VINDOLANDA & HADRIANS WALL
Having had a long drive in the dark the night before I decided to rise later, and when I did get up just before nine it was the most beautiful morning. I carefully made my way through the fallen autumn leaves on the slope next to where we had parked and couldn’t resist a photo or two.
I had planned my route for the day using the map as in this area Strict Lady is proving as good a useless. There are many hills and valleys, with small interlinking roads, and she is intent on taking me through and round these winding B roads, whereas I want to keep to the main A roads, and at every turning she exhorts me to turn left or right, and if I won’t, moans endlessly on about ‘Turning around as soon as possible’ To the extent that I half expect her to say ‘How many times have I told you!’ So I have switched her voice off but kept the map section on, not that it is much use as it either shows the entire route in miniature or a very small section in close up. I really must find a more reliable and amenable assistant.
Once again my lack of sense of direction and knowledge of geography is proving to be a real hinderance. This morning with no sat nag (yes I will let spell check have its way) I knew I wanted the A692 to Castleside. For some reason non of the roads were marked except the A692 but signed as leading to Gateshead. OK all you smart Alecs. I should have known that Gateshead was the opposite direction to the one I wanted, but I didn’t.
It wasn’t all bad as the road was beautiful. A really high, highway, though at intervals dropping down steeply, I assume to cross at the bridges in river valleys before climbing again for more far reaching views. It was an autumn morning and although wonderfully sunny there was a mistiness in the distance stopping the vastness of the view, but it was a true lovely piece of our country to drive through.
I think I was pretty well at Gateshead before I found a roundabout to allow me to retrace my route, but as I say it was a route worth having travelled. There were lots of folk out determined to enjoy the day. Lycra clad cyclists, leather clad motorbikers, dog walkers with their dogs, family groups with children and pushchairs, gardeners with wheelbarrows, couples hand in hand, children on bikes or in football gear, even though I was lost it was a real ‘feel-good’ day. It turned out I was driving through County Durham, and you can get an idea of the feel of the place by the two pubs I passed in Castleside - The Smelters Arms and The Fleece.
Then suddenly we were in Northumberland, and somehow the scenery changed. Far more rural, and with moorland on the tops of the hills. A farmer was ploughing and there were flocks of seagulls and rooks following the plough, something I haven’t seen in years, maybe in more intensively farmed areas compaction and chemicals have have killed off any insect life or worms, leaving nothing for any self respecting bird to bother with, so it was a pleasant sight and took me back to my younger days.
On the hilly ground Thebus is often slow up the hills, and as always I pull in as soon as possible to let anyone stuck behind me have the opportunity to pass, and for the first time since I left Scotland I had a sign of thanks and acknowledgement from one of the motorists, rather than scowls and frowns for having the temerity to be driving on the road at less than sixty miles an hour.
The pull-in was flat, and the views were good so I decided on a late breakfast. My current favourite juice Waitrose’s Orange Mango and Passion Fruit, some of Taylor’s dry cured bacon from The Noted Pie Shop in Richmond (well worth a visit) Waitrose’s Toulouse Sausage (wish I bought some of Taylor’s - avoid sausages when in Toulouse unless they are better at making them than Waitrose! ) a handful of little tomatoes, and sliced mushrooms, and two free range eggs from the stall at the Beer Festival. All cooked and on the table in the time it would take to put in an order. Mind you at the Noted Pie Shop in Richmond yesterday they were offering a Sausage and Bacon Roll, plus a hot drink for £2, good value or what!
So replenished and refreshed I headed on to Vindolanda, the site of a Roman fort near Hadrian’s Wall which guarded the nearby roadway. I had read about the tablets discovered there in 1973 - small thin slivers of wood about the size of a postcard, folded in half and with writing in ink on the insides. Quite literally the ‘texts’ of the times, and on all sorts of topics - from the most well known which was an invitation to a birthday party:
"Claudia Severa to her Lepidina greetings. On 11 September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival, if you are present give my greetings to your Cerialis. My Aelius and my little son send him their greetings. (2nd hand) I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail. (Back, 1st hand) To Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of Cerialis, from Severa."
to enquiries as to which was the best inn to stay with good stabling for the horses; orders for food; requests for underclothing; and MORE BEER. Many artefacts which have been excavated at the site are now on display in the museum there, but although some of the wooden letters are on display most are kept at the British Museum in London, including the one from Severa. The fort and village house walls have been revealed, and there is an excellent scale model of how the fort and town would have looked in its heyday. The museum gives the history of how the site was known and mostly still extant in the dark and middle ages, though to its purchase by an historian and gradual excavation up to the present day. All in all an interesting and worthwhile stop.
As I my next ‘thing to see’ was Hadrian’s Wall I asked a very helpful member of staff where would be a good place to see, and maybe even be able to get to it on Super Scooter, and was given directions to the nearby carpark at Steel Rigg which has stunning view of the surrounding countryside and where Hadrian’s Wall was easy to reach even for the vertically challenged (in every sense of the word).