Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Weekend Down South: Hadrian's Wall

Two weekends after my now-infamous debacle in Shetland, I rolled down south to visit Captain John and his lovely and gracious Household Six. I met the Captain and HH6 in Florence, Italy in April of 2003, and visited them at their home in Orkney in September of 2004. It was Captain John who introduced me to the island paradise that I love so much. On the occasion of Captain John's retirement, they did a road trip across the southern United States, and spent a couple of days hanging out with me in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Gray 1 helped me to reestablish contact with the Cap'n during my triumphant return to Orkney. The Cap'n and I pinged back and forth during my ill-fated Shetland trip, as he had some experience with Shetland earlier in his life - he could identify with my plight! Before the Easter Holiday (which was too long), I touched base with Captain John and we decided on a weekend for me to come down to visit.

The Cap'n and HH6 left Orkney a few years ago to retire outside Lockerbie. The Cap'n picked me up from the train station, and the three of us enjoyed an evening together. The next morning, we got ourselves sorted out and headed for Northumberland, to the tiny area of Once Brewed/Twice Brewed. Our mission: to rendezvous with their daughter and granddaughter, and to see Hadrian's Wall. For those of you who are unschooled in Roman history, Hadrian's Wall was built during the reign of Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus Augustus - you know, Hadrian. It marks the border between the Roman province of Britannia - present-day England - and the untamed frontier of Caledonia - present-day Scotland. Of course, England now stretches further north than the original line of demarcation, but the border region has shifted a bit over the course of recorded history. The wall stretched from what is now Newcastle in the east, to what is now Carlisle in the west.

Our first stop was the Roman fort at Birdoswald, which we followed with a quick run out to a parking area for another quick photo op. Then, it was off to the Twice Brewed Inn for a lovely lunch with the Cap'n and HH6's daughter and granddaughter. After a while, as the granddaughter started to get a bit squirrely, we helped them to relocate to a more private area of the inn, and then Cap'n John and I set out for a bit of a bona fide adventure.

Aside from the wall itself, this particularly hilly area of Northumberland near One Brewed/Twice Brewed boasts two major landmarks: Milecastle 39, and a sycamore tree that was featured in an early scene of the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Fans of the film may remember a scene when Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman have just landed in a rowboat that somehow got them from the Holy Land to the English coast, and they rescue some kids that Alan Rickman's goons have just treed for poaching or something. Captain John noted, with his trademark grin, that they would have had a pretty long walk from the English coast, since the tree in question is located pretty much equidistant from either coast. Roman historians will remember that Hadrian's Wall featured a number of small and large forts that were built into the wall itself. Milecastle 39 is an example of the smaller type.

After leaving Orkney in 2004, my wanderings took me down to Carlisle, where I had hoped to see Hadrian's Wall. Unfortunately for me, I learned upon arriving in Carlisle that the western end of the Wall has long since disintegrated, as it was made out of turf due to a shortage of stone with which to build. (On the plus side, I had a fantastic dinner and saw some really cute waitresses at the Ristorante Adriano, so the sojourn wasn't a complete bust.) Given my earlier near miss, I was thrilled at the opportunity to have a bit of a hike and chew the proverbial fat with the Cap'n, and to see such well preserved ruins (and, y'know, the Robin Hood tree). It was a great way to spend a day out with the Cap'n and HH6, not to mention seeing signs directing us toward a village that shares its name with the colloquial phrase for a specific intimate act performed while the participants are travelling in a motor vehicle. (I'll admit it, my internal monologue snickered uncontrollably at that one, and I brought the Cap'n in on the joke later on.)

Of course, the weekend was just getting started.

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