New from the History Press this year is a series entitled Archaeological Walking Guides. And what better subject to get the series rolling than with Hadrian’s Wall. It is, after all, at this very popular archaeological site stretching across northern England where walking and archaeology come together like nowhere else. And who better to write the walking guide to Hadrian’s Wall than Clifford Jones, an archaeologist who knows this World famous Roman frontier like the back of his hand.
Hadrian’s Wall needs little introduction. But briefly, the wall was constructed during the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian to protect the Empire. It stretches for about 120 kms between the modern day town of Wallsend (which derives its name from being at the end of the wall) on the River Tyne in the east and a location near Bowness-on-Solway in the west. During the Roman occupation of Britain it was the most heavily guarded frontier throughout the Empire. Today, the various museums and archaeological sites are collectively the most visited attraction in the north of England. A number of these sites are easily reached by car, but the Wall, either sections of it or the entire path, also provide a popular focus for walkers, hikers and cyclists alike.
Having heard such wonderful accounts from a number of people, I have always wanted to walk the full length of the wall, and this is definitely one for my archaeological bucket list. Reading this guide has made me want to do it sooner rather than later, and definitely to take the time to do it from end to end at once. The book begins with an expected background to the wall, what it is, its origins and purpose, as well as a substantial section with advice and tips on how to prepare for walking the wall. The bulk of the book then comprises ten ‘chapters’ that correspond to each successive day of the ten day walk along Hadrian’s wall from Tynemouth in the east to Kirkbride in the west.
Each day-chapter is a full account with maps and photographs of all the information walkers require for that day’s walk, from start to finish. There is background information to the archaeology as well as more practical information such as where to eat, drink and sleep, including taxis and buses. The only thing I think is missing from the guide is an overall map of the wall, not essential but it would have been interesting to have such an illustration in the introduction. Each chapter has a number of black and white photographs, but there is also a section of spectacular colour photographs.
Besides good photographs, the guide is also interesting to read. And despite being written in the third person it has a distinctly personal feel, as it should. Clifford Jones clearly has a lot of personal and first hand experience of the archaeology of Hadrian’s Wall, and how to get from one end of it to the other. This does inspire confidence: ‘the reader’, as Jones would write, is definitely in safe pages. Having read the book, not only would I recommend it I will be using it myself – soon I hope!