Walking Around a Roman Wall – John Lewell Photography


What did the Romans do for us? Well, here in my home town of Colchester (Essex, UK) they built a rather nice wall, much of which is still standing after nearly 2,000 years.

Not being able to venture too far afield during the recent (and seemingly endless) pandemic, I started to wonder whether the wall could serve as a backdrop for some street photos.

I took all of them with the new Fuji X100V, intermittently over a few days.

One Shot
On one day I took just one image (above).

Walking into Lower Castle Park, I was struck by the sudden appearance of yellow blossom in some shrubs near the railings.

There’s a great view of the wall from this viewpoint — and I noted the lone figure of a man in the distance. All it needed was something more… then the cyclist arrived with not one, but two bikes!

Changing the Direction of View
Here’s the same stretch of wall (above), looking back towards the gate through which the cyclist passed in the previous shot.

It was a lovely summer’s day in The Lockdown, with small family groups enjoying the sun. Recently, everyone had been “on tenterhooks,” waiting anxiously for the virus to disappear.

Oddly enough, I can say that the tenterhooks themselves have quite literally passed. For it was on this piece of land in the seventeenth century that Flemish weavers stretched their cloth – on devices known as “tenterhooks.”

The presence of the Roman wall makes the seventeenth century seem like modern history. Meanwhile, weeds constantly colonize the ancient structure, giving it a beauty never intended by the original builders.

Walking the Wall
One day I set out, with my partner, to walk around the wall in its entirety. It’s not a major track, the wall being around 2,800 meters long, in the shape of a rectangle.

Today it varies slightly in height, according to its state of preservation, but much of it is 6 meters high and nearly two and a half meters thick. Its construction is said to have required 40,000 tonnes of building material.

Walking around it is far less onerous than building it, but don’t thank the Romans. They made the local Britons do most of the work.

The western stretch, running up Balkerne Hill, has little archways set within it, bricked up in the modern era to help preserve it.

One of the best preserved parts is the long stretch at the top of Balkerne Hill, past the huge gate (the Balkerne Gateway) which served as the main entrance to the town in Roman times.

Pressing On
OK, so this mini-project is degenerating into “wall photography” rather than street photography, so we’ll press on quickly to the far side of town where the wall is buttressed in Priory Street with huge bastions.

Another man walks past a wall! Oh dear!

I guess if I waited in a given position for a couple of hours, something more interesting might happen, but, remember, there were very few people around during this stage of the 2020 Lockdown.

So to conclude: here, in rapid succession are shots I took to complete the journey. First, I asked my partner to walk on ahead.

Yes, I know it’s cheating, but the light was great and I could have waited here for hours before anyone else passed this way.

Next, I snapped a cyclist heading towards the wall.

I did, in fact, wait a couple of minutes for someone to provide a point of interest in this shot (below) near Duncan’s Gate. No, there wasn’t a Roman called Duncan! The gate was named after Dr PM Duncan who excavated it in 1853. The little boy in the picture probably doesn’t know that.

And finally here’s a closing shot of a girl hurrying through a small archway set within the wall on the northern stretch where we started.

At least the above shots have something in common, so I think the idea of ​​walking the wall was valid in street photography terms. However, such a project needs more time. I’ll work on it some more.

After all, neither Rome nor Colchester was built in a day.

If you’re visiting Colchester and would like to know more about its Roman history, take a look at:

Friends of Colchester’s Roman Wall

Visit Colchester, Britain’s First City

The Colchester Archaeologist

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