Sunday, 24 October 2010

Sisterly Pride

Top photo: I must have been ten, my middle sister (J) err - seven years old and my youngest sister (F) - about one year old?

Middle photo: At J's wedding (2008) in Northern Italy which I blogged about at the time and here and here. We are considerably older and somewhat wiser. I haven't turned into a midget (in blue and pink)...lower heels and bending over (I think!)

Bottom photo: Student times and tastes although my drinking habits haven't changed. I'm still partial to the odd glass of Guinness. My lipstick is not as deep red these days...

I wanted to say how incredibly proud I am of my sisters. The youngest one (F) is the sub-editor of The Stylist in London. She has a lot of responsibility and who has to carry the can when there's a major whoops! She's just got her own assistant. She's witty and stylish herself and very good at drawing.

Middle Sister (J) has just had a baby girl. She and her husband tried to run their own franchise business out in France, in Morzine, which didn't work out sadly. They've been back (living down the road) only a few weeks and she's already got a job in Leeds! Both my sisters are clever lasses and J (JEFK) has a veritable alphabet after her name with all the qualifications she has racked up e.g. Chemical Engineer, Accountant, ex-Deloitte Touche Consultant to name but a few...

I don't say it enough to them but want to do it here:  

Well done hinny pets! You are wonderful! Gorgeous! Super! Macte! (Well done!)

Monday, 18 October 2010

Some thoughts about York, blogging and the buying experience

The brainwashing starts whilst young!

Veni, Vidi, Vestigavi! (Hadriana at the "new" Yorkshire Museum)

Eboracum = York

9th (missing?) legion's stamp @ Yorkshire Museum

The Hadriana Family Say "Caesus!" @ York Castle Museum

Clifford's Tower

Sign at the bottom of Clifford's Tower

Rainbow @ Clifford's Tower

Is this the best sign ever? (just beside Shambles and Dig Jorvik)

Models at York Model Railway

Master H. can't get enough of 'em!

Roman tombs outside Yorkshire Museum in the Gardens

Little diggers at Jorvik Dig

Model of York outside York Minster

An Autumnal York Minster
As the season is slowing down a bit we grabbed the opportunity to go to see the marvellous city of York. I have been "through" York about five billion times by intercity train but had never stopped there so off we went....for the weekend...en famille.

I've also been to two excellent seminars recently given by the marketing gurus, Geoff Ramm and Heather Baxter and they've both got me thinking about the whole buying experience. Geoff, in particular, mentioned two "highlights" of his own...whereby two lots of people in business had gone way beyond what he was expecting to provide him and his family with a superlative buying experience.

With this in mind I decided to become a mystery shopper, if only in my own head, whilst we were in York. (After all I've been reading Mary Portas and her newspaper columns for quite some time now. . .)

I must say that I can now rave about York. Individuals, couples and families could absolutely adore it. We did the park and ride scheme which was super easy to use. It also allowed me to look at the architecture on the way (an added plus was that there were no parking arguments) and the children loved travelling by bus. There are individual shops galore and periods of history to suit just about everyone...fascinating little streets and alley ways.

We were able to sample: the new restyled Yorkshire Museum (revamped at a cost of £2 million or thereabouts) and mostly done by the museum staff themselves. A phenomenal undertaking. Inside there are Roman bits and pieces, dinosaurs and other time periods - all laid out in an accessible way (both mentally and physically). We would have stayed longer but the children got hungry. Unfortunately there isn't a massive cafe space there (just a snack/tuck shop area by the shop - the staff admitted that it had not got the space). Definitely, definitely worth a look. (Our children sample museums by just how good the shop is as we go in: "What are we going to buy here?")

We tumbled out and by the time we "hit" York on a Saturday lunchtime the place was absolutely teeming with shoppers and visitors. We were all hungry..."Do we fall into the fast food trap?" we wondered as we sometimes do that to please all tastes especially little boy, Master H., who is incredibly choosy. Very luckily and due to my husband's keen eye we found: De Clare Cafe/Deli in Peter Street. This pleased mum and dad no end...something yummy to eat plus a glass of wine. A huge plus was that the staff also found something to keep the young 'uns happy straightaway.

Little Miss H. is a pretty good eater but she'd fallen off her ultra modern white chair as soon as we had attempted to sit down and was feeling very embarrassed. One female member of staff rushed over to look after her and got her a hot chocolate to make her feel better. They even brought the children's food as fast as they could so as to fill up their tums. (Allowing me to try to earwig other conversations..someone was talking about archaeology and someone else was bravely practising their Spanish with a Latin American friend.) Mr. H. and myself had different platters...a Spanish one and a vegetarian one. (I'm not a veggie but I'm not a great meat eater either much to Mr.H.'s chagrin.) Truly delicious. I was extremely impressed the way in which the member of staff had looked after us and especially my daughter who can be very sensitive at times.

We also "did" the York Castle Museum (part of it) and Clifford's Tower. Both are very interesting. York Castle Museum's shop and cafe also got the thumbs up from the kiddies.

We also had a superb evening meal at The Dawnay Arms, Newton on Ouse. We nearly always take the children with us when we dine out. Despite being pretty exhausted they were on their best behaviour. The staff there were wonderful too when Master H. knocked his orange juice off the bar. They dealt with it with the minimum of fuss - again superb. We had found this place by complete accident. We were staying at a B&B just a few miles away. The food is very good and the wine and the service. What more can I say? I just wished this pub was located a few miles away from us. We had grown attached to it within the hour. Fabulous menu, great atmosphere, welcoming staff. The bill was pretty decent too.

The next day I was determined to go to Dig Jorvik - the sister museum to Jorvik. This one is all about archaeology. It's a shame we couldn't stay longer but we did manage to get an hour and a half there. The children and hubbie had been pretty unwilling to go in and I did interrogate the poor staff about what it was all about. I had a hunch that the children would like it and they did! In fact I'd say this museum is the best of the bunch for hands on entertainment. A trained archaeologist showed us around for an hour (with a talk) but the children were well up for it. She engaged them well. There are also digging areas where children can discover/dig for things...the Roman trench, the Viking trench, the Victorian trench and a modern day one (I think). Our two did it and it was hard to get them out. It's not real soil but pretend soil. I did a bit myself and it is FUN! We then finished with a handling finds session. What is also amazing is that the museums in York seem to have collaborated on their displays and a lot of them are using actors and holograms to explain things. Amazing, educational and fab...all at the same time. This museum gets 10 out of 10 from the whole Hadriana family.

The Model Railway Museum sited just outside the Railway Station at York gets the thumbs up too. Plenty of model train entertainment and lots of ways to get adults involved too. Just keep pressing those buttons! It is tiny but well worth a visit. No cafe or loos but the station is close by for those. Very friendly member of staff who said she had worked there for over twenty years.

I'd like to give the B&B a good write up too but despite the accommodation and food being more than fine...the people owning it didn't seem very interested in their guests. That seemed a shame because they have got a superb business and location...we both felt that they could capitalise on this and get to know their visitors a bit better. There was one European gentleman there both mornings who seemed very smiley and friendly. Both my husband and I thought he needed a bit more attention...maybe we caught them at a bad time. I don't know....

York is a fantastic place. We had a really good time and we can't wait to go back and do some more....
It needs several visits as there is so much to do there. So if you can get there...we recommend it whole heartedly. I'm sure that it caters for all age groups. It's very compact so it's perfectly feasible to do lots of things within two or three days. There is plenty there too for a longer visit.

I'd  be interested to hear about your "superlative" buying experiences too. I've thought about it a great deal and I can't say that anything sticks out massively...maybe I just have an appalling memory! (I was very impressed by the way Mr.H. ran his diving centre but that is indeed another story!)

I've also toyed with the idea of starting another blog because I'd like to write about other stuff apart from  Roman history et al. The thing is...I'm feeling a bit lazy so I'll mix and match the history stuff with the general stuff if that's OK by you?

We recently lost a lot of computer things (business and personal documents and photos - two years' worth  - about which I've blogged) which was not entirely our own fault. Despite getting two lots of people to look at the hard disk it is a write-off. I've just about come to terms with the whole thing (it's taken me months of angst to get to grips with that). Possibly the worst purchasing experience I've had bar the bank thing. (More of which anon.) I've learned a lot from that. I'm also learning that if you value certain items then you have to try to hang onto them at all costs. Nevertheless sometimes it's impossible to do and I read an article recently about how Anthony Haden-Guest lost ALL of his worldly possessions. And boy!...did he lose a lot. Read about it here. I'm assuming that this wasn't a superlative buying experience for him either. Do you have any profoundly bad purchasing experiences that you might like to share with us...?

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Mare and Foal Standing Stones

I made this little video in the Summer. (Yes...I must improve my camera skills. But still it's just me and my tiny digital camera! I tried to download it from my computer but it was taking too long and I need to go and hug my children instead of playing at computers and Twitter!)

Just off the Military Road, and named on the Ordnance Survey map of 1901, the Mare and Foal are thought to be the last stones standing of a circle about 15 feet across. But there have been only two left since the time of the Romans because they efficiently noted them, possibly when they were building their nearby fort of Great Chesters. ( I cut and paste this from this fascinating article about the Hexham Courant which also talks about the fort, Great Chesters, which I have nicknamed the "Miss Havisham" fort. More of which anon.)

I don't know much about these Standing Stones so if anyone can shed any more light on them....? T'would be wonderful to hear from you, if so......

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Bards in the Bar Tonight at 8pm!

Bards in the Bar
Fancy a tipple while being entertained by a Bard or two?
Then why not join us at pubs along Hadrian's Wall.
8.00pm Tuesday 12th October 2010

ADMISSION FREE (Find Bards in the Bar on Facebook or

Hadrian’s Arts Trust, the organisation that brings arts activity and projects to Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site, has arranged a night of revelry in pubs right across Hadrian’s Wall from Newcastle to Carlisle.

On Tuesday October 12th at 8.00pm at pubs along Hadrian’s Wall, some of the region’s best contemporary poets and story-tellers will be entertaining the customers with wit, humour and imagination in the old traditional way – at the inn.  

Raise a glass to stories and poems... at 8.00pm at the following venues:

*           The Cluny, Newcastle with  Malcolm Green and Chris Bostock
*           The Bridge Hotel – Newcastle,  with John Halliday
*           The Robin Hood – near Matfen, with Peter Mortimer
*           The Twice Brewed Inn  - on the B6318, Military Road, Hadrian’s Wall above Bardon Mill,  with Stevie Ronnie
*           The Milecastle Inn – Cawfields,  8.00pm Maureen Almond
*           The Greenhead Hotel – Greenhead,  8.00pm with Ellen Phethean
*           Kings Head – Carlisle, 8.00pm – Penny Grennan

The choice of bards is wide and the quality high: Chris Bostock is a storyteller of great range and humour who includes in his repertoire local legends,  great myths, ghost and fairy stories, jokes and ancient epics, in a style which is completely his own and is loved by his audiences.

Malcom Green has a deep love and wide knowledge of the natural world which is reflected in his choice of stories. He brings the world to life with his infectious enthusiasm for the life of birds and animals, coloured by his own observations of their lives. He has lived in places as far flung as Cameroon and Iceland and brings the textures of these places to his storytelling.

 Peter Mortimer - poet, playwright, journalist and publisher, has lived in the North East for thirty years, and many of his books and plays have been published and performed here. His books include: The Last of the Hunters: Life with the Fishermen in North Shields; I Married the Angel of the North (poetry); Off the Wall: the Journey of a Play; Cool for Qat, which grew out of his commission to write a play about the 1930 Yemeni seamen's riot in South Shields; and Camp Shatila - a Writer's Chronicle.
Ellen Phethean runs Diamond Twig Press, which she founded with Julia Darling <> . She also works as a poet, playwright and editor. She began performing her poetry and plays on radio and stage with The Poetry Virgins, a women's performance poetry group. Her work appears in Sauce <>  (Bloodaxe Books).  Her first full collection, Breath, is published by Flambard Press <> , and was shortlisted for the London New Poetry Award, 2009 <> .

Stevie Ronnie writes poems and stories that sometimes get published and read. He is currently completing PhD research at Newcastle University where he also teaches creative writing. A pamphlet of his poems, The Thing To Do When You Are Not In Love, was published by Sand/Red Squirrel Press in May 2008.
Maureen Almond: Since she began writing poetry seriously in 1992, Maureen Almond has published Hot (1997), Tailor Tacks (1999), Oyster Baby (2002), The Works (2004) and Tongues in Tees (2005). She has a strong interest in classical literature, particularly that of Horace, and her work is included in the Primary Texts Reading List for 'The Reception of Classical Literature in Twentieth Century Poetry in English' at Oxford University. In 2009 she collaborated with Glyn Goodrick and Lindsay Allason-Jones in Recollections, a volume of poetry and images inspired by the Roman collections in the Museum of Antiquities.

Bards in the Bar brings these and many other of the region’s leading lights in writing and performing to the comfortable social ambience of the local for the enjoyment of people who like to think while they drink.

This event is generously supported by The Northumberland National Park, Hadrian’s Wall Heritage Ltd and the Bards themselves.

 For more information on poets and Hadrian Arts Trust go

Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums has been nominated in the Arts & Business Awards 2010 for its partnership with John Lewis Newcastle during the Culture Shock project. Show your support and help us win the award by voting here.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Enjoying the Fall (and every minute of it)...

Decapitated milestone on Stanegate - on the way into Vindolanda
OK I admit it! my computer and Blogger have got me flummoxed. Everything seems to be working OK this morning including me.

I'm full of the joys of Autumn. It's beautiful outside. The sun is shining and the colours of the trees, bushes, leaves, fields, grasses are many hued, shiny, translucent.

What have I been up to? Well I've managed to load the photos of Vindolanda which I took a week ago. I've just got to see whether this format will now cope with my words. (I've worked it out. Please scroll past the photos down to the bottom.)

Parts of the water wells and Hadrian's Wall Reconstruction in the background

AD213 Military Bath house (later one) at Vindolanda. The original water proof, opus signinum (pink floor), can be seen in the foreground (half way is horse shoe shaped)

Corner of Stone Fort II with Barcombe Hill in background

Stone Fort II with later bath house in background

"Y" shaped drain to catch the blood in the Butcher's Shop in the Vicus/Village
Roman Knife/Sword "grooves" at water well at West Gate

View of Vindolanda and brooding Barcombe Hill

The mysterious round house foundations beside fort walls and found in different places across the site

Would love to know what these markings are on the Via Principalis (in the fort)...will try to find out!

Marvellous masonry at HQ (Principia) Stone Fort II

View of CO's house (Praetorium - Stone Fort II) at Vindolanda

Looking back to West Gate via the fort drains!

Children and friends' children at Vindolanda

And again!

View of our wonderful tree outside my window

(Fellow guide, Patricia, and myself at the Mithraeum further down Hadrian's Wall last Saturday. A few of us were on an outing with the Friends of Segedunum (Wallsend). The Tour along the Wall, was led by the extremely knowledgeable Bill Griffiths, archaeologist, ex-curator of Segedunum. He is now North East Regional Museums Hub Manager of Tyne & Wear Museums. We followed the line of the Wall from Wallsend all the way out to Bowness on Solway. The whole Wall and frontier zone is still one huge jigsaw puzzle to understand but I saw bits of Wall I'd not seen before...including some in a carpark just before the junction of the A1 and A69 and at Heddon-on-the-Wall. The journey was a riot: full of good humour and lots of jokes. It really took me back to my roots. "A champion, canny day" was had by all.)

........Well...I've finished my side of the accounts/book keeping. Yeah! Will try to keep you posted on that score. The main thing is that we've had a storming season (despite not having finished the website) and we are still busy now...

And I've, more or less, finished my guiding for this season. We do a little bit more at October Half Term at Vindolanda and The Roman Army Museum which should be great. The Vindolanda Trust are getting ready to close the two museums at the end of October for complete refurbishment. The Vindolanda site (fort) will still be open until the end of January 2011. Both museums will open up again, ready for the next season, bright, shiny and spanking new.

So how did the guiding go?

I'm very pleased to say that, by the end of my first proper year of guiding, it went very well. Possibly very, very well! That sounds as if I'm not being very modest.* The truth is...that I was a bit wobbly at the beginning. Even I felt it. I was not even very happy with my introduction to the site. The way we'd been taught to start off...was at the water wells. In fact Vindolanda is a very complicated site (which I rather like as it is a challenge). I'm not over exaggerating..there is a lot of history there. No wonder the Vindolanda Trust say that there is another 150 years plus still to excavate. The Reverend Anthony Hedley started it all off in 1831 or thereabouts!

I'm also not criticising the way in which we were taught. Our teachers were/are two excellent Blue Badge Guides - Tom Keating and Jan Williams - they threw themselves into our training course and they worked so hard. They so desperately wanted us to do well. And we did.

I've stayed in contact with Jan and when I have my occasional wobble she's always been there for me - giving me some brilliant advice. Ultimately though, I've learned the old fashioned way, I have to make my tour my own.

I used to do the tour starting at the water wells and everyone seemed happy with the way I was doing it. But I wasn't. There were still some areas which I knew I had to brush up on. Again, I was busy during the Summer, with the children being off school, so did not really have a lot of time to do some reading...not the type of reading I wanted to do anyway.

When the school holidays came to an end we also started to see a different type of visitor at Vindolanda...the baby boomers. They certainly know their history. One tough, friendly group made me realise that I had to do some more reading and fast! (I don't mind. Anything, anybody...who keeps me on my good. We all get lackadaisical.)

I started to consult my own library of Roman books (which are starting to build up) and a super website/forum which has been created by a long standing volunteer excavator called Harry who is based in America. So effectively I started doing some digging of my own!

I came to the conclusion that I was happiest starting my tour off - over by the Stanegate - a road with a medieval name which was created by the Romans across this short isthmus from the Solway to the Tyne. Archaeologists are still debating when exactly it was created. I still need to do some more reading about it but I'm fairly sure that it had to be (t)here when the Romans decided to build their earliest camps and forts all along this region. It makes sense.

Despite it being a multi-layered site (there were, at least, six timber forts and three stone forts built at Vindolanda) I try to keep it simple for visitors whilst describing (succinctly) the span of the nigh on four hundred years of the Roman occupation. Along the lines of: How they started...what happened when Hadrian's Wall was being they got going...what life was like at the peak of Roman rule...what life was like when The Roman Empire was on the wane...what happened when Roman life (perhaps) melted away....what happened when the Reivers took over.....then the crofters....then the antiquarians...then the Birleys...then The Vindolanda the present day. All in 45 minutes to one hour.

And it is SO enjoyable. I LOVE showing people around. I adore talking to everyone...understanding why they are there and what they are interested in. Listening to their questions and attempting to answer them to the best of my abilities. If I can't answer them then I try to find the answer for them. The scenery is fabulous come sun, rain or shine. In fact I haven't done one tour where it has been raining (except for a tiny bit of drizzle perchance). My trusty yellow "Tour de France" umbrella has seen off those pesky droplets.

So, by complete accident, I feel that I have finally found my vocation - for me, myself, I, Hadriana: windswept, cloud and sun romanced, my ears trained for the call of a's a far cry from those City days, in pinstripe suits, staying in five star hotels all over Europe...feeling isolated, bored, frazzled, in those elegant rooms with room service on tap.

[Fingers crossed that our guiding programme can continue into 2011. The funding for it comes to an end of December 2010. We have been well received. Let's hope that good reception can be sustained into next year!]

* On my last tour of the season one of our B&B guests, who is a writing a doctorate on the Thracians, who came on my tour, said it was one of the best he'd ever been on! (What does Alan Partridge say?...."Back of the net?!" I hadn't even paid him lots of denarii to say that either!)

Ooh. By the way. I'll be starting a new blog shortly (as well as this one) which will be a lot more general and covering lots of different subjects to show that I have other interests beyond the Romans!!! (I still plan to continue this one as well.)

As always, many thanks for reading! Valete!

Hadriana xx 

P.S. The Tullie House Museum is trying to save the rare Roman Helmet and Face-Mask, found in the Lake District, for this region. It is being auctioned by Christies today. Read about it here.