Reenactment Event at Walltown Quarry
Walltown Quarry & Craggs, 23rd May 2003
On 23rd May 2003 the Hadrian's Wall National Trail was officially opened. A corporate event was laid on for the media and the planners and administrators of the trail, which involved several reeenactment groups. I got myself on the bus and went to see what was going on out in the wilderness of Northumbria that day.
The various officials soon retired to a meal, leaving the reenactors to their own devices and myself to run around with a camera taking snapshots.
Generally, the event turned out to be a bit of a damp squib. Largely the good old English weather was to blame. Occasional rain, an icy, howling wind and cold temperatures normally don't make for great outdoor events.
I mingled with the reenactors for a while, before taking to the Craggs up onto which some of them had marched.
The event took place at the Walltown Quarry, a stone's throw away from one of the wall's greatest scenery. The Walltown Craggs are some of the most spectacular terrain along which the Hadrian's Wall runs.
Down in the camp several standards had been driven into the ground, staking out the legion's claim. At least for the day, Rome ruled over this part of Hadrian's Wall again.
As you can see from the costumes, a very impressive display of Roman soldiery was laid on that day. A shame only that the weather didn't play ball. (And the officials, for whom the event was held, were really more interested in the dinner than the Romans...)
The military didn't have it all their own way. Some civilians turned up, too. In this case a legatus in civilian dress (note his staff of office), accompanied by his lady. Apparently, the parasol was not at all unknown to the Romans.
Alongside such Roman VIP's, however, a bunch of local barbarians had set up camp, too. They came complete with donkey and dead pigeons (which they gleefully plucked as they watched the world go by).
A fourth centurion had made his way there. And, most befitting the event, emperor Hadrian himself seeemd to have travelled the length of the country to make it to the wall for the opening.
The weather proved failry miserable and so, as their predecessors will have done some two millenia ago, the soldiers sought shelter, got something warm into their bellies and talked among themselves.
Hearing that some of them were heading up onto the craggs, I made my way up. On the way I met this magificent specimen of a aquilifer.
Continuing on the steep climb, made slippery by the wet ground, I next met up with a legatus. He was aloowing some soldiers he was leading some up the hill to rest. The gear was heavy and their hobnail sandals proved quite tricky in the wet.
When I reached the top the scenery was quite breath-taking. The wind was howling, and the clouds were racing past overhead.
This fourth century legionary and the signum standard bearer had to struggle to keep upright as the gales swept across the cliff top.
The high winds made it especially hard for the soldiers to hang on to their shields. Like sails they caught the gusts and sometimes threated to topple the men who held them.
The legionary on the left chose to face his shield into the wind, and hold it down agaisnt his legs.
On the right, two cold, damp and windswept auxiliary soldiers asked themselves what their predecessors most have wondered, 'What are we doing up here ?'
Amongst the courageous few who braved the rotten weather and strong winds on top of the Walltown Craggs were two praetorians who had accompanied emperor Hadrian (who had wisely chosen to stay down at the quarry) - a praetorian standard bearer and a trumpeter (cornicen).
Having reached the top, the small detachment of the mighty Roman army decide on a spot of wall repair work. With their superiors relaxing on a slope, from where they barked orders at them, the soldiers formeed a line and began repairing the wall.
(Just to allay any fears here. The stones they used were squared blocks that were loosely strewn around the grass. Once they'd placed a good few of them atop the wall, they removed them again placing them back from where they came.)
Alas, one last heroic pose of Roman legionaries gazing north from the cliff top of the Wall town Craggs.