Explore fascinating Hadrian’s Wall during a short break in Carlisle, writes Nigel Southworth
For many years I have been visiting Hadrian’s Wall and its environs, indulging in my curiosity about this part of our history: why it was built; how; when; and pondering how it has divided the largest of our British islands into what in turn became England and Scotland.
I have dotted around all over the place and been amazed at what there is to see and discover. I have been soaked to the skin, tramped through snow, been burnt by the sun on marvellous sunny days, and sunk a fair share of ales in the village inns and country pubs in both Northumbria and Cumbria – walking is thirsty work.
I usually stay in bunk houses or go camping, so it had been a long time since I had visited Carlisle. However, what a pleasant surprise I had in store.
I visited with my brother. We had been warned about wild farmers descending on the main street of Botchergate like a hoard of angry Vikings intent on breaking land speed records for drinking. But none of it, not a speck.
Instead we had a fine weekend of culture and hospitality.
Setting off from the centre of Carlisle we went on a ‘Discover Hadrian’s Wall Tour by Bus’, organised by Cumbrian Tourism who are promoting their ‘See More’ project www.seemorecumbria.co.uk which is all about finding ‘car free’ ways to explore. We visited Birdoswald Fort and the beautiful Lanercost Priory which was unknown to me but something of a gem.
Leaving Carlisle we swept into the Irthing Valley, along rolling hills amid breathtaking scenery. Lanercost is near the village of Brampton, about 13 miles to the north east of Carlisle. It is both a picturesque ruin and lovely parish church, its focal point being the Augustine Priory which was built in 1169 on a site used by the Romans. A dying Edward I, the ‘Hammer of the Scots’, made it his base for six months during his last campaign in 1307. William Wallace later burnt the place down.
The tour is run by Carol Donnelly, who was awarded the MBE for services to tourism, which tells you all you need to know about how good they are. There are various tours to choose from and they run from June to September.
The next day we visited Carlisle Castle and Tullie House Museum and Art gallery. Tullie is packed with interest from the Bronze Age onwards; it tells the story of Carlisle very well. It also houses a collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings including works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown and Arthur Hughes.
Children will love visiting the castle. English Heritage has done a fine job in bringing the place to life. Look out for intriguing carvings made on the walls by prisoners and guards and the beautiful Roman altar which survives because it had been used as a door lintel.
We stayed at The Halston, just five minutes’ walk from the railway station. Set in an Edwardian building, it is an apartment hotel with stylish studios, free wi-fi and 48-inch flat-screen TVs, plus kitchenettes and sitting areas.
The one and two-bedroom suites have open-plan living/dining areas and full kitchens.
The restaurant serves breakfast and I can heartily recommend the eggs benedict. There is a bistro menu and they also serve afternoon tea. There is a spa with health and beauty treatments.
After a lovely day on the wall and walking the city I dined out on bream at The Halston and it did not disappoint, one mouthful and I was seduced and once married with the white wine...well, it was a fine romance. Across the table my brother was equally happy, I could tell because he had stopped talking.
The dining was so comfortable and the service so attentive but unfussy that once I had reached the cheese course I had relaxed my tired legs so much I almost nodded off.
I can’t disclose the full details of the food because ... well, we had another bottle of wine and some brandy, but it was a wonderful evening.
If you imagine the wall to be just a pile of old bricks, a pointless tumbling ruin, do yourself a favour and go and discover your history.
A fine place to start would be Vindloanda fort and its wonderful museum which is within striking distance of Carlisle. Some of the greatest finds in all of antiquity have been unearthed there and it really is a place to treasure.
In my view this part of the country is worth celebrating – and revisiting.
• Rooms at The Halston Aparthotel (01228 210240, www.thehalston.com), 20-34 Warwick Road, Carlisle start from around £150 per night for a one bed studio during the week. Discover Hadrian’s Wall Tour by Bus (01228 670578, www.greatguidedtours.co.uk). Carlisle Castle (01228 591922, www.english-heritage.org.uk) is open from 10am-6pm daily. Family tickets cost £17.40 including gift aid; for more information, see www.seemorecumbria.co.uk