Monday, October 4, 2010

Hadrian's Wall

Today we left Kiswick and drove to Levisham near Pickering in North Yorkshire. Driving in England is really quite awful. You have three choices: "b" roads - twisty narrow hilly roads where you can rarely see more than 100 feet in front of your car before the next hill or turn and where everyone drives at about 60 miles (90 km) per hour and quite often the road is only wide enough for one car; "a" 10 and 100 roads which are slightly wider and where everyone drives 70 miles an hour (110 km); and "m" motorways where the huge trucks drive along on the outside at about 60 miles an hour, the big trucks passing other big trucks drive along in the middle lane at about 70 miles an hour and the cars weave in out and then drive on the inside lane at about 100 miles an (130 km). All the "a" roads use roundabouts instead of stop lights. Today we drove on all three kinds of roads and probably went though at least 20 roundabouts - only 2 or 3 of which we took the wrong turn and found ourselves heading at top; speed in the wrong direction. It is very stressful and makes going 30 miles seem like an eternity.

Anyway - through Mike's miraculous driving we actually made it from Kiswick to Levisham and stopped at two sites on Hadrian's Wall. In case you don't know, the wall was built by the Roman Legions just a bit south of the Scottish border to draw the northern boundary of the Roman Empire in around 144 AD. Every mile along the wall was a castle with a gate and there were lookout tours interspersed. There were also large Roman Forts at some of the gates. People were only allowed to cross the wall at the gates.The wall itself was about 15 ft high and 5 ft wide and made mainly of square cut blocks of stone - millions of them. The soldiers who manned the walls and camps, were people the Romans had conquered (in different parts of Europe). If the worked as soldiers for 25 years they were allow to retire and become Roman citizens. After the Romans left Britain in the 400s, it seems that the soldiers stayed on and ran the country themselves. They stole the stones from the wall to build their houses. There was lots of skirmishing and cattle rustling for a few hundred years. Then, in 1066 along came the Normans who took over the land and established large estates. They took more of the stones to build themselves castles, abbeys, etc. That meant that there was not much left of the wall. However in the 1800s, some of th3e landowners became interested in the ruins in their estates and dug them up and found the remains of the wall and some of the forts and bathhouses (like the baths in Bath). They took all the good stuff and put it in the private collections. Modern day archaeologists are trying to carefully make sense of the muddle of things that remain. I had always wanted to Hadrian's Wall and I am glad we were able to see some of its remains today. We even bought a book by Rosemary Sutcliff, a YA historical writer who wrote about life in Roman Britain. I am definitely going to read it once I have finished "Digging for America" the book by Ann Tyler that we found that was "released" on South West Coast Path.

Our place in Levisham is just lovely. The room is huge with a sitting area. Everything is spotless and shiney and there is a shower as well as a bathtub. There is even a large sitting room we can sit in by a real fire and large screen TV. Our lovely host, gave us tea and raisin cake when we arrived n-and then we went for dinner a couple of houses away and had more cake (called pudding) for dessert. That's all for the night. The road accessing Levisham is under construction and and we can only leave on the hour - plus the power is off all day - so we need ot be u and eating breakfast by 8. And so, thankfully, to bed.

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