You know when you really want to work for a particular organisation… and then you get a job with them… and sometimes it can turn out to be rubbish (and all your gut feelings in the interview process will have been saying ‘no, don’t do it!’). On the other hand it can work – as British Waterways did for me.
I love history, so working for English Heritage was on my list of desirable employers. Furthermore, although the job was in Newcastle – about 45 miles or a 1 hr 15 min train journey away – it was part-time and from the job description looked perfect.
It is – or has been so far, and I’ve been there nearly 3 months – indeed a fantastic job. I love the contrast of travelling from rural Brampton into bustling Newcastle – a city which is not too big nor too small, and where I work in a wonky old building with stories to tell, down near the Quayside. I walked along the river at lunchtime today in the sun, the wind blowing my hair in my face and creating froth on the river, everything glistening in the unexpected warmth.
It’s the sort of job where you do extra bits, on your non-working days, just because you can and you want to. So on Monday when some colleagues asked me to check some of our ‘free sites’ (ones you don’t have to pay to enter) – they tempted me by suggesting I could do them as a run – I didn’t need any persuading (and fortunately the sun was out and it was a lovely warm day as well).
After my weekly yoga class – held in the northern Pennines with a fantastic view over towards the Lake District fells – I drove to Birdoswald Roman Fort. As I felt I had plenty of time and hadn’t had any breakfast, I headed into the (new) cafe, with its huge window providing a lovely view over the valley, and had a capuccino and a cherry scone. Then it was time to start running.
I love the river crossing near ‘Birdos’. Having gone east to Harrow’s Scar and the mile castle there, you drop down a very steep track towards Willowford Bridge. Yew trees and Rowans lined the path, their bright red berries enticing. When you get over the river – by an attractive modern bridge which curves upwards, higher on the western bank than on the east – you see the footings for the Roman Willowford bridge, including an interesting interpretation panel which shows how and why we now think there may have been, over the centuries, three different bridges there. Today in Newcastle near the Swing Bridge was an interpretation panel linking the two – the Romans may have had a stone bridge across the Tyne of a similar design to that at Willowford.
I ran on to Poltross Burn, crossing the railway (that always feels a bit daring and dangerous, even though you’re allowed to!) en route. As I stood at Poltross Burn milecastle, trying to imagine the Roman soldiers sleeping in barracks with slopey floors and also trying to imagine how squashed it must have been, a train went past. What would the Romans have looked out on? Certainly not on trains – I wonder what they would make of them. The railway viaduct soars across the burn and it made me wonder how Hadrian’s Wall had crossed the burn – presumably if it had been culverted there would still be signs of that (there are none as far as I’m aware).
As I was far too early to meet my colleagues and had only covered a very short distance, I decided to turn round and run back to the car.
At Willowford the sheep looked at me askance. My initial thought was ‘nobody told them not to walk on the wall’; my second was how some of them were acting like a group of Roman sentries, challenging me about who I was and what I was doing there. I even started writing a poem in my head…
Believe it or not, although I enjoyed running along the wall I did actually do some work as well – there are photos of less interesting things like bits of fence that need repairing, which have been sent over to the relevant people. But this is my job – dealing with and wandering around historic sites and buildings. Just how lucky am I to be using my surveying* skills and experience in such amazing surroudings.
There are several different types of surveyor. When I started surveying, I trained as what was then called a General Practice Surveyor. Basically we’re the type who know a little bit about building construction, but mostly know how to value buildings and what the laws are in relation to them, including laws about selling them, granting leases and getting more rent out of tenants and so forth. We tend also to know a bit about planning and building use and therefore about development. Anything we don’t know about in detail, we’ll know who to ask. In some countries we’d be called Commercial Real Estate professionals.
The ones who know all about buildings are building surveyors. They sort of overlap building/structural engineers and architects, and some of them are very good at managing projects – they can talk to builders in their own language. Others become expert at things related to building construction like damp, or foundations, or rights of light. If you want someone to tell you whether or not your house is going to fall down, you need a building surveyor. For a while I wanted to be a building surveyor as I enjoyed getting out on site in hard hat and wellies and clambering up ladders. I still love seeing a building being dismantled and coming back together again, and trying to work out what was built when and why…