The drive from Land’s End in the far south-west of England to Hadrian’s Wall in the far north of England was uneventful except for a stop in the small village of Arnside, in Cumbria.
Sleepy Arnside was where my father spent much of his childhood and where my grandfather and step-grandmother continued to live after he left home.
The village sits facing a massive estuary on the north-east corner of Morecombe Bay and was a thriving port until a viaduct was built there in 1857.
Our visit was a trip down memory lane for me as we had several holidays there when I was a small child.
My chief memory of Arnside is going for a walk with my Dad, two older sisters and younger brother (he was probably about two and I was maybe three or four years old) along the sweeping beach.
Suddenly my Dad told my sisters and me to run towards home as fast as we could. I had no idea of the danger we were in but I still remember the urgency in my Dad’s voice.
Arnside has a world famous tidal bore which at high tides can move (in one big tidal wave) at the rate of 20 knots (37 kilometres a hour). It has been known to take many a poor soul by surprise despite the warning notices along the quayside. There have been numerous rescues and a number of drownings over the years.
Nowadays there are warning sirens when the tidal wave is due but on the day I was there with my family there was no such thing. Our poor Dad, despite growing up there and knowing the dangers must have been shocked to see the wave heading our way.
I can’t have been running fast enough as in the end my Dad who was already carrying my brother, plucked me from the sand and tucked me under his other arm and with my two older and faster sisters we made a frantic dash for safety!
Arnside was also renowned for its boat building – from 1838 until the 1980s the famous Crossfields boatyard turned out 35 foot prawners carrying 900 square feet of sail, racing yachts, row boats and other pleasure boats.
The yard even built the “Swallow” of the famous book Swallows and Amazons for the author Arthur Ransome.
From Arnside we drove to Greenhead, a village in Northumberland which lies close to Hadrian’s Wall, Britain’s largest archaeological remains from Roman times. Here we found the fascinating Roman Army Museum which depicts Roman army life in a fort on Hadrian’s Wall through artefacts, reconstructions and an incredible 3D film.
Begun in AD122, Hadrian’s Wall was 117.5 kilometres (73 miles) long and ran from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea and marked the northern limit of the Roman Empire.
A significant amount of the wall still exists and it was amazing to be able to be able to walk up to a section near the museum and stand on this ancient Roman frontier.
We also went for a lovely long walk to the mystical remains of the 12th Century Thirlwall Castle which fell into decay in the 19th Century. There wasn’t a lot to view but it was easy to see that it was once a sizeable and impressive fortress.
The following day we spent several hours at the fascinating site of Vindolanda, a fort pre-dating Hadrian’s Wall under Roman occupation from roughly 85 AD to 370 AD.
This huge site on which nine forts were built over nine centuries, with accompanying villages, barracks, a bath complex and stone huts, is unique because the whole of it is in private hands.
It was purchased In the 1930s, by archaeologist Eric Birley, who began excavating the site. The excavations have been continued by his sons, Robin and Anthony, and his grandson, Andrew Birley, up to the present day. There have been many amazing and valuable findings including two caches of tablets that at the time of their discovery, were the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain.
It is now run and excavated by the Vindolanda trust and it is estimated that despite annual excavations, only 24 per cent of Vindolanda has been excavated to date.
In the small museum on site there were many fascinating items including some the Vindolanda Writing Tablets which are like postcards from the past; lots of pottery, weapons and tools and an amazing array of shoes.
While wandering around the extensive site we were fortunate enough to be able to watch the excavations, talk to the volunteers and even saw Andrew Birley carrying on his family tradition of excavating this fascinating window into the Roman occupation of Britain.