ANKLE-DEEP IN ROMAN BRITANNIA
Ahead of the mid-october Frankfurt Book Fair, Victoria and I strapped on our hiking boots and crossed the whole of merry ol’ England by foot—eighty-five miles, coast to coast alongside Hadrian’s Wall. While a vacation, the idea was to use the eight long days of walking as a sort of brainstorm session to discuss Foreword’s twenty-year anniversary and other big-issue stuff. But we were also excited to be so close to one of the world’s archaeological marvels and to immerse ourselves in ancient Rome’s presence at the western edge of its empire.
So we walked a soggy, windswept trail all day through the sheep-filled English countryside and checked into a conveniently positioned inn at night, our luggage having been hauled by a delivery service and now waiting in our room. What more to say than we had one of the great adventures of our lives—stunning scenery, strenuous exercise, exotic in a vaguely familiar way (most of my ancestors are Scots).
While demolished in many places, the Wall was originally built of quarried stone and concrete, fifteen feet high by nine across. Dating from 120 CE or so, it now hugs the landscape like the picked carcass of an ancient serpent. Of the countless stories collected through the centuries, one of my favorites is that well into the Middle Ages, no one knew who built the Wall or why. It was thought to have been created by giants. Yes, giants, and the word seems spot-on when you consider Roman engineering, governing and military prowess, culture, and philosophy.
Victoria and I both make fun of our faulty memories, so our trail conversations were a jumbled mess of Roman history we’ve read over the years from indie publishers like Oxford, Pegasus, Overlook, Bloomsbury, Princeton, and the like, but we thoroughly entertained ourselves. Of course, things only got worse in the pubs at night. Thank Jupiter the English bartenders are too polite to fact-check.
Have a great holiday season. See you next year.