Hadrian's Wall Walk 814/15/16 September 2012
Some re-enactors still ask me why Comitatus goes walking in the “wilds of Britain”. Well, if you have any claim to authenticity you need to test your clothing and equipment and one way is to walk, sleep and live in your kit. You need to show it is fit for purpose and not just fancy dress to pose in. And in so doing you learn a little more about how to make it, or why it is made the way it is.
The Wall Walk deserves careful planning, but this year I did not have the time. I threw a few things together, and headed north with Elizabeth. Everything I took had done walks in the past and I was confident in my clothing and equipment. We even arrived in daylight and were able to set up the camp in a relatively dry area. It had rained for several days before our arrival, but compared to some years the going was good. And the weather forecast was excellent with only periods of light rain and lots of wind to dry things off. It was very cold especially in the wind, but it was nice to be dry. Bit by bit the others joined us and for our American MA Archaeology students this was their last weekend with us. They were marching in modern clothes but still wore their Roman footwear.
As ever we were camping beneath the highest part of the Wall at Winshields. The stars were large and clear in the sky and the fire was great. When you moved away from the fire you became cold very quickly, but by the fire was brilliant. I had brought the wood with me, and it gave out enough light to actually see what I was cooking, a sort of pilaf of Bulgar wheat, vegetables and dried strips of bacon. A fair amount of cider was drunk and the atmosphere was rather celebratory - which meant we got to bed far too late, but out of the wind my tent felt a very safe place.
It is important to get an early start, and there was general reluctance to get up in the morning. It took a little cajoling to get everybody ready to start. We climbed up to the Wall, took a chance to redistribute the straps of our equipment, and headed west to try and fit in as many archaeological hot spots as possible. The wind was biting but a helmet and scale armour stops wind chill nicely. Sharon did a great job of both keeping young Alan entertained, and driving to meet us at different spots to help hand out water and take unwanted bags etc.
The Wall is beautiful place especially in the autumn, and we saw many evocative sites. Lunch was held in a pub beer garden and we succumbed to some local beer. We headed south east to the Stangate or in Old English the “stone road”, and rolled into Vindolanda to meet my robin “spirit guide”. Robins follow me everywhere on the Wall for reasons I cannot imagine. From there we had a hard climb north back to the Wall via the old British settlement at Milking gap, That gave us the most beautiful stretch of Wall past Crag Lough and on to Steel Rigg. From there we dropped down to the Twice Brewed for a few drinks before walking the last 400m to the campsite.
I think a few of us had colds, and I had a broken toe safely encased in my boot. But everybody had a good but tiring walk of 21 miles in around eight hours. It was great to take the armour off and put on a dry woollen shirt on, plus new socks. I fear we had a few drinks, and headed to the pub which did well to put up with us. Elizabeth’s tales of martial arts and the desire to kill with one’s bare hands will stay with the locals for a long time, as they will with me. It was quite an evening before we headed back to a roaring camp fire and more tales of daring. I sat up late after everybody had headed to bed enjoying my wine and the firelight playing on the trees. And listening to Tony snore.
The next morning we spent many hours at Vindolanda before finishing our trip at Chesters, two of my favourite sites in the area. We saw great artefacts and generally connected with those living on the Wall in the Roman period. By the time I got home I was re-enthused by the Romans.
Three young American males walking the Wall make more noise than entire Roman cohort. They are irrepressible! I was sad to say goodbye to Nick, Sascha and Jose, although I am sure we will stay in touch. Good luck in the future guys.