Our Travel blog
Monday 11 July
Northumberland, at least the part we saw around the Tyne valley and Hadrian’s Wall, is simply stunning. We explored Corbridge a bit more, taking a stroll along the river and up to Corbridge Roman Town. This is an excavated street of a former Roman garrison town which offers a fascinating glimpse into military and domestic life. The street drains, grain store with its ventilated floor and various buildings are all in evidence. What sets it apart though was the finding of The Corbridge Hoard, a wooden trunk filled with armour, tools, weapons and personal items. Most appeared to need repair so one theory is that it was set aside for repair or recycling. Whatever the reason it has provided a fascinating insight into Roman life here at one of the Empire’s furthest outposts.
The other artefact of particular note is The Corbrige Lion, a stone effigy of a lion standing over its kill. It seems that experts cannot agree on whether the victim is a stag or goat. I’m not sure that I’d call myself an expert if I couldn’t tell a stag from a goat.
We wandered around transfixed by the fascinating little museum and were enchanted by the lady manning the gift shop, who insisted on giving us an itinerary of must see places to do in a day. She gave us maps, leaflets and seemed genuinely happy to be of assistance. She wasn’t alone in this, the Northumberland people we encountered were almost without exception pleasant, interesting and keen to show off their county in a modest kind of way. Almost as if it’s a surprise to them that people want to come here and visit. Even the lady selling coffee at a desolate and remote carpark high on the hills above Hexham, braced against gale force winds, told me about the area, the nearby Temple of Mithras and bade me return if I should require a refill, more hot water, any amount of milk, sugar or a second cup if this one gets too hot to hold.
Duly charmed and inspired to go further afield we took the rest of the day to drive along the B6318, a former military road that runs roughly parallel to the wall. We stopped in a series of car parks at strategic points. The scenery was a delight, innumerable shades of green on smooth rolling hills with tufts of trees, remote stone cottages and almost empty roads. We alighted at Housesteads Roman fort which lies on the wall, and enjoyed a good scramble through the ruins. The views were to die for now the rain had abated and the sun was peeking through the clouds. I can well imagine just how bleak it was to be stationed up here through a Northumberland winter with raiders from the north waiting to pounce any day. On the plus side though, they had rather splendid communal latrines that have been well preserved and appear to exert an endless fascination to all who see them, especially young children.
Further along the road we visited the crags near Steel Rigg. This is a natural geological fault that has created a cliff, or edge, facing towards the North. The wall runs along the top and you are rewarded for climbing to the summit with unparalleled views. The meadows along the way, through an old quarry were a delight. Pale pink Common Centaury and vibrant yellow Coltsfoot line the path and gentle willows reach down, providing shade on the steeper climb. It’s an enchanting place but we didn’t linger too long as we had yet to secure accommodation for the night.
Which will teach us a lesson. We called ahead to what, according to the guide given out at the tourist information office, was a promising site. Suspicions were raised when we had to pass under a railway, next to an industrial estate, but it was surprisingly quiet and pretty. The lady who greeted us was amiable; she runs the site with her sister while they share caring for their 80 something year old mother (I thought it impolite to take notes while she was talking).
The pitch, set among static holiday homes was fine but for over £20 a night we expected at least serviceable facilities. The toilet block had clearly seen better days, some of them probably during the Roman occupation. The gents had one shower, which you accessed through improvised saloon doors made from what looked suspiciously like a cheap kitchen worktop salvaged from a skip. The tray was dirty and cracked, the shower hose oddly lumpy and the shower head corroded. I’ve no idea how it functioned because to add insult they expected you to pay 40 pence for the privilege.
The toilets themselves were clean enough but over the whole building there hung a curious aroma; hints of damp and mould with an undercurrent of effluent and high notes of bleach. To help create the right atmosphere they’d thoughtfully put in brown tiles of a pattern that’s never been in fashion and whitewashed the walls directly over the peeling plaster before lighting it with a yellowing 40 watt bulkhead light. It was all rather grim.
Tuesday 12 July
We left the site after a peaceful night and having dodged whatever dire afflictions await anyone foolhardy enough to use the showers we decided upon a Caravan Club site in Cromwell, just north of Newark where we’d be sure of cleanliness and subtle mood lighting.
Which is exactly what we got. The site is set around lakes, just off the busy A1 but surprisingly quiet. We got lots of laundry done, which was probably a lot more exciting to us than it is for you to read about but these things are important when one is travelling. After a short stroll to look at the quaint local church we retired, ‘lulled’ to sleep by the man 3 vans away whom, one assumes, is as deaf as a post as he seemed to have no volume control. Accompanied by the occasional ‘ummm’ and ‘yes dear’ from his wife, he held court on all manner of things in staccato, loud outbursts; “My father would turn in his grave if he saw that…” “Want some bread with your butter?” “How does this work without a battery?” and so on.
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