Start your trip to the midsection of Hadrian’s Wall by visiting Hexham Abbey, built by the Benedictine bishop Wilfrid of York around 675 A.D. The structure visible today dates mainly from the twelfth century, when the abbey became an Augustinian priory. However, visitors can still descend to Wilfrid’s crypt, made of stones quarried by Roman soldiers centuries before.
NE46 3NB England
011 44 1434 602031
Proceed west from Hexham to Housesteads, Vindolanda, and the information center Once Brewed. For an up-close tour of the region’s varied geology, walk the seven-and-a-half-mile loop connecting them. You’ll traverse boggy wetlands and the magma-formed crags of the Whin Sill. Or make separate trips to the sites, each of which merits a visit lasting several hours.
Housesteads (also known by its Roman name, Vercovicium) is one of the best-preserved Roman forts in Britain and the only place where you are allowed to walk on a portion of the original wall. The remains of barracks for 800 soldiers, a commanding officer’s house, a granary, and a hospital are still discernible. You can even see how the plumbing of the latrines worked. A visit to the fort’s museum provides a fuller picture of these buildings and of the life of a typical soldier garrisoned at the fort. (Housesteads, like many attractions along the wall, has limited hours during the winter, so be sure to check in advance.)
Housesteads Roman Fort and Museum
Bardon Mill, Hexham,
NE47 6NN England
011 44 1434 344363
At Vindolanda archaeological excavations are in progress during much of the year. The ink-on-wood tablets discovered here, dating from 90 to 120 A.D., hold a wealth of information about both the lives of the fort’s Roman soldiers and those of the Britons who lived in the neighboring vicus, or civilian settlement. Although most of the tablets are now in the British Museum, photographs of them are always on view at the museum here. The authors were concerned with a variety of subjects: one refers in passing to the Brittunculi (“wretched Britons”); another quotes Virgil.
Bardon Mill, Hexham, Northumberland
NE47 7JN England
011 44 1434 344277
The Once Brewed Visitor Centre reportedly takes its name from a request made by one Lady Trevelyan, who in the early 1930s paid a visit to a newly opened youth hostel on the site. Perhaps aware of the reputation of the neighboring Twice Brewed Inn (where, one version of the story has it, a group of boisterous soldiers found the ale too weak for their liking and demanded it be brewed again), she asked for nothing stronger than tea brewed “only once.”
Once Brewed Visitor Centre
Northumberland National Park, Military Road
Bardon Mill, Hexham, Northumberland
NE47 7AN England
011 44 1434 344396
The region contains varied lodging options, from secluded bed and breakfasts to centrally located hotels in nearby towns, including Hexham and Haltwhistle.
The Langley Castle Hotel is a particularly memorable place to stay. Built in the fourteenth century, the castle has eighteen guest rooms, some with exposed stone walls and canopy beds. Most rooms are named for a historical figure or place associated with the castle. Guests with a literary bent may want to request the Percy Room; it is named for Henry Percy, the first earl of Northumberland, who was immortalized in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Parts I and II. Dine at the hotel’s Josephine Restaurant to sample local fish and game.
Langley Castle Hotel
Haydon Bridge, Northumberland
NE47 5LU England
011 44 1434 688888
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