Hadrian’s Wall

On Sunday, Jon and I visited Hadrian’s Wall. After our failed attempt last October at dusk, we made sure to take our Lonely Planet Great Britain and our English Heritage member’s guidebook with us.

We chose today of all days because of an event put on by various groups at Chester’s Roman Fort. What better way to experience Hadrian’s Wall for the first (proper) time than to experience it with Roman soldiers wandering around showing off displays of various tools, cookware, sustenance, artillery, and crafts work? The answer is none.

We started at Chester’s Roman Fort with sandwiches, coffee, and lemon cake to build up energy for the ruins. The fort is a very large site and mostly unexcavated. Archaeologists have dug many prime features of the fort and many of the corners giving the visitor a great sense of scale.

You can see Hadrian’s wall jutting out for twenty to sixty feet to the east and west of the fort before it disappears either into the ground or into oblivion. Most of the once impressive Roman wall was salvaged for varying construction projects over the years until the land was purchased by an gentleman named John Clayton.

After our self-guided tour of the ground the activities began and my new favorite sport was discovered: child soldiers. Not to be confused with the horrible cases of child soldiers in places such as Africa. I would never joke about the monstrosity of that. This was a historical and educational exercise for children on the life and training of a Roman soldier.

The visiting children were dressed up in small Roman military outfits complete with helmets and shields and they were given wooden spears and words. They were then marched by the grown-up Roman soldiers onto the training field. The running joke was that parents could pick them up in 25 years: the term of the soldier in the Roman army. The whole process was made ridiculously cute by lopsided helmets and a few kids who kept tripping over the long cloaks.

Once together, the children marched one way, stood at attention, and then marched the other way. They were shown how to hold the spear and then were instructed, all together, to throw the spears. The grown-up soldiers just ducked out of the way. After that, the children were shown how to hold their swords over their shields in the Roman fashion according to the logistics of the hoplite phalanx (something to difficult to organize with kids this young in such a short amount of time).

It was impossible to hear what was happening on the training field, but suddenly the rope separating parents and onlookers from the child soldiers was dropped and the children charged! They even did it in two groups. The initial attack took everybody by surprise and created a laughing-fest between strangers. The second attack was well timed. Had it been a real attack with soldiers over three or four feet tall and swords made of metal other than wood, we would have lost.

There was chaos in the ranks, however. Not every soldier was cut out for battle. One ran in a completely opposite direction to where, I’m assuming, his family was standing. Easy pickings for the Barbarian Hoards of the North. One tried to attack to the side where the rope had not been dropped and could not navigate under it. His little wooden sword kept getting stuck and he kept falling backwards. And one ran to his mother and was carried out of the battle in her arms.

War truly is not for everybody. Thank goodness!!! It really was one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen, though.

After the battle of children and wooden swords, Jon and I continued down Hadrian’s Wall. We past a few forts and the temple where we had accidentally found ourselves last October. Yes, it turns out that I peed on a temple. If I believed in hell I would be concerned now. But I plead ignorance! It was very dark at the time!

We continued until we found prime pieces of the wall itself. It was perched above crags and snaked through the landscape. Only four feet tall now, the wall used to be six meters with mile towers, forts, and corresponding towns for the soldiers. It was amazing!

However, the wall itself is debated by historians as ever being actually necessary in the first place. Perhaps more a display of might than defense in a land sparsely populated.

I have seen it now. Hadrian’s Wall. Even lying as a skeleton long deceased, it is magnificent and formidable.


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