Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hadrian's Wall Illumination

click any photo for larger image
Crag Lough and Steel Rigg

Volunteers set up 500 torches (complete with ye olde propane tankes) at 250-meter intervals along the 73-mile length of Hadrian's Wall. (I've seen different lengths quoted, including 80 Roman miles.) They were approximately 250 meters apart, and there were a few glitches, but it was spectacular, nonetheless.

We chose a portion in the middle of the wall for our viewing, between Greenhead and Humshaugh. The site below discusses the Illumination; the homepage has a map showing our location above Crag Lough.

The wee little ants trudging up the pile of rocks (no, they did not scurry) are the modern-day slaves of the Empire: volunteers bearing the materiel required for this spectacle.

We did wonder about the sentries of old who kept these fires burning for the Empire. What was their fuel and where did they get it? Wood appears scarce here, but once upon a time these hills were covered with trees.

We chose not to climb Steel Rigg (the rocky outcrop shown above and upper right), but a nearby hill where we would be able to see the fires atop Steel Rigg. Our hill was topped with an obelisk marker (see right), indicating we were at the highest elevation in the area.

The Wall itself could be seen in places, and sometimes with the accompanying ditch. The ditch was built 20-feet wide at the top, and 10-feet deep. This has mostly been filled in, but can be seen on right side of the upper photo and left side of lower photo on as a slightly ower green line.

In this area, the wall consisted of squared limestone blocks along the sides, with a rubble-and-cement filler. Over the years much of the wall was dismantled by farmers and builders who found "better" uses for the stones. In the 19th century, John Clayton bought up land along the path of the wall, and had the wall reconstructed, seven courses high.

The height and width of the original wall varied. Original plans indicate the wall should be 10-feet wide in places, 20 feet in others. [Not sure if that plan materialized.] Evidence suggests the wall averaged 15 feet in height. The portions visible now are about 4 feet high. [I planned to insert 2 videos of the wall, but have not yet mastered the art of uploading video; or perhaps it's a problem with our broadband connection: The first video shows the remaining face stones on the lower wall with rubble above. The second looks at a wall end, illustrating the rubble filler.]

Wall construction 1 (face stones)

Wall construction 2 (rubble filler)

The lichen growing on the wall is quite colorful, mostly blue-green, but also white, rusty gold and lemon yellow. At right is a lichen-grown "map" of a long-lost land. [Note: I hear locals say, "lich-en," rather than "like-en," which I have always used.]

The late afternoon light and sky were lovely, reminding us of western skies. This herd of cattle came to welcome us, or maybe to wait for dinner.

I wondered if the 2-tone brown cows might be beefalo.

A Roman centurion allowed modern photography. He was a big brute of a fellow, made even larger by his regalia. At right, volunteers testing a torch prior to the official lighting.

The light arrived late by more than an hour. We weren't sure where to look for the light, and were surprised by some locations when it did arrive. It finally came over the horizon, with each torch signalling the next. On Steel Rigg, below us, more than 15 torches were lit.

Torchlights are seen as the first row of lights, running across the middle of the photos. The second line is from cars traveling on the road.
We climbed that hill twice: once in the afternoon, which turned out to be a scouting operation; a second time in early evening, for the Illumination. It was a steep climb, and we planned on doing it once, but it was too cold to wait in the wind, so we made our way to shelter.
Down the hill we went for afternoon tea at the Twice Brewed Inn. Then back up the hill to wait for the lights. Then down again, for dinner at the inn, whilst waiting for the traffic jam to clear. (The English use "whilst" much more than "while.") The pub name is curious. According to a BBC website, during 18th-century construction of an east-west road, workers were unimpressed by the weak ale at this pub, and demanded that it be brewed again; hence Twice-Brewed. The next-door walkers' hostel is named Once Brewed. According to the same source, when teetotalling Lady Trevelyan opened the hostel in 1934, she noted, in reference to the Inn, "Of course there will be no alcohol served on these premises so I hope the tea and coffee will only be brewed once." Ah, British humor.

BBC news coverage of the event has footage taken at our location.

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