The proceedings (for me anyway) kicked off when I drove over to my cell's muster point over at Brampton's Community Centre. (There were 3 cells there in total. Across the Wall there were 42 cells.) The tension had been building inside me all week. I didn't know what to expect. I really didn't.
I had volunteered to help out with the "Illuminating Hadrian's Wall" shindig back in January. I had quickly filled in a form and largely forgotten about it. There was (as ever!) too many other things to think about.
The whole "Illuminating Hadrian's Wall" thing started to creep up on me sometime in the last couple of weeks. What was I meant to do? Could I become an illuminator after all? Who was in charge of getting the equipment there? How many other people would attend? Various questions began to percolate and desperately wanted to break free. I had had some of them answered at the preparation event on Friday in Corbridge where all of the cell leaders had congregated. They were from all over the country and they had experience of dealing with a big affair such as this.
Nevertheless nothing like this had ever been attempted before - on this scale - 74 miles of Hadrian's Wall and 84 miles of Hadrian's Wall National Trail had to be covered by people and light.
What would crowd control look like and feel like?
What if someone fell off one of the crags?
Would there be complete road rage along the length of the Military Road?
Slight chewing of the fingernails time. Methinks.
Back to Brampton Community Centre. I parked. Left the wellies for later. Met up with my fellow volunteer, Patricia, and went inside. Already by 12.30pm lots of people were milling around.
We got given our sticker badges announcing we were the main Hadrian's Wall Heritage volunteers and would be the point of reference for the other volunteers who were, primarily, the "illuminators".
We had something scrumptious to eat from the canteen then we sat around chatting and swapping stories with those who had showed up. I was interested in how people had found out about the event and how they had signed up. All of them had heard about it via the press and media somehow or other (i.e.: Facebook, local free press, radio, the HWH official website etc.) and signed on the dotted line. The people I met were from Yorkshire, Tyneside, Teeside, Cumbria and an American living over the border in Scotland plus a Canadian studying in Norwich. And that was just for starters. In short, the world had appeared on our doorstep just like in Roman times.
Our cell leader, Alexia, asked us (the three Hadrian's Wall Heritage Volunteers) to choose which bit of the cell (2 miles) that we wanted. I got the bit right at the back of our B&B. Hurrah!
We had to hang around quite a but, nevertheless, the time passed quickly. Alexia chose whom she wanted to man the burners (for there were to be two people to a burner), whom was going to get a flare and whom was going to have a ceremonial candle. The idea was to fill the Wall with light. The more people and light there were so much the better. The burners were to be situated 250 metres apart along the line of the Wall. The flares and candles also helped to join up the dots of the light. The burner had gas to last one and half hours, the flare was to burn for about 30 seconds to one minute (for the helicopter filming's sake) and the ceremonial candles were to be alight for up to 30 minutes.
Once that was done we went outside for a demonstration of how to put together the calor gas bottles and burner, how to light the burner and how to dismantle it. We were then shown how to let off a flare - what to do and what not to do. ("A" for Area, "B" for Back to the wind, "C" for Cap, "D" for Drawstring, "E" for Elevate and "F" for Effin' hot if your hand was in the wrong place!!!) We were warned that we all had to make sure that we had the right kit in the correct place. We were to be taken to our various access points. The equipment was travelling separately because of the health and safety rules. Alexia would patrol the cell checking on all of us. Illuminators were to come to the relevant HWH volunteer on their bit of the cell. (Each of us HWH volunteers had a third of Alexia's cell to command.)
We all boarded the big coach at 3pm precisely as planned. We were dropped off at our access points. Patricia and her gang were dropped off first at the edge of Gilsland, we were then dropped off at the edge of Longbyre and Eddie (plus Alexia) were dropped off further up. Eddie had the hardest bit of our cell but he was a HWH ranger and knew this bit of the Wall like the back of his hand.
At the side of the Longbyre road we then waited and waited and waited and waited for the equipment to turn up. We were kept enthralled (not!) by the man in the white van who seemed very unfamiliar with the terrain despite being in possession of a GPS and mobile phone. I kept in touch with Alexia by phone whilst we (the illuminators and I) got to know one another better. Everyone bar one tall chap from Canada (yes...he who is studying in Norwich) was from the slightly wider area. We all had a connection with Hadrian's Wall and were keen to get started.
Two hours later, still without our illumination thingummyjigs, I was weighing up our options...the equipment didn't take that long to set up. Our allotted light up time was 18.20 and we'd been told that the helicopter would fly over a bit later. Everyone had to be in their allocated places and we'd all been given a photograph marked where we had to stand. Some had the old site of a milecastle (small fort) or a turret. The former milecastle was situated at every Roman mile and a turret used to mark the site of a third of a Roman mile. There was also to be a point of light between these ancient Roman sites.
At about 5.15pm the man with the van turned up. Huzzah! We got our bits of equipment. I asked everyone to check whether they had all their bits of kit. Everything appeared to be in order bar one splitter for one of our burners and four flares. (Sadly we were marked down for one candle rather than four candles......Boom! Boom! as Basil Brush would say!!!) I phoned that through to Alexia. She said she would sort it. I asked everyone to get into place and to get set up as much as possible.
Very kindly, Derek from Wallsend, stayed with me whilst I waited for the man in the van again. The minutes ticked by...About twenty minutes later...Cliff from Teeside told me that they were missing most of the bits they needed to put the burner together. They had their stand. They had their two bottles of gas but nothing else. AAAAAGGGGRRRRHHH! Don't panic! Don't Panic! In fact Major Panic. Phoned Alexia again. She would hunt down Man in the Van personally (who had apparently had the stuff in the first place but had denied them to Cliff then taken off down the road like Road Runner on acid...) Looking back it really was quite funny as he (Road Runner) kept hurtling past us in one direction and then five minutes later he would appear hurtling in the other direction. It had all the makings of a cartoon. On each occasion Road Runner had kept his head down not daring to look at us. I had visions of our equipment being all spread out across Walltown crags. I drafted in Mr.H., in my mind's eye, as possible backup...
A blue car pulled up. Passers-by asking for directions? I wondered? but thankfully, mercifully it was the cavalry bringing us the splitter and the flares. They told me that they still had to track down man with the van who'd switched his mobile off. It was now 5.45pm and everyone had been driven to the cigarettes ( bar me..my head was just smouldering). Two American ladies were simultaneously requesting where was the best place to see the fireworks? If they legged it...they could just make Walltown crags. My mental processes were cracking up. (Could they be enlisted to track down our stuff???!!!)
By 5.55pm and just in the nick of time Road Runner turned up!!!!!!!!!
Cliff got his bits and bobs and dashed across to his burner point which was a good ten minute hike away across several fields, styles, hills and a burn (stream).
Alexia and I started to check everyone to see if they were OK and where the various sites of light would be. We decided that one field by Wallend Farm looked a bit bare. We moved Andrew the Canadian to that field and I was to be a bit further along with a flare. (I was secretly very delighted with this.)
At 6.15pm we saw the burners being lit across Walltown Crags and further along the tips of the crags. At 6.20pm our first burner went on. We took photos and chatted. About 6.30pm the helicopter started to come over and I galloped into position (Mr. H. had arrived by this time and was taking photos. He came armed with some cake and some much needed coffee.) I heard the roar of the 'copter. Panicked a little as I couldn't get the cap off, bit it off, flicked out the drawstring and give it a sharp tug. It was alight! I was near the top of the hill. I elevated and held on tight and high. There was a family watching from the opposite field. (Was that our neighbours?) All I thought when the chopper went over was...it isn't yellow and its landing light isn't on...is this the bleep bleep correct 'copter or not? (There had been much more air traffic about than we had been warned about.) and I thought "Typical...........if it ain't the right one!" It was. My blood pressure came down a notch or two.
At last I could calm down. I drank in the splendiferous views. As it got darker the lights sang out more clearly. Thirlwall Castle was lit up at one side (you can see these on my previous post). Across to Gilsland there was an indescribable beauty and serenity. The vallum is clearly in evidence here. Cliff and his mum manned the burner on the edge of our section beside some Roman stones. My guess is that they were near a milecastle or on top of it. What was left of it.
Yes...we had done the Romans proud. If the Wall had been lit up all those hundreds and hundreds of years ago...this is what it would have looked like. It was magical yet very eerie.
I was mightily relieved that the evening had gone to plan. In fact the weather and conditions had been an absolute dream. The Gods were with us and had celebrated our achievement. The auspices were/are looking good for the start of The Ancient New Year. (After what happened last year I too am much relieved!) I went off to chat to my fellow Wall devotees and to take some piccies...and to enjoy that Imperial beer...
Standing by Longbyre roadside - first hour
Standing by Longbyre roadside - second hour
Looking up towards Longbyre - still waiting for the gear
Alexia striding up the hill in her red fleece "Illuminating Hadrian's Wall" jacket
The illuminators at Wallend Farm putting together a burner
The clear "V" shape of the Vallum
The Vallum again with the lone tree
The illuminators with the burner at Wallend Farm
Andrew climbing a style with a ceremonial candle
A fellow illuminator from Morpeth (in the rush I didn't get everyone's names!)
The lights in the dusk
Mr.H. taking photos along the Wall (our cell)
Lights over to Gilsland
The haunting splendor of the Vallum (Ditch)
Derek from Wallsend proudly bearing his candle (he'd also lit a flare when the helicopter went by...)
Sunset over to Gilsland
Climbing the style to Cliff and Linda's burner
Cliff and Linda at their burner
Me! at Cliff and Linda's burner
Spectators enjoying the warmth of the burner
A burner in action
Two fellow illuminators at the Wallend Farm Burner
All of us (bar 3..Alan had gone home and Cliff and Linda were at their burner) at the Wallend Burner. Good crowd and Good Crack (Northern Dialect for Good Chat or Gossip!)
A windswept me back at the B&B
Wylam Brewery's "Emperor Flame" Beer
Allendale Brewery's "Beacon Fire" beer alongside t'other beer