hedges, walls, and an ancient sock

We have been out and about in Border country. This part of the world is rolling and green and utterly lovely at this time of year. The fields are full of lambs and calves; the hard edges of the roadside are softened with the haze of new growth; the hedgerows are white with hawthorn and cow parsley. “It really looks like England,” said Tom, as we drove South. “Probably the hedgerows,” I replied. However much Wordsworth tried to gloss them as natural – “little lines / Of sportive wood run wild” – hedgerows are, of course, one of the obvious signs of private property and enclosure. This landscape is completely parcelled up inside their pretty green walls. Pretty stone walls abound down here, too.

We had crossed the border to have a walk around the Borders’ definitive wall – the one belonging to the Emperor Hadrian.

It has been quite a while since I’ve done any low-level walking in England, and I found it interesting. The land is fertile and well-drained; the paths are clear and well-defined. There are stiles and gates enabling you to pass through the criss-crossing walls and hedges. There are wooden waymarkers everywhere — one rarely has to consult the map. There are wary sheep and dubious cows. One’s dog must walk to heel at all times. I am not saying that the Highlands are in any sense any more wild or natural or anything – Scottish landscapes are, of course, equally carefully managed and controlled. It is just different, and those differences feel quite striking.

The most interesting walls we saw yesterday were those at the Roman fort of Vindolanda. When researching a feature a while ago, I had read about a child’s sock that had turned up at the Vindolanda excavations – an ancient, envelope-shaped bootee of woven wool. It had been pulled from the ground intact, and is probably the oldest complete woolly sock in existence in Britain. I really wanted to see it.

If you haven’t been to Vindolanda, I would definitely recommend it. The site’s finds are marvelous, and are presented extremely well in the recently-refurbished museum. Being a snotty historical type, I was less sure about the 1970s reconstructions of a wooden gatehouse and section of wall, but the museum collections really blew me away. No photography allowed, so I can’t show you any of these wonderful objects, which I found moving in their ordinariness and what they suggested about daily life in a garrison town on the edge of Empire. The textiles were the highlight for me: the sock was incredible, and certainly well-worth the wait, and there was also an intriguing insect-proof wig, and an amazing and very beautiful collection of shoes (Vindolanda probably has the best-preserved collection of Roman leather in the world). References to textiles abound, too, in Vindolanda’s famous writing tablets, with one correspondent sending the no-doubt grateful recipient “socks from Sattua, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants.”

After all those walls, we crossed back over the border to take advantage of Scotland’s more liberal ideas of public access with a spot of wild camping.

There is nothing quite like a copper beech on a soft Summer evening

even the bracken looked nice

and you can’t argue when your chosen spot comes complete with its own swimming pool.