We have just been to see Hadrian’s Wall I told a friend recently. “Hadrian who?” she said, I thought Bill was your builder! Well that took some sorting, but it was worth it and so was the lovely trip North to see the Northumberland coast then go inland to see the Roman Ruins and drift back with the help of a hand held audio guide around the sites to visualise and try to experience what it was like back when the Roman’s conquered Britain.
Our first stop was Morpeth, we stayed at Longhirst Hall and Spa, it is a superb old building, designed and built in the 1820s, set in the beautiful grounds at the side of a cricket pitch, the Longhirst is three miles outside Morpeth and well sign posted. The Hall is a good base to tour the area just North of Newcastle, places like New Biggin, which has a long sweeping bay and a strange structure set out in the sea with sculptures of a man and a woman looking out to sea, and it is just called the couple, well what else?! We then visited Amble a small port with an interesting inlet from the North Sea where the fishing boats still work from. Overlooking the coastline in Amble is the Warkworth Castle, which is definitely worth a visit, it is steeped in history. Alnwick was our next stop a small historic town with its Castle and town square, and interesting old buildings surround the area, and the Castle was featured in the Harry Potter films as the Hogwarts Castle. Alnwick Castle is privately owned and costs £12 for a concession ticket, but book online before you go and it is cheaper.
We stayed two nights at Longhirst Hall and enjoyed excellent food and good accommodation, the Hall does however have weddings booked for Fridays and Saturday and this does fill the rooms, so book early and ask for a third or second floor room as the lower rooms are quite away from the reception and a long haul when carrying cases. There are disabled facilities and the rooms are large, comfortable and well adapted. The days are full but the evenings as at most hotels seem to fizzle out and unless you want to go straight to your room after your meal and rest, the only other option is to sit in a bar with a sports TV or ‘people watch’ with all the fashions on show from the wedding parties It’s not always what everyone wants, but saying that, it is a good, comfortable base, for touring the area.
We left the coastal area and went in search of the Romans, well by the end of the day we were Romaned Out!!! We visited three Roman sites, the first was Chester’s Roman Fort, nestled in a beautiful riverside location, perfect for picnics and play, children have their own entertainment/educational experience with the help of the guides and dressing up as a Roman is a must. The fort boasts one of the best preserved Roman bathhouses you can see in Britain today and the Victorian museum houses the excellent ‘Clayton Collection’ of Roman stonework and objects. Our next stop was Housesteads Fort, now this one is not for the faint-hearted or Silver Traveller with walking difficulties. The site is set high on a hillside which you do have to walk to. It is good when you get there, but be warned it is a long walk so take your walking sticks! It is undoubtedly the most iconic of the Wall sites, the views and Roman remains are spectacular. The museum delves into the fort’s story and a film showing at regular intervals helps you go through time and the reconstruction of Housestead before your very eyes.
Our next stop was Vindolanda, another Roman Fort well worth a visit, and you can go and do an archaeological dig if you wish, a week away digging the dirt suits a lot of people so volunteers are ready and willing to spend a week getting down and dirty, well it does take away any stress! The site is set near the river and the Roman construction of how the wall and the fortresses were built is very plain to see. It has a good cafe and was much appreciated after a long day, the above sites are owned by English Heritage and joining before you go is a very good idea, as each site costs approximately £5.60 pence for concessions, but is free if you are a member.
Our hotel for the night was a Castle, yes a real castle, Otterburn Castle has been inhabited since 1076, in the time of William the Conqueror, thankfully it has been upgraded since then and is now used as a very pleasant hotel, that still needs some upgrading, but this has been promised by its new owner. It is imposing and grand with its oak panelling and comfortable rooms, large bathrooms and interesting features. You can dine at the hotel or the bistro which is attached to the side of the building, weddings and conferences are held in a large marquee at the back of the old building. The hotel is near a military training base and often officers or their families stay at the Castle.
We visited Corbridge the following day, this is where the Roman – here we go again – town was built and it is again very interesting to see how clever and talented the Romans were. Corbridge is a small, pretty town on the banks of the River Tyne. We also visited Hexham, famous for its Race Course and Abbey also the wonderful bridge that spans the River Tyne. Driving in Hadrian’s Wall Country is good, the A69 is the quickest means of travelling from Newcastle to Hexham, the road that runs closest to the line of Hadrian’s Wall is the B6318, this road is much quieter than the A69 and is the best road for accessing the major Roman sites.
Well my own wall is almost finished by Bill, but I don’t think it will stand the test of time as well as Hadrian’s!