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  • Peter Straka

Hadrian’s Wall and Sycamore Gap

Have you heard about the Sycamore Gap Tree? It was recently chopped off on September 27th, 2023. Who tries to kill a tree, that is more than 300 years old, a landmark itself next to a far bigger landmark? Tree surgeons are sure that the tree will grow again, however, it will never have the same shape.

This summer, we cycled along the Hadrian’s Wall from the Atlantic Coast to the North Sea. It is an amazing country side, though you cannot always see the wall, as it does no longer exist entirely. When we started our journey, we had dinner at a nice restaurant in Carlisle. The owner very proudly showed us a painting of this tree and told us that we are going to see it on our way.

The tree in Sycamore Gap stood all alone in a beautiful place that looks like a valley, the remains of the wall coming down the hills from two sides and in the middle stood this tree. It is often called the "Robin Hood Tree" because of a movie dated to 1991 with Kevin Costner (our parents would know about this movie). People come from all over to see this tree and take pictures of it because it looks amazing against the backdrop of the old stone walls and the green countryside. The tree in Sycamore Gap is a symbol of the beauty and history of this place, and it was a must-see if you visit Hadrian's Wall.

Now, let me tell you a bit about Hadrian and this wall. Hadrian was a Roman Emperor and he went the furthest north than every other Roman Emperor. He built the wall about 2000 years ago, in the year 122 AD. It was meant to be the northern boundary of the Roman Empire. Today, it is a bit south of Scotland, but when it was built, it protected the Romans from the hostile northern tribes.

The wall is approximately 117km long and it stretches from Bowness-on-Solway (Atlantic Coast) to Newcastle (North Sea). Hadrian’s Wall was about 3m wide and 4.5m high. In between there were forts and watch towers. It is really impressive when you rmember that it was built so long ago. Historians say that Hadrian started a sort of challenge between his regiments as to who could finish their construction part first.

The wall protected the Romans and local people from tribes like the Picts and Scots, due to the watch towers, the Romans could quickly respond to any threats coming from the north. They also used it to protect the trade routes.

However the roman presence in Britain eventually declined and the wall was left unattended. Nowadays it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is maintained by the National Trust foundation. During the centuries, the local people used stones from the walls to build churches and later communal buildings.

When we cycled along, we went to Chesters Roman Fort and Museum in Chollerford near Hexham, a bit further east from the Sycamore Gap. It has the very well preserved ruins of a Fort and a bath house used by the Romans.

Although you are no longer able to see the tree at Sycamore Gap, travelling along Hadrian’s Wall is still an interesting journey. I learned a lot more about the history of Romans in England. And I am curious to learn more about the intention of cutting off this tree.

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