Ancient Rome’s Line in the Sand
Where Roman legions once marched, sheep now peacefully graze along the remaining sections of a dividing wall that was constructed some 1,800 years ago as a political statement and no-nonsense proof of power to the contentious Scots.
The demarcation line for Rome’s northernmost border of a mighty empire that stretched 2,500 miles east to what is now Iraq and named after the 2nd-century Roman emperor (a.D. 76-138) who ordered its construction, Hadrian’s Wall was built by some 18,000 soldiers and indentured slaves. Originally consisting of 800,000-odd bricks, it spanned 73 miles from Bowness-on-Solway in the west (beyond Carlisle) to Wallsend in the east (beyond Newcastle). Work was begun in A.D. 121 during a visit by Hadrian following repeated invasions from the north and was abandoned in 383 as the Roman Empire crumbled.
The best-preserved remaining chunk, a 10-mile stretch in Northumberland north of England’s much-visited Lake District, is Britain’s largest classical ruin, and one of northern Europe’s most impressive and important. Set up camp in the nearby Langley Castle Hotel; built in 1350, it is far younger than Hadrian’s Wall, but its turreted 7-foot- thick walls and original medieval stained- glass windows and spiral staircases still evoke a fascinating sense of history. Close to Northumberland Park, Hadrian’s Wall, and a number of ancient Roman forts built as auxiliary garrisons, Langley is a pocket of contemporary luxury dressed in medieval clothes.