Here I am in Heddon on the Wall, 15 miles walk west of Newcastle. The guidebooks say this is the most lacklustre stretch, taking one along miles of Tyne river bank, city Quayside, greenfield suburbia and, at one point, the Wylam Waggonway, a dismantled railway connecting the eastern fringes of Northumberland with the big city. I, however, found this insight into Newcastle’s industrial history fascinating: the ghosts of ships and coal are just as much part of this region’s past as Roman centurions and Celtic warriors. And by the way, the guidebooks also got it wrong when they warned me that I faced threats and abuse by ne’er-do-well Wallsend locals. I had several cheery Good Mornings, and even a couple of Good Luck, Mates. The way the planners have knotted together ‘Hadrian’s Way’, as the path is known as it winds south of the Wall’s actual course through Benwell and Denton in Newcastle itself, is very clever. All those different pathways, created at different times, for different reasons. When we plot pathways and networks on maps of the ancient world, what now-vanished social, political and economic complexities are we unwittingly overwriting? If, somehow, we forgot that Hadrian’s Wall began at Segendunum and continued to Heddon, how would we recall the composite significance of Hadrian’s Way?
More here tomorrow, and for the rest of this week.