A question and answer interview with Sue Hodnett, site manger at English Heritage
Sue Hodnett is the Site Manager for Housesteads Roman Fort – the best known and one of the most iconic sites on Hadrian’s Wall. The new museum at Housesteads, now open to the public, has been transformed by English Heritage over the winter and as well as brand new displays and interpretation, you can meet a cartoon character called ‘Felix’ drawn by Sue, who will guide younger visitors around the fort.
Sue been has been welcoming hundreds of thousands of visitors to World Heritage Sites for the past 17 years, previously in the Orkney Islands before moving to Northumberland. In her spare time Sue, who is a Fine Art graduate, is an artist and a member of the Global Network of Watercolour Painters. Her paintings are in private collections throughout Europe, America and Japan.
How long have you lived/worked/visited in Northumberland?: I moved here from Orkney in 2002, but had visited parts of Hadrian’s Wall on memorable occasions before.
What is it about the county that appeals to you?: It was definitely the landscape – it’s rural without being too remote and it’s plastered with archaeological remains – history surrounds you here.
What is your favourite Northumberland beauty spot?: Allen Banks – for its river and trees.
Tell us about your favourite view/walk/cycle route/town/nightspot?: I like walks I can do straight outside my house – with no car involved. I like to walk along the River Allen from Allendale to Oakpool, then cross over the disused railway line towards Old Town and into the Crown at Catton for a warming pint of Allendale Beer before heading home.
The Tar Bar’l in Allendale on New Years Eve is a must for anyone living or visiting the Allen Valley’s at Christmas – A procession of local men, called ‘Guysers’, parade in fancy dress with barrels of flaming tar around the village at midnight, before throwing them on to a bonfire to welcome in the New Year with a spectacular ceremony.
The list of places to visit is endless. But some are more special than others. A trip to Northumberland wouldn’t be complete without . . .: The walk from Steel Rigg to Housesteads. Arguably one of the most dramatic places to walk in Northumberland, from here you can walk in the footsteps of Roman Legionaries.
Why is locally produced Northumberland food the best?: Try a wedge of Northumbrian Cheese washed down with a pint from the Dipton Mill Inn to find out.
Do you have a preferred place to eat out in the county and why?: Dipton Mill in Hexhamshire after a walk in the nearby wood. They do home cooked food, don’t mind muddy boots and landlord Geoff will cheer everyone up with his raucous laugh. Go there and have the best pint of real ale in Northumberland. For a treat you can’t beat the locally-sourced food at The Feathers Inn at Headley on the Hill.
Northumbrians and people from the Scottish Borders are renowned for the warm welcome they offer holiday-makers and day trippers alike. What do you think is the secret ingredient for this friendliness?: They have a love of sharing and are proud of what they have to offer.
Coast or country, and specifically which part?: I was surrounded by sea in Orkney, but in Northumberland I love the country, just where we are now in Allendale is perfect.
What is your favourite market town and why?: Hexham. The first time I came I brought a picnic to eat at the Tyne Green. My children, who were still quite young then, played in the park and ate ice cream in the sun. It was so nice to be by the river and be surrounded by all the trees. There were so few trees in Orkney, I used to get withdrawal symptoms! An idyllic spot right next to the town.
Now I often meet my husband in Hexham in his lunch hour and we walk through the Abbey grounds and around the Sele or just sit and pass the time chatting and watching the folk around the bowling green.
Your favourite historical site?: Well, it has to be Housesteads of course! But really, we are so blessed with sites here – I like to take my two copies of J Collingwood Bruce’s ‘Handbook to the Roman Wall’ out with me along Hadrian’s Wall – one dates from 1885, the other is a more recent edition written in 2006. I use these books to find the more obscure sites like the Roman Quarry site at Fallowfield Fell where a Roman soldier inscribed his name upon a rock (now sitting outside the museum at Chesters), or Coventina’s Well which was found with 13,500 coins and various other artefacts (the coins are in the British Museum but the artefacts again are in the museum at Chesters) – but you need to look harder to find them!
And the best road to take a leisurely and scenic drive along?: Drive along the B6318 or the Millitary Road as it’s called – see how many Roman sights you can count.
What would be your perfect day out in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders?: I’d put my walking boots on, pack up my rucksack with paints and paper and head off towards the best weather. Lambley Viaduct is a favourite – especially in the autumn when you can see golden trees stretching away into the distance from the top of the viaduct. I’ll sit and paint on the rocks under the arches while my husband and children dash up and down the river skimming stones. We’ll probably pick up fish & chips from Haydon Bridge on the way home and the smell of them will make us do the drive home past Langley Castle and the Stublick Quarry that little bit too quick.
Sue adds tat the new museum at Housesteads is now open daily to the public. Using dramatic film footage, 3D models and a stunning collection of Roman finds, the new exhibits explore the famous World Heritage Site and give visitors a great insight into life at the edge of the Roman Empire. English Heritage properties on Hadrian’s Wall are open daily from 10am-6pm. Housesteads admission prices: Adult: 6.00 / Concession: £5.40 / Child: £3.60. Under 5s, English Heritage and National Trust Members go free.
For further information on Housesteads Roman Fort and Museum visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/hadrianswall .
Category: Northumberland Best Kept Secrets