Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Hadrian's High Way. Part One: Ravenglass to Penrith. Part Two: Penrith to Vindolanda: a 100-mile walk to and along the Roman Frontier. By Mark Richards. Path Master Guides. £6.99 each.
“Bardon Mill railway station, on the Tyne Valley Line, is but a skip and a jump down the lane from here.” It is “Journey's end!” for a pioneering 102 mile walk that will take the determined rambler from the sea-shore at Ravenglass to the Roman fort at Vindolanda.
This new walk is something more than yet another walk. It is 1900 years since Hadrian became Emperor in Rome - the exact anniversary is August 11th. Other routes follow the Roman forts along the Solway Coast and of course along the Roman Wall, but this new route crosses the heart of the Lakes to Penrith and then strikes out across the Northern Pennines to eventually join the Roman Wall.
Nonetheless, it is a Roman way. It follows the routes the Roman soldiers used in maintaining and supplying this region at the edge of their vast empire. It links ten forts and, as the enthusiastic Mark Richards insists: “It stretches . . . through a constantly changing, thoroughly absorbing nd spellbindingly beautiful landscape – in sun, wind and rain – culminating in a euphoric personal triumph as you stride beside the actual Roman wall.”
You begin at a fort, at the bath-house remains of Glannoventa at Ravenglass. There's a superb walk up the Esk valley to that most spectacularly sited fort at Hard Knott. The Roman explorer will have to make do with “forging over the Wrynose Pass and into Little Langdale” before he reaches the remains of the fort at Ambleside. From there the route is along the Roman High Street – there is an alternative way through Patterdale and Martindale for those weak walkers who are not possessed of Roman marching thighs – and then a small detour through Lowther and Clifton. There's Mayburgh Henge and King Arthur's Round Table and the field of the last battle in England. And finally, having completed the first half of the walk, you can stride past Brougham Hall and on to Penrith Castle and Penrith Station.
A non-legionnaire might choose to take a break here – splitting the walk into two separate weeks. There's so much to see on this skilfully planned walk, that it would be silly to approach it as a military route march.
The suitably refreshed can begin the second half at the fourth Roman fort at Brocavum or Brougham Castle and “enjoy the glorious splendour of the Eden Valley” as he marches to the fifth fort at Kirkby Thore. Then its along the ancient Maiden Way - “there's no doubting its Roman authenticity” - and on to Alston. A sixth fort waits at Epiacum in the South Tyne Valley and there are four further forts on Hadrian's Wall itself.
It's quite a walk, sweeping across some of the most beautiful and varied country in Britain and at the same time taking in a fantastic range of British history from the Stone Ages to the Jacobite Rebellion.
And Mark is a superb guide. His passion for the walk drips off the page, his fine line drawings give the character of the passing landscape and the neat, well-presented maps will keep you on track.
But more than that, Mark sees Hadrian's High Way as a Peace Trail. He wants “to open reader's minds to reflect on their own personal understanding of the word 'peace' experienced when walking in the natural environment, looking at heritage and communities first hand."
It is a noble motive, supported by the Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in Paris.
And it is a wonderful walk that in years to come ought to become as popular as some of the other great long distance footpaths.
It's no wonder that Mark completes his journey with a skip and a jump.