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….

Hadrian’s Wall Day V – Brocolitia to Chesters

Hadrians’s Wall Day IV – Once Brewed to Brocolitia

Ringlet

Resplendent in freshly laundered gear we climbed the lane from Once Brewed back up to the Wall, pausing only to admire this very obliging butterfly, which I think might be a ringlet. It was already fairly warm, if a little hazy. We would be back at Once Brewed that night, so the kids were able to leave their rucksacks at the hostel, and despite the addition of their water-proofs to my bag, I was able to lighten my load too.

Back on the Wall - more up and down 

Today’s walk would mostly be more of the roller-coaster ups and downs of the Whin Sill.

The Wall over Peel Crags, Crag Lough and Hotbank behind 

Along Peel Crags, overlooked by Milecastle 39….

Milecastle 39 

…to the famous Sycamore Gap, which, as Hollywood knows, is perched on the outskirts of Nottingham.

Sycamore Gap 

I’d expected this part of the Wall to be busy, but we had it all to ourselves.

Sycamore Gap, looking back to Winshields Crags 

The sun-lit cliff-top walk above Crag Lough was perhaps my favourite single section of our walk. I’ve walked this way before, but I’d forgotten how beautiful it is.

Above Crag Lough 

On the climb up Hotbank we were distracted by what, this time, was unmistakably a ringlet…

Ringlet 

We were revelling in the views. Back over Crag Lough to Winshields Crags with Cross Fell still dominating in the distance…

Crag Lough, Peel Crags, Winshields Crags 

…and forward to Broomlee Lough and the final fling of the Whin Sill at Sewingshields Crags, which we would climb later in the day.

Distant views of Broomlee Lough and Sewingshields Crags 

To me, this is one of the great pleasures of a linear, multi-day walk: the satisfaction of looking back to distant places already walked through or past or over and likewise the anticipation of looking ahead to landmarks on the route to come.

B in a hurry 

So the sun shone. We slowly reeled in Sewingshields Crags. It’s a very simple pleasure.

Roller-coaster Wall 

Every so often the Wall threw in a bit of a distraction to give us an excuse for a pause. Milecastle 38 had been an undistinguished mound in a boggy spot on Hotbanks crag. Milecastle 37 was a little more interesting…

Milecastle 37 

Unlike other milecastles we passed, this retains some evidence of internal walls…

Some interior walls 

…and the remnants of an arched gateway on the northern side.

A hint of an arched gateway 

We did finally meet the crowds, when, at around eleven, we arrived at Housesteads.

Housesteads 

We had a lengthy stop here, to watch a short  film and examine the exhibits at the museum, take a good look around…

Housesteads - a granary? 

…play a bit of hide and seek….

B in a gatehouse 

….lunch on ice cream…

A well-earned ice-cream 

…and cool and dress feet, both children having developed some red spots which suggested rubbing and foreshadowed blisters. Fortunately, a combination of Compeed and surgical tape seemed to do the job and any further problems were avoided.

Soon enough, we were looking back on Broomlee lough….

Broomlee Lough 

..and topped out on Sewingshields Crags, at 325m not much lower then our high point of the previous day.

Sewingshields crags 

From there a long steady descent to Sewingshields…..

The onward route from Sewingsheilds crags 

….is followed by Fozy Moss. A slightly rising path, shadowing the road, took us across rather bleak, featureless moorland. It might have been rather dispiriting. In fact we passed several large groups of teenagers, heavily laden and heading in the opposite direction to us, presumably D of E victims, some of whom were singing to keep up their spirits, and some of whom were openly weeping. It was saved for us, bizarrely, by the fact that we regularly had to negotiate wet and muddy ditches running across the path, which the kids found perversely enjoyable.

At Carraw, where the path diverts slightly away from the road around a farm and a small woodland, the flagged path was bordered with nettles and the nettles were festooned with snails.

Copse snail? 

Rich brown, striped and flecked in pale yellow, I thought they were rather handsome.

Copse snail 

I think that they might be copse snails?

I’d originally planned to finish at Chester’s, but it had soon become apparent that this was much too ambitious. That would have made for a much longer day then any of the others and time was against us. Whether we dawdled or, as I thought we had today, generally kept moving, we seemed to pretty consistently manage a mile and a half an hour. So, we chose a new destination: Brocolitia.

Brocolitia is another Roman fort. There isn’t too much to see – the grassy mound on the right of this picture shows how the unexcavated outer walls look. But outside the fort there is a small temple to Mithras, a god popular with Roman soldiers. The site is boggy and the conditions preserved the timber pillars, replaced now with concrete casts, as have been the three altar stones and a small headless statue.

Brocolitia - Mithraeum

More importantly for us, Brocolitia has a bus-stop for the AD122, which took us back to Once Brewed, where we would eventually get fed and watered and reconvene our card school.

Hadrians’s Wall Day IV – Once Brewed to Brocolitia

Hadrian’s Wall Day III – Greenhead to Once Brewed

Looking Back to Walltown West Quarry

Leaving Greenhead we retraced our steps up to the Walltown Quarries which are just beyond Carvoran and the Roman Army Museum. We were into the iconic section of the Wall now, where it dips and climbs along the hard basalt reef of the Whin Sill.

There’s a fair bit of up and down. In retrospect, I realise that the kids coped very well with it.

Turret 45A, Walltown East Quarry behind 

In one particularly steep-sided trough we were overtaken by a fast-moving, jocular group of four guys. Or rather, a group of three and one straggler. Sweat was pouring off the unfortunate tail-end-Charlie as he pounded past us.

“In a hurry?”, I asked.

“Trying to do the Wall in two days”, he panted.

I suppose that’s one approach.

Undulations 

The clouds had become increasingly dark and threatening through the morning and when we arrived at the car park at Cawfields Quarry it finally began to rain. Although we had a fair accumulation of snacks between us, we had no clear plan for lunch, so it was a great relief to find two ladies selling tea, soup, sandwiches, sausage-rolls and cake from the back of their car (The Pop-Up Cafe). They seemed to be doing a roaring trade.

Lunch from the Pop-Up Cafe 

Their dog joined us whilst we ate, sitting at the solitary picnic table. Apparently there used to be more tables, but they were swept away in a flood. Which was a cheery thought given that it just begun to rain, but by the time we were ready to leave it had stopped again.

Whilst I was faffing about, taking the photo above a weasel, or stoat, ran across the gateway in the background.

Cawfields Milecastle 

Cawfields Crags Milecastle.

Pretty soon the cloud was breaking up, the sun emerged and from that point on it was a glorious day.

Billows of hills 

The Whin Sill is not particularly high, but it’s a great vantage point and the walking from here was truly magnificent. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves….

Wall 

More Wall 

Looking back 

Walltop garden 

Keep right on... 

I think that this….

Whinchat 

…is a whinchat (but as usual, I’d be glad to be better informed). It was unusually calm about our proximity and let us get very close before finally taking to the wing.

This….

Winshields Crags 345m 

…is the trig point on Winshields Crags, at 345m the highest point on the Wall.

Incidentally, Watson’s Dodd in the Lake District is 789m. Has anybody thought of listing hills with consecutive digits spot heights? Baggers everywhere would love it! There must be a book in the idea. Hills of this sort would have to have a name….., hang-on, talk amongst yourselves…..Got it: Consecutive Ordinal Digits Found In Spot Heights.

C.O.D.F.I.S.H.

Tomorrow's walk 

The views ahead to Crag Lough were enticing, but that would have to wait until tomorrow.

Crag Lough 

We headed down to Once Brewed and after a deal of muppetry involving standing at the wrong bus-stop and compounded by a dodgy timetable, we finally managed to catch the AD122 service to Vindolanda. (AD122 is the year that work on the Wall began. The AD122 bus is a shuttle which serves the Wall and various places nearby through the summer months. Very handy.)

Vindolanda lies on the Stanegate Road and like the road it predates the Wall. I came here once before, when I walked the Pennine Way with my Dad, but in the intervening years I’m sure that a great deal more had been uncovered. Since the place was occupied for Centuries what’s here is not one town and fort but several superimposed.

Vindolanda 

It’s a live archaeological dig and what’s really impressive is that the treasures which have been unearthed here are all on display in the Chesterholm museum which is adjacent to the remains.

More Vindolanda 

The museum really is stunning. Some of the coins, pottery and jewellery in particular, have been so well preserved that it was hard to believe that they weren’t fresh from the mint, the kiln or the smithy.

A bath house with a view 

I think what the kids most enjoyed however, were the replica sections of wall – one of stone and one of timber and turf.

Replica turret and stone wall

Hadrian’s Wall Day III – Greenhead to Once Brewed

Jersey – The Channel Island Way III

Wall lizard

Leaving the restaurant we walked past the entrance to the castle and down some steps to the end of Gorey promenade. On the wall by the steps we saw a couple of these wall lizards. Apparently the colouration can vary enormously, but the two we saw…

Smaller wall lizard

…had very similar colouring. This species is widely distributed across Europe but is introduced on Jersey, as it is in some southern parts of the British Isles.

Gorey is a very handsome place…

Flowership 

….where I suspect one could wile away a very pleasant afternoon.

Gorey harbour and promenade. 

Perhaps playing in the sand…

Sandshark 

Or maybe playing golf on the links at Jersey Royal Golf Club, although don’t hold your breath if you intend to join the waiting list for membership. The golf course is on common land, so it’s OK to walk across it apparently. If you do – look out for sea holly…

Sea Holly 

…we also saw it in the huge dune complex on the mouth of the river Canche at Le Touquet, but for some reason I didn’t photograph it there.

Sea Holly flower 

The remainder of the day’s walk was along the long curve of beach…

Looking back to Gorey and Mont Ogrueil 

..alongside La Baie du Vieux Chateau. On the landward side we passed a number of Jersey Round Towers, many of them incorporated into more recent houses, and also concrete reminders of the German occupation…

Bunker 

A week before, B had found lots of these…

Cuttlefish skeleton 

…on a beach near Boulogne. He thought that they were mermaid’s purses and was doubly disappointed when I told him that they weren’t, but that I didn’t know what they were. Thanks to Arthur, I do now. They’re cuttlebones – the internal cartilaginous skeleton of a cuttlefish. However, there are several different cuttlefish and I wouldn’t begin to know how to sort out which particular species this belongs to.

Of course this is one of the great delights of a walk on a beach – you never know just what the tide might have washed up, like a dead spider crab….

Dead Spider Crab 

…or what you might see feeding on the tide-line, like a flock of ringed plovers…

Ringed Plovers 

The end of our first day’s walking brought us to the harbour at La Rocque…

La Rocque Harbour

Where, from the end of the harbour wall…

Harbour Wall, La Rocque

…and through the magic of the little Olympus’ zoom, we had our best view of Seymour Tower…

Seymour Tower again

The tower is built on one of the largest inter-tidal reefs in the world. Depending on which website you believe it’s either one mile or two miles from the shore – with the 1:25,000 map and a ruler I arrived at 2km as the gull flies, so somewhere between the two. At low tide it’s possible to walk out and then to stay there, although you have to be accompanied by a guide and it isn’t cheap. I think that my boys would think it was a great adventure – and so would I come to that!

Jersey – The Channel Island Way III