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Thistle © Robin Simpson

July 2 – Extracurricular Activities
A walk along the Antonine Wall

We tell Frank briefly about our day and Robin asks for a recommendation for a place in town where we can get pudding. He suggests a place nearby, called Beancross. Dana had a casserole of macaroni and cheese in St. Andrews and isn't hungry at all. I'm not either, but as opposed to tackling my repacking, I'd rather go have a piece of pie.

Dana heads into the house, while Robin and I listen to Frank's directions on how to get to Beancross. He mentions that we will walk along a section of the Antonine Wall and I am just flabbergasted. I hadn't realized we were so close to this "other" Roman wall.

I hadn't thought about the Antonine Wall since the early days of planning my itinerary, when I sighed with resignation that there would be no time to see it. I had never even mentioned the desire to see it to Robin and Dana. Suddenly I'm very alert and alive. Frank notes my interest and says that we are standing on the Antonine Mound; the house is build upon it.

Robin and I troop up the stairs to freshen up a bit, checking in with Dana to make sure she hasn't changed her mind about going with us. She's quite a reader and has her nose in a book, looking very comfortable and settled in. We tell her goodnight and head back down to the kitchen where Frank presents us with a little map he's drawn, showing us the way to Beancross, complete with illustrations of Roman soldiers and Scots in kilts and cars whooshing past on the highway that runs near the road we will walk to get there.

Down the street and around the corner and up a hill we walk, finally turning onto a road that has been closed to all but pedestrian traffic. There are fields on either side of the road, with sheep and horses who lift their heads and flick their ears at us. Trees meet at the top, forming a canopy. To our left we can see the Firth of Forth at the bottom of the gently sloping land.

We have a wonderful view as we walk along talking of Hadrian's Wall and the Antonine Wall and what it would have been like out here for the Roman soldiers who were displaced from their homeland, so many centuries ago. I give Robin a verbal dissertation on the history of the walls, just chattering away. If she already knows this stuff she's kind enough not to let on. Walking in the footsteps of the Roman soldiers once more is such a thrill for me.

It is so quiet along this road, the only sounds are our footsteps and voices as we make our way along. There is a stone wall here, but we can't be certain if it's just another boundary wall, or the wall. The stones in Roman walls are pretty much uniform in size, but these stones are so covered with mosses and lichens and plants growing out of them that it's impossible to see an entire stone.

The road heads steeply downward after a while, and the mound rises up on our right. Tree trunks and gnarled roots are at eye level. Now, it's not only quiet, but it's also dark; it's like walking through a natural tunnel. We spy a tree looming over us that has sticks and bones dangling from twine that has been tied to the branches. It looks a bit like Charlie Brown's kite-eating tree minus the kites, but I feel the fine hairs on the back of my neck rise.

I feel certain that this is some sort of ritualistic something, a pagan observance, perhaps relating to the Solstice, which is not long past. The connection is there in the back of my mind, something I've read or heard, but I can't quite place it. It's very eerie.

We reach the bottom of the hill and the road gives way to wide open spaces. There is a broad patch of thistles growing by the road, so tall and round and purple. We head through a man-made passageway that goes under another road (here are Frank's whooshing cars) and we've found civilization again.

Beancross looks to be a yuppie-type restaurant and is very busy. The maître d' asks if we have a reservation and for a moment I wonder if we'll be seated. We are, near the kitchen – but that's okay, we just want pudding. Of course we have to study the menu and Robin suggests we share a starter of fried brie, something I've never had before (an excellent suggestion).

Robin orders a glass of wine and I realize that she hasn't had much chance to unwind this way since she's done all of the driving. But we're on foot tonight and she visibly relaxes a little bit more with each sip she takes. The brie is excellent, and Robins follows it up with Strawberry Pavlova, a concoction of meringue, whipped cream and strawberries. I have a slice of somewhat disappointing lemon meringue pie.

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