51: Two days in July 2012, quite far apart geographically.




7th July 2012. One of the great benefits of retirement (as I keep on saying) is that one can finally investigate things one has wondered about. For example, this canal aqueduct. It is located on what used to be the main road, the A34, between Birmingham and Stratford on Avon, and Oxford for that matter, and eventually Southampton; and Leeds in the northerly direction: but gentle reader, pray forgive me, for I digress before I have even begun. Mind you, if you haven’t really begun anything, why then, surely one can hardly digress from it? Anyway, in the last 50-odd years, I have driven underneath this aqueduct – located at the nice little village of Wootton Wawen – countless times, and often wanted to look at it, but never did until today.




The width of the road is modest, constrained as it is by the brick piers which support the aqueduct. But the width of this road in the countryside between Birmingham and Stratford on Avon was always modest; the heavy traffic it formerly carried now travels by way of the M40 motorway. Still, there is a lot of local traffic & some time passed before there was a gap in it, in order that the photo. would give a faint impression of what it used to look like. The reason for my journey to Stratford was prosaic in the extreme; I wanted a new pair of shoes. I wished to have Hotters shoes (the ‘Kendal’ style), and to my surprise,

there seemed to be no outlet for them in Birmingham. However, there was a Hotters shoe-shop in Stratford. They are gradually opening up their own retail shops. And why did I want Hotters shoes and no others? Because a few years ago, some of us did a gig at a huge footwear exhibition at the NEC, on the Hotters stand. They asked for all our shoe sizes in advance. This is the only time this has ever happened to me in over 50 years of playing; but the reason is self-evident: they did not want people playing on their stand wearing Clarks shoes, or indeed anybody else’s. So we were each given a nice free pair of shoes. They were exceptionally comfortable, and lasted for years. Q.E.D. (I have no connection whatever with Hotters; I just wear their excellent shoes!)




In former times, the driver of a rumbling heavy wagon pulled by two or four shire-horses would have had ample leisure to read the cast-iron inscription on the aqueduct – assuming only that he was literate, or not asleep. It is an increasingly little-known fact that horses who do a regular ‘run’ can do it perfectly well by themselves, thank you very much. So if the driver nodded off, it didn’t really matter. I learned this as a child, watching the horse-drawn milk float going up our street in Wolverhampton, ca. 1948. The horse & float came round the corner by itself, and stopped on the left-hand side. Presently the milkman himself walked into the street and began to deliver new bottles & collect the empty ones from each house. Presently (without any command) the horse ambled off up the street, this time stopping on the right. Same thing; the milkman deposited the empties, got more full bottles. Then the horse would go (by itself) up to the top of street and stop on the left. Needless to say, there were no cars parked in that humble sort of street in those days – nobody who lived there could afford one. In these modern times, anyone attempting to read a plaque while driving a car would undoubtedly perish in short order. It therefore gives me an almost unreasonable amount of pleasure to reproduce it here, in case you have ever driven under it and wondered what it said.




9th July 2012. Two days later, we are looking at a road bridge – about 200 miles further north, some miles north east of Carlisle and the nice town of Brampton. Indeed, should you visit Brampton, be aware that the Howard Arms is everything you could want from an old coaching inn – we stayed there last night. But this morning we are the village of Lanercost – which is more famous for its ruined Priory than its bridge. Still, we found the bridge interesting. You can still walk over it; but cannot ride a bicycle over it…




Happily, we do not ride – or even possess – a bicycle these days; we fell off it once about 4 years ago & ‘lost our nerve’. Just as we have ‘lost our nerve’ about driving cars on the wrong side of the road – that occurred in 2003 about 40 miles north of St. Louis, Missouri, when we misinterpreted a service road as one-way & nearly had a head-on collision. Did you know that in a case such as the above, both drivers will serve in the same direction, thus almost ensuring, rather than avoiding, a collision? A few moments’ thought will show you how it happens time & again. Just thought I’d chuck that in as possibly useful info. But once more I digress…




This helpful plaque tells you pretty well all you need to know about the bridge.




And here it is. Presumably horses can go over it? No vehicles are allowed; but a horse is not a vehicle, is it? And how heavy might a hand-cart be?




Here is the starkly functional but doubtless efficient new bridge, seen from the moss- and lichen-encrusted parapet of the old.




And here, the old bridge, with its two arches, is seen in serene repose over the River er.. oh dear.




Here is Lanercost Priory, seen here through part of its splendid gatehouse. The Priory Church was allowed to survive as the local Parish Church.




The soaring stonework of the rest of the Priory retains so much magic even without a roof…




Then on to Birdoswald, a fort on Hadrian’s Wall. The weather was persistently dull and a misty rain kept falling. But these seem, somehow, to be the best conditions in which to visit the Wall? After all, it was the most northern boundary of the Roman Empire. This was the gatehouse, seen from the south. It originally had a double-arched gateway, but the right-hand one was filled in, as you see.




Here, the wall, much reduced from its original height, is seen running to the east, or perhaps the west? In any case, read about this amazing construction at




A few miles to the east, the large fort of Housesteads. The wall is seen running eastwards…




And here, westwards.




And this is the view looking northwards towards Scotland, from which fierce warriors emerged periodically to attack this northern extremity of the Great Empire, based in distant Rome. It is impossible to stand on this now much-reduced rampart – especially in a thin, penetrating cold drizzle, most unusual for July – without one’s mind being expanded and inspired with many thoughts. Of course, the soldiers who manned this 70-mile long (~110 Km) wall, the earlier echelons having built the thing (an astonishing task) were not usually ‘Romans’. The wall was begun in 122 AD – nearly 1,900 years ago. These soldiers were recruited from all over Europe, and there are examples of grave-markers which have inscriptions in many different languages. Syrian is but one, I think – read it up: you may be fascinated by the whole thing.






Page written 3rd November 2012.