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Hadrian's Wall, amid rain and 30-mph winds
On May 21st, we drove from Ironbridge north to Carlisle at the English-Scottish border. Here, outside of Longtown, we are staying for the next two nights at New Pallyards Farm, run by Gina (Georgina) Elwen and her husband John. Breaking away from the "Cult of Rick Steves" (as a recent B&B nicknamed them), we have decided to use Carlisle as our base for exploring Hadrian's Wall (Rick Steves recommends Durham at the east end of the wall -- we are staying at the west end, using our handy Stay on a Farm TI guide book). Here, Cameron and Joss immediately made friends with the dog, Sooty.
To continue celebrating Russell's birthday, we drove ten minutes across the border into Alba (Scotland), where we had another delicious dinner out at the Garden House Hotel in Gretna. In an unusually comfortable setting, our waiter Brian had us sit in the lounge to peruse the menu and order our food. We were able to continue relaxing in the lounge until our food was ready, when we were seated at our table in the restaurant. Joss, although he never made a new birthday card, did give his dad a paper airplane that he named the "Dart 2002." On the drive back home in the dark, Gail barely avoided hitting a deer that ran out from the hedges and across the road (we also saw a pheasant).
Russell at his birthday dinner (yes, he still eats an incredible amount)
(Gretna -- and the Garden House Hotel -- is famous for its border weddings, in much the same way that Reno serves the need between California and Nevada. Back in 1753, England outlawed "runaway" -- eloped -- marriages, so hundreds of couples crossed the border to be married "over the anvil" by the local Blacksmith. In 1857 a new law was passed requiring 21 days of Scottish residence, and in 1940 all "anvil marriages" were outlawed. Even today, though, English law requires a minimum marriage age of 18 years, while Scottish law only requires 16 years. So Gretna Green is still a popular destination for border marriages.)
Hadrian's Wall, the most important Roman monument in Britain, dates from AD 122. At that time the Roman Empire extended into Britain, but the Romans were unable to conquer the strong and crazy Picts in Scotland. So the Emperor Hadrian (the one with the beard) spent six years constructing a wall 80 Roman miles (73 modern miles) long and 15 feet high, stretching all the way from Bowness-on-Solway on the west coast of England to Wallsend on the east coast. (There is also speculation that he had the wall built merely to give 20,000 Roman soldiers something to do.) After the fall of the Roman Empire the wall was raided for its stones, and very little remains today.
We began our exploration of Hadrian's Wall at the Banks East Turret (there were once castles at every mile along the wall, and two turrets between each castle). From there, we went to the Roman Army Museum near Walltown, where we collided with yet another school field trip (as Gail remarked, Europeans get much better field trips than Americans do). Here, we learned all about the life of a Roman soldier. At a minimum age of 18, you signed up for a 25-year term. You weren't allowed to marry, but at the end of your term any illegitimate children became legal. Plus, you became an official citizen of the Roman Empire and got a nice pension. At the nearby Walltown Crags and Quarry, we had a great time hiking around at the wall on top of a hill amid 30-mph winds, until the rain forced us back into our car.
The Banks East Turret... at least, what's left of it
We drove almost all the way to the east end of the wall to Hexham, where we hoped to grab a "Spag on the Wall" Roman lunch at the Beaumont Hotel. Unfortunately, we didn't arrive until 2:00 PM and they had just stopped serving lunch, so we had to console ourselves at a local sandwich shop (which had also just stopped serving lunch, so we had to order off of their snack menu). We also passed Haltwhistle, which prides itself on being located at the exact geographical center of Britain.
Our last excursion in this area was a quest for Pocket Dragons. When Russell and Gail owned a collectables shop several years ago, Pocket Dragons were the only thing that Gail personally collected. We knew that these cute little cold-cast figurines were manufactured here in England, so we had been looking for some kind of factory tour. On the way up to Carlisle we had stopped at Stoke-on-Trent, where we had sadly learned that the factory and shop had just relocated and were both closed to the public. Fortunately, we discovered that the overall company, Wetheriggs Country Pottery, had a studio just south of Carlisle in Clifton Dykes, and we arrived there in the late afternoon just one hour before closing. This gave us enough time to try out the "paint your own Pocket Dragon" workshop, and Gail purchased several Pocket Dragons in another rare souvenir spree. We finished off the day with a home-cooked meal supplied by Gina at the farm.
Three budding artists with their painted Dragon masterpieces
Despite being almost 2,000 years old and only a ruin of its former self, Hadrian's Wall provided a fascinating and educational excursion. Even more, its location still serves as the basic border between England and Scotland. For our next adventure we will leave England once more, crossing north into Alba where we will spend the next week and a half.
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