Hadrian’s Wall Day V – Brocolitia to Chesters

Limestone Corner

Our final day on Hadrian’s Wall. We caught the early bus from outside the hostel. The sunshine had returned and picking up from Brocolitia the landscape felt more welcoming with the sun on it. Our steady ascent continued until we reached Limestone Corner, where the ditch which accompanied the Wall is very evident, and also a jumble of large limestone boulders. Shortly beyond the boulders there’s a trig pillar….

Trig pillar, Limestone Corner 

The Wall had been noticeable by its absence for a while, but as you drop away from Limestone Corner there’s a couple of lengthy, impressive sections.

Following the Wall again 

At Black Carts turret we stopped briefly for a drink and a snack.

Turret and Wall at Black Carts 

Dropping down into the valley of the North Tyne we found ourselves in a new environment; for much of the last three days we had walked over rough moorland and sheep cropped turf; we were now passing through hedged fields, some of them full of vegetables. We watched four buzzards circling above a small copse. The national trail diverted considerably from what my book and map led me to expect, but fortunately it was well sign-posted.

We’d only a short walk to reach the fort at Chesters and with our early start we were there soon after it opened. My original plan would have had us arriving at Chesters the previous afternoon and starting again from there rather than Brocolitia. Because we hadn’t, my intention to walk out to Hexham was now a little in doubt. Already slightly leaky, my plan now foundered on the children’s activities on offer at Chesters. For two hours the kids were royally entertained by three young English Heritage employees. They were encouraged to think like archaeologists. They examined replica Roman household objects and guessed their purpose. They participated in a mock dig and then tried to decide from the odds and ends they had found what kind of person had owned them.

Roman Legionary A 

They dressed as Roman soldiers…

Roman Legionary B 

And although B looks very serious here, they were both thrilled. Finally, they acted out some tales of Roman life.

By the time they’d finished, we were ready for some lunch, which we bought from the little cafe on the site, and ate at the picnic tables outside. The sun was still shining, but it was extremely sticky and to west the sky  was black. Sure enough, our meal was seasoned by a dash of lightening and a soupcon of thunder. I thought we would have a sprinkling of rain too, but it never really materialised.

I’d already had a swift tour of the fort whilst the kids were archaeologising, but naturally, they wanted to have a gander themselves. The forts on the Wall all seem to have a similar layout. A perimeter wall with gates at each point of the compass. And within: some barracks…

Barracks 

A principia or headquarters, the administrative and religious centre of the fort. At Chesters this contains an underground strong-room…

The strongroom 

…currently flooded. This is where the payroll would be stored, When this was excavated a studded oak door was still in place and some denarii were found on the floor.

Next to the principia: the commandant’s house. At Chesters this building was refurbished at some point, with the insertion of hypocausts for under-floor heating, and the addition of a small bath-house.

Personal bath-house at Chesters 

Usually there are granaries too, but at Chesters there’s just a grassy space where you might expect to see those.

Just outside the fort, where the Romans bridged the River North Tyne (you can just about make out the Wall and the hint of a bridge abutment on the far bank)….

River Tyne - Roman bridge abutment and continuing Wall just visible 

…is another bath-house. This is so well preserved that, for once, it’s relatively easy to imagine the building in use, and to understand what those uses were.

Chesters Bath-house and River Tyne 

I could picture Romans undressing for their baths and dumping their togas in these alcoves…

Changing room in the bath-house? 

…washing away the cares of the day in a hot bath…

Enjoying a hot bath 

…and relaxing in a hot room….

In the bath-house - a hot room 

The gaps between these flags reveal a fairly substantial space below: the stoke hole…

Stoke hole 

Of course, A and B just had to have a crawl in there. B emerged with a handful of small bones and the conviction that no archaeologist had ever ventured into the hole, “Because they are all too frightened.” (If anybody from English Heritage wants any of those rodent bones, B has them all in his bedroom.)

There’s something about squeezing into a cramped spot which appeals when you’re young. Here’s A in a water channel beneath the North gate…

A water channel 

We caught the AD122 for the last time, just outside the entrance to Chesters. Clearly not everywhere had avoided the rain like we had. The bus was awash both inside and out. Our luck continued to hold-out whilst we had drinks and an ice-cream outside the cafe by Hexham bus station, and long enough for us to be inside Hexham Abbey when the heavens finally opened.

Hexham abbey 

On the left of this picture the large stone in the even larger alcove is the tomb-stone…

Memorial to Flavinus, Roman standard bearer. 

…of Flavinus, a Roman standard bearer, who is depicted riding his horse over a cowering Britain. Since the rain showed no signs of slackening, we repaired to yet another cafe. Cake for the kids, endless cups of tea for me and a quick lesson in Pontoon. (They both had a flair for going bust.)

A well-earned slice of pie

We’d arranged to meet TBH ‘somewhere near the Abbey’ so were delighted to see her pull-up right outside our cafe. She’d come through flash floods on the A69, it seemed we’d had a very lucky escape. Which seems like an appropriate note on which to end, since that’s how I shall remember the whole trip: a very lucky escape.

Now, let’s start planning our next escape….

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Hadrian’s Wall Day V – Brocolitia to Chesters

9 thoughts on “Hadrian’s Wall Day V – Brocolitia to Chesters

  1. Cracking read mate, what a truly great adventure for the kids to enjoy and look back on. L might take some convincing but I’m pretty sure D would absolutely love this. I remember thinking you could be in for a grim time when I saw the weather forecast but as you say you got lucky.

    Can we come next time please Uncle M, Pleeaaase!

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      History and walking? – right up D’s street. Naturally, I’d be delighted if you joined us. I’ve always thought that if a few of us went then the kids would probably cheerfully walk twice a far as they might otherwise. I have an idea about a walk which links together a few castles, but my worry is that the possible accommodation along the way is too spaced out.

        1. beatingthebounds says:

          That would be good. Here’s an oddball suggestion – the Derwent Valley Way in the Peaks. Ladybower, Chatsworth, Matlock Baths, then all the industrial heritage heading down towards Belper.

  2. I will admit that when I did the Pennine Way, the Hadrian’s Wall bit was my least favourite section – perhaps because it happened to be very busy that day or maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood. Surprising really, as I do like a bit of good history stuff now and then. You, however, make it look like something not to be missed! Looked like an excellent route for the kids too, with plenty of interesting things along the way to help keep their minds off the miles they were walking.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      When we did it, I think my Dad hated it. But we had a long way to walk and we found it exhausting. I can only reiterate that this time around I really enjoyed it.

  3. Limestone Corner is an area of Hadrian’s Wall (and assosiated defenses) at its most northerly point. It therefore also represents the most northerly point of the Roman Empire , outside the two periods during whech the Antonine Wall was occupied by the Roman military . Other notable features at Limestone Corner are the wall ditch at this point, which was never completely excavated, a Roman camp, and the site of Milecastle 30 . Also present is a trig point .

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