Category Archives: Natural Environment

Hadrian’s Wall and an Emergency Breakdown Callout

Although a lot of people think that the Roman Emperor’s Wall marks the border between England and Scotland it never has and never will because it runs a conveniently short distance between Wallsend near the River Tyne in Newcastle and the Solway Firth in Cumbria.

When it came down to military expediency the Romans didn’t concern themselves too much about geography. The wall is entirely within England and although it is close to Scotland in the west at its eastern end the wall is fully seventy miles south of the River Tweed.

Interestingly the wall was eighty Roman miles, a Roman mile based on 1,000 marching steps or 5,000 feet.  The unit of measure, the mile, has many variations, the US mile for example is slightly longer than the UK mile (established by Queen Elizabeth I).  At every mile the Legions erected a stone marker – a mile stone to record the distance from London and from Rome.

This was all a bit confusing so in 1791 the French Revolutionary National Assembly adopted the metric system which gave the World the kilometre.  Britain was invited to adopt the new system but naturally declined.  Over two hundred years later we have Brexit where we still refuse to join in with the Europeans.

Anyway, back to the border – in point of fact in Roman times and for a long time after there never was a border as such between England and Scotland, that came much later in 1706 with the Act of Union which united Scotland with England and Wales to form the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Border forms the boundary of the two separate legal systems.

This is Hadrian, from a statue found in the River Thames in 1834…

The Wall was a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia, begun in AD 122 in the reign of the emperor Hadrian and was the northern limit of the Roman Empire, immediately north of which were the lands of the northern Ancient Britons, people so frightening that even the Romans wouldn’t take them on.

It was a very pleasant day for our visit and the sun was shining but I guess this would have been quite a bleak place two thousand years ago. I imagine a legionnaire waiting for details of his posting and hoping to go Spain or France to the warm inviting beaches of the Mediterranean Sea and bit of sunshine would have been rather disappointed to discover that he was going to the bitter cold north of England to help build a massive stone wall.

At a length of almost seventy-five miles long it is the largest remaining construction anywhere in the old Roman world and it was started and finished in just about six years which is an impressive rate of progress compared to how long it takes to get anything built these days.

A lot of it has disappeared over time, there is very little stone at the eastern and western extremities where it was dismantled during the medieval period as convenient construction material and later on for eighteenth century road building projects. And a lot of what we see know has been reconstructed and rebuilt but never mind I don’t have an issue with that.

Seventy-five miles sounds like a lot of wall but by way of comparison the Great Wall of China is over thirteen-thousand miles long, Donald Trump’s Mexico wall is approximately two-thousand miles and even in England Offa’s Dyke running between England and Wales was one hundred and fifty miles long stretching from the River Mersey in the North to the River Severn in the South. The Maginot Line in France (a sort of underground wall) was nine hundred and fifty miles long but ultimately completely useless because the French didn’t get to finish it and in 1940 the German Panzer divisions simply went around it on their way to Paris.

The Romans were more clued up than the French it seems and the wall goes all the way from coast to coast. They didn’t leave a gap at one end that the Barbarians could conveniently use to get past.

Hadrian’s Wall was built almost completely of stone with a small castle every mile to act as a watchtower and a large garrison fort every five miles which was manned by a cohort of troops numbering as many as eight-hundred. A cohort is considered to be the equivalent of a modern army battalion.

It is possible to visit quite a lot of these old fortress sites and there was one conveniently close to where we were staying.

I didn’t really know what to expect of the wall; when I was a boy I wondered why the Northern Barbarians didn’t just get some ladders and climb over it when no one was looking but here I got to appreciate the massive scale of the thing.

There wasn’t a great deal of it I have to say but there was an information board that explained what it would have looked like.

In this central section, the wall was built on a natural hard granite rock escarpment called Whin Sill which is a volcanic eruption that rises dramatically and vertically out of the ground. If this wasn’t enough, on the northern side the wall comprised a ditch, then the wall, a military road an earth rampart and then another ditch with adjoining mounds. No Welcome Mats and if anyone was going to get over this wall it was going to take a lot more than a ladder let me tell you!

Once its construction was finished, it is thought to have been covered in plaster and then whitewashed, its shining surface reflected the sunlight and was visible for miles around, an extravagant expression of Roman military might and the border of the Empire.

We planned to see more of the wall but then there was an unfortunate incident. We pulled into a shale surface car park and immediately picked up a piece of flint which deposited itself in the rear brake arrangements on the car which required a call to the emergency services and a ninety minute wait for assistance.

With time running out we reluctantly abandoned the wall and continued to Whitley Bay, north of Newcastle where we were visiting family.

Following the A1 North To The Wall

I have always been interested in road numbering in England. I once had an idea for a project which involved driving along some of the of the pre motorway routes, for example the Great North Road and the Fosse Way.

Kim has never really shared my enthusiasm for the project I have to say.

Recently we went north and I thought this an opportunity to drive a section of the Great North Road rather than use the modern A1 Motorway.

I digress here but a lot of people say that the A1 North is the best thing to come out of London and I have to say that altogether I agree with that.

We have a London centric country because of Roman transport policy . There is a saying that all roads lead to Rome and that may well be true but in England, thanks to the Romans all roads do actually lead to London.

They had six principal roads from London, Ermine Street that went North to York and then on to Hadrian’s Wall at Corbridge, Watling Street which went in one direction South-East to Dover and in the other North West to Chester, Slane Street that went to the South coast, Portway which went to Exeter in the South-West and then an unnamed road which ran to Carlisle also in the North.

I mention this because two thousand years later roads in England follow almost exactly the Roman routes. There are six single digit main roads in England. The A1 runs north more or less along the route of Ermine Street (although slightly to the west of it to avoid the Humber Estuary), the A2 goes to Dover along the southern section of Watling Street, the A3 follows the route of Slane Steet to Portsmouth, the A4 is the old Portway that goes to Exeter. The A5 is the northern section of Watling Street that runs to Chester and the modern A6 follows the Roman route from London to Carlisle.

Some people ask, what did the Romans ever do for us? Well, amongst other things they gave us our modern road network system.

This may have been what a Roman motorway service area might have looked like…

We started out early and drove east (which as it happens is the only way of Grimsby) using the modern motorway system, the M180, the M18 and the M62 but instead of joining the A1(M) we left at a junction to follow the Great North Road which doesn’t exactly follow a Roman Road but was constructed in the seventeenth century to join London with Edinburgh in Scotland and was one of the great coaching roads of Georgian England.

We drove monotonously (I am obliged to confess) through Knottingly, Ferrybridge, Fairburn, Micklefield and Aberford which were all bottleneck villages without any real appeal and we watched the traffic whiz by on the adjacent motorway as we encountered several hold ups and slow progress Kim’s limited enthusiasm for my project began to rapidly evaporate.

I persuaded her to stick with it until we reached the town of Wetherby where following my chosen route really did become a chore. We stopped for a while by the River Wharfe where I trod in some canine poo left there by some inconsiderate dog owner and then we carried on but this time using Kim’s preferred route the A1(M). The old Great North Road ran alongside for most of the route so I was obliged to agree that driving it was rather pointless.

However pointless, it seems that if I am to complete my project that I will probably have to do it alone.

We continued now along the A1(M) and left at junction 56 on to the B6275 which really does follow the route of a genuine Roman Road, Dene Street which went from York to Corbridge and to Hadrian’s famous Wall. There is even a Roman Bridge over the River Tees at the village of Piercebridge.

Leaving the Roman Road at Bishop Auckland we continued now to the city of Durham and then we continued to our chosen overnight accommodation at the Barrasford Arms in the village of of the same name close to the river Tyne.

Let me explain why…

I am a great fan of the 1970s TV sitcom “Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads” and the Barrasford Arms featured in one of the episodes so for no better reason than that I wanted to stop there.

If I was compiling a top three of favourite TV sitcoms then “Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads” would definitely be in there along with…

“Dad’s Army”

and “Father Ted”

No one at the Barrasford Arms knew anything about the Likely Lads or seemed interested in what happened to them; well, it was almost fifty years ago and most of the staff were under thirty and from Eastern Europe.

It hasn’t changed a great deal over the years, Bob and Terry would still recognise it…

After The Rain Shower

“I’m just sitting watching flowers in the rain
Feel the power of the rain making the garden grow”

After a sudden sharp shower I rushed to the garden to photograph the raindrops…

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Trivia – In September 1967 the BBC launched a new popular music breakfast radio station called Radio 1, the first DJ was Tony Blackburn and the first song played was “Flowers in the Rain” by the Birmingham pop group The Move.

 

People Pictures – Waiting For The Bus

When it comes to taking pictures I like doors, statues, balconies and washing lines, Kim on the other hand likes people pictures so I thought I might share a few of them with you.

This one was taken in the tiny country of San Marino…

San Marino is the fifth smallest country in the World (it is .0008% the size of Australia) and the third smallest in Europe, with only Vatican City and Monaco being tinier. It is also World’s smallest Republic. I have been to the Vatican City but not to Monaco.

Nearly fifty years ago at University I studied the ‘Unification of Italy’, it was my specialist subject, but I don’t remember it ever occurring to me to wonder why San Marino is an independent State (perhaps that’s why I didn’t get a First) and not simply a part of greater Italy because Italy is one hundred and sixteen thousand square miles of territory and San Marino is only twenty-three (.02%). Visiting the country made me belatedly curious.

One explanation offered is that during the wars of Italian unification Giuseppi Garibaldi (he keeps cropping up) in 1849 was on the run from Austrian, French, Spanish and Neapolitan troops and sought refuge for himself and his small army in San Marino where he was given welcome and refuge. In recognition of this support Garibaldi accepted the wish of San Marino not to be incorporated into the new Italian state and in 1862 a friendship treaty guaranteed its continuing independence.

Click on an image to view the Gallery…

Read The Full Story Here…

A to Z of Balconies – Castro Urdiales in Cantabria

After lunch we continued our stroll to the handsome old town of Castro Urdiales where the Town Hall stands adjacent to the immaculate main square next to what was the original tiny harbour that was sheltering behind its protective stone walls.

Around the harbour side women were working under parasols repairing fishing nets and past the fish market at the far end of the harbour a set of weathered stone steps took us up to castle which stands on an elevated rocky outcrop. We made the tour of the restored fortress and then walked around the outside of the impressive medieval parish church, the Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Asuncion, which had the external appearance of a much grander cathedral.

Read the Full Story Here…

People Pictures – Caught in the Sunset

When it comes to taking pictures I like doors, statues, balconies and washing lines, Kim on the other hand likes people pictures so I thought I might share a few of them with you.

This one was taken on the Greek island of Amorgos…

Amorgos has some fabulous sunsets, this picture is one of mine…

Read The Full Story Here…

A to Z of Statues – F is for Matthew Flinders

Matthew Flinders was a Royal Navy officer and an English navigator and cartographer of very special talent who led the second circumnavigation of what was then called in equal parts New Holland (named by Abel Tasman, the Dutch explorer) and New South Wales. The name Australia derives from Latin australis meaning southern, and dates back to 2nd century legends of an “unknown southern land” . The explorer Matthew Flinders renamed the land Terra Australis, which was later abbreviated to the current form. The name Australia stuck, there is still a part of Australia called New South Wales but there is no New Holland. There is a Tasmania of course.

Although he was modest enough to never name for any feature in all his discoveries, Flinders’ name is now associated with over one hundred geographical features and places in Australia and after Queen Victoria there are more statues of Flinders in Australia than anyone else.

In February 2020 my blogging pal John from Australia came to the UK and we met up. I took him to the village of his birthplace, Donington in Lincolnshire…

We visited the village market square where he was born. The house is sadly now gone, demolished a hundred years ago or so and then on to the Parish Church with a soaring tower and steeple which is a sort of museum about his life and achievements.

There is an interesting story about his coffin. his coffin. England is currently building an unnecessary and very expensive new high speed rail service from London to the north and during excavations near Euston Station in London the coffin of Matthew Flinders was discovered in a graveyard that had been built over a hundred years or so ago. The discovery was almost as big a thing as finding King Richard III underneath a car park in Leicester.

The coffin and the remains are currently undergoing scientific analysis but once this is complete the body will be returned to Donington and interred with special rejoicing and appropriate reverence in the church in the village.

Donington is miles and miles away from anywhere that tourists normally go but will almost certainly become a place of pilgrimage for visitors from Australia.

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

In The Garden – June Blooms

 

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

 

People Pictures – Cottage Industry

When it comes to taking pictures I like doors, statues, balconies and washing lines, Kim on the other hand likes people pictures so I thought I might share a few of them with you.

This one was taken in the Spanish village of Carmona in Cantabria…

Carmona is a delightfully quaint village with tiny cobbled streets with wild flower verges and where sunlight spilled into the dark corners of the workshops where traditional wood carvers were busy making customary products of cattle yokes, sandals, clogs, canes, and cutlery which, I am told, are distinctive to rural Cantabria.

I say that in a slightly cynical way because I got the impression that there isn’t really a great deal of tradition here and that whilst a man was busy whittling wood in an open barn for the benefit of the tourists there was probably a factory somewhere full of modern drills and lathes where the products for sale were being produced for sale to the coach loads of visitors who visit daily.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Read The Full Story Here…

A to Z of Balconies – The Greek Island of Symi

The approach to the harbour town was probably the most spectacular of all the islands that we have visited flanked on both sides by colourful neoclassical houses in a riot of complimentary pastel shades, contrasting wooden shutters, decorative iron balconies and red tiled roofs.

Read the Full Story Here…