Greig Houghton Photography
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Irish Landscape and Travel Photography Blog

Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland, England

Part 2 of my trip to Northumberland focuses on my photography of Hadrian's Wall and the wider landscape of the Whin Sill.  The below photograph shows Sycamore Gap in the warm evening sunlight in the wider context of the landscape and the Whin Sill with Hadrian's Wall running down the steep slopes of the gap and continuing up and over the other side of the Sill.

Hadrian was the fouthteenth Emporer of Rome and the third of the Five Good Emperors of the Nervan-Antonine Dynasty.  The dynasty was known for its period of prosperity and stability in Rome, justly ruled by Emperors succeeded not through bloodlines and rights of heirs, but through the adoption of a worthy successor.  Hadrian's legacy to the Empire during this period, unifying and consolidating the frontiers of the Empire, is largely associated by his ambitious building projects., establishing cities throughout the Empire, rebuilding the fire ravished Pantheon in Rome, but probably the most famous of them all was Hadrian's Wall.


Hadrian ordered the construction of the wall shortly after succeeding to power in 117AD along the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire. The 80 mile defensive structure spanned coastline to coastline from Wallsend in the east to the Solway Firth in the west in what is now the north of England.   The 3m wide by 6m high wall constructed from dressed stones facing a core of earth or clay with stones was punctuated with milecastles (a small gated fort) every roman mile.  These milecastles were then interspersed with a further two towers in between providing observations points every third of a mile along the wall.  

The design was furthered refined during construction with the addition of larger forts at seven mile intervals.  As an Engineering practitioner, I know that the implementation of such a late design change in the project is not without its consequences, and thus it showed on this project with the resulting change requiring the infilling of sections of ditch and the demolishment of sections of constructed wall, towers and even a milecastle.  In addition, a substantial 6m wide by 3m deep ditch was as order to provide protection to the southern rear face of the wall.  As a result, labour resources were diverted from other forts in Britain resulting in the closure of those establishments.  One can only image the additional aureus required to fund such a change and the resulting public and political fall out such a decision would cause in a modern public funded infrastructure project.  The construction project was remarkably completed in only 6 years requiring three legions of infantrymen (15,000 men).

The wall still remains standing today in many places and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This was my first visit to Hadrian's Wall despite the short 1.5 hour drive from my parent's home in the Scottish Borders.  The last 30 minutes of our drive to the location was through torrential rain, but thankfully we were on the edge of the front and as we turned turned north for the last ten minutes of the drive we cleared the front and were greeted by the sun low in the sky.  Great conditions for shooting the setting sun.  

My previous post  showed the iconic view of the Sycamore Gap tree which sits alongside Hadrian's Wall, but I was pleasantly surprised to find numerous alternative angles and compositions to explore.  I captured the iconic angle first and then moved on climbing further up the Whin Sill to provide a panoramic view on the landscape.  This is shown in the photo at the top of the post, the craggy outcrop of the Sill visible in the foreground. The sun had just dipped below the horizon, the last rays reflecting on the bottom of the clouds and lighting up the sky.  

Ten minutes prior to the shooting the panorama of the landscape,  I photographed the image below.  Shooting from the slopes of the gap, I zoomed out to the full focal length of my lens to isolate the crepuscular rays shooting out behind a small stand of trees on the distance.  This stand of trees is visible in the panorama at the top of the page, in the back left corner from which the colour band is emanating.  The final photo was the last shot of the evening, turning back to face west, looking back over Sycamore Gap towards the very last light of the day and the threat of imminent rain for our walk back to the car.