Posted by: travelrat | October 26, 2009

Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian's Wall, Housesteads

 Carlisle 10th August 2009

Publius Aelius Hadrianus certainly got around. He was better known to us as the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and he left his mark all over the old Roman Empire. We’ve seen two Hadrian’s Gates, one in Athens and one in Jerash, Jordan as well as Hadrian’s Temple in Ephesus, Turkey. But, probably the most famous thing that bears his name is Hadrian’s Wall.

Hadrian’s Wall stretches from England’s west coast, at Bowness on Solway, near Carlisle to the east coast, at the appropriately-named Wallsend, near Newcastle. Unlike Queen Victoria, who never saw most of the places named after her, Hadrian did actually visit Britain; he visited most places in the Roman Empire, both as Emperor and in his ‘previous existence’ as a soldier. He simply said ‘Let there be a Wall’, went back to Rome, and left the Roman governor, one Julius Agricola, to get on with it.

Received wisdom says the wall was built for defensive purposes, to keep the Pictish and Scottish hordes out … that’s what we were taught in school. But, someone pointed out that the ‘vallum’, or ditch is on the wrong side of the wall for that. I did once whimsically think it was the result of the Roman equivalent of ‘I say, Sergeant Major! Can’t you find these men something to do?’ I was extremely surprised to find that other, far more scholarly, authorities agreed with me. It was suggested that it did indeed keep the army occupied during a period of relative quiet.

Or, it could have been that the wall simply marked the boundary of the Roman Empire, and served the secondary purpose of discouraging small-scale invasions and incursions. Other such walls are known to have been built in eastern Europe, although they were built of wood. Hadrian’s Wall was a stone wall, because of the shortage of suitable timber.

Over the years, generations of farmers and builders simply used it as a quarry for ready-dressed stone, but, in places, it does remain. Our visitors had been dissatisfied with a previous visit to the wall. They’d been shown a rather insignificant stretch of it, in a not very pleasant surrounding. We took them to what are probably the best viewpoints, the old fort at Housesteads, high on a lonely moor and another fort, just outside a farmhouse at Birdoswald.

There are, however, many more places. Maybe an excuse for anther visit?

I didn’t make any video … my reasons being the wall is immobile; it’s been there for nearly 2000 years, and isn’t going anywhere any time soon. It was only after I got home I realised I could have blended it in with some unused footage of the Roman re-enactors! Still, that’s another excuse for a return visit.


  1. Hadrians wall it is the best place to visit in Northumberland , breathtaking views,

    • Agree completely!

  2. Added this one to my list for the next visit!

  3. I had heard that too – that it was built to keep the soldiers busy – but it ruins the idea of keeping those mad Scots out. I love to think of it serving that purpose.

    What is really fantastic, though, is that much of it still stands today!

    • It’s no coincidence that the best-preserved parts of the wall are in the remoter areas; sometimes, I think that every farmhouse and barn within twenty miles of it was built from its stone.

  4. I saw a survey commissioned by Travelodge that said Hadrian’s Wall is the second most favourite landmark in Britain after Stonehenge. Could this be why the blog got so many hits the other day?

  5. […] only a short while since the ‘Trip Diary’ paid a short visit to Hadrian’s Wall. ( ). But, two things have happened to cause it to raise its head […]

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