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Hadrian’s Wall: Keeping the Barbarians Out

Great civilizations built walls to keep those “barbarians” out.

“Just when you think you are at the world’s end, you see a smoke from East to West as far as the eye can turn, and then, under it, also as far as the eye can stretch, houses and temples, shops and theatres, barracks and granaries, trickling along like dice behind—always behind—one long, low, rising and falling, and hiding and showing line of towers. And that is the Wall!’ ‘…nothing in the Empire is more wonderful than first sight of the Wall!”

Rudyard Kipling in Puck of Pook’s Hill

What do the Mongols and Scots have in common? Great empires built walls to keep those “barbarians” out.

Setting out Monday morning.

On Monday, Laurie and I set out early in the morning on a journey that will take us on walks across England and Italy. Rather than catching Uber, we thought it appropriate to start with a two and a half mile walk to a bus stop, so we could take the bus to SeaTac airport and on to London.
We start with a hike from the Irish Sea on the western coast of England to the North Sea on the Eastern side. Our route takes us along Hadrian’s Wall, a Roman fortification built circa 120 BC and occupied for roughly three centuries by soldiers of the Roman Empire.
Unlike the Great Wall of China, much of which stands intact, this wall is mostly ruins and recreated buildings and fortifications. When Britannia ceased to be part of the Empire and the wall was abandoned, much of the stone used in its construction were scavenged for structures ranging from churches to cow pens. Despite this, it is the best preserved Roman frontier and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.
The path we’ll follow runs 84 miles and will take us seven days to hike. Because we’re doing this during the holiday season (English for “vacation”) we had to reserve accommodations for each night of the journey almost four months ago. No tenting or cooking over camp stove on this trip. It’s hostels or B&Bs, along with food in English pubs.
We hope you enjoy learning about this landmark, English culture in the area, and the history of the Romans in the British Isles along with us. If you have questions or related experiences of your own, please post them in the comments section below.
And keep our safety and health in your prayers. Laurie is nursing a knee injury from a hike last week. She’s bounced back but we have lots of miles ahead of us.

I think the alpacas in my mother’s neighborhood (where we started our walk) think we’re nuts.

Trip Update: After 27 hours of walking, bus, bus, plane, train, London Underground, train, and bus we’ve arrived at our lodging in Bowness on Solway on the west end of the path. I think we got a total of three hours of sleep, each.

Map courtesy National Trails

Hadrian’s Wall by Adrian Goldsworthy. An excellent history of the wall, including the context of Roman civilization related to Great Britain. The Kipling quote above was used by Adrian at the beginning of his book.
Hadrian’s Wall Path by Mark Richards. The guidebook we will using for our trek.

8 thoughts on “Hadrian’s Wall: Keeping the Barbarians Out”

  1. Dennis & Laurie, I’m envious of your trek across that historic region. We sat on the Hadrian’s Wall in 1997 with our kids (then ages 5 and 7), then treated ourselves with a stop at Bamburg Castle on the sea not too far away.

    I remember thinking at the time, “wait, you mean the Romans built the wall to keep the Scots out?” I had assumed it was the other way round. I had to re-watch Braveheart to be reminded of the definition of Barbarians.

    Love the pics and the commentary; please keep em comin!

    1. It is amazing how sophisticated the wall network was—and it was nearly two thousand years ago. More posts coming.

  2. We attended a wedding in Newcastle, England, in 2014 and visited 3 sites at Hadrian’s Wall. Intrigued by the concept of Roman soldiers deployed to a faraway location for many years. We compared to our own US troops who serve overseas for long months. Very interesting ruins. Enjoy. Les & Wanda

    1. We’ve learned a lot about the posting of the Roman soldiers preparing for this journey. Quite different than our experiences. We’ll be sharing more on that later.

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