Rabbie's own Bron explores Hadrian's Wall and the Scottish Borders on the 1-day Hadrian’s Wall, Roman Britain & the Scottish Borders tour that departs from Edinburgh.
Why is it always easier getting up early when you’ve got someplace fun to go? I could tell you about how I bounced out of bed, packed my camera bag eagerly – all that. Instead, I’m going to tell you about Stefan, our driver-guide.
As my friend Shan and I approached our bus for the day, I spotted Stefan asking two women nearby if they were his last passengers. Eager to go, I thought I’d put him out of his misery, and he joyfully welcomed us onto his bus. One thing I adore about Rabbie’s tours is the intimacy of the tours – since the mini-buses only take 16 maximum. However, today it was just the five of us, plus Stefan and another driver-in-training Declan – or, as Stefan put it, BOGOF – Buy One, Get One Free.
I’ve been on a number of Rabbie’s tours in my time and I’ve always loved the driver-guides, but Stefan’s humour spoke to me. After he’d done his spiel, he reminded us to let him know if we had any requests throughout the day. Loudly, I spoke up regarding the music – “Lots of bagpipes! And Del Amitri.” At which point, Stefan froze, looked at me, hit his chest twice with his fist and threw his hand out towards me in a sign of ultimate friendship. I returned the gesture, and we were instant friends. Apparently, in his six years as a guide, no one had ever asked for Del Amitri before. What is the world coming to?
We were off and the group was a chatty one. In between Stefan’s jokes and history lessons, the energy of the bus remained high. Our first stop was Jedburgh, one of those idyllic little towns that make you ache for simpler times. Sadly, the Abbey was fenced off, but we had a lovely wander through the streets regardless.
Then came the dreaded moment of the tour: leaving Scotland. We took a very quick stop (since it was freezing) at the border so we could revel in our last moment of safety before heading into England. It was in good humour, of course – and Stefan had a knack for soundtracking our trip down to the moment we passed the border. As we headed across into England, Highway to Hell came on – after which we had a discussion about whether AC/DC was a Scottish band or an Aussie one (being an Aussie myself). I declared that we could share, but Stefan didn’t seem to open to the idea.
If I had to pick a theme song for the trip, though, it would be Brian Adams’ ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It for You’. As we approached Steel Rigg, Stefan ran us through the best scene from the 1991 adaption of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and this beautiful moment – apparently – where Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman are sitting under the Sycamore tree and this song comes on. It was incredibly easy to get into the spirit and sing along as we drove past the Sycamore Gap, Brian serenading us, laughter unhindered at how ridiculous it all was. As I write this blog now, it truly saddens me to know that the beloved Sycamore Gap tree was cut down in an act of vandalism. This symbol of England, of love, of passion... now gone. There are plans to try and replant, so let’s all keep our fingers crossed that it succeeds.
The car park was all but empty when we pulled in and we went for a lovely jaunt alongside Hadrian’s Wall. I was like a kid in a candy shop because many moons ago, back in 2014, I hiked Hadrian’s Wall with my best friend. So, I bounded over to the path to find the famous acorn symbol that guided us on our journey all those years ago. I took a million photos and a video to send to him, naturally.
Steel Rig is the go-to spot along Hadrian’s Wall for a few reasons – it boasts a great section of the wall, has a killer view, and is right near Vindolanda – which we’ll get to later. A few of us braved the steep climb up to the viewpoint, which I highly recommend. I’m afraid of heights, and felt a little jittery on the way up, but it was definitely worth it for the photos alone.
After nearly wandering in the completely wrong direction from the bus, we jumped back on and headed for Vindolanda. Now. I admit I wasn’t actually aware of what Vindolanda was. I thought it was a museum – and it is, but it’s a museum for the epic Roman fortress ruins that sit before it.
We were left to wander this incredible site at our leisure. During the warmer months, it’s an active Archaeological site and I’m dying to go back one day to see them in action. After the world’s most perfect vegetable soup in their café, we wandered their labyrinth of a museum. On display are all the amazing pieces they’ve found in the ruins over the years – from shoes to jewellery, bones to pottery. I kept remarking to my friend “It just keeps going!” because the amount of artefacts they’ve found is staggering. And their work continues.
After resisting the allure of the gift shop, we started the journey back to Edinburgh. Stefan spoke to us about altering our route home, as he thought we’d have a better experience if we stopped by another town – since the sun vanishes at 4:00pm in winter and by the time we reached the original town, everything would be shut. His alternate route gave us time to explore the Christmas-covered town of Alnwick. A great spot to return to in the summer months, as it is home to Alnwick Castle, which you might recognize from Harry Potter and Downton Abbey.
Stefan predicted we’d be back in Edinburgh at 6:38pm (and 35 seconds). In fact, we didn’t get in until 6:45pm (and 12 seconds)… not good enough Stefan. But, if that’s my only ‘complaint’, I guess he did pretty well.
In all seriousness, I can see why I’ve heard great things about the Hadrian’s Wall tour – it really was a great day. It was the perfect combination of history, nature and cute little towns. 10/10 would recommend.