The year of our first bicycle tour in Europe, our Walt was 12. Nancy celebrated her 14th birthday in England. Jean Cronan and her sons, Patrick and Mike, were our traveling companions.
Instead of taking our own bicycles on this long summer trip, we rented six bikes from the Lester Ward Bicycle Co. of London.
Ann Clarke had told us that when we were in heavy traffic areas or the weather turned bad, we could to go by train with the bikes in the baggage car for reasonable fees. Trains were numerous; such early planning worked to our advantage.
Weeks later, we left the six bikes at the Carlisle Youth Hostel and went by bus to see Hadrian’s Wall across northern England. It was "out in the middle of nowhere," the youngsters said. The bus driver answered many questions on the way out. The only "facilities" were at this pub called Twice Brewed. The bus driver said: "Be ready when I honk to go back. I’ll be on my way home."
We were in front of the fireplace, enjoying coffee and hot chocolate, long before the bus returned. We had lots of time to enjoy this small segment of a 73-mile miracle, created by people who shaped and placed those rocks by hand more than 1,800 years ago. Hadrian was the victorious Roman emperor who wanted to have nothing to do with the warlike Picts, the barbaric Caledonians, in what now is called Scotland. Self-preservation was the motive for a continuous, defended wall between Solway Firth and the Tyne River.
We stared at the waist-high wall that snaked over hills and valleys, broken in places with stones scattered. As we climbed up on it, the significance of that wall began to sink in: Hadrian’s soldiers "dressed" those stones by hand. They used no mortar.
Some stones were shaped like loaves of bread but larger; they fit well together. Imagine 73 miles of this wall, the construction of which often was supervised by the emperor!
We walked where soldiers fought and died on that structure, stretched snake-like over the hills as far as we could see. It was built 150 years after the birth of Christ. Roman Emperor Hadrian and his warriors had pressed northward in England without much serious opposition until they were stopped by brutal enemies - called Picts, Celts and now Highland Scots. Hadrian’s Wall stopped intruders, and it was built to last!