This trip is open to friends and family of the Alumni of Cambridge and Oxford Universities
Join Professor Jim Crow 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 magnificent work in progress 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 medieval 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. On our Hadrian’s Wall tour 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 Medieval 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.
This archaeological tour of Hadrian’s Wall 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.
Check out our evocative blog post about the Wall and its region.
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Day 1: Arrival at our inn-hotel, set in the Tudor abbot’s house of a Medieval monastery at the heart of a pretty village of honey-coloured stone. Welcome drinks and dinner at the hotel.
Day 2: A day to gain an appreciation of the entire Wall system! We begin at Wallsend, the elevated view laying out its fort and baths beautifully clearly before we go to the excellent Hancock Museum, a superb location to meet the soldiers, civilians and gods who inhabited the Roman Wall. After a fine lunch, we cross the broad River Tyne to South Shields, entering through its imposing rebuilt gatehouse. The evening is free to dine at your leisure.
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 to Housesteads, the most renowned fort 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 visit 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, a gentle walk past the exceptional milecastle at Poltross Burn brings us through attractive countryside brings to the Roman bridge at Willowford and over the intermittently turbulent river. We’ll then climb the rise to Birdoswald fort, perched on a great and dramatic spur which sweeps down majestically into the Irthing Valley, and whose fort buildings were used through the Dark Ages and into Medieval times.
Day 5: We begin the day with a visit to the Roman town of Corbridge, hidden in a quiet spot by the Tyne. 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 built over a series of early forts in this idyllic place. We move on a short distance to the pretty market-town of Hexham, visible from Corbridge, to visit its Abbey, begun in Anglo-Saxon times. Fragments of Roman buildings and inscriptions built into the ancient and long-hidden crypt beneath the lofty walls of the Abbey allow us to see where so much of the Wall went. You are free to choose a place to lunch and wander the charming streets of this attractive town so central to Border history. From the respectability of Hexham, we return to the Wall at Chesters, here set in gently rolling riverside parkland. Beautifully framed by wooded low hills and the churning river, Chesters is blessed with a fine Edwardian museum filled with a mass of inscriptions and finds enriching our knowledge of the lives of the Roman-era inhabitants and the bewildering array of gods they worshipped, and the best Roman baths on the Wall. The evening is free to dine at your leisure.
Day 6: We pass beyond the western section of the Wall and through breath-taking stark hills looming over deep, winding valleys and roaring becks to the Irish Sea coast at Maryport, to see how the Roman frontier involved far more than the Wall alone. Standing sentinel on a bluff with views of Scotland and the Isle of Man, Maryport houses an internationally-important collection of altars to the great state god of Rome, Jupiter Optimus Maximus, and some delightfully rustic images of less far-famed deities. Afterwards, we head to the Lake District for a well-earned lunch before heading back to Wall country. To cap a day in which we’ll have seen so much of the raw beauty of nature, our final destination lays bare how the Roman Wall faded, was reused and likewise became the stuff of Romantic adulation by visiting the distinctive red stone priory at Lanercost. Now a restful ruin, it stamped English medieval 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, including decoration by the Arts & Crafts movement.
Day 7: We head north across a wild and sparse country to see Rome’s furthest outposts, and for a last encounter with the medieval history of the borderlands. We begin at Melrose, with the expansive remains of its splendid abbey, resting place of the bodies – and hearts – of famed Scottish kings. We then turn to the place’s earlier history as a frontier, and visit the Roman outpost fort of Trimontium, a new museum telling its story brilliantly. Southward lies a region speckled with a great concentration of hillforts and markers of Roman presence as we head down their Dere Street, we stop for a walk in country that still feels distant from any centre, beautiful, raw-boned and wonderfully remote. This takes us to a rarely visited gem, the fort of Bremenium at High Rochester, its walls and gates brilliantly preserved and enfolding traces of later border history that have become so familiar now. With a last look at the landscape that’s made our week unforgettable, we take out leave.
After a rich and rewarding day, we have our farewell dinner.
Day 8: Departure from your hotel and transfer to Newcastle train station.
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Arrival and Departure Information
Arrival Train Station – Newcastle Central Station
Departure Train Station – Newcastle Central Station
Our transfer vehicle will collect from Newcastle Central 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.
Check out time is 10.30. We will arrange a transfer from your hotel to Newcastle Train Station at 09.30.
We consider adequate travel insurance to be essential. You should ensure that you take out a suitable policy, to make sure that your trip is properly covered. Please be advised some insurers may require you to take out a policy within 15-20 days of booking your holiday to receive all of their insurance benefits.
If you are thinking of extending your trip to include visits to London, the South-West, Wales or further afield, please contact our office for advice and suggestions for bespoke travel plans.