Well….I hadn’t quite finished work as it turned out, but the first Just Retiring adventure was walking Hadrian’s Wall in July 2014.
Damned clever, those Romans. An amazing piece of engineering and logistics to build a fortified wall the breadth of northern England – approximately 84 miles – to protect the northern extremity of the vast Empire from marauding barbarians. I make no comment about any parallels 2,000 years later, with the Scottish independence vote looming as large as Russell Crowe in the Colosseum.
Starting from Segedunum at the imaginatively named Wallsend, just east of Newcastle, we took a leisurely 7 days to walk the Wall’s path as far as Carlisle. I’m ashamed to admit we didn’t complete the final few miles from Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway, the western extremity on the Cumbrian coast…well, not on foot, anyway.
By that stage we were all a bit Roman forted out, and the weather forecast was grim. And the final few miles were flat, compared to the wild and undulating central parts in remote Northumberland. But I’m still ashamed.
The Wall is remarkably intact at various points along the path, and invisible at others, either submerged or destroyed in the intervening millennia. But the history is thrillingly brought to life along the way, so well that you can almost hear the clanking of a centurion’s armour or the wailing of a wounded barbarian, drifting on the gusting Northumbrian breeze.
Insight into the Wall, the Roman Empire and details of daily life on and near the Wall can be gleaned at lovingly restored fort sites -Chesters, Housesteads, Vindolanda, Birdoswald.
Vindolanda, home of Roman curry-making, is still very much an active dig site, with artefacts being exposed every day by a modern army of professionals and volunteers from within and beyond the Empire. The collection of original leather shoes is remarkable and worth the admission price alone, and there is a palpable sense of history and real life at this site, a short distance south of the Wall itself.
The more contemporary highlight for me was a short, but memorable, stay at Sandysike House, a farmhouse B&B (with a separate bunkhouse for hardier souls than us). Hosts Richard & Margaret welcomed us in the garden with 4 pints of life-replenishing lager, chilled to perfection for a warm evening and after a long day’s Hadrianing.
What could be better than the company of my fellow Hadrianers (wife Gill, good friends Simon & Fiona), a pint of cold lager, hearing the history of the house, farm and its charming owners, and soaking up the beautiful and timeless views across the valley to Brampton?
Well, now you come to mention it…..the Bermuda cavalry. Old friends Phil & Christine Barnes hunted us down, bearing supplies of the legendary rum cocktail dark ‘n’ stormy. And enough ice to freeze a passionate Emperor. Bizarre, but true. A memorable evening, of which even Caligula would have been proud.
A fun, rewarding and insightful walk alongside history, with camaraderie, modern comforts, and rum. I can think of no better way to have kicked off my Just Retiring adventures.