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Trip to Scotland and northern England June 2014

Trip to Scotland and northern England June 2014

Old Aug 4th, 2014, 12:12 PM
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Dickie, with a little assistance from Mr. Google, I found the version of the legend I remembered. It's the legend that explains the Red Hand of Ulster, which is on the coat of arms of the O'Neill clan. In that case, the O'Neill who was contesting an inheritance raced to an island to claim it, but cut off his whole hand to win the race, which is why it's red.

Interesting, because St. Columba is supposed to be of that clan. Also, my maternal grandmother's family from County Tyrone is supposed to be originally of that clan, but none of us wants any islands that badly.
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Old Aug 4th, 2014, 01:41 PM
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Glad you had good experience with Arnold Clark. We have used them many times and can recommend also. The only small snag at EDI is that their depot is off airport. I have also got stuck in the rush hour traffic jam while trying to get to the nearest petrol station to refuel (which, if you are arriving from the West, is on the wrong side of the dual carriageway)!
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Old Aug 5th, 2014, 01:45 PM
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Day 8

We had only one day to see Edinburgh, which really isn't enough, but then I didn't feel that the two full days we had in Glasgow were enough either. Time is never sufficient, so you have to inure yourself to missing things. One advantage is that if you miss some important things, you have more incentive to return to a place.

We started out by going to Edinburgh Castle, which is a fairly easy walk from the Richmond Terrace apartments. On the approach to the castle, there was a tremendous amount of construction work going on, including the installation of grandstands; I imagine that this was in preparation for the Edinburgh Festival. It rather detracted from the initial view of the castle. The immediate surroundings are also blemished by an abundance of tacky tourist shops, selling “kilts” and all sorts of other gewgaws. I had hoped to find presents for our grandkids, but it was a matter of “Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink.”

There's lots to see at Edinburgh Castle, which is really a number of buildings inside the fortress walls. There are spectacular views from the walls. In the Royal Palace, there are many interesting exhibits about the history of the Scots Royal lineage, a display of the Royal Jewels, the Honours of Scotland, and the Stone of Scone.

There is a church there which is a memorial to Scots soldiers who died in the great wars of the 20th century. I was able to find my uncle's regiment, and his name written in the memorial book for the regiment. For me, this was a very special moment. When my uncle died, in the Dardenelles campaign, he was the sole support of the family. His mother was very opposed to his enrollment, not only because she was a committed pacifist, but because he was her oldest child, and a very intelligent and promising boy. The second son, because of his pacifist stance, refused to fight; his claim to be a conscientious objector was denied (maybe because his brother had enlisted?) and he spent a good part of the war in a British prison camp when enlistment became mandatory.

I was still regretting that I hadn't photographed the regimental flags in Glasgow Cathedral.

After visiting the castle we went to the Camera Obscura, a place that's a little hard to describe. You might call it a museum of optical illusions, with many different types of visual oddities, or curiosities, as well as the usual hall of mirrors and the like. It's a multistory building with no lift, so it would be difficult for people who have trouble with stairs. I should point out one other potential problem: I suffer from migraines and a few of the exhibits seemed to me to be bringing on an attack. I avoided those and waited for my husband to enjoy them. There were plenty of other things to make the visit worthwhile. The most interesting attraction for me was the actual camera obscura, which dates from the 1850s, although new lenses were installed in the 20th century. An image from a sort of pinhole camera at the top of the cupola of the building is passed through lenses and mirrors to turn it right-side up and focus it on a concave white table in the viewing room, which is completely dark. What you see is an actual live view of the streets below. A mechanical lever turns the camera on the roof to show different parts of the city. The guide, with her amusing story line and little tricks really added a lot to the show. She made a little paper bridge so that pedestrians appeared to be crossing it. She “picked people up” on her hand, and encouraged us to do the same.

After our visit to the Camera Obscura, it was really late for lunch, almost 2 PM. We looked about for a place to eat and happily hit upon the Villager. This looks to me as though its main identity is as a trendy bar, but we had a nice lunch there. I had a spinach curry, and my husband had a lamb and bean salad. Both were very tasty, and this was one of the cheapest meals we had, about £17. We usually have water with our meals. Throughout Scotland, when we asked for water, we got tap water, at no charge. A few times we specifically asked for mineral water, but the tap water was excellent. At the Villager, they brought us a pitcher of ice-cold water in which there reposed half a cucumber, a slice of watermelon, and a sprig of mint. I found the combination very refreshing. A few weeks later, I prepared it for family visiting from the US, but it didn't make a big impression on any of them.

We were tired, so we returned to the apartment for a little nap. The Richmond Terrace had a laundry room, and I had inquired about using it before we went out. I returned after lunch with the requisite coins and detergent. I very rarely do laundry when traveling, but the unusually hot weather meant that some of the things I had brought for cooler conditions weren't getting worn at all, and the other things were being changed frequently. Before taking my nap, I put a load in. It was really stuffy in our little sleeping loft, as the only window was in the kitchen below, and the air was supposed to waft up into the loft over the glass panel next to the bed. Probably the hot weather put a strain on the system, but whatever the reason, it wasn't the most refreshing nap I've ever had.

When we got up, I put the laundry in the dryer while we went out for a little more sightseeing. Our apartment was very near the National Museum of Scotland. It was by now getting a bit close to closing time, but we actually saw quite a lot in the short time we had. I really wanted to see the Lewis Chess Men. When we entered, I picked up a brochure so I could be sure not to miss them. However, we found the layout of the museum a little confusing, as there's an international section and a Scots section, in a different part of the building. When we couldn't figure the map out, I asked an employee for directions, and this very kind man actually accompanied us to the other part. When we got there, he gave us a wonderful private tour of the section about the geological history of Scotland, which is fascinating. One more example of the extraordinarily kind people we met wherever we went.

Believe it or not, the land mass that is Scotland was once near the South Pole. Slowly over the millennia, it moved north, becoming grassland as it neared the equator, and a desert for the next part of the trip. Somewhere along the line, it smacked into England and got stuck there. The land mass of Scotland resembles, geologically, that of North American more than that of Europe, while England is more “European”. Both Scotland and England are still migrating north together, but Scotland's land mass is rising from sea level, while England is sinking. I told our guide that the Scots just had to be patient and there would be no need for the referendum. He laughed, but hastened to point out that his mother was English. I certainly had no wish to sink her, so we left it at that.

The Lewis Chess Men were worth the visit, but there were also many other interesting things about human history in Scotland. I could have spent more time in this museum, and we didn't see the international section at all.

After the museum visit, I picked up the dry laundry and we went to Biblos again for dinner. This was our last day in Scotland, and we had enjoyed every minute of the trip. Now we were heading into the home stretch of our trip, with three nights in Durham.
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Old Aug 5th, 2014, 01:51 PM
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I put on my profile the view from our cottage over to Iona, with a rainbow landing right on the Abbey.
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Old Aug 5th, 2014, 02:30 PM
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bvlenci: still following along . . .

>>I imagine that this was in preparation for the Edinburgh Festival.<<

those grandstands are for the Military Tattoo every August.

http://www.celtictours.com/art/images/tattooshow2.jpg

Dickie_Gr: Lovely photo. I spent several nights in Fionnphort and spent every evening sitting on the beach watching the most amazing sunsets over Iona/the Abbey and twice there were rainbows.
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Old Aug 5th, 2014, 04:35 PM
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"Time is never sufficient, so you have to inure yourself to missing things. "

The main thing is, you went. I share the view that some is better than none.

I laughed reading about the filling stations near EDI airport. I checked them out carefully on Google beforehand, but having just done this task, I agree it's still not an easy job to manage it.

We too found the Scottish National Museum to have a confusing layout. I'm afraid as a result we missed the Lewis Chess men.
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Old Aug 5th, 2014, 06:22 PM
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My sister and I were also befuddled trying to exit the National Museum in April. Not a bad place to be lost, unless you're trying to hurry to a meeting

Scotland's geological connection to North America is very interesting, bvlenci. I don't think it entirely explains my fascination and multiple trips but it is very good info to study.

Cheers.
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Old Aug 5th, 2014, 08:15 PM
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I have thoroughly enjoyed your trip report - thank you so much for sharing your observations.
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Old Aug 6th, 2014, 12:33 PM
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Dickie_GR, that's a lovely photo! Do you live there year round?
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Old Aug 6th, 2014, 12:45 PM
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No, we live in SW Scotland part of the time and Lancashire part.

Last year, Mull was one of our local trips.

The picture has come out quite badly on the profile, the software seems to have cropped it and has poor definition.

We have another photo somewhere, same view but a cloudless sky and a pod of dolphins jumping in front of the Abbey.

If anyone goes to Iona, there is a lovely beach on the NE corner.

Thanks for the report it was extremely well written and brought back so many great memories.
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Old Aug 7th, 2014, 01:36 AM
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Sue, I think that some is also better than trying to see "everything".
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Old Aug 7th, 2014, 02:45 AM
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Day 9

In the morning, we left Scotland, with a strong desire to return one day, and took the train to Durham for the last leg of our trip.

We got to Durham in the late morning, and took a taxi to the King's Lodge Hotel. This was perhaps our favorite of all the places we stayed. The room was spacious and comfortable, and the lodge had a nice garden where we could sit to relax. There was also a lounge which had tea, coffee, and biscuits (cookies) all day long. There is a lot of construction going on in the vicinity at the moment. The street is being torn up for some public utility works, and there is a construction site next to the hotel. There was little noise from the construction, though.

There is an excellent restaurant at the hotel called Finnbar's, which seems to be very popular locally. The only noise problem we ever had was caused by noisy guests leaving late at night.

The one little quibble I have about the King's Lodge is that the wifi wasn't working, except in the guest lounge, two of the days we were there, although it worked just fine the other two days.

After checking in, we had a delicious lunch at Finbarr's. My husband had venison with spring vegetables, and I had a lamb ratatouille. For dessert, my husband had a crème brûlée; I had a pavlova (a sort of merengue) with raspberries and apricots.

In the afternoon, we walked into the center of Durham and visited the cathedral. The cathedral and castle are on top of a hill, so there is a bit of a climb to get there. We followed a sign that led us through narrow alleys and many steps to the top of the hill, but we later found that if we had stayed on the road, it was a longer, but less steep way up.

It was a splendid late afternoon, and lots of people were enjoying the sun on the lawn of the cathedral close. The cathedral is very beautiful. It was one of the first buildings to make use of the Gothic pointed arch, so the style is a bit heavier and more Romanesque than later Gothic churches. Somehow it seemed more earth-bound than some of the soaring Gothic cathedrals I've seen, but that's not a bad thing. I've always admired the Romanesque style. Italy has a lot of churches from that period, but, unfortunately, most of them were tarted up in the Baroque style in the 17th century.

There was to be a choral evensong an hour after we got there, and we decided we wanted to attend that, so our visit was a bit rushed. My husband and I split up so we could see the things we each wanted to see most. My top priority was to see the tomb of the Venerable Bede. I'm a great admirer of this great 7th century theologian, historian, and scientist (centuries ahead of his time) ever since I took a brief course on the Anglo-Saxon language when I was at university. The tomb is fairly simple, and I was the only visitor, although there were a number of visitors at the time in the cathedral. I think a simple tomb is appropriate for a man who led a simple, retired life, while maintaining contact with the whole world, ancient and medieval, through his reading.

The Choral Evensong was sung by a small, but excellent, choir. They use an older version of the psalms, probably the Coverdale Psalms, than I'm used to, and I could just imagine the exact same words being chanted in that space for almost 500 years.

Afterwards, we descended the hill and walked along the river-side path to get the view of the cathedral with the old fulling mill in the foreground. There are lovely paths on both sides of the river, and after walking up one side, we walked back on the other side until we got to the bridge that led back to the King's Lodge.

We had dinner at the Café Rouge, a chain restaurant, which we had enjoyed in York, but at this one the service was terrible. We waited well over half an hour for our food, after having waited almost that long to place the order. In the end, they brought my husband a green salad instead of a Caesar salad with chicken; My burger was supposed to be on a brioche, but it seemed to me to be a Wonder bread hamburger bun. The cheese was supposed to be Gruyère, but wasn't. Also, I had asked for a salad as my side, but I got chips. We ate what they brought us rather than wait any longer; I gave my husband some of the burger and most of my chips, because his green salad wasn't much of a meal. So much for the Café Rouge.
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Old Aug 9th, 2014, 12:42 AM
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Thank you. I love it when people love Scotland..
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Old Aug 9th, 2014, 01:34 AM
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"Gothic" is really a European (ie not English) term but like you I love the area around the Cathedral on a sunny day. I also like the way that the accent changes from North Yorkshire to Newcastle in Durham.
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Old Aug 9th, 2014, 06:23 AM
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I am continuing to enjoy your trip report, bvlenci, and look forward to hearing more about Durham.
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Old Aug 9th, 2014, 07:14 AM
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Durham cathedral is usually considered a remarkably fine example of Romanesque architecture, which in England is generally referred to as Norman. While it may have early Gothic elements I wouldn't consider it a Gothic cathedral. Great building though, whatever you call it, and I, too, made a pilgrimage to the tomb of the Venerable Bede. The monk's dormitory and the Treasury are also worth seeing.
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Old Aug 9th, 2014, 07:45 AM
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Day 10

This was our Hadrian's Wall day. Using Traveline, I had determined that the best public transportation strategy was to take the train to Hexham and the AD122 bus, called the Hadrian's Wall bus, to various stops along the wall. The bus goes from Newcastle to Carlisle, but for the places we wanted to see, it was quicker to go by train as far as Hexham. My husband figured out that the bus number referred to the fact that construction of the wall started in the year 122 AD. I was impressed; I hadn't made the connection.

My plan was to visit Walltown, where one of the best-preserved stretches of Roman wall can be seen, and Vindolanda, where there is a large Roman fort, even older than the wall, and a museum where you can see replicas of the famous wooden tablets (sort of ancient postcards) found there.

Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum at Walltown are operated by the Vindolanda Trust, which seems to be a private nonprofit organization founded by the landowners of the Vindolanda site. The other museums along the wall are operated by English Heritage. The two organizations seem not to be speaking to each other. We picked up a brochure about Hadrian's Wall, put out by English Heritage, and it didn't mention at all the Vindolanda Trust sites. Vindolanda Trust has its own brochure, which doesn't mention the English Heritage sites, but at least it has Vindolanda as its large title, not Hadrian's Wall.

In Hexham, we had almost an hour to kill, so I suggested we walk to Hexham Abbey, which my husband wasn't keen on, because he thought we would miss the bus, but he let himself be convinced. It was an interesting walk, and Hexham has an attractive center. We passed an historic jail (or gaol) on the way. We had only a short look around the abbey, and then headed back, after buying some sandwiches at the deli across from the abbey. They were nothing special, but they sufficed for a sack lunch.

I said to my husband as we were heading back to the station, “We really need to visit an ATM.” He agreed; between us, we had only about £20. However, it totally slipped our minds until we got on the bus and asked for a round-trip ticket to Walltown, that would allow us to stop off at Vindolanda as well. The cost was £23 for the two of us, which we didn't have, and they didn't take cards. I didn't want to wait for the next bus, which would have really cut short our time. In retrospect, we should have dropped the idea of going to Walltown and just got a round-trip ticket to Vindolanda, which was closer, and cheaper. Instead, I asked for a one-way ticket to Walltown, and decided I'd figure out later how to get back.

As we were going along, the more I thought about it, the more I realized we risked getting stuck there. The driver told me he didn't think there were any ATMs at any of the stops along the way. We had plenty of euros on us, but it seemed unlikely that we could use them in any way, and certainly not on a bus ticket. Then it occurred to me that maybe we could buy a ticket to the museum for someone else with one of our credit cards, and they could pay us back in cash. (I've since learned that a famous scam is based on this proposition.) An American couple on the bus were planning to go to the Roman Army Museum at Walltown, and they agreed to let us buy their tickets and pay us in cash, which was very kind of them.

I had originally planned to go to Walltown just to see the Roman Wall up close, but since we were already at the Roman Army Museum (buying the ticket for the American couple), it occurred to me that we should probably see it. There was a combined ticket (good for two days) to that and Vindolanda, where I definitely wanted to see the Vindolanda archaeological site and museum.

The Roman Army Museum was not really very interesting; it seemed geared to entertaining children, even though the only visitors that day were adults. There's a short film that purports to be an army recruiter trying to sign the natives up for a 30-year stretch in the legion. There is also a somewhat hokey 3-D film that does manage to convey some interesting information, although not much I didn't already know. There are some archaeological finds, but I believe they're all from Vindolanda, and there are many more of them there.

The museum visit left us a little short on time to see the wall, but we had been told that a long, high stretch of it was very near the museum. Outside the museum, one sign pointed to an ancient quarry, and another pointed to the Whin Sill Crags, which is where I had read that the wall could be seen. After walking for over 20 minutes, we still hadn't seen this impressive stretch of wall, although we saw bits of the wall off in the distance. We really had to turn back at this point or risk missing the last bus that would get us to Vindolanda in time. My husband suggested we just skip Vindolanda, but that was the main thing I wanted to see, and we had already bought the joint ticket.

When we got on the bus, it went a short distance towards the quarry, in order to turn around, and then I saw, through the bus window, the magnificent high stretch of wall. If we had walked off in the other direction, we would have seen it in five minutes. In retrospect, we should have asked in the museum for directions to see an impressive stretch of wall, but we were some distance from the entrance when we saw the two not-very-informative signs. I had actually done a fair amount of online research about which bus stop was best for seeing a fairly intact piece of the wall, and I had also asked in Hexham. Well, at least we saw it through the bus window for ten seconds, and the walk was pleasant! We also saw many short stretches of the wall from the bus on the road between Hexham and Walltown.

The Vindolanda fort, built about 40 years before the wall, is a few miles south of the the road along the wall, used by the AD122 bus. Only a few buses each day make the detour to Vindolanda. You can get there by getting off the bus at Once Brewed and walking the rest of the way, down a pleasant country lane, but keep in mind that there will also be a lot of walking at the site. We got off at Once Brewed and within a few minutes caught a different bus, coming from Hexham, that was going to Vindolanda. We were supposed to buy a different ticket for this, since out ticket was for the opposite direction, from Walltown to Hexham, but the driver told us he would take us free. On the way back to Hexham, we took the regularly scheduled bus.

Vindolanda was much more interesting than the Roman army museum. The archaeological digs include a whole Roman encampment, which changed greatly over the years. The first encampment preceded the wall, and then it expanded and contracted, while still being used even in the 5th century, although in a greatly reduced form.

It was threatening rain when we got to Vindolanda, but it never materialized. There is a fair walk from the entrance to the archaeological site, and the museum is another fair walk from there. It's all downhill to the museum, so it's uphill on the way back! We skirted the edge of the archaeological site on our way to the museum, as the signs suggested, but on the way back, we walked through the site; this is a shorter walk.

We joined a tour (free with admission) that was already in progress at the archaeological site. It was interesting, but a little slow moving, and my husband doesn't really have a great grasp of English, so we took our leave after about half an hour. There are remains of buildings from a very early fort, as well as some very early stone circular huts that are puzzling. They seem to be of Roman construction, because native British dwellings were made of wood; yet their form is exactly like the native dwellings of the period. Parts of the fort were built over the foundations of these early huts. Some people speculate that these were built by the Romans as shelter for local people who had fled to the fort for protection. Outside the imperial fort, there were dwellings, taverns, and shops that would have served the military population and housed camp followers and local civilians.

Each year, the Vindolanda Trust recruits volunteers to help with the digs. If you want to sign up for 2015, the reservations open on November 3rd, 2014. Our guide said that all places are filled within a day or two. You'll pay a fair amount for the privilege.

Vindolanda is mostly famous for the small wooden writing tablets found there, that date from the early days of the Roman empire. These tablets were originally used for personal communications, and were not intended for preservation, but the boggy land has preserved them for almost two millennia. There are all sorts of interesting bits of personal life, as well as military history, preserved in these letters. Orders of provisions for the fort, a request for a loan, a letter accompanying a package of socks and underwear sent to a soldier, an invitation to a birthday party, and a request for advice about a good inn to stop at (a Fodor's Forum precursor?) There are over 700 of these tablets, and they keep finding more.

http://vindolanda.csad.ox.ac.uk/

These tablets are the earliest known examples of writing with ink, and one of them (the invitation to a birthday party) is the only known ancient example of handwriting by a woman. Most of the letter was written by a scribe, but a handwritten note was added at the end. I was struck by how little the language for such an invitation has changed in 2000 years. (“to make the day more enjoyable for me”, “My husband sends his greetings”). She even addresses her friend as “Karissima” (dearest), which, with a “c” instead of a “k”, is exactly what an Italian woman today would write.

There is another tablet very familiar to modern Italians, in which someone asks another person for what Italian slang calls a “spintarella”, or a request to look out for a friend who's seeking a job or a promotion.

Another very personal tablet is from one soldier to another, his brother, chiding him for never writing, sending greetings to his messmates, and all the other sorts of things that one brother might write to another he hadn't seen in a while.

The originals tablets are all sent to the British Museum, but they have replicas in the Vindolanda museum, and also transcriptions of them, in Latin and English.

The museum is in a very attractive brick manor house, in a beautiful garden. It has a number of interesting exhibits of artifacts found at the site, including many leather shoes (also well preserved in the peaty soil). After our visit, we had tea and scones in the museum café.

For those who are interested in Roman life in northern England, I highly recommend Vindolanda. I think three hours would be sufficient to see everything, including taking a tour of the fort. I can't say I would advise getting the joint ticket to the Roman Army Museum at Walltown, although it might be worth going there to see a good section of the wall close up. I can't say much about the other sites along the wall. I would think it would be nice to take a long hike in the area, but some of the other sites that can be visited sound a bit sensationalized for the mass tourism market. However, not having seen them, maybe I'm too conditioned by the English Heritage brochure.

It might have been useful to have a car for this trip, especially because there are so few connections to Vindolanda. If you don't want to see Vindolanda, the AD122 bus should provide easy access to multiple sites in one day. There are frequent trains from Newcastle to Hexham, so, apart from Vindolanda, the whole trip can be done easily with public transportation. For those coming from the other direction, Walltown is closer to Carlisle than to Newcastle.

We had an uneventful trip back to Durham, with very good connections. We ate dinner at the Alishaan Indian restaurant, near the train station. It's really not totally Indian, as they have dishes from other countries in Asia. My husband had a Malayan chicken dish, and I had a lamb curry. Very good, and the service was excellent. We went back the next night as well.
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Old Aug 9th, 2014, 08:21 AM
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Sounds like you managed a complicated day out just fine. The 'Wall bus' is very useful if one doesn't have a car. The minute I read >>Whin Sill Crags<< I knew you had walked off in the wrong direction - I made the same mistake my first visit. (eventually you would have come to a nice section of the Wall but it is a fair hike)

However >> I would think it would be nice to take a long hike in the area, but some of the other sites that can be visited sound a bit sensationalized for the mass tourism market.<<

Not at all - if you mean places like Housesteads and Chesters. Not 'glammed up' at all really. Housesteads is the largest.
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Old Aug 9th, 2014, 09:29 AM
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Congratulations on managing the wall by public transport! I rented a car in Durham for a couple of days and stayed in a B&B near the wall, but I much prefer not to drive.
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Old Aug 9th, 2014, 09:35 AM
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after buying some sandwiches at the deli across from the abbey. They were nothing special, but they sufficed for a sack lunch.>>

lol - would that be "sack" as in pillage I wonder?

loving your report, bvl. I had never heard of Vinolanda or the tablets you describe. as for over-commercialism of the area, i think that it's got a way to go til it rivals other roman sites such as the Colosseum!
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