Friday, November 14, 2014

In the Shadow of Hadrian's Wall

In The Spoils of Avalon, the characters of Gwillem Moor (the blind Welsh bard) and Arthur Joseph, the young monk of Glastonbury Abbey, set out on a journey to the far north of England, near the Scottish border -- to Lanercost. It takes them a month to walk about 400 miles, through lowlands, forest, hills, mountains, up to the Lake District with steep crags and mountain lakes, to reach the fells and downs of Cumberland.

The tiny hamlet of Lanercost, on the grounds of the estate of great Naworth Castle, is just half a mile from the path of Hadrian's Wall, which Roman soldiers began building in about 117 CE. It marked the northwest limit of the Roman Empire at the time, and extends across the narrowest part of the country, from Bowness-on-Solway in the west to Wallsend in the east -- about 73 modern miles (117 km). Major forts were located 8.2 Roman miles apart, between which where smaller "fortlets" or milecastles, with two small turrets between every milecastle.

At the time of my novel, the Wall had long since been plundered for local building--Lanercost Priory itself, with its barns and stables, is largely made up of stones from the Wall, as are many medieval farm houses and stone walls marking property lines. But the Wall loomed large--figuratively and literally--in the minds of the people, and signified both history and legend of greater times. When I stood on the spot in the photo below, it was almost a spiritual experience to think about Gwillem Moor and Arthur Joseph catching sight of the Priory from a similar vantage point.
View of Lanercost Priory from Hadrian's Wall Path

This wall section (on left) was thought to be part of the original Wall for centuries, until early 20th century archaeo-logical testing showed it to be only a reconstruction of the Wall, but using actual stones from it.

On right is a stone wall on grazing land, some of whose stones are undoubtedly from Hadrian's Wall.

One of the great camps for Roman soldiers and their families is a site called Vindolanda, which is still yielding important discoveries today about daily life in the early 100's C.E.  The Wall was just on the other side of the ridge above the camp. Visiting this place made me want to write in some scenes where Violet and John visited the camp ruins, but not everything you learn can go into a story!

From the Museum at Vindolanda, some artifacts found on the site in recent years:

 A fine Samian ware bowl, imported from Europe, and a carving of a goddess (Ceres?).

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