01 October 2013

Who'd be a Roman Centurion?

Hadrian's Wall, not far from Vicovicium.  It's not high at this
point, but wide enough for two people to walk along for
some considerable distance.
We left Bonnie Scotland and headed south through Cumbria and Northumberland, which were windblown and chilly but so very beautiful.  Our plan was to find an accessible part of Hadrian’s Wall for a bit of Roman-style trekking along it.  Yeah, well the Romans can keep their Roman-style trekking.  It was dang cold along the Wall!  We walked along it for a while, but then scurried back to the car for a bit of warmth and a good pork pie.

The Roman Emperor Hadrian began the wall in about 122AD.  It spans the entire width of Britain and can be up to 20 feet tall, so it’s dead impressive, and it took only six years to build.  We thought it was a bit grim that this huge edifice could take such a short period to complete when we’re still getting the rest of our house built.  But in our defence, we don’t have endless Imperial funds and legions of Roman Centurions to help us.  As an odd aside, we discovered that a Centurion was actually a solider in a group of 80 men, as opposed to 100 men. 

The wall is nice and wide, and still in
fantastic condition after close on 2000
years.  Amazing workmanship. Roman
centurions were all trained in
something else besides being soldiers,
so there were plenty of stone masons
So we headed off to inspect Vicovicium, the most famous and best preserved of the Roman Hill Forts along Hadrian’s Wall.  Today it’s known as Housesteads for reasons that aren’t clear.  When you’ve bought your entry tickets you are pointed in the right direction to find the Fort, which is a kilometre away, at the top of a nearby hill, and which you can only reach by foot along a very steep and gravelly path.  So we girded our loins and set off – if the Romans could do it in sandals and skirts, we reckoned we could in sandshoes and warm trousers. 

But what is it with the Romans and their hill forts?  What’s wrong with plains forts, or some-pleasant-location-near-a-good-pub forts?  Sheesh, they’re all up whacking great hills which take some getting to.  I know about the good defensive position argument, blah, blah, but hey they were Romans – they should have been able to defend whatever location so why not somewhere nice?  So not only did they have to hoik themselves up a mountain to get home (near enough), once there they got to wear only skirts, sandals and little tunic numbers in some dang chilly weather, plus they had to fend off quite cranky Scottish Barbarians at every turn.  And only the Commander got a heated house – all the rest of the 800 men at Vicovicium got to live in barracks with 8 to a (very small) room, a bathhouse that only served about 5 at a time, and communal toilets that were spacious but a bit of a trek to get to.  All in all, guarding the Edge of the Empire seemed to suck majorly. All good if you were the Emperor, though.  Until the Senate came for you …

The remains of the granary at Vicovicium.  The
posts allowed for a raised floor to prevent damp
and let small dogs in to hunt rats.
So then down south to Norfolk, to visit with our friend Sarah for a few days.  She has an acre of land, a couple of horses, a really nice dog and an interesting Victorian era roundhouse, all in the Norfolk countryside.  We went for long walks and had a very relaxing time, ready to plunge into the big antiques fairs coming up later in the week.

As an entirely pointless aside, having moved on from Norfolk and casting no aspersions there whatsoever, we have seen the worst ever cross dressers while on this trip.  I mean, wow, really bad.  If you are a bloke inclined to wear frocks, could you perhaps consider making them nice frocks?  And nice lined frocks, that would be lovely.  A good bit of lining in a frock covers a world of lumps and bumps that no-one else really wants to see.  Having the entire frock cover your entire body should go without saying, but there you go, it had to be said.  And I’m not completely sure about the rules of cross dressing, but are beards really allowed?  Really?  This is a sub-culture I have no familiarity with, but as a general observation I’d have to say that beards and lipstick don’t seem to sit well together.  The Brits do seem to find men dressing up as women to be hilariously funny, so maybe it’s a broader cultural issue that I’m learning about.   Ah, international travel, it totally broadens the mind.

Part of the North Gate at Vicovicium.  On the other
side thar be Barbarians.  And sheep.
Now we have a few days of packing our purchases, plus Play Days if we are good and pack promptly.  The first of the big antiques fairs is on Friday, and from then on it’s flat out until we’re next back in London.  Fingers crossed for great buying.  You shall, of course, be the first to know how it went.

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