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July 31 2012

The world's two great walls get together - Hadrian's and the Chinese

Steel Rigg takes its place among history's roll-call of sites where international agreements have been signed. Stand by for lots more tourists

It is the obvious twinning arrangement, the one made in Heaven, unlike some of the curious pairings which flash past on welcoming signs to towns and villages in the UK.

Huddersfield's snuggle with Kostanay in Kazakhstan is always intriguing, for instance, or the fact that Wakefield has eight twins, three of them in Germany.

But who could cavil at the growing relationship between Hadrian's Wall and the Great Wall of China, especially as the benefits in terms of tourism and publicity are likely to be lopsided in our favour? There are many more of them than there are of us, and the Great Wall attracts visitors nowadays on a mammoth scale.

A few well-sited images of the Roman counterpart, which has glorious stretches on its 73 mile (120 km) meander between the Solway and Wallsend, would do wonders at Great Wall honeypots such as Badaling. That prospect has come a little nearer with a visit to Northumberland and Cumbria by the organisers of a Chinese exhibition of Great Wall photographs which opens at Central Hall, Westminster, on Thursday 2 August.

The show itself suggest the way things are going. Although entitled The Great Wall – Photographs Then and Now, it includes pictures of Housesteads Crags and Castle Nick alongside images from China covering 140 years of exploration and archaeology. Chinese photographer Zhang Baotian picked them from photographs collected by volunteers between 2001 and last year. Like both walls, the organisation of the display has been epic.

Both countries are enthusiastic about the prospect of more co-operation, with Linda Tuttiett, the chief executive of the Hadrian's Wall Trust, taking the exhibition's chief curator Chen Haiyan, chair of the Chinese publishing company Phoenix Publishing and Media Group, on a ramble round the wall before signing a memorandum of understanding at Steel Rigg. She says:

The Great Wall and Hadrian's Wall were both inscribed as world heritage sites in 1987, so this year is the 25th anniversary of the status for both monuments. UNESCO's vision for world heritage sites is to promote understanding, tolerance and co-operation amongst the peoples of the world through respect for their shared heritage. Working together, we hope to raise awareness of both sites among new audiences across the world. In turn, that should help their potential to contribute to local communities through sustainable tourism development.

Chen Haiyan adopted appropriate building metaphor and some interesting linguistic info in reply:

In Chinese, the words 'peace' and 'integration' share the same pronuciation.  Peace is the eternal theme of the Great Wall, and integration is the basis of development. It is our hope that through cooperation we can promote historical and cultural exchange between China and the UK. We are confident that the agreement will build a bridge of communication between the two countries for future collaboration and development.

The exhibition will come north to Hadrian's Wall country in November – venues to be announced - after London spells at Westminster from Thursday until Saturday 4 August, Charing Cross library from 17 August to 17 September and the School of Oriental and African Studies off Russell Square from 18 September to 2 November. Entry is free. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 06 2010

Britain's best views: Hadrian's Wall

Martin Wainwright explores the ancient Roman frontier, from the famous grandeur of Housesteads fort to its less-visited outposts

Hadrian's Wall may seem a bit of a shoe-in when it comes to Britain's best views, but the monument is much more than the often - and understandably - repeated views of Cuddy's Crags and Sewingshields on the crest of that wonderful escarpment, the Whin Sill.

In truth, it is hard to beat the romantic, lonely grandeur of this famous stretch above Housesteads fort ( and and the Twice Brewed Inn. But the less well-known parts of the 74-mile frontier, built as the Northern frontier of the Roman empire at the height of its power, are a particular treat to discover and enjoy.

They can be linked in a day or two's exploration between Wallsend and the Solway Firth, using the Military Road part of the way - more mundanely known today as the B6318. This conveniently follows the legions' original highway between their lookout turrets, milecastles and major forts such as Housesteads. Inconveniently, its ruthless 18th-century builder General Wade used a lot of wall stone to make it.

The great monument's quieter options include fragments which survive in the surreal setting of everyday suburban Newcastle and a phallic symbol on Chollerford bridge abutment which blesses Wall walkers with good luck. There's also Limestone Corner, the empire's actual furthest north, where Hadrian's men got fed up with huge boulders and abandoned them in the middle of splitting the rock into neat stones. You can see their unfinished chisel holes.

The Wall's urban stretches are best on Tyneside, which offers the partially reconstructed fort of Arbeia in South Shields. The name means "the place of the Arabs" and comes from legionaries recruited in Iraq. Tests on DNA at the other end of the wall suggest genetic links between modern residents and Roman soldiers originally from North Africa.

Much has been made of these southerners shivering in the Geordie chill – W.H.Auden's Roman Wall Blues is an example, and good for children to learn and chant. More of them were based at Segedunum in the middle of Wallsend which was a Cinderella until Millennium Lottery money paid for one of the Wall's biggest excavations and an excellent viewing tower.

This doesn't strictly give one of Britain's best views, but the panorama across town and Tyne is absorbing. Segedunum's reconstructed bath house meanwhile rivals Housesteads' famous communal lavatories for an insight in Hadrianic hygiene, and signs at Wallsend's Metro train station have been translated into Latin.

Just for atmosphere, I like Denton Hall Turret and its 65m (213ft) of wall which lies between a housing estate and a dual carriageway just east of the West Road/A1 roundabout on the edge of Newcastle. Gone are the imposing fortifications shown on English Heritage's website but you can potter round the few courses remaining and chat to shoppers getting off the many buses. There's another, smaller fragment, just down the hill behind the filling station.

Heading west, the fortunate phallus is one of a necklace of sights at Chollerford, including a short but lovely stretch of wall at Brunton Turret, the bridge remains and major excavations at Chesters fort. The big George Hotel by the river is comfy, or you can have the satisfactory experience of visiting the Hadrian hotel in Wall, the next village south.

For quiet beauty, Birdoswald fort is a good bet, with walks to the east beside the longest unbroken stretch of the entire wall. A little further west is another English Heritage property, Lanercost Priory whose monks pioneered the General Wade policy of stone-pillaging but made something beautiful rather than useful.

There is much, much more. But my final recommendation lies way to the west at Ravenglass on the Cumbrian coast, where a naval base protected the Solway frontier from pirates. The remains of the bath house are among the tallest surviving from Roman Britain at nearly four metres (13ft), and the village has masses more to see and do, from Muncaster Castle to 'Lil Ratty', the narrow-gauge trains of the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.

Staying is no problem near the wall, although book ahead in summer. And if you ever get the time for a week or 10 days' visit, hike the Hadrian's Wall national trail, an additional 10 miles long but by far the best way of seeing the monument.  En route, you'll discover why the pub at Housesteads is Twice Brewed and the youth hostel Once Brewed. Don't cheat with Google. It's worth going there to find out. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 15 2010

Video: Illuminating Hadrian's Wall

Aerial pictures of the path followed by Hadrian's Wall, picked out in light by torches lit from coast to coast

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