The first traces can already be seen in the outskirts of Newcastle upon Tyne, but to best appreciate Hadrian's Wall you have to go roughly half way between the East and West coast. Names of villages on the way constantly remind the visitor of what he is here to see: Wallsend, Heddon-on-the-Wall, and Walltown are just a few examples. Clouds were getting darker and darker as I approached Housesteads; when we arrived, rain had started to fall. It gave a dramatic expression to the sky and an ominous ceiling to the open-air theatre I was about to visit. After seeing Housesteads, or Vercovicium, I walked the wall, first eastwards, then returning and going to the west, towards Sycamore Gap.
During Emperor Hadrian's rule, the Roman Empire was under threat from various sides. When Hadrian visited Britannia province in 122, he ordered a wall built, spanning the entire width of the island. Six years later, his soldiers had finished the task of building a wall through sometimes rugged terrain, over rivers, crests of hills, always seeking the shortest way. The wall was 80 Roman miles long, a little over 73 miles or 117km; it had a vallum or ditch as an additional obstacle. Every Roman mile, there was a small castle, and each third mile, a turret. In total, some 10,000 Roman soldiers defended this border of the Roman empire against the Pictish tribes in the north. The wall was abandoned in the early 5th century when the Romans withdrew from Britannia.
Hadrian's Wall is easily walked in the central area, even though you might encounter mud in some parts. Views of the wall are very attractive: the thick wall meandering through a soft landscape of rolling hills, giving the hills a defining line on their top. In a distance, the wall disappears beyond the horizon. Some parts of the wall are truly outstanding. Especially the stretch between Housesteads and Once Brewed is spectacular: Hadrian's wall follows some high cliffs, towering above Crag Lough lake. Here, the combination of the wall and the difficult terrain certainly must have guaranteed to keep the barbarians out. It also drops deep into Sycamore Gap, where a big tree fills the dent in the rocky ridge. Once you are at Steel Rigg, be sure to look back: it gives you great views almost all the way back to Housesteads.
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