Less than a mile from St. James Park, the city’s 52,000-seat English Premier League stadium, a team of aqueduct workers laying pipes for the Northumbrian Water Group discovered a section of nine feet of Hadrian’s Wall buried just two feet under modern asphalt. Eventually the pipe was diverted and the stones were not disturbed.
Hadrian’s Wall occupies an interesting position among UNESCO World Heritage sites. These defensive fortifications have never been lost over time; they simply became part of new communities springing up along their outlines. The stones of the walls litter the neighboring farmland. They form the foundations of the chapels and neighboring roads.
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“It’s not usually what we do now,” says Todd DaSilva. “We separate the story and close it, but it wasn’t always that way. “
Before the Industrial Revolution, she says, the company had a different relationship with its past. Prior to the 19th century, history was rarely separated from the present, which is part of the reason why this summer’s discovery in Newcastle generated so much buzz. When the Romans left around AD 400, much of the wall was looted by politicians, generals and regional priests. Few visible remains remain in metropolitan areas.
But away from town, along a rugged volcanic ridge known as the Whin Sill, much of the wall is still standing. At the foot of the ridge parades a parade of sheep. Farm animals and feeders are a familiar site outside of Newcastle. Here a hiker can dodge cow slaps while dancing on the outskirts of Rome for days on end.
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Ancient arches, bridge abutments and earthworks are scattered along our route to the west. Progress on the path is slow and it takes days for Newcastle’s urban sprawl to give way to farmland and fields.
From a pasture near Chollerford, Todd DaSilva sprints in the rain toward low grassy mounds marking the site of a milecastle, a small fort. Hours later, in a meadow near Hexham, we uncork a vial in celebration as the mounds marking our journey transform into waist-deep rows of stone – our first real glimpse of the wall.
After three nights of camping and over 40 miles of hiking, the sun is starting to shine over the English countryside. Dawn breaks over the temple of Mithras as our boots splash inside.