• Kim O'Flaherty

A Walk Through Time

Built in AD 122, Hadrian’s Wall traverses 84 miles of England’s north country. A fortification marking the northern reaches of Roman Emperor Hadrian’s realm, it crosses hills and dales through Northumberland and Cumbria, from Wallsend near Newcastle in the east to Bowness-on-Solway at its westernmost location. As a defensive border, its years were short as Hadrian’s successor pushed the line further north; however, markets and villages grew up in its shadow. Over the centuries, locals pilfered stones and the harsh weather diminished its architecture until only about ten miles of the actual Wall remain. Hadrian’s Wall Path, with its remnants of the

Wall interspersed with forts and milecastles, became a World Heritage Site in 1987, and was named a British National Trail in 2003.

We begin our trek after visiting the museum and minimally excavated fort in Wallsend. For the next seven days, we walk the trail, crossing rivers, admiring gardens, navigating through gates, and climbing over stiles. We count milecastles and stone bridges and sunsets. We dodge sheep and border collies, and avoid the farmyards with “Danger! Bull!” warnings. We wade ankle-deep in wet fields. We gasp in awe at the hues of the landscape, at the Sycamore Gap Tree of Robin Hood fame, at Chesters Fort (and especially its bath houses), at the Temple of Mithras. We overnight in a manor house turned hotel with a four-poster bed and fireplace in our room, in a bed-and-breakfast in a renovated pigs’ sty (complete with homemade organic soap, lavender bath salts, and melt-in-your-mouth shortbread), and a tiny inn above a restaurant. (The church across the street is celebrating its 350th anniversary, and wakes us early and optimistically with its pealing bells.)

As we travel across the countryside each day, through rich pastures and purple moors, we briefly imagine that we hear the soldiers’ footsteps. But in the span of time since they walked this land, so many others have taken their place. When we enter the nearby churchyards, we hear the families that toiled and grew and, sometimes, prospered. In the ancient flower markets and newspaper shops, at the bakeries and butchers’ halls, our ancestors’ ancestors went about their daily lives. In the pubs, we hear the echoes of men and women who worked hard and made merry, who sorrowed and lamented. Nowadays, when exhausted trekkers stagger in searching for a pint of brew and a hearty meal, we’re embraced with local drafts and organic stews, and rewarded with stories from a keeper of rich local history and lore.

Above it all, we hear the land! The wind blows strong. The dappled sunlight highlights the remaining stones of Hadrian’s marker. The hills and the valleys endure. The Wall – its trace - is a steadfast backdrop to our hike through time. When the notorious British weather inevitably descends and mist shortens our vista, we thankfully spy a tiny pop-up tea stand in a parking lot, where a warm cup and biscuit hearten our remaining miles.