MotorBike Tours Hadrians Wall
‘Episode 1’

We start this adventurefrom a super place called The Greenhead Hotel, located in Greenhead perfectly situated between Carlisle and Hexham and very close to Hadrian’s wall.

Leaving The Greenhead Hotel we head East along what is known as the Military Road and within metre’s we enter Northumberland National Park. 

Northumberland National Park is the northernmost national park in England. It covers an area of more than 1,030 square kilometres (400 sq mi) between the Scottish border in the north to just south of Hadrian’s Wall and it is one of the least populated and least visited of the National Parks. The park lies entirely within Northumberland, covering about a quarter of the county.

The park covers several distinct areas. In the north are the Cheviot Hills, a range of hills that mark the border between England and Scotland. Further south, the hills give way to areas of rolling moorland, some of which have been covered by forestry plantations to form Kielder Forest. The southernmost part of the park covers the dramatic central section of Hadrian’s Wall, dating from the Roman occupation.

The 10,000-year history of human habitation of the region is explored through the many archaeological sites, ranging from prehistoric monuments and Roman remains to Pele towers, constructed as a defense against Border Reivers.

Climbing up the hill to reach the top we very quickly come across Walltown Craggs Roman remains. This is one of the finest places to see Hadrian’s Wall, where it snakes and dives through dramatic countryside. Not only is the Wall itself especially well preserved here, but it also shows how the soldiers who built it coped with the presence of large outcrops of natural rock – sometimes incorporating it into the Wall and sometimes almost butting up against it. At one end is Walltown turret, which unusually was first built as a free standing tower.

Continuing along the military road we already start to see this stunning landscape of rolling hills and countryside spreading for miles. We are also discovering a road which perhaps time forgot, with parts of it being perfectly straight (a typical Roman road) revealing history and heritage to make your toes curl.

Perhaps we are now riding over terrain where Roman feet once walked, and along which chariots have rolled, who knows. There could be artifacts below where you are riding right now.

Northumberland has a name that is not known by many people and that is “The Secret Kingdom” and you will already be experiencing the reason for such an intriguing nickname.

Allow me to point out at this juncture; if you are here to discover roads where you can zoom along at warp factor 3, getting your knee down on every bend then my friend you are in the wrong location.

This region is for taking your time, cruising along at maybe 40/50mph giving you time for your imagination to conjure up images of the Roman occupation. Perhaps you will see in your mind’s eye legions upon legions of Romans soldiers living their lives, building the wall and maybe even hearing the clanging of swords and crashing of shields as the soldiers practice their fighting skills. It may go as far as imagining a night scene of burning fires littering the whole countryside in front of you and listening to the laughs echoing for eternity over the vast countryside. That is what the area is all about, soaking in a time long gone.

Riding along the road and looking north (to your left) you can see the wall in various locations as it traverses the countryside, over hills, down into dips and shows that no matter what the terrain the wall very rarely deviated from its route as if nothing was going to stop its construction and in fact, I am sure, it was far better to be built on the top of a hill rather than at the bottom of a dip. However, there is one ‘milecastle’ that defies that theory.

Let us just think for a while about the Romans, what have they ever done for us, apart from…….first of all and somewhat unbelievable, they gave us roads.The old proverb “all roads lead to Rome” stems from the fact that originally they sort of did, or rather they came from Rome.

In Britain, there were no roads prior to the arrival of the Romans who created a network of straight, solid highways built on foundations of clay, chalk, and gravel with larger flat stones laid on top.

These roads were slightly raised in the middle, sloping down to either side so that rain and surface water would drain off into ditches to either side.

It’s not merely the concept of roads that we got from the Romans, however; twenty-five A roads and several B roads in use in the UK today are overlying original Roman roads, while many other modern roads follow very similar paths to those they created; that hardly ever crosses our minds does it?.

Then there is central heating.

British winters (and sometimes summers too) would be all but unbearable for many of us were it not for our hard-working boilers and radiators.

Roman central heating worked slightly differently, but the goal was the same. A ground level furnace was used to create hot air which circulated beneath a thin floor raised up on pillars of tiles. Not only was this central heating, but it was also underfloor heating!

Smoke and fumes from the furnace were channeled off via flues so as not to pollute the heated space above. The same method was used to heat the waters in bathhouses (yes, the Romans gave us hot baths too). Oh is there anything better than a nice hot bath, that is enough for me to shake a Roman’s hand that’s for sure.

Would you believe they also brought us concrete

Opus caementicium (Roman concrete) was made from quicklime, pozzolana and an aggregate of pumice.

Its widespread use in many Roman structures was a key part of what is now known as the Roman Architectural Revolution.

Although concrete was used for many things (roads included), one of the most impressive applications was the construction of the 4535 metric ton, 21 foot (6.4 metre) thick dome at the Pantheon in Rome, which can still be visited.

Today, we are looking deeper than ever into Roman concrete’s secrets because it seems it may actually have been better than the stuff we use today. The Pantheon’s dome is nearly two thousand years old after all, while some modern concrete constructions are already crumbling after only a few years.

Most notably and well know is, of course, flushing toilets and sewers

In Rome, large pots were often left on street corners for people to urinate into so that the liquid could be collected and used in the tanning of animal hides and in cleaning (can you imagine the stink, cor blimey).

In some multi-story dwellings, a system of pipes channeled faeces down to ground level where the Night Soil Men could collect it and take it to be used as fertilizer. Roman public toilets were rather more sophisticated, though admittedly not nearly so useful for industries hoping to capitalise on freely available human waste. 

Ancient Roman public bathrooms consisted of long stone benches with holes every few feet for people to seat themselves over. Beneath the toilets flowed a system of plumbing that rivaled modern-day cities; constant running water flushed away the waste into an enormous sewage system called the Cloaca Maxima (Great Drain).

This system was made possible by several aqueducts (another Roman innovation, of course) that flowed into the city, giving its citizens a constant supply of fresh running water.

Allow me to visit what most people alive today can be thankful for and the shelves of supermarkets are filled with and that is an improvement to the diet of Britains.

The Roman invaders contributed to the long-term improvement of the British diet by introducing proper vegetables to our island. The list of vegetables introduced to Britain includes garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, cabbages, peas, celery, turnips, radishes, and asparagus. 

Amongst the many herbs that they introduced to Britain were rosemary, thyme, bay, basil, and savory mint. They also introduced herbs that were used in brewing and for medicinal purposes.

The Romans also brought new farming practices and crops. They introduced more productive grains and bread became a more important part of the British diet. Walnuts and sweet chestnuts were another Roman introductions. They also introduced a wider variety of fruit that was brought into cultivation rather than growing wild. This included apples, grapes, mulberries, and cherries.

There was a period when the Romans prohibited the establishment of vineyards outside Italy, in order to safeguard its wine trade, but in the third century, the emperor Probus granted permission to Britain, Spain, and Gaul to re-establish them.

The Romans introduced new breeds of farm animals, such as the prized white cattle. Archaeological evidence suggests that guinea fowl, chickens, and rabbits were probably introduced as farmyard animals. The rabbits, which they introduced, were a Spanish variety that would not have survived for long in the wild as the British winters were too cold. 

The Romans also brought new species of game into Britain including the brown hare and pheasants. Samian bowls, which were popular at the Romano-British dining table, often depicted scenes of dogs hunting hare or deer. Wild boar and oxen were native animals that were also hunted. Food finds from archaeological excavations confirm that a wide range of meats contributed to the diet.

However, the degree of difference which the Romans made to the diet as a whole, was dependent upon which social group you belonged to, just as it does to many today.

Having pondered all this information it makes me think of the Romans somewhat differently because they simply transformed Britain for the better and whilst riding alongside Hadrians Wall it is worth remembering these fables.

Onwards we go, onwards…….

Let us get back on ‘track’ and realise that along the way we have forts, interspaced with milecastles and even they were interspaced with turrets. As we progress and just before we reach a fabulous fort we come across two aspects.

The first is a fabulous new construction called the ‘SILL’, which is also very close to Vindolanda Roman Fort, the SILL is the new landscape discovery centre, The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre replaces the old National Park Centre & Youth Hostel at Once Brewed. It is Northumberland National Park’s new visitor attraction and will excite and inspire people of all ages to explore the landscape, history, culture, and heritage of Northumberland.

The second aspect is not much further on as we come across what I will describe as the most photographed tree in the world (probably) and that is Sycamore gap perfectly located in a dip of Hadrian’s wall. However next to the tree, on its left, as we look, there is another dip that houses a milecastle. This milecastle shows to me that regardless of the terrain or distances between the forts, milecastles and turrets would be built, otherwise who would ever put a ‘security’ post in a dip?

Nothing stood in the way of this walls progress

BUT, did you know that Sycamore Gap was used in a film called Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves!……..told you it was famous

There is an opportunity for you to pull over and take your own photograph, although please be careful as there is no pull in and you would be on the side of the main road with the crest of the hill not too much further along, so please be aware of the traffic.

Back on your motorbike and onwards, but not too far onwards along the military road you will come across what is, without doubt, a worthy stop. It is Housesteads Roman Fort, a superb place to visit to discover more about the Roman way of life. Run by English Heritage, there is an entry fee (free if you are a National Trust or English Heritage member – correct at the time of printing).

Housesteads Roman Fort

Set high on a dramatic escarpment on Hadrian’s Wall, Housesteads Roman Fort takes you back to the Roman Empire. You can stroll around the barrack blocks and the hospital. You can peer into the oldest toilets you’ll ever see and admire the stunning panoramic views from this ancient fortress. The interactive museum showcases objects once belonging to Roman soldiers along with the mini-cinema that will take you on a journey through time.

Housesteads Roman Fort is the remains of an auxiliary fort on Hadrian’s Wall. The Fort was built in stone around AD 124, soon after the construction of the wall began in AD 122 when the area was part of the Roman province of Britannia. Its name has been variously given as Vercovicium, Borcovicus, Borcovicium, and Velurtion. The name of the 18th-century farmhouse Housesteads is the modern name. The site is owned by the National Trust and is in the care of English Heritage. Finds can be seen in the site museum, in the museum at Chesters, and in the Museum of Antiquities in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Maybe most intriguing at Housesteads are the remains and very good they are too, of the ‘latrines’, where the water troughs are on display into which ‘bum wipe’ sticks would be moistened before wiping the area!

Once you have visited Housesteads and ready to continue it is time to sit astride our motorbikes and head east continuing along our adventure. What you will continue to enjoy is the lack of traffic on this road south of Hadrians Wall and it is the same experience no matter what time of the year.

Leaving Housesteads we are about to experience something that not many people in the world have done. That is to touch, rub, caress and stand next to part of the ‘actual’ Hadrians Wall that was built nearly 2000 years ago, as well as standing inside the remains of a Turret, in fact, Turret 29a. 

Cresting the brow of a hill and turning slightly to your right you will see in the field to your left remains of Hadrian’s wall starting to appear. After a very short distance, there is a track to your left and it is down here we must go. Traveling on this track for just a few yards we pull in.

Engines off and disembark. Remove your helmet, gloves and looking East you will see a sign saying a bit of history about Hadrians Wall but you will also see steps to help you cross over the farmer’s wall and then…………THEN, you are standing right next to a part of history you can touch and make memories to last a lifetime.

You are now standing next to one of the most famous walls in the world along with being able to stand in Turret 29a, known as Black Carts Turret and it may well have looked similar to this when in full action.

Plus you can see the view the soldiers would have had. 

Now, I do wonder, if in fact there would been a lot more trees but, for now you can look northwards from the wall where the ‘barbarian hoards’ would have lived and launched their attacks.

Turret 29A (Black Carts) is located about 100 metres (110 yds) east of the minor road to Simonburn, and exists within a 460 metres (500 yds) long stretch of extant curtain wall of Narrow gauge at this point, with clearly visible foundation stones. 

(The term ‘carts’ within the name is derived from the old English word ceart, which means rocky and rough. Although severely robbed on the south side, the masonry stands up to eleven courses high in the recess. The presence of the broad wing walls indicates that the fortification was constructed prior to Hadrian’s Wall itself. 

The upright portions of the door frame are made from solitary stones. At the highest point of the structure, there are fourteen cut stones per horizontal row.

The turret was excavated in 1873, 1912 and finally in 1971, prior to being consolidated by the Department of the Environment. During these excavations, fragments of millstones were found, along with coins of Vespasian, Trajan, Hadrian and Constantine (in quantities higher than are usually recovered).

It is amazing just what was around this turret 29a in its prime, isn’t it?

Once you have filled your imagination full of Roman legends and taken in this small piece of history we walk back to our bikes and go back to the T Junction at the end of the track we just turned down and turn left back onto the military road and keep heading east.

It is only a hop, skip and a jump before we reach our next Roman fort…..’Chesters’ Roman fort.

You can see what life was like at one the Roman Empire’s most northern outposts. Chesters Roman Fort is the most complete Roman cavalry fort in Britain – you can wander around the unusually well-preserved baths and steam room along with the officers’ quarters. 

Discover an amazing collection of Roman objects and inscriptions in the museum, these were found at the fort and along Hadrian’s Wall.

They also have re-enactments of what people and life looked like during the Roman occupation but it is best to check their website for details.

Exiting Chesters Roman Fort continue East for a very short distance and once you reach the roundabout at Chollerford turn left and head north into Northumberland National Park countryside and prepare to have your eyes taken hostage as we cruise our way to Bellingham, our first overnight stop along the way.

Prior to reaching Bellingham, we come across an absolutely fabulous Tea Room and B&B in the beautiful Northumberland village of Simonburn, aptly named ‘Simonburn Tea Room and B&B’. At this super tea room, there is a garden that you can sit in and enjoy the country air whilst listening to the birds tweeting away as you enjoy fine coffee or tea with a menu to satisfy any appetite, knowing your motorbike is safe whilst you relax at this magnificent hidden gem.

From here we head back to the main road and ride north going through the village of Wark and soon afterward through countryside that will make your cheeks hurt from smiling too much. Not much further on you crest the brow of a hill and immediately in front of you opens up this panorama of Northumberland countryside at its very best. With Bellingham nestling in the bottom of the valley it really is a sight to behold and as we ride down the hill towards this super village we cross an absolutely stunning bridge.

Just over the bridge and turning left there are 2 options for accommodation, or for even just having a snack.

Firstly you have The Riverdale Hall Hotel, with swimming pool and backing onto the river we’ve just crossed.

Secondly, just a bit further up the road you come across The Boe Rigg, campsite, B&B rooms, and cafe, with food to absolutely die for and I can guarantee that.

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