Friday, 29 January 2010

Now...where was I?

Now how on earth did this lot? i.e. The Hadriana Family end up in Northumberland beside Hadrian's Wall?
It was the last thing on my mind (to end up in this part of the world) I was convinced, from a very early age, that I would spend my entire life under baking hot skies. As it was, Northumberland was incandescent during the Summers of 2003 and 2006. Hmm..maybe we should stay here after all?

Now where was I?

Yes. We had begun to look round for suitable B&B properties.

There was one big house in Gilsland that had potential. We were booked to see it. We got our hopes up. Then the appointment was cancelled by the lady selling it. She had locked the front door keys in her suitcase and couldn't open the suitcase!

(I had chased the estate agents before to get appointments to see places and couldn't be bothered to chase them again. So that house was off the list.)

The big house next door to that one was for sale. We saw it. It was very nice and the owner talked to us for two hours non-stop (yes...we lent our ears!).

Nevertheless it was not big enough for us as a B&B (at least not for a growing family).

We contemplated viewing another B&B which was for sale in Haltwhistle but we wanted to be a bit further out in the country.

We looked at other houses with land further out in the country but I realised that I needed to be near some facilities/shops/company otherwise I would begin to go stir crazy. I'd always been a city girl...always living in the centre of cities.

(I'm also not a massive fan of country gates on land. I can manage them when I go to see friends but not living on a property of my own with two or three lots of gates. You have to stop the car each time to open and close them behind you each time you want to arrive/depart. This is to stop any livestock from escaping. This comes from a woman who used to live at the bottom of Richmond High Street and who still used to get a bus down the street. Admittedly I only used a bus on the way back from Waitrose when I had bags of shopping but my friend used to rib me about this no end...)

We looked at a pub/self catering plus B&B business out on the Northumberland coast.

We asked to see their accounts but heard nothing. I think they had had too many rubberneckers. Shame...that they may have put us in that bracket....

It was getting nearer and nearer my son's imminent arrival and I was starting to feel desperate that we had not found our own little fort.

My parents had found their own headquarters with five acres (which is now being rented out. You can see it here. They now have another billet which is where the "Vindolanda" stones are to be found.) back in 2002. It seemed that we had missed that particular "land-purchase" boat. With similar monies available the properties we were looking at definitely seemed to match up to London prices. (Before I met Mr.H. I had put my slim Richmond house on the market. When I told the estate agent that I was thinking of moving back up North..he said that I "would make a killing"! This particular slaughter might bag us an earwig rather than a partridge....I later thought to myself a tad ruefully....)

We saw a property (which we now see every day on the hill above us) which we liked very much. It was a little farmhouse with a small holding. The lady who lived there was well known. She had put up a fight against DEFRA* in the foot and mouth days so that her sheep would not be killed. She'd even made an appeal to Prince Charles and he'd visited her. [Her book (which I've read) is called "Behind chained gates". Very interesting it is too!] The house seemed had some outhouses and captivating views (looking up to the Wall and crags, espying Longbyre from the felltop)...but we were worried that our meagre money pot would not stretch to renovating it, dealing with the inevitable planning delays plus feed and clothe us simultaneously...

....And then we chanced upon "Four Wynds" which is where we are now. It was a functioning B&B (then as now). It was situated in an attractive hamlet (Longbyre). It was on the Hadrian's Wall trail and the Pennine Way.

At first it did not seem to tick the boxes that I wanted to be ticked. Not much land. Too near other houses (it is on the edge of the hamlet). Too near the main road. Too this. Too that.

But we went for it nevertheless...

Does it have any boxes to be ticked after all?

It does have a bit of land which we still want to extend into and build new rooms. (This will allow us all to live here even when we have B&B business.) The neighbours are wonderful (as are our other neighbours in Haltwhistle). Friendly. Happy to help us out at any opportunity. But gloriously not nosy in the slightest. We can see people walking past our windows every so often. (Provides me with company!) The main road, behind us, is far from noisy. It is also great to think we can be out on to the A69 within minutes. Newcastle, Hexham and Carlisle are very accessible. It's very handy for walkers and cyclists. The garden is interesting enough to be able to have hens at some point. We can and do grow our own vegetables with wild raspberries bushes already yielding fruit. We may even have a haunted room! (More of which anon)...

The house is a typical four square house which a child would draw but it is nice and old. It used to be several cottages now knocked into one. One set of neighbours in Haltwhistle used to live here in one cottage when it was called "Butler's House". My neighbour is also not ashamed to say that they (all six of them) used to hop in and out of a tin bath at bathtime! I can say it's changed...just a bit since they were here...

It's down to earth. It's cosy and we're friendly too...we feel right at home and indeed (much to my intense amazement) we have found our own "milecastle" at long last! And Yes. It definitely does tick ALL our boxes!

* DEFRA The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(probably called something else now...)

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Hello to Northumbria/Cumbria! (Part 3)

1. Here is a photo of our garden taken last Summer.

2. A view from the side of our house looking towards Walltown and the crags/Hadrian's Wall.

3. A view taken from Longbyre "high street". Essentially the hamlet has one street running down its centre looking towards Thirlwall Castle and the Vallum (Roman - Hadrianic ditch). (It still reminds me of a Spanish village some how!)

4. A photo taken from the road running behind our house (B6318). The house peeks out from an unruly hedge. Behind us you can see the crags on the Whin Sill, the Castle and the Vallum.

5. A view beside a drystone wall beside Farmer Scott's land looking at the house etcetera.

I took these photos a few days ago as they give a good idea of where we are in relation to Hadrian's Wall. We are well and truly in the central section of Hadrian's Wall. (For us - the best bit!) The Wall, itself, no longer remains in the section sweeping down to us. It exists in a ghostlike fashion. There is a tiny bit left on the old railway embankment near us which I showed to you in the snowy photos. The Wall re-emerges nearer Gilsland, the next village along from us. Gilsland straddles the Northumberland/Cumbria border...which also has the Poltross Burn Milecastle no.48 (a "must see" as it still has some steps which have allowed archaeologists to calculate how high Hadrian's Wall would have been: about 6.5 metres - 21 feet - with the parapet included.)

So how did we end up in this neck of the woods? I recounted our story here and here as to how and why we came back to Northumberland. (I admit that I wrote this a wee while ago and you may care to refresh your memory by reading them again.)

So in times of ever expanding prices...we now had to find a home and a business for our hard earned pennies at the height of the property boom (2003-2007).

We started looking around from 2004 onwards. We looked abroad for a dive centre but we kept on being drawn back to this region again and again.


We had fallen in love with the people, the community, the jaw-dropppingly-magnificent scenery and the history. I kept seeing the Roman stones and I kept thinking what do they mean? How did they get here? Why are they still here? What on earth were the Romans thinking when they built all these things? Were they mad?

The questions continued to bubble up but other issues took priority. For instance, despite the drip, drip of the Roman quandries, daily life went on: children to feed, tidy up, dress, entertain and the mere fact of a business to be obtained...we needed some money to earn and to live off!

Initially we wanted to find a self catering type property or properties but unlike Devon or Cornwall where farming tended to happen on a small, family farming was managed and achieved through vast farming estates (owned, on the whole, by titled families). Farms were run using labourers who lived in cottages. Those cottages are often to be found, boxed in, on a huge swathe of land, with a tiny pocket of a garden attached, clinging to the sides of main roads. Perhaps they were not interested in gardening when they spent their entire lives working the land. Perhaps they had no spare time available to lavish on a garden?

The history of the Reivers had also had its effect too...the bigger houses tended to be built in safer areas. The "old" money gravitated to those regions too. This whole area is dominated by the Whin Sill (a huge outcrop of dominating rock...from where you tend to get the most super photos of the Wall). It's no secret that the stretches of Hadrian's Wall, which have survived, were in pure Reiver territory. People were too scared to try and live in these lands. Towns, industry and normal lives were pursued in Newcastle, Carlisle and beyond.

Haltwhistle has an industrial history...largely of mining, quarrying plus service industries and the like. A couple of hundred years ago rows of terraced housing began to spring up there alongside country cottages. One of the grandest houses in Haltwhistle overlooks the town and it belonged to the mine manager in days gone by...

Gilsland used to be a Victorian spa town. Hence you will find a lot of the larger Victorian town houses there. Quite an oddity compared to other towns and villages surrounding it. Fascinating nevertheless.

So you may have gathered by now...that suitable propeties..available for self catering were rarer than hens' teeth.

We had heard on the grapevine that the Bed and Breakfast trade was really picking up since the Hadrian's Wall trail had opened in 2003. After looking at many, many properties from Carrshield, Mohope, Slaggyford, Nenthead, Gilsland, Haydon Bridge, Hexham, Carlisle and up towards Bamburgh Castle, the Borders and elsewhere...we then switched our attention and energies to seeking out a suitable B&B property to purchase....a bit closer to "home"...

To be contined....

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Walltown Quarry: Walking the Dog and more...

We often go to Walltown, which is just up the road, to walk our dog.

At Walltown, in days of yore, the quarrying blasted away a fair bit of Hadrian's Wall. (That was back in the days when they could do that!)

The rock (the whinstone and so on) was used for the building of many roads including the M6 and A69. When they were finished they made it into a nature park and it became part of the Northumberland National Park. It is a very attractive spot now with nature walks, a lake and ducks. There is also a cafe there which sells souvenirs of the Wall and area. It is also a very welcome spot for walkers, cyclists, day, weekend trippers, families and dog walkers of the Wall to get a cuppa and a biccie.

I went to a day long conference on Friday held by Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd. which organised my training at Vindolanda and The Roman Army Museum. You may have heard that there is a plan to light up the whole wall (as perhaps the Roman Army would have done) - all 84 miles of it. Its website can be found here. The whole event will be held on March 13th - Saturday - this year. Mercifully NOT on the Ides of March (the 15th)! Weather permitting..the sight should be stunning. They are planning to fly a plane along the entire length of it to capture it on film. There are also two big events to be held in Carlisle and at Wallsend (Segedunum).

I have volunteered to help up at Walltown Crags so you never know...I could be up there on the night!

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Saturday Wash Day

This is today's image: The "niches" at Chesters Bath House. If you do ever get a chance to visit the Wall and you haven't got much time...then I would recommend a visit to Chesters. (Naturally my favourite site is Vindolanda but for different reasons.) It is a stupendous setting with splendiferous views.

This is the most complete bath house to be found along Hadrian's Wall and you can wander through each of the rooms imagining what it must have been like to have a bathe all those years ago. (There are two equally interesting ones at Vindolanda.) It has been fully recreated over at the "Segendum" fort over at Wallsend. (Don't miss that either - if possible!)

I'll be talking more about these bath houses and others in due course.

In the meantime I would like you to ponder what these niches (in the photo) in the changing room were for? It is still being debated. Do you think they were places for the bathers to place/hang their clothes or do you think they were niches for altars to the deities? Do you think they had another use?

Bath houses in Roman times were a meeting place (as well as a place to get clean). Sports, gambling, bathing, gossiping, eating, drinking (sometimes stealing) and much more! Here goes...:

"Every Roman town worthy of the name had its own public baths and every military establishment had its set of bath houses placed just outside the fort, for the use of the soldiers and eventually for the inhabitants of the vicus ("village"). (Inside the fort the commandant had his own private bath suite.) Wherever the Romans went, they brought their baths. It was almost a fetish with them, yet a very practical fetish. The British in setting up their Empire in the far corners of the world took much stranger fetishes with them, such as cricket. (Cricket - a fetish!! My exclamation marks - Hadriana.)

Hadrian, that great promoter of urban life, encouraged them to be set up. In towns they were erected at the expense of the town council and were open to all. All Romans took a bath daily and the leading Britons soon followed, as they did with other Roman customs. It's strange to think that baths became commonplace for the three hundred years or so that the Romans were here, yet once they'd gone, not just the habit but the knowledge of public bathing went as well. Throughout medieval England, until as late as the Victorian age, even the noblest in the land must have smelled a long way off. It's only relatively recently that bathing has become a regular habit once again.

Going to the baths was a social occasion for the Romans. Seneca in one of his essays describes what it was like if you were unlucky enough to live too near to the public baths. 'The sound of voices is enough to make one sick.' He had to put up with the groans of the weight lifters, the slapping of the masseurs as they pummelled away (with hands open or cupped), the splashings of the swimmers, the shouts of the arguers, the cries of the sausage sellers and puff pastrymen, singers singing, umpires calling out the score in a ball game and the howls caused by the removers of surplus hair. 'It would disgust me to give details,' he finally adds, making one wonder what else could possibly be going on."

From Hunter Davies' Walk Along the Wall (A Journey along Hadrian's Wall) p.69/70

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Time to blow our own trumpets!

The photo is of our B&B (Four Wynds - the website is on the sidebar on the right) with Santa climbing up it!

I've just put together the comments we have received from the guests who stayed with us at our little B&B in 2007 and 2009. (The B&B was not open for business in 2008.) They should be ready to go "live" on our website very soon. There is a man wot does the website for us and we need to give him lots of copy to make up the missing pages. It is definitely a work in progress and we need to fiddle with it further to get it absolutely right.

I just thought that I could use this opportunity to blow our own trumpets and give you a flavour of what our guests think of us (more importantly - Mr.H. as he is the "main man"). So here goes:

I really enjoyed hearing about Hadrian’s Wall story from Nigel.

Thank you for this lovely stay! After the drama of this day’s walk reaching Four Wynds was like a sort of safe haven! I especially appreciated the sandwich and the laundry – it feels so much better to set out clean today. Thanks a lot!

Thank you for a very comfortable stay. A pleasant, clean and tidy B&B, with a most welcome feel. Thank you, Nigel, for making us feel at home and also taking and collecting us from the local pub/restaurant.

Thanks for making us feel so welcome last night and for the hearty and delicious breakfast this morning. Your location is very convenient for the Pennine Way and therefore fine for those of us with wet feet!

Thanks so much for your warm welcome and kindness, particularly driving us to The Wallace Arms (wonderful old pub with great food) and on a miserable, wet morning coming to our rescue with transport to Carlisle. Much appreciated. Yummy breakfast! We will let other walkers know Four Wynds is a great place to stay.

A rare example of the website being true – real welcome, terrific breakfast (esp. toast from homemade bread and perfect poached eggs – that’s not to mention delicious sausages and bacon) – and some really thoughtful help to make the most of our time here – thanks very much, Nigel.

Lovely week here. Excellent accommodation, delicious breakfast. Nigel, you are a mine of information about the local area plus Northumberland and Cumbria in general. Thank you so much. We shall not hesitate to recommend Four Wynds to anyone we know who is visiting this delightful part of the UK.

Nigel, you truly made our visit extra special. The food, the conversations, the advice, the afternoon treats and so much more – those are the things that money cannot buy. We cannot thank you enough.

Thank you for your wonderful hospitality. We have been spoilt rotten and some of us are considering moving in! Excellent food, great local knowledge and advice and even a taxi service. Nigel, you are a legend. Thank you for everything.

We’ve had a wonderful stay here! Thank you very much for all the guiding and interesting stories! And having our own private chauffeur was far more than we could have dreamed of with our heavy backpacks! Your organic food was delicious! You’ve made our stay complete! Thanks a lot!

Delicious breakfast heerlyhe yoghurt, geweldige jams, the best so far. Nigel, thank you so much for your hospitable welcome, stories of the past and present. Good luck! from

Very nice stay and cracking breakfast. Thank you.

We have guests from all over the UK and so far we've had guests from USA, Mexico, Hawaii, Italy, France, Holland, Spain, Germany, Austria, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand and many more. We've had archaeologists staying (working at Birdoswald - English Heritage), diggers working at Vindolanda during the summers and people from all walks of life.

We so much enjoy what we are doing and we are very much looking forward to the new 2010 season. It's all kicking off with the "Illumination of the Wall" on Saturday March 13th. Hopefully more on this very shortly.....

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Send a Smile from Hadrian's Wall

Children at nearby Greenhead and Herdley Bank Schools were invited by The Blue Peter Team to become involved with their Send a Smile! Appeal, which is devoted to helping children born with cleft lips and palates. (Click on the highlighted words as it takes you to the Blue Peter appeal website and a video.) Operation Smile sends teams of volunteer medical professionals to provide free reconstructive surgery.

The children designed their own T-shirts and transformed them into medical gowns. They then appeared on Blue Peter last 5th November 2009. They got dressed up in their T-shirts and draped their "Send a Smile" banners up at Walltown Crags across Hadrian's Wall.

They enjoyed taking part and helped to raise some money/equipment for a great cause. They got a lot of fun out of the whole day. They especially got a buzz out of watching the programme to see who appeared and/or got a mention. They really liked the idea that they were helping children across the world and could see the physical things that they had made actually making a difference. A local journalist, David Coulter, has written it up here.

They were very chuffed that they got a Blue Peter Badge for their efforts as well.

Mr. Hadriana couldn't wait to try one on as he had been desperate to get a Blue Peter Badge as a child. They do say that..."all good things come to he who waits".. Don't they? ;)

Have you earned any precious Blue Peter Badges and if so...what for?

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A Good Luck Symbol for all ye writers, scratchers and scribblers...

I found this sign over at Lanercost Priory.

I love it...hence the photo.

I don't mind anyone writing or scratching on this monument (as long as it is decent!).

Something which isn't regarded as too decent (nowadays) is this........

But they were regarded as perfectly acceptable by the Romans who saw them as good luck symbols meant to ward off evil. As you walk along the Wall you will see lots of them especially at forts.

Hunter Davies made a special attempt to find this one (the one in the photo) over at Chesters Bridge Abutment.

"It was one of the first things I searched for, but I was having no luck till the occupants of the land rover emerged, now that the rain had slackened. Three middle-aged workmen appeared with rakes and began sweeping the last of the autumn leaves, silently and separately, lost in their own thoughts. They were obviously council workmen. I said excuse me to one of them, where's the phallus. 'Follow me,' he replied, showing no surprise. 'Here's the fellow.' And he was a fine fellow indeed, plump and well formed, with two neat testicles, beautifully carved on a stone facing the river. 'Magnificent workmanship,' he said, beaming.

Transcribed from: p.66/67 The Chapter on Chesters, A Walk along the Wall (A Journey along Hadrian's Wall) by Hunter Davies. (First printed in 1974.)

Monday, 18 January 2010

New Year's Blog Resolution!

This year I feel really energised and have a feeling that it is going to be a super year.

I am glad that our energies will now be fully on the business and the family (which is where they should be!)...

I'd always meant to blog daily...even if it is only a few lines.

There is always something going on even if it is just trying to catch a picture of the resident heron in our local beck/burn(Cumbrian/Northumbrian for stream).

Today's photo is of the nearby Roman fort to the west of us - a sunny Birdoswald (Banna) taken at the height of Easter 2009. It is looking at some of the granaries and the posts represent where the archaeologists also found the remains of a medieval hall. It was occupied by local tribes once the Romans left and/or were assimilated into the local culture. Tony Willmott (an English Heritage archaeologist) has a theory that the lawless times (up to and including The Reivers) were a continuation from when Roman Rule departed these shores. He could well be right!

I'm currently reading Hunter Davies' book: "A Walk along the Wall: a journey along Hadrian's Wall". I throughly recommend it to all those who are interested in reading about Hadrian's Wall and those who are planning to walk along it some time. (It's also worth pointing out that you don't have to walk the whole length of it...there are some short walks that can be done as well. One of the major broadsheets (The Times) has recently done a review of one walk which I include here.

Happy reading and walking! Here's the walk (beginning at Housesteads Fort) reproduced here from The Times (January 9 - 2010)

Friday, 8 January 2010

Snowy Snaps (Two New Posts)

Snow in our back garden (of the B&B )
This looks very reminiscent of those snowy scenes in "Peanuts" when Snoopy has snow on his kennel. This time the birds have got their fair share...
A bridge in Longbyre (our hamlet)

This is the section of Hadrian's Wall just down our road - on top of a railway embankment (now disused)

And a close up...

The "Vallum" just over the way. It is in shadow but it comes up in stark relief. It is the ditch and should be called "Fossa" but the Venerable Bede got his Latin mixed up back in the 800s. (Happens to the best of us!). "Vallum" actually means "Wall" and "Fossa" means "Ditch". It is still called "The Vallum" to this day...

Gigantic Swiss Rolls (see my last post...also posted today)...... (just been reminded that they are, in fact, "Artic Rolls"....of course........)

I'm wearing my hat purchased in Hungary and it's coming in handy!

Fancy a bath anyone?

Looking down at Longbyre from the top of the hill...our B&B is on the bottom right at the edge of the hamlet.

Walking the dog...even he looks a tad cold!

School is off! Meetings are off! Is the tax return off????????
Nevertheless we are very happy playing in the snow and enjoying the warmth. Cheers everyone!

Snowy Thirlwall Castle plus Walltown Quarry

This is Thirlwall Castle (a Reiver castle built from pinched Hadrian's Wall stones) - to be found just over a field or two away from us...I am always writing about it because I love it so...
i) Imagine the scene...
ii) Rack and Ruin....
iii) Wild Visitors....
iv) Legends and Spells...
v) Where the rooms are...
vi) Layout of the Castle...

A scenic view from one of the Castle's "windows"

The nearby village/hamlet of Longbyre complete with snow...(where the B&B is)...

 a man/boy/dog....

The "new" versions of the sledge. We do have a "Rosebud" wooden number which belonged to me and my sisters...which I must dig out!

Patterns in the snow...

Lookout Santa's hanging about! (Front view of the B&B)...

The icy back view of our little Four Wynds B&B....

My obsession with the haybales in the field behind the house continues...they remind me of giant "Swiss Rolls". (Perhaps only people of a "certain age" will remember these. They were one of the highlights of being little in the 1970's in the UK. Dragged out of the freezer...rolls of sponge cake filled with vanilla and strawberry ice cream (made by Bird's Eye? Yes...Troy and Catharine Withenay have just reminded me that they are called "Artic Rolls".). Probably pretty frightful to any gourmand or gourmandeuse but they represented a seventh heaven for a seven year old!)

The B6318 (ungritted)!

Looking down the main street of Longbyre...just in front of the B&B. We do have a lot more snow than this. This photo was taken before the recent deluge of snow.......
By the has been cancelled for the last four days. Our archaeology day which is part of "Know your North Pennines" has been called off. It was set for next Wednesday but nothing, absolutely nothing can be seen of Whitley Castle/Epiacum. Whitley Castle is buried beneath the ground at the best of times...but it is under several feet of snow right now.

A Snowy Walltown Quarry, which is literally up the road from us, on the Whin Sill and a view from Hadrian's Wall.

Walltown Quarry again. The ducks on the lake are surviving (just)!

If you are interested in the geology of the area I recommend a book called "Ancient Frontiers" ISBN 085272541-8 (Exploring the geology and landscape of Hadrian's Wall area) and produced by the British Geological Survey with the Northumberland National Park Authority. (A very reasonable £8.00.) It covers: Beginnings, Limestone, Sand and Mud, Building with Stone, Coal, Whinstone, Minerals, Hidden History, Ice and the Evolving Landscape. (Hopefully I'll have another chance to talk about the geology of the area in more detail.)

Atmospheric shots taken at Walltown Quarry. They are views taken beside the remains of a very small opencast (limestone - I think) Roman mine . We were on a "geology" day here last March and our very knowledgeable lecturer did an alkaline test here to show us the presence of limestone. The Romans mined limestone, sandstone, coal and much more all along the corridor of Hadrian's Wall. Enormous quantities of sandstone were used in the building of the Wall. The Roman construction teams excavated huge amounts of loose dolerite blocks to establish their foundations but did not want to use this for the Wall itself. They used the more "workable" sandstone for the Wall and associated buildings. (N.B. "Limestone Corner" which is not made of limestone!..[NY825 706]...evidence of the failure of the Romans to excavate the Whin Sill dolerite. You can see several wedge holes testify to the abortive attempts to break the rock!)