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The Power of Place: Hadrian’s Wall

Martin Henig, interviewed by Tony Morris, shares a beaker of wine with the Emperor Hadrian.

Of all the constructions in Roman Britannia, one stands out above the rest. From sea to sea for eighty miles, it stretched from Bowness on the Solway Firth to Wallsend on the River Tyne. And the section of Hadrian’s Wall which is most impressive – most evocative, most photographed and best to walk – is the one we are on now, that from Cawfields to the great fort of Vercovicium, modern-day Housesteads.

Martin Henig has left the warmth and security of his office in Oxford to join me here. We’re crouching under the wall of a milecastle struggling to put on our waterproofs: Milecastle 42, one of sixty which punctuate the wall at exact intervals of 1620 yards (the Roman mile being slightly shorter than the modern measure). Regular, exact, precise. That was the Roman way. They liked their lines straight and their angles uniform.

There are modern-day walkers who like that too of course. We have already been overtaken by a group of earnest bagpackers with serious haircuts. Some people experience the wall as a challenge: they want to march briskly in legionnaire footsteps. Others prefer to take their time, get a sense not only of the wall but also of the archaeological structures which accompany it, to reconstruct the towers and lodgings, peer through the gateways, and above all soak in the view.

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