It’s been a busy couple of weeks, but now I finally have some time to sit down and tell you all about it.
Last Monday I took the train to Stratford-upon-Avon, where I met up with my aunt and we went to see Hamlet. Yes, the RSC production of Hamlet with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart in it. Unfortunately we had standing tickets, which was all I could buy back in March when I got the tickets (it was that popular), but it was worth it just to be there. It was amazing! I now have tickets to see the RSC production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream when it comes to London in February. Going to catch the RSC whenever I can!
Oh, as I am a sucker for gift shops, I also picked up a pencil which says “2B OR NOT 2B”, because how cool is that?
On Tuesday I caught another train up to Warrington, where I met up with Dan and Marcel (well, actually I bumped into Marcel on the train at Crewe). We went to Chester for the afternoon. Chester is a lovely old walled city with plenty of half-timbered buildings, a castle, cathedral and half-excavated Roman amphitheatre. There’s also a canal with a cool staircase lock – a way of getting a boat from way down low to way up high (or the other way around).
The next day we hopped into Dan’s car and headed up to the Lake District. When we got there, we headed straight for the nearest mountain and climbed it! Ok, it was just a little peak, called Cat Bells, a 3 1/2 hour walk but I was quite proud of myself for (mostly) keeping up with the boys. I wasn’t sure how good my fitness levels were as they have fluctuated a lot recently and I haven’t been dancing much, but I do walk a lot around London – not having a car will do that. Some photos from the walk:
Dan pointing the way.
The view from near the top.
A fairy tale tree.
Down on the flat.
In the afternoon we checked into our B&B, The Heights Hotel near Keswick (which is all vegetarian, ooh!), and then walked through some very muddy fields to the nearby Castlerigg Stone Circle:
On Thursday we woke up to our vegetarian breakfasts and I sent the boys off to hike the Langdale Pikes, while I spent the day pottering in Keswick. The weekly craft market was on and I picked up a felted sweater Christmas ornament to add to the collection, as well as discovering the charming wee shop a temporary measure, which was full of handknitted baby clothes, printed canvas pictures and bags, and cakes and tea – a lovely combination! I picked up a wee canvas pouch for keeping my knitting oddments (scissors, measuring tape etc) together.
We stayed the night in a YHA next to Lake Borrowdale, which felt far more remote than Keswick. When we got up in the morning we had the lake to ourselves:
Although on the way back we bumped into a few more people, as well as a red squirrel (yay!) and the ubiquitous sheep:
We then stopped back at the other end of Derwentwater, where we hired a Canadian canoe for a couple of hours and paddled up to Keswick, around a few little islands, and back. The hire place was also home to this Viking boat:
Possibly my favourite photo of the whole trip!
And then it was back in the car and up to Hadrian’s Wall. Before catching sight of the Wall itself though, we stopped off at Vindolanda, a Roman pre-Wall fort situated some way behind the Wall itself. This is where the true excitement started for me. The site is truly massive and quite well excavated, although they estimate it will take another 200 years to fully excavate it. A while back I put my name on the waiting list to volunteer for the excavations – yes it’s mud, damp and bloody hard work but so rewarding!
The truly exciting part is that the excavations have turned up tiny slivers of wood with ink writing on them, in anaerobic soil layers from the early occupation of the fort. These tiny wood tablets record every day life in the fort, from the movements of soldiers, to business letters concerning grain and leather, to birthday party invitations. The tablets are so fascinating and revealing the British Museum has named them Britain’s top archaeological treasure.
We stayed the night at Birdoswald, a YHA hostel in a centuries-old farmhouse built on top of a Roman fort in the Wall. The farmhouse has a defensive tower attached to defend against the marauding, sheep-stealing Scots. It certainly had its ghosts but we slept well.
In the morning we got up bright and early and hit the Wall:
Still very, very exciting! I kept looking out for the phallic symbols supposedly carved into the Wall by the stonemasons but was disappointed – apparently you kind of have to know they’re there to see them.
See the farm road on the left, with the steep banks? That’s the remains of the original ditch that was dug on the North side of the wall – making it pretty hard to get through! The Wall was also guarded by little forts called milecastles every (Roman) mile, and two turrets between each milecastle. Behind the Wall ran a Roman Road and yet more earth defences:
As we were doing a circular walk we had to leave the wall for a while, head South and get a little damp in a marsh that our map led us into, but as Marcel says, at least now I don’t look like a tourist in my lovely new Merrell walking shoes as they are no longer lovely in the slightest.
We bumped into a couple we met earlier in our walk (they were doing straight along the Wall from end to end) and they told us the stretches of Wall around the Housesteads and Chesters forts were the most spectacular in terms of scenery. So we took ourselves on a bit of a detour and set off on another walk in search of photo opportunities:
On this particular stretch the milecastles don’t have doors in the north side as there was never going to be anyone scaling those cliffs to get through!
Now I’m back in London, although that doesn’t quite end my Roman odyssey – tomorrow I am going to the Hadrian exhibition at the British Museum, followed by a BBC documentary about the exhibition introduced by BBC historian Dan Snow.