Day 54 Wednesday 26 August Gilsland to Twice Brewed Inn

Miles walked: Today 8 Cumulative 822.1

I couldn’t find anywhere to stay in Greenhead and my original choice e mailed me, while I was on the Pennine Way to say it still hadn’t re-opened after COVID. Thanks go to Support Services, i.e. Angela, for finding me somewhere to sleep. She has been working overtime this leg! The Samson Inn was next to the Hadrian’s Wall way and only a mile off route. It is run by three local farmers and their best lamb had gone into the Hot Pot.

All of today’s walk followed the Wall. As you know, this was built by George R R Martin, is made of ice and is 700 feet high… what? Wrong Wall?? You know nothing Ray! That’s enough Game of Thrones jokes.

The wall was, of course, built by Hadrian. The Romans actually pushed as far north as the Grampian mountains but withdrew back to Northumberland as the troops were needed to quell an uprising in what is now Germany. Hadrian commissioned the wall to prevent incursions by the Northern tribes who later united to become the Picts. (Antonius Pius later tried to subdue Scotland again and established a wall between the Clyde and the Forth but more of that next year)

Much of Ice and Fire, the books on which the TV series GOT is based, reflects political and social events in medieval European history, so that Wall has its inspiration from Hadrians Wall. If you are a GOT fan it is well worth reading the history of Plantagenet England and trying to work out on whom the characters and events were based.

Much of the wall was built on outcrops of the Whin Sill which formed an extra, natural, barrier. Elsewhere, the Romans dug a ditch in front of the wall

Whin Sill outcrops can be seen in the distance, the defensive ditch is in the foreground

The problem with a wall as a defence is you need men to defend it. It is estimated that up to 1500 men were required to defend the wall. Consequently, when the Romans withdrew the Picts, and later the Scots were able to cross the wall and raid Northern England. It requires consensus to maintain borders, modern day politicians seem not to have learnt this lesson.

Once the Romans left, stone was removed from the wall to build homes, roads and field walls. One such building was Thirlwall Castle, one of many Peel, or Pele, towers built to protect farmers and other residents from raiders (also called reivers) from the North. It was not until the 19th Century that conservationists began to preserve the remains.

Thirlwall Castle

Every 2000 yards or so there are the bases of milecastles, where a garrison was stationed.

Between the milecastles were two turrets where a small squad could be stationed. The milecastles have gateways on both sides of the wall and some historians think that the Wall was important to control the flow of people across the frontier for peaceful reasons and could have provided infrastructure for customs and taxes as well as defence.

Quite a lot of wall was visible on today’s walk.

As you can see, the wall was quite thick. It is believed that the wall was originally 4-6 metres high.

As the walk passes over the rocky outcrops there were widespread views towards Scotland

Looking North from Hadrian’s Wall

While in Roman times much of this would be forest, the strategic importance of the wall could be seen. There was a Roman Road just to the south of the wall and running parallel to it, presumably so troops could be moved rapidly to the site of any possible incursion.

To the South of the wall there was a linear ditch and mound structure: the Vallum.

Historians are not certain what its function was for, but there is a consensus that it marked an exclusion zone for civilians living in the communities that would have developed close to the wall to provide soldiers with food and other services.

So today’s walk was short but interesting. It was strenuous, going up and down outcrops, reminiscent of walking the Cornish coast path. I remembered coming here with Tim when he was an early teenager for some dad/son bonding. We camped near the Twice Brewed Inn and did some walking on the wall. We gave up after a couple of days as Tim had outgrown his boots and got really bad blisters. Bad parent!

I am staying at the Twice Brewed Inn. On check in I was told there is a drying room for residents. Bliss! Dry boots tomorrow. No-one is sure how the inn got its name. There has been a pub here since the 15th century (the current building is modern). It is said that Yorkist soldiers stayed here before the battle of Hexham. They thought the beer was too weak and demanded it be brewed again. It was and they won the battle. I am afraid there is no evidence to support this tale.

Socialising is still possible in this post Covid world. I spent a convivial evening in the company of an ex-prison officer and his wife who live near Lincoln (where Angela is from) and a young couple walking the Hadrian’s Wall path who come from…. West Didsbury. She was brought up about 5 miles away from me in North London. A small world. Another high point of the evening was that we were able to sample various beers from the pub’s own microbrewery.

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