There are many interesting places to visit within a short drive, cycle or even walk from St Mary’s Inn; Alnwick Castle and Garden, the Northumberland coastline, the market town of Morpeth or the city lights of Newcastle-upon-Tyne among just a few. However, there is one tourist destination that this writer holds special over all others – there can be few natives of North East England who don’t have some special childhood memories of adventures on Hadrian’s Wall at some point along its length. I have two such stories and both involve technical infringements of the law.
In the early sixties, my brother and I would be treated to that great institution, the Sunday car outing. I’m sure that my proud father simply wanted to drive his new car around country lanes and my mother probably welcomed the temporary relief from housework and caring for a young family and an ageing parent. In any case, there would be a different destination each week and more often than not we’d be heading towards the Tyne Valley. Although there is evidence of the wall to the east, the substantial remains began at Corstopitum, the Roman town of Corbridge and Chesters and Housesteads forts beyond. Brunton Turret is just that, a turret and a short length of wall on the A6079. Then as now it was accessed via a stile and short uphill walk and whenever we visited my thoughts would soar as I imagined myself a legionnaire in charge of the local garrison. On one such occasion, I needed to spend a penny and was caught on camera in the act. The photograph of nine year old me in the corner of the turret with my back turned to the camera and a sheepish look on my face has become part of family history. In fact, my brother recently re-enacted (not literally of course) the scene for my and his amusement.
A couple of years later, I visited Corstopitum as an 11 year old student of Latin and was thrilled when my father handed me a Roman coin that he had found lying on the ground while we walked around the site. I took it home so that I could present my find to one of the Classics masters at our school. C. A. Smith (Cas to us) was a numismatist who wrote a weekly column on the subject in the local paper. Unfortunately he was rather dismissive of the coin both in terms of its importance and value. I decided to return it to the museum curator at Corstopitum on our next visit and was shocked to receive a very severe telling-off for removing the coin from the site in the first place. I presume that it’s still there although I doubt whether this part of its history features at all.
The above two incidents pretty much represent my entire criminal record while a youth. I hope that revealing them here does not lead to a knock on the door from the local gendarmerie. If you visit Hadrian’s Wall while staying at St Mary’s Inn, try to keep on the right side of the law!THE GLORY THAT IS FISH AND CHIPS CYCLING