A string of light from coast to coast

It's a celebration on a grand scale. The date: March 13th; the place: the north of England. At dusk on Saturday evening, hundreds of volunteers are all set to light up the full 135 kilometre length of Hadrian's Wall.



Stretching the width of the country, the 84-mile-long structure, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, marked the northern boundary of the powerful Roman Empire in Britain. It has passed into history and folk culture as a symbol of the indomitable spirit of a people too wild to be fully conquered even by the might of the well-equipped and disciplined Roman armies.

They left our shores 16 centuries ago and the Roman Wall is the most important monument they left behind to remind us of the occupation. Although the structure was allowed to fall into disrepair, and stones and other materials were taken by locals for other constructions, significant sections are still well-preserved and its path is well-documented.

Now, as part of a programme of events marking 1600 years since the end of Roman rule in Britain, the ruined turrets and fortifications are to be illuminated for a single evening by flaming beacons in a once-in-a-lifetime celebration.

The one-off event will kick off at dusk near Newcastle with a public event at Segedunum Fort at the appropriately named Wallsend, the eastern limit of the Wall. There will be a theatrical performance by one of the companies that took place in last autumn's celebrations to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall, and then, at 5.45 pm, the first beacon will be lit. From there, the line of light will make its way along the Wall, with around 500 flaming braziers being lit at 250 metre intervals all the way across the land. At Carlisle, another public event complete with music and a participative torchlight parade will celebrate the passing of the light through the city.

It will take around an hour for the chain of light to reach Bowness-on-Solway in Cumbria and be complete. Along the way, from coast to coast, a camera crew will film the event from a helicopter and the images will be retransmitted to large screens.

Construction started on Hadrian's Wall in 122 AD, after a visit to Britain by the Emperor Hadrian; it formed the Roman frontier or limes in northern England for almost 300 years. In 1987 it was added to the list of World Heritage Sites, and since 2005 has been part of the joint transnational property 'Frontiers of the Roman Empire', which includes the Limes Germanicus in Germany and the Antonine Wall farther north in Scotland. Today, Hadrian's Wall attracts visitors from around the world and, after Stonehenge, is one of the favourite places for tourists in Britain, offering the chance to explore the breathtaking scenery and remote countryside of the north.

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