A Tom Travels post! Enjoy! – Deanna
Never one to miss the opportunity to travel, my father’s September arrival in England provided a unique opportunity to visit some of the less-renowned sites of England. Although there are plenty of churches, castles and other ruins in Yorkshire, I jumped at the chance of visiting Hadrian’s Wall with my father. Of course, I had just returned from back-to-back business trips, one of which included being immersed into week-long German wine festival, so a little sacrifice would be required on my part. As Deanna was essentially on her own with a two-year old during my business trips I felt the need to relieve her of the burden of watching our daughter. Our trip to Hadrian’s Wall would become an intergenerational vacation full of father-daughter and grandpa-granddaughter bonding time.
Unfortunately, the museum was a good half-mile from the parking lot. I bundled Maggie up as best I could and charged off into the rain. Once inside, Maggie was intrigued by the exhibit of leather Roman shoes. I’m guessing the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree in this regard. (The “tree” is my sister. Tragically, I haven’t bought non-utilitarian shoes in over a year. – Deanna) After examining the Vindolanda tablets the sun emerged, prompting us to examine Vindolanda as quickly as possible. Despite wearing a pair of Wellies, Maggie deftly maneuvered around puddle after puddle. A thorough explanation that her Wellies were in fact waterproof and could be used to walk in puddles produced the following result:
For those looking for accommodation in the region, I would recommend the Burnhead Bed and Breakfast, located outside of Haltwhistle. Aware that we were traveling with a child, the owners went out of their way to check out books from the local library for our daughter. The B&B also has the added benefit of actually having Hadrian’s Wall run through their property. Cawfields’s Roman Fort and the Milecastle Inn are both within easy walking distance.
The remainder of the day was spent covering the Roman fort/town sites at Housteads, Chesters and Corbridge. All three Roman sites provide unique insights into Roman life on the wall. Housteads Fort offers dramatic views of the Northumberland countryside, while also preserving a set of Roman toilets. A museum offering an overview of the Fort has recently been closed for renovations and is expected to reopen in the Spring of 2012. Chester’s Fort best exemplifies a Roman Cavalry Fort, with views of the River Tyne and one of the best preserved Roman bathhouses in England. Although not actually on the wall, Corbridge Roman town developed from a Roman garrison fort to an actual town site. The remains of Roman temples, granaries and barrack houses provide insight into Roman cultural, political and economic roles in England.
Day four of our journey brought us the town of Durham. A picturesque town, Durham charm is similar to that of York but without the endless number of tourists. Be sure to walk through Durham’s medieval streets before taking in the town’s Norman Cathedral and Castle. Durham’s Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is not to be missed. If you have the time be sure to walk to the top of the tower to take in the panoramic views of this ancient city. Beer lovers should be sure to take in the Durham Brewery, roughly six miles south in the town of Bowburn. In addition to offering tours, the Brewery sells a host of beers, which may fall traditionally outside of traditional English ales. Be sure to try Durham Brewery’s Temptation (Russian Stout), Bede’s Chalice (Belgian Tripel) and Evensong (Bitter).
Tips for Visiting the Wall:
English Heritage Pass: Most of the English Heritage sites along the wall cost roughly £5. Between Carlisle and Corbridge, the main historical portion of the wall, there are four English Heritage sites that require an entry fee. Stops at Carlisle Castle, and Lanercost Priory will set you back an additional £5 and £3.30 respectively. At £46, an English Heritage pass is a good investment if you plan to visit other parts of England. If you intend to stick only to the Hadrian’s Wall region you might want to refrain from purchasing one.
Parking: Be sure to take advantage of the numerous parking lots operated by Northumberland National Park. Car parks are generally placed within walking distance of trail heads. Fees are generally only a pound or two with day tickets that can be used at other locations along the wall. Car parks also provide the added benefit of personal and bike storage lockers for travelers.
Visiting Other Locations: Although Hadrian’s Wall is amazing, especially when you mix in the stark landscapes of Northumberland, it can get a little tedious. After visiting two forts even a novice historian will be able to identify a Roman barrack or gain storage building. To mix things up, make sure to incorporate side trips to other locations of historical or natural significance. The towns of Corbridge and Hexam are both very charming and deserve at least a few hours to explore.