Exploring Hadrian's Wall:
Romans, Reivers and Romantics
Tour Guides: Paul Beston and Peter Sommer
7 DAYS £TBC / Single Supplement: £TBC
Join us on an exploration of the raw beauty and richly-layered history of this most distinctive English region. Few areas so large come to be defined by a single work of man, but the Wall Country has had a special character since the Romans first set this great work in trail over field, hill, crag and river nearly two thousand years ago. Today, we take you through a warm and welcoming countryside of ever-changing views, from bustling mediaeval market towns, through gentle farmland and craggy rocks strewn with tumbled Roman stones which give way to beautiful views of thick woods and wild loughs. This is a tour where the landscape itself inspires awe and is a character in its own right. It has drawn people from Romans through Anglo-Saxons and Vikings to mediaeval warlords, sinister Reivers and the Victorian romantics who fell in love with it and its stories.
Our encounter with the long history of this region begins as the Romans, after forty years in the north, built their mighty Wall, marching mile after mile across the neck of Britain, disregarding hills, rocks and rivers and definitively marked the land to the south as Roman. Though there is much to see and say about the military side of the wall – the physical awe, the impressiveness of Roman military power and organisation – there is also another more human tale to tell. Everywhere behind the wall, there are stories of strange gods, civilian bustle, military order and the daily lives of thousands of men, women and children. It is a Roman landscape unique in Britain for its diversity and scale.
With the end of Roman rule after some three hundred years, the ruins of the Wall became the homes of farmers, strongholds of lords, hide-outs of thieves and the building material of churchmen, but always remained a powerful reminder of what had once been. Our story continues with the Anglo-Saxons and then the stretching north of the great kingdom of England, marking the landscape with beautiful churches and gripping it with castles. Here, for centuries, England contested the land either side of the Wall with Scotland, leaving a trail of wars and raids and forging a tough, self-reliant and independent people.
In time, the border was pacified, and the hazards earlier people faced became part of the magnificent tapestry of a border history which drew people to a now-peaceful but storied and beautiful country, inspiring Scott, Kipling, Turner and William Morris, and the perfectly-placed grand home of the ingenious Lord Armstrong.
This tour offers a wealth of experiences: a remarkable landscape, a deep history, the stern traces of Roman power, the fascinating contact with individual lives carved in stone or left in the organic finds at Vindolanda, the aesthetic beauty of Cragside or Lanercost priory, the reminders of its dangerous past and the fantastic local food and drink. There is no better place to begin an exploration of England’s long history, beautiful countryside and cultural richness.
Day 1: Arrival at our hotel, the magnificent fourteenth century Langley Castle, set in the centre of Wall Country. A baronial residence burned in the rebellion by Hotspur’s father against Henry IV, it was resurrected by a Victorian romantic, and makes a sumptuous base for our exploration of this beautiful country. Welcome drinks and dinner at the hotel.
Day 2: A short drive takes us to the east, where we begin with Wallsend’s elevated view of its fort and reconstructed Roman baths before crossing the broad River Tyne to South Shields and its imposing gatehouse. The extensive remains include careful reconstructions where the cramped and ripe accommodation for the soldiers contrasts with the huge commander’s house, transplanting Mediterranean living to the far north of the Empire. After a fine lunch, we gain an appreciation of the entire Wall system at the excellent Hancock Museum, a superb location to meet the soldiers, civilians and gods who inhabited the Roman Wall.
Day 3: A short journey takes us to Steel Rigg for a walk through the Wall’s most breath-taking, wild and romantic scenery, the hard spine of the Great Whin Sill. This most iconic stretch of the Wall still preserves the feeling of being a frontier, as it drives its way through ragged, undulating terrain with fine views of Crag Lough and through the famous Sycamore Gap. We walk up to Housesteads, the most renowned station on the Wall, where one of its largest forts peers over the Sill’s precipice. Behind it is a civilian settlement where hooded local gods were worshipped, coins faked and an undiscovered murder committed. After a well-earned lunch, we travel the short distance to the pretty market-town of Hexham to visit its Abbey, begun in Anglo-Saxon times, to see the fragments of Roman buildings and inscriptions built into its ancient crypt. From Hexham’s gentility, we return to the Wall at Chesters set in gently rolling riverside parkland and blessed with a fine Edwardian museum and the best Roman baths on the Wall. Finally, we stop at the nearby temple of Mithras at Carrawburgh, whose well-preserved remains have much to tell about this enigmatic saviour-god.
Day 4: A day which allows us to immerse ourselves in the daily lives of the people of the Wall. We spend the whole morning at the extraordinary site of Vindolanda, one of the most important in the entire Roman Empire. Here, the environment has preserved a bewildering array of everyday objects - personal letters, children’s shoes, combs, even wigs – that allow us to come as close to real Roman life as it is possible to do. The remains of the fort, and the civilian town outside would be impressive even if they were not continually changing with the excavations that will be producing new insights as we visit. After lunch, and a visit to the beautifully-done museum at Carvoran, we visit the Roman town of Corbridge. The singular, undulating, rumpled-carpet appearance of the site which you see walking down the main Roman street is owed to the many layers of remains sagging over each other as you pass shops, granaries, fountains and houses in this idyllic spot.
Day 5: A day of Roman twilight and new beginnings. We pass into the western section of the Wall, and see how the Roman Wall faded, was reused and became the stuff of Romantic adulation. We begin with Birdoswald fort, perched on a great spur which sweeps down majestically into the Irthing Valley, where the fort buildings were used through the Dark Ages and into Mediaeval times. A gentle walk through attractive countryside brings us over the river and past the Roman bridge at Willowford. From here, we make the brief journey to the distinctive red stone priory at Lanercost. Now a restful ruin, it stamped English mediaeval civilisation on an area buffeted by conflict, and was home to Edward I on his last journey north. After falling victim to Henry VIII it drew the interest of Victorian Romantics and the Arts & Craft movement. After a fine lunch we journey beyond the west end of the Wall to the Roman fort at Maryport and encounter one of the Empire’s finest collections of inscriptions.
Day 6: Today we see how the border country was tamed after a long period as a mediaeval battleground. We begin on the east coast with the magnificent castle of Bamburgh, soaring on its impregnable craggy rock, and trace its history from being an Anglo-Saxon royal centre, refuge of saints and target of Vikings, through its time as a mighty English royal fortress, philanthropic school and finally, to being stately residence of the Victorian industrialist and inventor, Lord Armstrong. After lunch, we travel through the hilly wilderness west of Bamburgh to Armstrong’s masterpiece, his house nestled in the forest at Cragside surrounded by sublime lakes and woods, tiered rockeries and gardens spilling down to a fine iron bridge spanning a pretty stream. The natural beauty of the site is brilliantly balanced by Armstrong’s ingenuity in the house, the first to use hydroelectricity, and filled with the paraphernalia of civilised and refined modernity. After a rich and rewarding day, we have our farewell dinner.
Day 7: Departure.
Arrival Airport – Newcastle International Airport
Departure Airport – Newcastle International Airport
Our transfer vehicle will collect from Newcastle International Airport at 16.30, and Newcastle Train Station at 17.00, should you wish your arrival at your hotel to be organised by us. If you prefer to arrange your own arrival, check in time is set for 14.30 on June 24th. Check out time on the June 30th is 10.30. We will arrange a transfer from your hotel to Newcastle Train Station and Newcastle Airport on July 30th, leaving from your hotel at 09.30.
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