Chesters Roman Fortress, Northumbria

11 03 2011

Leaving Roslin, we were starving and grumpy.  It was cold and wet and it was now well after 11.  I couldn’t find a single eating establishment for miles on the maps and the deprivation of coffee and food was sinking in quickly.  At one point I stopped bothering to talk to Glenn at all, just frustrated with everything and his driving compounding the situation.  In fairness to him, there is no way I could have possibly driven the roads with any level of calmness or safety, but from the passenger’s side it was a frightening adventure.

A small inn appeared on the side of the road and we had to drive down a good mile in order to make our way back to the place to pray for food.  At the moment I cannot recall the name of the inn, but it was obviously old, screaming of Victorian era design.  (I’ll update the name once I find where I wrote it down at.)

The mistress of the inn was an older birdlike woman, likely mid-fifties.  She was very slender and had a thin nose and spectacles.  Her accent was truly unique and I had a very difficult time discerning her words.  She was no longer serving breakfast (despite the sign outside saying breakfast served all day).  We surveyed the lunch menu, mostly odd sandwiches with names we couldn’t discern any better than her accent.

I went the safe route with a mozzerella and tomato panini, the girls picked cheese and ham sandwiches and Glenn (whom I still wasn’t speaking with) inquired with the mistress as to what a panini was.  I could have intervened and helped, but I was being bitchy and chose not to.  The lady said something along the lines of pressed baguette and Glenn interpreted it as spaghetti on bread.  She quirked an eyebrow and tried again and I once more left him floundering.

We ordered coffees and a tea for Alannah and waited patiently.

There was a woodburning fireplace in the corner and the room was still bitterly cold – her wall thermostat read 11 (I presume Celsius).  I was frozen stiff.  And the fumes from the fireplace were choking my throat and tearing up my eyes.  The room was small and uninviting, though it looked very aesthetically pleasing.  It’s hard to put into words, I could appreciate the beauty of the room but it just felt like we were in a cold museum, awkward and out of place.

The food was nourishing, not filling.  The coffee, like most we’d had thus far excepting Costa’s, was rather vile.  It reminded me of the Sanka crap my mother would make before she had to go in for her yearly mammograms.  Ugh.  The milk curdled in the cup and I began to wish I had asked for anything other than coffee.

We choked down our meal and a fag and hit the road once more, bound for Chesters’ Roman Fortress.

As we drove along the mountaintops of the Northumberland mountain range, it would blow snow across the road one minute then shine sunlight down on us the next.  We finally reached the crest of a mountain which was evidently the border between Scotland and England and we pulled off to the scenic overlook for some obligatory pictures.

I was talking to Glenn again and offered him a quiet apology for my mood.  Nothing thus far had went our way though and combined with the lack of coffee and food, I was in agony.

We pulled over once more at the base of the mountain and found ourselves staring at a field of sheep with black faces and thick creamy fur.  We plucked some tufts of wool from the fence as souvenirs and took a multitude of pictures.  Alannah and Kayla begged us to allow them to take a sheep back with us and Alannah told us the story of Sean the Sheep from a Wallace and Grommit show she had seen.

The drive dragged on for seemingly forever before I began to see the lovely rolling hills I’d seen in the pictures for Northumbria.  I began to relax and try to take in the scenery, it was truly beautiful.  And as I thought on the fact that these very hills were the lands of Cartimandua and the Brigantes territory, it was actually even more calming.

And then I saw the most amazing street sign – Brigantes Territory Archaeological Site!  Oooo oooo ooooo!  We climbed up the steep entrance with the car and found ourselves in an open field with red flags.   There was a small house which was obviously not a site of interest, taking in the laundry hung out to dry behind it.  There were the remains of a Roman wall along the hill top and I surveyed the area a bit.

Then I saw another sign – not so amazing.  “Do not touch anything or it could explode and you might die” – or something to that effect.  I yelled at the girls and they seemed to think I was joshing them.  The red flags, the sign said, indicated that they were currently doing explosives testing.  We piled back in the car with one final glance.

Continuing along, I was really surprised at the amount of stone walls of Roman era based on the styling, and how many aqueducts were around still.  I think that is something I find most pleasurable here is how the people continue to utilize these ancient buildings and erections with a ride it til the wheels fall off mentality.

We arrived at Chesters with about two hours to spare.  The shop lady said we’d have plenty of time to look around in two hours, but I don’t see how.

The fortress was the first time I’ve truly believed 100% that archaeology is ideal for Alannah and not just a phase she has stuck with.  She absorbed the sites and structures with such a passion.  Every little square inch had some remarkable value and the way her face lit up as she examined it all.

It was really unimaginable how much it was still in tact after over 1700 years later.  Hadrian’s Wall ran along the edge of the fortress which itself often housed between 20,000 and 45,000 soldiers.  The commandant’s quarters were in the most disrepair, the walls missing, but yet we could still see the flooring methods.

Try to imagine an open pit with two foot columns rising in set rows.  Atop these were slabs, perfectly cut to size, lying evenly across to create the floors.  The area beneath would have held a fire, able to be stoked from outside the room, so that the floors would be heated.  (Most all of our hotels could have greatly benefited from such technology.)

The bathouses were still erect, complete with sauna rooms and hot tub areas.  It is amazing to me how advanced this society was almost two thousand years ago.  Running water, clean waste disposal, internal heating…these guys thought of it all and we’ve only just begun utilizing such things again in the past two hundred years.

We went from the fortress into the museum and the items within were in the most pristine of condition – statues of deities and leaders, generals and more.  I could have easily spent another day inside and still not have went through it all and Alannah was in full agreement.  But the day was drawing near to end and we still had a significant journey ahead of us to make it to the limestone moors and the hotel.



One response

6 04 2011

I finally found the business card for the restaurant – The Stair Arms Hotel in Pathhead Midlothian.

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