternoon or on the next day then a detour of three and a half miles to Vindolanda Roman Fort is strongly recommended. Vindolanda is one of, if not the most interesting, Roman forts on the Wall and the nearby Chesterholme museum reputably has the best remains of Roman occupation in the old Roman Empire. It houses private Roman documents and correspondence, including descriptions of ‘the wretched Brits’, games, military records, clothing, arms, coins and ornaments. There is also a coffee shop, bookshop and, set in gardens, are full sized reconstructions of a Roman temple, shop, house and a Northumberland croft. To the north of the fort and museum is a Roman milestone, which is the only remaining one in the country at its original height.
A memorable end to a memorable walk!