Hadrians wall of music

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Pictured above, Susan Lambert playing  her clarsach – a Gaelic harp – at Walltown Crags on Hadrian’s Wall.

Hadrian's Wall start Bristol bus

© Mark Waugh

The length of Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland has become a stage for a huge live musical performance.

Hundreds of musicians have travelled the wall’s 73 miles (117km) using transport including a vintage bus, motorbikes, unicycles and a tractor, passing a baton from performer to performer.

Part of BBC Music Day, the Hadrian’s Wall of Sound event began at daybreak in Bowness-on-Solway in West Cumbria and finished in Wallsend, North Tyneside 14 hours later.

BBC Music Day Hadrian's Wall

© Mark Waugh

BBC TV and radio networks have been broadcasting live across the day and there has been full online coverage.

triumph herald music bbc week

© Mark Waugh


Hadrian’s Wall, also called the Roman Wall, Picts’ Wall, or Vallum Hadriani, was a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia, begun in 122 CE during the rule of emperor Hadrian. It ran between the River Tyne and the Solway Firth. It had a stone base and a stone wall. There were milecastles with two turrets in between. There was a fort about every five miles. From north to south the wall comprised a ditch, wall, military way and vallum (another ditch with adjoining mounds). The milecastles had static garrisons, whereas the forts had fighting garrisons of infantry and cavalry. In addition to its military role, gates through the wall served as customs posts.

Hadrian's Wall music

© Mark Waugh

A significant portion of the wall still exists and can be followed on foot along the Hadrian’s Wall Path. It is the most popular tourist attraction in Northern England and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987

Hadrian’s Wall extended west from Segedunum at Wallsend on the River Tyne, via Carlisle and Kirkandrews-on-Eden, to the shore of the Solway Firth, ending a short but unknown distance west of the village of Bowness-on-Solway.

Hadrian's Wall bbc music week

© Mark Waugh

Although the curtain wall ends near Bowness-on-Solway, this does not mark the end of the line of defensive structures. The system of milecastles and turrets is known to have continued along the Cumbria coast as far as Risehow, south of Maryport. For classification purposes, the milecastles west of Bowness-on-Solway are referred to as Milefortlets.

Hadrian's Wall Graeme Danby

© Mark Waugh

Durham-born opera singer Graeme Danby swapped red plush seats and beautiful auditoria for the even more spectacular Cawfield Crag and described himself as “a lucky man”. BBC Newcastle sports presenter Simon Pryde – who was dressed for the terrain – took charge of the baton, which Mr Danby then passed to the Royal Northern Sinfonia Wind Quintet

Newcastle cathedral choir

© Mark Waugh

The A69 and B6318 roads follow the course of the wall from Newcastle upon Tyne to Carlisle, then along the northern coast of Cumbria (south shore of the Solway Firth). It is a common misconception that Hadrian’s Wall marks the boundary between England and Scotland.

BBC music week Newcastle

© Mark Waugh

In fact Hadrian’s Wall lies entirely within England: while it is less than 1 kilometre (0.6 mi) south of the border with Scotland in the west at Bowness-on-Solway, in the east it is as much as 110 kilometres (68 mi) away.

BBC music week Newcastle

© Mark Waugh

BBC Music Day is dedicated to Katy Jones who died suddenly on April 24th. Katy was the creative driving force behind this initiative. Her creativity and passion will be celebrated and remembered by us all.

Piano in field  Hadrian's Wall

© Mark Waugh

Fourteen hours after this musical relay began, the crowds waiting for the finale at the excavated Roman fort Segedunum in Wallsend made their feelings on Hadrian’s Wall of Sound clear.


What is a clarsach:

The origins of the Gaelic triangular harp go back at least to the first millennium. There are several stone carvings of triangular harps from the 10th century, many of which have simple triangular shapes, generally with straight pillars, straight string arms or necks, and soundboxes. There is stone carving evidence that the lyre or non-triangular harp were present in Ireland during the first millennium. Evidence for the triangular harp in Pictish Scotland dates from the 9th century.

The clàrsach or harp was the most popular musical instrument in later medieval Scotland and Ireland and Gaelic poets portrayed their Pictish counterparts as very much like themselves.

Scotland, because of her affinity and intercourse [with Ireland], tries to imitate Ireland in music and strives in emulation. Ireland uses and delights in two instruments only, the harp namely, and the tympanum. Scotland uses three, the harp, the tympanum and the crowd. In the opinion, however, of many, Scotland has by now not only caught up on Ireland, her instructor, but already far outdistances her and excels her in musical skill. Therefore, [Irish] people now look to that country as the fountain of the art.

—Gerald of Wales
The clàrsach played by the Gaels of Scotland and Ireland between the 11th and 19th centuries was certainly wire-strung. The Irish Maedoc book shrine dates from the 11th century, and clearly shows a harper with a triangular framed harp including a “T-Section” in the pillar. The Irish word lamhchrann or Scottish Gaelic làmh-chrann came into use at an unknown date to indicate this pillar which would have supplied the bracing to withstand the tension of a wire-strung harp.

The Irish and Highland Harps by Robert Bruce Armstrong describes these ancient harps. There is historical evidence that the types of wire used in these harps are iron, brass, silver, and gold. Three pre-16th-century examples survive today; the Brian Boru Harp in Trinity College, Dublin, and the Queen Mary and Lamont Harps, both in Scotland.

One of the largest and most complete collections of 17th-century harp music is the work of Turlough O’Carolan, a blind, itinerant Irish harper and composer. At least 220 of his compositions survive to this day.


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