To get back on the timeline of my trip, I was in the north of England in the last days of June and very first days of July.
The longest journey I have had in the UK so far was the train ride from Bath to Carlisle. This comparatively huge leap up the body of England took about six hours and required two train changes. Thankfully, I passed through the Lake District of England and got a glimpse of the wonderful scenery of that region. Rolling green hills, patchwork farms with stone walls, sheep ambling peacefully, all gave sufficient evidence as to why so many people praise the region’s beauty. Carlisle itself was not a disappointment in this area. Though I was only there for two nights, I did get a sense that the town, while small, had some lovely old buildings. I got a better sense of the surrounding countryside since this is the place from which I set out to explore Hadrian’s Wall.
As the most northern edge of the Roman Empire, Hadrian’s Wall has no small amount of historical significance. The Emperor, Hadrian, had the wall built as a way to separate Roman controlled lands from the lands of the free peoples in the northern parts of Britain. While most people assume it was built to keep out the “terrifying hordes” of the uncivilized tribes, it was actually part of a treaty-like agreement with tribal chiefs to show that the Roman army would not advance on their territory. It did, of course, prevent the tribes from raiding the Roman-occupied lowlands. That is until the Empire weakened and Rome recalled most of its troops from the edges thus leaving its forts and towns to fall into tribal hands. Surprisingly, the Wall survived these, and all future political changes, rather well intact. Weathering over the subsequent 2000 years of course took their toll. Though originally standing nearly 10ft tall, the wall is now just under 6ft high in most places. Its width has also lessened. But it is still an impressive sight, at least in the area that I visited. Other places have seen more deterioration or destruction as people used the stones from the Wall to build their homes or other structures.
The area I visited is one of the better-preserved spots of the wall. In fact, soil has built up on top of one section and there is a thick turf of grass right on top of the Wall. The Wall is wide enough that you can actually walk on top, an opportunity I did not pass up. This part of the Wall also sits along the edge of a cliff face. On southern facing side, there are rolling farmlands and it is obvious the area has been more densely populated for a longer period of time. The northern facing side, looking toward Scotland, also has farmland, but there are more forests and the landscape slowly becomes more dramatic. There are also the ruins of a large Roman fort, one of the largest in the region, that give you a glimpse into what life would have been like for soldiers on the outer reaches of the Empire.
Easy ways to get over other walls without risking sheep getting loose.
Anyone recognize this spot? I’ll give you a hint: it’s called the Sycamore Gap. It’s featured in the Robin Hood film where Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman have a chat here. So I’ve touched a tree that Morgan Freeman touched. This automatically makes me awesome.
To get to the Wall from Carlisle, I had to take a local train to another, even smaller town where I caught a bus that would take me to the visitor center of the fort. After London and Bath, this very much felt like deliberately wandering into the middle of nowhere. I was a bit nervous to be going so far from my hostel on unfamiliar public transit, but all the locals and drivers were more than helpful. I spent about two hours walking along the wall and made my way back to Carlisle without any problems. To make it a true outdoor experience in England, I got caught in an hour’s worth of heavy rain so by the time I got back into town I was quite soggy. Loved the whole outing and would love to see more of the Wall in the future.
Oh and cows use the gap to get to different pastures. These ones were on their way home for the night.
Getting to Newcastle was a simple task of catching the same local train that runs from coast to coast on the northern edge of England. A much larger town, there was a lot more to see and do though I only stayed two nights. I cherished both of them, however, because I had booked a private room for myself, the first since I was in Denmark. Taking a break from communal sleeping dorms has been so important to help me keep my sanity on this trip.
Ornate door handle from the Durham cathedral.
Since the train ride from Carlisle only took a little over an hour, I got into Newcastle quite early. After checking into my hostel I spent the afternoon exploring the local castle, which creatively bears the name of Newcastle since, at the time it was built, it was the new castle for the city. Place names can tell you so much sometimes. Though a small castle with included museum, it was still fun to wander around. You could go up to the very top and stand out on the roof and one of the towers. The view over the city and river was quite good but the wind was extremely powerful so I did not stay on the roof for long. The museum also had a wonderful collection detailing life in the city of Newcastle from the middle ages until the 18th century and how the castle played important roles in the development of the city.
The Black Gate, one of the old entrances to the Newcastle fortress. Most of the walls have been destroyed over the ages. Though I love the name of the gate, it’s not as interesting as it could be. The gatehouse was given to a man whose last name was Black as a sign of prestige.
Just a bit windy….
The one full day I had in Newcastle I actually spent in the nearby town of Durham, which was just a quick train ride away. The cathedral there, along with some of the buildings of the local university, were used as filming locations for the Harry Potter films and inspiration for the look of Hogwarts in the films. I of course visited the cathedral but because of graduation celebrations for the university I was not able to see any of those buildings. The whole town is lovely and old and sits on a spit of land surrounded on two sides by a river with accompanying forest. The only other thing I did in Newcastle was to watch Iceland embarrass England in their football match from the seclusion of my own room since it happened to have a TV. For me, this was an amusing way to spend a last night in England before heading to Scotland the next day.
Oh and there’s this random sculpture of a black, vampire rabbit on top of a doorway in Newcastle. No explanation, just guards this one house.
Such was the end of my time in England. Until I come back, of course. Next up, my adventures in wonderful land of Scotland!