Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Walking Hadrian's Wall, Hexham to Old Repeater Station

Our trip to the UK started with some daydreaming about hiking the full length of Hadrian's Wall. While we eventually expanded our trip to incorporate other parts of England and Scotland, we still wanted to get a taste of what walking a length of the wall was like. We decided to walk back from Hexham to Old Repeater Station. It was a very leisurely seven miles through fields tucked into the rolling hills of Northumberland.

Hadrian's Wall, Hexham to Old Repeater Station-01

A stile, marked with the National Trail's acorn, so we know we're on the right path.

Hadrian's Wall, Hexham to Old Repeater Station-07
Northumberland reminded us of Kentucky.

Hadrian's Wall, Hexham to Old Repeater Station-14
Black Carts Turret.

Hadrian's Wall, Hexham to Old Repeater Station-18
Cows relieving their itches on the Wall.

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Sky and earth keep unfolding before us.

Hadrian's Wall, Hexham to Old Repeater Station-34
We both took a fancy to Low Teppermoor Farm.  The snug fields and mild cattle were charming. 

Hadrian's Wall, Hexham to Old Repeater Station-36
Jon consults the Ordnance Survey map to get our bearings.  Ordnance Survey maps are awesome, especially the Explorer series, designed for outdoor enthusiasts.  These maps have a scale of 2 1/2 inches to 1 mile, which affords an incredible amount of detail.  These maps make note of every little thing that can possibly be noted, from farms and lakes down to sheepfolds, cairns, and rock piles.  I kid you not.

Carrawburgh Temple of Mithras, Hadrian's Wall, Hexham to Old Repeater Station-41
Near Brocolita Roman Fort is the Mithraeum, dedicated to the Persian god Mithras, where Roman soldiers participated in the Mythraic Mysteries.  What we saw was a re-creation of the original site, which had been excavated and moved to the Museum of Antiquities in Newcastle in 1950.

Offerings at Carrawburgh Temple of Mithras, Hadrian's Wall, Hexham to Old Repeater Station-43
Modern day offerings to the god on the altar, including a golf ball.

Carrawburgh Temple of Mithras, Hadrian's Wall, Hexham to Old Repeater Station-46
The headless statue of one of Mithras' twin torchbearers.

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Not that much farther to Sewingshields on the Wall, and to roast lamb and vegetables made by Les at Old Repeater Station.

Hadrian's Wall, Hexham to Old Repeater Station-49
More cows. I never thought I would walk past a bull without some kind of barrier between the two of us.  He just chewed his cud and barely gave us a glance as we walked past.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Wandering around Hexham and Corbridge

Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
A door...because I like doors.

Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
The church ladies were setting up tables for tea.  The abbey tea shop was due to open in a couple of minutes.  There were already some expectant elderly folks milling about.

Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
Hexham Abbey is smack dab in the middle of town with barely any room to wriggle its elbows.  It was difficult to get a picture of the entire Abbey.

Hexham, Northumberland, England
It was hidden by the farmer's market at one end.  The fruits and vegetables put on quite a show, their colors vibrant against the mass of stone presented by the Abbey, ancient buildings, and walkways.

Hexham, Northumberland, England
On the other side was this pile of old buildings, the heart of Hexham, navigable by these narrow alleys.  

Hexham, Northumberland, England
Shops and cafes lined the alleys.  Once the day got going, these alleys were filled with tourists and regulars.

Hexham, Northumberland, England
The sign gets to the point: "The Bike Shop."

Hexham, Northumberland, England
Of course I went in.  I knew I wanted to get Bill Bryson's "At Home: a Short History of Private Life" while I was in England, not only because it was available in the UK before America (where it wouldn't be published until October 2010), but because I wanted the British edition.  After seeing the heft of the hardcover book (544 pages), and painfully aware of how little room there was in my duffel bag (especially with the books I had already purchased*), I decided to wait and get the book in London.

Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
Another view of the Abbey.  It's there wherever you are in town. It seemed no matter which alley we came out of, we walked into the Abbey.

Soldier with axe, military parade, Hexham, Northumberland, England
Our bus to Corbridge was delayed by this Armed Forces Display.  Most of the soldiers had guns, but this one had an axe.  Does he know how to use it?

Elderly ladies, Hexham, Northumberland, England
Little old ladies at the bus stop.  

Corbridge, Northumberland, England
A blue door in Corbridge.

Corbridge, Northumberland, England
We saw these poppies while walking out to the Roman fort near Corbridge.  Once we reached the fort, we decided we were rather tired with old things for the day and turned around without touring the fort.  There would be plenty of opportunities to see Roman ruins (we would be seeing Vindolanda and Housesteads the next day), not to mention the Wall itself, as we were going to walk back to Old Repeater Station along Hadrian's Wall rather than take the bus back.

Townhouse names, Corbridge, Northumberland, England
The townhomes in Corbridge are named.  Did I mention that I love doors?

*I had already purchased the British edition of the first Harry Potter book (titled "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone") at Blackwell's in Oxford, and "Memoirs of a Highland Lady" at Waterstone's in Aviemore, Scotland.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hexham Abbey

Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
Someone started practicing on the organ while we were walking around the Abbey.

Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
The music swelled and filled up the church.  The organ fits this kind of space perfectly.  Elsewhere, it seems like a stout man trying to make his way down the narrow church pew without treading on anyone's toes.

Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
These old churches take your breath away.

Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
Effigies of dead people lay in one section of the Abbey.  Their faces were worn away.  I wish I had looked up their names (I don't recall seeing any placards), though they are dead and no longer care whether they are remembered.

Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
That Anglo-Saxon man in the bottom of the picture is peering out at us.  You can get accustomed to being the anonymous person rambling about these grand old places that being noticed, even by an inanimate object, is a jolt.

Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
These stairs are still used by the choir.  When they were first built, sometime in the 13th century, they led to the dormitory used by the canons who ministered to the Hexham community.  They lived according to the Rule of St. Augustine.

Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
There was a row of these people on the outside of the Abbey, right at eye-level: the flying monks.  I'm not sure what would have been placed in the spaces above their heads.

Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
They had pleasing faces.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The crypt beneath a church: Hexham Abbey

The next day we headed into Hexham on the very convenient Hadrian's Wall Country Bus, which passes the Old Repeater Station as it ferries visitors to various points along Hadrian's Wall.

Saxon crypt, Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
First stop was Hexham Abbey, which has been around in some form or other for over 1300 years. An Anglo-Saxon crypt was discovered in the bowels of the Abbey while it was being renovated in the late 19th century.  The entrance to the crypt is in the middle of the church, in the nave.  If I were a child attending services, this hole in the floor would have creeped me out.

Saxon crypt, Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
We descended the narrow stairs into the dim low-ceilinged space and bumped and shuffled our way around corners and through passageways. It was easy to imagine the shrine illuminated by flickering candlelight, standing out in the pools of darkness filling the corners.  How many pilgrims from long ago venerated the relics kept here?

Pieces of Roman carved stone used in Saxon crypt, Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
The builders made free with stone from the nearby Roman fort Carla and probably Hadrian's Wall as well.  The Romans had been gone 300 years by the time this crypt was built.  Stone blocks like these, with decorative borders, were scattered throughout the crypt walls, positioned where they were for structural purposes rather than to maintain whatever design they had originally been carved for.  How would the Roman stonemasons have reacted if they had seen how their handiwork was re-used?

Saxon crypt, Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
When a couple joined us in the crypt, the smallness of the crypt quickly became self-evident and we made our way back up the well-worn steps...

Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
into the soaring airiness of Hexham Abbey.  The nave above was built in 1908.  Spaces were set into the wall on the right to show off various stone fragments that were uncovered along with the crypt.

Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
Tons of these fragments were scattered throughout the Abbey, set in seemingly random places, as if they had so many Roman and Anglo-Saxon artifacts that they could afford to be careless with placement.

Hexham Abbey, Hexham, Northumberland, England
At the far end of the nave was the Sunday school space.  I loved the homely warmth of the children's area juxtaposed against the cold stone grandeur of the Abbey.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Plath and the North country

Hadrian's Wall - Sewingshields Turret-60

"...There is no life higher than the grasstops
or the hearts of sheep, and the wind
pours by like destiny, bending
everything in one direction..."

I recently discovered Sylvia Plath's poem "Wuthering Heights." Go and read it.  I'll wait.

The poem appeared during some routine work at the computer on a slow Friday afternoon.  There was no warning.  I read the first line and stepped into Northumberland.  

The wind pulled at my clothes with insistent fingers as the sheep browsed and chatted with throaty bleats around the crumbling stones of Hadrian's Wall. The horizon kept going and going, even as it faded into the distance.  And above it all was the sky, vast and unending.  I felt ridiculously small and alone, pinned to the earth beneath the weight of the sky. It was exhilarating and unnerving.

Plath captures the brooding remoteness of England's northern country perfectly.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

We encounter Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall - Sewingshields Turret-37
Our first good look at the wall.

No sooner did we walk into Old Repeater Station after that adventurous taxi ride than did Les shoo us off, "I suppose you want to go look at the wall."

Hadrian's Wall - Sewingshields Turret-07
He gave us directions, which involved a traipsing across the property of these folks to get to the public access trail that cut through their property...  

Hadrian's Wall - Sewingshields Wood
The trail ran along the back of the house.  We couldn't help but feel that we were trespassing.

Hadrian's Wall - Sewingshields Wood
This small patch of woods even had a name: Sewingshields Woods (everything in the United Kingdom has a name).  I should follow this tradition of naming and name the string of trees we have along the back of our property.

Hadrian's Wall - Sewingshields Turret-20
There were no fences or other obstructions to keep people away.  Just a tacit understanding to respect the remains.

Hadrian's Wall - Sewingshields Turret-36
Sewingshields milecastle, a typical outpost along the wall that would have housed a small group of Roman soldiers. 

Hadrian's Wall - Sewingshields Turret-47
The land falls away on the other side of the wall.  You can see why the Romans chose to build the wall on this particular spot at the edge of the empire.  It was a great natural defense against those crazy barbarian Scotsmen.  (I'm married to one, by the way).

Hadrian's Wall - Sewingshields Turret-56
Sewingshields Turret, which was once a small tower that soldiers could use for surveying the land at a distance around them.

Hadrian's Wall - Sewingshields Turret-60
There were sheep everywhere, rubbing their behinds against the 2000 year old remains.  What is it like to have a farm with such tangible history wrapped up in the land?