On March 13, Hadrian’s Wall all of it will be lit by gas beacons, a once-in-a-lifetime event called Illuminating Hadrian’s Wall. From Wallsend in the east, to Bowness on Solway, approximately 500 beaconsspaced every 250 metres will cover the 84 miles of the Hadrian’s Wall.
The first beacon will be lit at Wallsend at approximately 5.35pm (sunset is at 6.11pm), and lighting will progress in sequence east to west with a six-second delay between each beacon firing up; 50 minutes later, the last beacon in Bowness should be lit.
The beacons will be 6-8ft tall with a 2-3 foot flame. Hadrian’s Wall will stay alight in this way for approximately 75 minutes. It has been suggested that all the lights should be extinguished at the same time to mark the anniversary of the end of Roman Occupation in 410AD, but I believe this is still under discussion.
You can apply to be one of the lucky ones to light the beacons (and receive a certificate to say you were an ‘Illuminator’). More than 1,500 applications have already been received; you can add yours to the pile here.
Other audienceparticipation events are planned in Wallsend/Newcastle and in Carlisle (although when you think about Hadrian’s Wall, neither Newcastle nor Carlisle immediately springs to mind). As I write, there is no additional entertainment currently planned for any of the viewing areas along the Wall itself.
The Best Places to View the Light Show
Plan well ahead, and research how long you are going to need to get to your chosen spot.Once there, the actual event will last around about one and a half hours.
For ideas of where best to view the light show (and the Wall in general), see my website. There is a grid reference on each of my photographs this should show you, on the centre of the relevant multimap, where I was standing when I took the shot.
A lot of the Hadrian’s Wall Path is relatively flat and, in the dark, not terribly interesting, but the high crags part of the Wall from Sewingshields to Birdoswald is going to look spectacular.
On the high bit of Hadrian’s Wall itself, there will be three main viewing areas at Steel Rigg (NY750676) (NE47 7AN)at Housesteads (NY790687) and Birdoswald(NY618663)(CA8 7DD).
You must apply for a free ticket to park at these points organisers anticipate 500-800 people at each viewing point.Disability parking will be available at Brocolitia (not exactly an exciting view point, I’m afraid).It is intended that all other car parks on Hadrian’s Wall will be locked and lay-bys cordoned off. (Organisers cite health and safety reasons.)
The roads are very, very narrow and the grass verges are boggy with hidden ditches, so parking is going to be a
problem if you haven’t got a ticket to get you into the official parking sites. Park and Ride may be available, depending on demand.
The highest point on Hadrian’s Wall is Winshields Crag, and that can be accessed from Steel Rigg there is normally a parking fee but on the 13th it will be ticket only parking.
Farmers will need access at all times, so be considerate of their needs throughout your visit, but especially when you are trying to park. You’ll be walking on farm land and, as it will be lambing season, keep dogs on a lead and close all gates behind you. Please respect the countryside and don’t leave litter.Hadrian’s Wall itself is an ancient monument don’t climb up on it for a better view.
Take appropriate walking boots, and dont underestimate how dark it can get a torch is a must as the ground is uneven and the rocks are slippery. Also consider taking extra warm clothing and a flask of tea or coffee there’ll be a lot of standing around.
At Steel Rigg you’re near to the Twice Brewed pub, and there are toilets in the Once Brewed Visitor Centre. Housesteads has accessible toilets but there are no facilities at Birdoswald and, as far as I know, English Heritage has no plans to openany of its sites during the weekend.
Vindolanda will be open that weekend and, in my opinion, it’s the most interesting site on Hadrian’s Wall maybe plan to visit it on the Sunday. Note, however, that the Vindolanda Museum is currently being upgraded and won’t be open to visitors.
If staying overnight, book accommodation as soon as possible; local B&Bs are already filling up, so don’t dither.
Its going to be low light, so youll need a camera capable of a long exposure. Because its a long exposure, you’ll need to rest on something solid, a wall or fence post will do if you don’t have a tripod. If you dont have a remote release, you can use the self timer but check how long its set for (during one 30sec exposure, I picked up the camera to check it was working and got an unflattering shot of my nose).
Some compact cameras do have a night scene setting, but test that out before the event. A small compact camera flash is not going to be any good, it will get the heads of those people in front of you and not much else.
I know viewing and picture opportunities are going to be limited by the sheer number of people there, but try and get close and use Hadrians Wall to act as a lead-in line. And remember that the flame nearest to you will influence the light meter. I intend to take a meter reading away from the direct light and then bracket my exposures so that if nothing works out quite the way I hope, I can blend shots in Photoshop afterwards (fingers crossed Photoshop is not my favourite tool).
And if all else fails and you miss capturing this once-in-a-lifetime event yourself, a helicopter will be flying the route recording the event; a video will be available for sale at a later date.
The official website has more information, and we will be reporting back from the event later. Keep an eye on Heritage Key for more!