Snippets 4: First notes – Hadrian’s Wall of Sound, Bowness-on-Solway


At 5.45am the tide was still on the ebb, standing waves (‘reestings’) corrugated the surface of the channel, and the only sound amid the weighty silence of the still air was the trilling of oyster-catchers.

The end of the Wall at Bowness

The end of the Wall at Bowness

I walked, and waited, and fretted. Where was the saxophonist who was due to start playing at 6am, to play the first notes of the Hadrian’s Wall of Sound? Had she overslept? I was at the start of the Wall, where was she? Shafts of sunlight picked out Chapel Cross on the Scottish side. A radio droned from a house on the main street; a haaf-net was propped against a front wall; otherwise, no-one stirred in Bowness-on-Solway.


A haaf-net, freshly-netted for the new season

Six o’clock came. An electrician set off to work in his van. I went back to my car – and the outdoor presenter on Radio Cumbria explained she was waiting for the BBC countdown to the Music Day; she was with the saxophonist at Bowness. But where? The village of Bowness is small. Then she mentioned cows…

IMG_2917I drove quickly to the saltmarsh just south of the village, and there they were: the radio van, the TV crews, fluffy microphones, hefty cameras hoisted on shoulders, cars parked along the verge, the vintage open-top bus. The cows.

Loud instructions were issuing from radio links in the vans, media people milled around – and Roz Sluman stood on the cropped, salty turf, against the silky grey backdrop of the Firth and sky, and played, ignoring the fuss and absorbed in her music. The plangent notes of the sax rose into the gentle air.

Roz Sluman. (Are those haaf-nets propped against the wall?)

Roz Sluman. (Are those haaf-nets propped against the wall?)

Before she had finished, the engine of the bus started with a clatter, and the ‘relay’ moved off with guitarist Tom Lapworth to the next venue on the Wall.

IMG_2922Roz moved away from her music stand and played on; photographers asked her pose here, and there. The cows chewed silently as they stared down at this unusual morning activity.

As I drove home, a different radio presenter explained that not much of Hadrian’s Wall survived in this area, but St Michael’s Church at Burgh-by-Sands, where the Dalston Male Voice Choir were warming up their vocal cords, was built of stone taken mainly from the Wall. At the moment, he and the singers were waiting for the relay to arrive.

A short time later on Radio4’s Today, Hadrian’s Wall of Sound got a brief mention, and so did Cumbria as the Dalston Male Voice Choir sang us into the Weather Forecast.


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