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or, Illuminating Hadrian's Wall, March 13, 2010. Here's the back story:

Just about everyone with a basic familiarity with English history knows about Hadrian's Wall, but here's a little bit of history, just for fun (Also, please remember I do British history *after* the Roman pull out, so if I get a few things wrong, I offer my apologies!).

Long-term Roman occupation of the island of Britain began approximately AD 43, and while Roman hold of southern Britain was *fairly* secure (minus British uprisings, like Boudica's), control over the north of the island was a little more shaky. The northern territories suffered from raids by the Scots (that is, the Irish) and the Picts (who occupied the territory later known as Scotland). In order to ease pressure on this territory, construction of a coast-to-coast fortified wall began in AD 122 under the Emperor Hadrian, largely in an effort to prove the new emperor's ability to rule. After all, what better testament to Hadrian's competence could there be than proving his army was capable of keeping the roving bands of Scots and Picts away from the northern-most Roman settlements? Construction of the new wall lasted about six years. It began in the east--in what is now the village of Corbridge--and crept slowly westward--all the way to the city of Carlisle near the Irish Sea--covering approximately 80 miles. The Wall averaged 15 feet high and was constructed primarily of stone. It was fortified with small, gated forts called milecastle that were placed, yup you guessed it, every mile along the wall. Eventually another wall would be built further to the north, beyond what is now the Scottish border, but until that time Hadrian's Wall was the main defense for the Roman settlements in the perilous northern landscape. Much of the Wall still remains, although along most of its length much of the stone was removed by nearby residents for use in other buildings. 

Now, the important bit is that this year creative folk from Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd. decided to organize an event that would create a line of light all along the wall, spreading from coast to coast. Torches were to be lit every 250 metres, starting in the east and spreading west until the light reached Carlisle (think of the scene from the Lord of the Rings movie when the signal fires of Gondor are lit...yeah, something like that but with torches, not bonfires). Obviously, there was no way a bunch of history nerds was going to miss out on that, so here's a bit about my friend's and my trip to see Hadrian's Wall get all lit up :)

The first challenge that had to be met--once my friend Christine and I decided we wanted to be there for the Illumination--was a simple one: how the heck were we going to get there? It wasn't a question of transportation so much as one of timing. We made the decision to be there very late in the game, approximately a week before hand. The late start on planning was entirely my fault because, frankly, I had had other plans. I intended to get to Birmingham for the Crufts dog show that weekend. Crufts is basically the mother (no, literally) of all shows, and there seemed like there would be no better opportunity. Class work and cost had made that trip impossible, however, and in retrospect I'm glad they did; while I'll have plenty of opportunities to see shows, even big ones like Crufts, the Illumination was pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime thing. But, again, the question was how to see it. While the event was free, you had to buy tickets for parking near the wall, and those were completely sold out. So, what to do? Luckily, Christine found a hiking group online offering free treks up to a wall viewing spot from the sleepy little town of Haltwhistle. Christine emailed the group to secure our spots while I let others in our house know of our plan. In the end, two other girls from the house joined us, and in our little group of four we got on the train to Haltwhistle.

Haltwhistle is the centre of Britain. Or, so a board in the town centre proclaim it to be. I found this out when we gotten to the tiny town at about 4:30 on Saturday. The town is on the train route between Newcastle and Edinburgh, and it's main claims to fame are 1. it is very close to the wall, and 2. it's local hiking group sponsors guided trips to the wall and a hiking festival every year. Naturally, this was the same group who organized the little trek to see the Illumination, and it seemed to be a group comprised mainly of little old men who reminded me of my father :)

We set out in groups of twenty to meander our way up through the valley near town and onto the ridge where the wall was. From a designating viewing spot we would have a nice panoramic view of the wall both east and west, and though we wouldn't be right at the wall, we'd still get to see the whole spectacle. The trek through the valley, of course, was just as fun as seeing the wall, and the first time I've really gotten anything like a hike in since I got to England in October.

Setting off from the town of Haltwhistle, following our two intrepid guides. One of the first things we were told was that Haltwhistle had, until recently, been a centre for the coal and lime industry but that the land had healed well since such industry had been stopped. It certainly seemed that way, and it did my heart well to see a beautiful landscape in an area that had been besmirched by coal and lime mining. 

We strolled through a nicely wooded valley lined with jagged limestone walls. This little spot on the stream was particularly pretty.

The wooded area eventually opened up to typical northern England farm country. You can't escape farm country up in northern England, with its little farmsteads and sprawling walls and fences, but I had to admit, I love it. 

We eventually crossed paths with this lime kiln, a relic both of the lime industry, and the time when farmers had lime kilns of their own to help keep the soul on their land producing.

A look back down into the valley as we climbed out in to higher country. It really was a gorgeous day and the sunset was very nice. 

Housemates Kendra (on the left) and Christine (right) look back down the slope we'd just climbed.

Just in case we forgot, we just came from the direction of Haltwhistle. What can I say, I am a sucker for rustic sign-and-landscape pictures :)

The road on which we'd watch the Illumination (and the rather idyllic little farmhouse that sat on it. Loved the bright pink!)

Sheep! This is northern England, after all, and there are sheep every where. This one was posing very nicely.

And so was this momma with her new little lamb. Lambing season began here probably about early March, and the lambs are pretty darn fun to watch.

Directly in front of us on the road: another field, and even more sheep. Although you can't really see it at this distance, the remains of Hadrian's Wall run right through the back portion of this field.

Once collected in our viewing area, we had a good long while to enjoy the sunset and have a look around. Thank goodness for zoom, because otherwise I would have barely been able to see the wall from where we stood. Here, however, you can see the section of Wall that was east of us. Lots of people crowded around it, watching the east, the direction from which the signal lights should begin.

Kendra and Rachel

Even closer zoom on the Wall to our east. You can see what remains: about a three- to four-foot high section of the original fifteen.

To the west you can see just as many people lining the span of the Wall, and how it ungulates over the rolling hills.

Two of the kids in our group, waiting impatiently and watching for the first light.

As the sunlight in the west began to fail, the torch lights began. Here are the first of the beacons as they began in the east. What isn't pictured here is the rouge light to our west, where one of the torch crews apparently jumped the gun a little and lit up before they were supposed to :) Despite this little snafu, you can see that the lights basically progressed as they were supposed to, with each group lighting their torch as soon as the group to the east of them did. 

The beacons moving along the Wall to the east.

A quick close up on the action on the Wall.

To our west, pinpricks of light continue to dot the Wall, moving along on their way to Carlisle.

(Don't trust the level of light in these pictures. It was actually dusk at this time and growing dark quickly, but boy-oh-boy can my cruddy little camera capture every bit of light available)

A group of torch guardians gathered around their charge. As you can see, the torches were fairly large.

The lights following the Wall right across the fields.

One last picture before the light failed entirely. You can see the lights to our east, shining all the brighter in the dark. It really was gorgeous, and I am thrilled to have been able to see it. Shortly after full dark fell, we turned and headed back to Haltwhistle, grabbed our eight o'clock train and headed back to York.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Mar. 21st, 2010 02:25 am (UTC)
Thanks for the travelogue -- and the pictures! I have some family connections to Hadrian's Wall, so I get a little excited when people I know visit a part of it. The Illumination must have been a hoot!

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )