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Hadrian's Wall snaking across the Great Whin Sill in England

The biggest surprise, it’s often said to me as we visit, is just how beautiful the landscape is. And it’s true, you will fall in love with it. It’s there in all the photos of the Wall, of course, making majestic the rise and fall of the Roman work, turning fortification into art. But once you’ve stood there, planted feet on rock or greensward and just taken the time to look and breathe it in, the background suddenly comes into magical focus, and that first feeling of awe at the natural beauty through which such a thread of history runs never leaves you. Never.

It's refreshed each time you come back, and at each spot. For one thing the Wall country does is impart an immense variety and wealth to the experience of each stretch of the works, and for each there’s the tale of what you can see – the stones themselves, the vast earthwork of the Vallum or the turrets and milecastles where vanished sentinels stared out over the same immensity nearly two millennia ago. It’s there in the names, the shieldsnicksloughs and gaps, alternately lyrical, rugged or plain and ragged, from a distinct local speech born of a land hard fought-for by farmer and raider. All this comes together to make a monument with one name have an endless variety. Every rock has a history, every field has a name, every view fires the soul in a different way, and every place prompts an association.

Small group exploring one of the Roman milecastles on Hadrian's Wall

There’s the feeling of standing on top of the world between Carrawburgh and Black Carts, never-ending fields and woods stretching past Chipchase castle to far-off hills, distant Cheviot and the Simonside, all summer sun and cooling breezes. The gloomy, almost spooky solitude of Bogle Hole with its spill of stones and a feel that there are forgotten stories to tell. The call of Craggle Hill and the sight of the sea’s firth to be won – though there’s a price to be charged to your legs for the pleasure. At Willowford, signs of the rough violence of Irthing’s stream in the past, whenever it capriciously decided to change course forcefully, all out of character with the serenity of the views there now but telling us with immense clarity why the Roman bridge lies beautifully forlorn in a green field far from the water’s edge. Things pass, but the landscape remains and makes the made into part of itself.

One of the granaries at the Roman fort of Housesteads on Hadrian's Wall

But let’s not forget that all this was built – the scale of it, and the stories told to us by thousands of finds. We’ll have that beautiful setting for each of the magnificent Roman sites: the cauldron-bubble of the river at Chesters bath-house, the bleak blade of the crags on which Housesteads fort balances, the beauty of the winding waters of the Irthing far below the soaring headland at Birdoswald. And the finds! One of the finest storehouses of Roman remains anywhere: more than almost anywhere else, we can meet whole Roman communities face to face here, soldier and civilian, native and incomer. Some we have names for: little Vellibia Ertola playing with her ball, young Victor the Moor, refined and handsome, Regina – British slave then wife and mistress of the house to a husband from the far off Syrian desert, and Masculus the decurion, asking for the return of that borrowed cleaving-knife and putting in a furlough request for some of his men. And there are the unnamed; the couple lovingly gazing at each other in gleaming black jet from their betrothal ring, the excited fan of gladiators admiring them on a painted glass cup in Vindolanda’s tavern, the girl buried under the barrack-block floor, whoever dropped the incredibly expensive ring into the toilet in the commander’s house.

Group of people walking beside Hadrian's Wall on the way to Birdoswald fort

And before we leave the people, let’s think of those who came after the Romans, whose story is too often left untold by those who take you to the Wall. The monks living in a world filled with Roman ruins, building new churches but perhaps pausing to look at the Latin letters to forgotten gods on their building material. The brothers Thomas and Robert, both living in the remains of the works of Hadrian at Birdoswald, eking a living out as farmers, but wondering whether murderers and robbery would again come out of the night from the Bewcastle Wastes, even while Shakespeare was writing in a south that seemed a world away; or their guardians the Dacre march-wardens with their fine house in a ruined monastery, with a thankless task of keeping order in a masterless country.

Part of the Roman fort of Chesters by the River Tyne in England

When you think of the Wall, for all the store of memories that the places along its reach give you, when the eye shuts or the spirit wanders, it’s the crags you come back to. And you may well agree with me that they’re the finest place you’ll ever stand. But even accepting that, when you think more about it, once you’ve been you’ll always come back to just how much more there is here than the most famous spot. And the history, too: we have a superb Roman story for you here, but as visitors also say to me at the end: I had no idea how interesting the rest was

Archaeologist showing Roman shoe found at the fort of Vindolanda near Hadrian's Wall

So, then, the summary is this: however impressive you thought the landscape would be, it’s better, by far. As for the history, you already probably realise the Roman story is going to be fascinating and the traces of it wonderful. You’ve still under-estimated it. You will be blown away. And that will just be the start, because then we have the whole cast and world of the sub-Roman, Saxon and mediaeval periods to bring you. The Reivers, monks, nobles and more. Few places wind history and surroundings together with such success.

Wide shot of Bamburgh Castle in England

A big claim, but a click will set you on the road to proof.

We very much look forward to welcoming you on our Exploring Hadrian's Wall tour!

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