It’s like reading a book – every time I go somewhere, I find myself daydreaming about what life was like before.
Northumberland National Park is lucky to have two members of the team who work on the frontline of the Hadrian’s Wall Scheduled Monument, managing the 84-mile National Trail and experiencing the countless discoveries and sites along its surviving remains.
Gary Pickles, Northumberland National Park’s Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail Ranger, has over eight years’ experience managing the Trail, and in those years has experienced what life was like from the construction of the Wall to present day. While Gary can reflect on the years gone by and how the landscape and archaeology has changed, Assistant Trail Maintenance Ranger Hannah Jones joined the team two months ago, so has a different experience and looks towards what lies ahead.
“I’ve worked as the Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail Ranger for just over eight years, and it’s a job that combines my passion for history, in particular Hadrian’s Wall itself, with my love for being in the great outdoors.”
‘It’s mind-blowing to think that a line of stone ties together hundreds of years of history, and this line of stone takes you on a journey through time.
I feel lucky to be able to experience first-hand what life, archaeology and landscape was like covering 1900 years, and as I change location daily and travel the width of the country, it’s an experience I don’t think I could ever tire of.
The best bit about my job is interacting with the thousands of people that walk the Trail every year and telling the stories of what life was like all those years ago, pointing out prominent sights and moments of history along the Wall. I think people can really grasp the past when I explain parts of its history to them, and I feel a sense of accomplishment when I’ve taught someone something new.’
‘There’s a section at Greencarts which is in Northumberland National Park, in the Tyne Valley, that was initially overrun by vegetation and it’s a section along the Trail that I’ve done a lot of work on over the years. The vegetation has been managed in such a way that the site is now in a really nice condition, and you can now see traces of the past history peeking up from the undergrowth.
It’s a site with an array of archaeological remains which makes it a fascinating discovery, and a special site I enjoy going back to and find myself rediscovering stories from the past. If you look closely, you can see the remnants of a turret and other sections of the archaeology coming out from the ground, and the fact it’s not obvious, makes it seem like echoes from the past. Once you look closely, you can almost imagine the full structures and how they might have once stood.
There used to be two Hawthorn trees standing like silent sentinels, but now only one stands like a lone sentry surveying the land to the North, and as Hawthorne was traditionally a spiritual tree, we can pause along our journey and reflect on where we’ve come from. The folklore of the trees may now lay in the past, but the echoes can still be heard today when we say ‘knock on wood’ or ‘touch wood’, which would have once been said to either ‘awaken’ or to ‘deafen’ the spirit depending within. You have the contrast of the spiritual side of the site that’s dated after the Romans, whilst existing alongside the line of Hadrian’s Wall.
Whether it’s this site at Greencarts, or in Carlisle where structures from the Victorian Industrial Revolution still stand… working along Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail is like reading a book – every time I go somewhere, I find myself daydreaming about what life was like before.’
“I studied Biology with Conservation and Ecology at Newcastle University and graduated in 2020. After graduating, I soon started volunteering at Northumberland National Park, and then joined the Generation Green programme. Through this, I applied for Assistant Trail Maintenance Ranger position, and here I am today!”
‘The best bit about my job is being outside every day, especially after being cooped up for two years during the pandemic. I also enjoy seeing and interacting with people; we like to class ourselves as a ‘front of house’ team, as we interact with many people daily, and I love to make a difference, no matter how small, to someone’s day.’
‘This job is an experience in itself, and it’s so special to me because this is my dream job. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a Ranger in a National Park, and I’m so proud and excited that I’ve taken that first step at just 23 years’ old.
Working with Gary is definitely a highlight, as I feel like I’ve learnt so much about the history of the Trail and its surroundings already, after being here for just two months. Having Gary’s knowledge of the history and past management of the Trail helps me in my role, as it equips me for when I interact with people going forward. In terms of knowledge around the management of the Path, it will also allow me to compare its past with its current and future state.
Since working here, my eyes have been opened to what goes on in the world around me and how everything we do impacts nature. Even if I’m going on a dog walk, I’m looking at my surroundings and how the path I’m walking is managed. In the past, during my studies, it has all been very theoretical, but now and going forward, I’m practically aware of what is impacting nature around me.
I’ve found it really interesting talking to Gary about how since starting his job here over eight years ago, he has noticed improvements in many areas thanks to the management work he’s carried out. That’s what I look forward to as I progress and the longer I work here, I’m excited to see the impact the work I help carry out has.
Whenever I’m not at work, a specific smell that reminds me of the amazing experience I’ve had so far is freshly cut grass. A lot of our management at the moment is grass cutting, so when I smell freshly cut grass it reminds me of how lucky I am to be working my dream job, and the landscapes that surround the National Trail.
I know the work I carry out on the Trail is just a small piece of the puzzle in the grand scheme of things, but it’s really special knowing I’ve been part of the National Trail’s history and hope in the future the work carried out continues to make a difference to nature, the surrounding landscape and visitors accessing the Trail.’
Northumberland National Park and The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre have an exciting programme of events and activities coming up as part of the Hadrian’s Wall 1900 Festival.