On our first trip of the final term, we made another visit to Hadrian’s Wall. Throughout the day, we were really lucky with the weather, as we were with our November trip, it was gloriously hot and sunny but with a breeze, making the weather perfect for our walk as it prevented it being too hot. On this trip we walked along a section of the wall beginning at Housesteads Fort and finishing at Steel Rigg. After enjoying a delicious and much needed lunch at Twice Brewed, we took the AD122 Hadrian’s Wall bus to Vindolanda where we spent the afternoon exploring.
We began by taking the train to Hexham where we caught the AD122 bus to Housesteads Roman fort, making use of the combined bus and train ticket that is available in the summer. After arriving at Housesteads Fort, we looked around outside, sadly not having time to examine it in more detail. We were, however, able to view the things surrounding the fort, including the murder house. Here, Dr Phillippo explained to us that two skeletons had been found beneath the floorboards, one with a broken blade embedded in his ribs: a plot that was, in fact, in the most recent Death in Paradise series, showing it still comes to mind! Since the Romans would bury their dead outside of the town walls, this sort of burial suggests that someone was covering up the death.
From Housesteads we began our walk along the wall itself. From the fort, there’s a short section where it’s possible to walk on the wall itself, which is normally not possible for reasons of conservation. After reaching the end of this section, the walk became more difficult with vast ups and downs, adding more of a challenge! Along the way, we explored the remains of Mile Castle 37 (and a couple of others!).
During the walk, we were able to enjoy the excellent views of the surrounding countryside. This is in part because various sections of the Wall are built along the edges of large cliffs, including one section with a lake at the bottom of the cliff. This really highlighted the fact that rather than being designed to keep people out, the Wall was, in part, a prestige project to show that yes, the Romans could in fact build a fifteen-foot wall at the edge of the known world, even if it was completely unnecessary in parts due to sixty-foot cliffs. It was a display of power.
We finished our walk with a delicious lunch at Twice Brewed, well-earned after traversing several steep ups and downs to get there. Following lunch, we climbed back onto the AD122 bus for the next stage of our trip, visiting Vindolanda. At this point disaster almost struck, since the bus driver seemed to forget that it was part of the route! Luckily, Dr Phillippo realised we were heading the wrong way and alerted the driver.
After we eventually reached Vindolanda, we explored the museum and the fort. In the entrance building to Vindolanda there was a model of the fort, showing us how large it was in its prime.
First, we came to the remains of the fort, still an active archaeological site, worked on by a team of professionals and volunteers. Many different buildings were visible, allowing us to appreciate the large size of the fort and town, despite many being little more than foundations. The fort was built prior to Hadrian’s Wall although it went on to become important as a base for both construction and garrisons, to become a Hadrian’s Wall fort. During this time, it was demolished and rebuilt several times, with each rebuild leaving its own mark. After the Wall and Britain were abandoned by the Romans, it remained in use for more than 400 years before being abandoned in the 9th century. The fort also included a wooden reconstruction that we were able to go in, showing us the size of the buildings. Outside the museum itself were a reconstruction of a temple and of a house. The house had pictures following the daily life of a girl living in the fort. The temple had paintings of Roman scenes.
Within the museum, there were many fascinating exhibits including numerous shoes, a calendar fragment and armour for a horse! The museum also contained several writing tablets, voted Britain’s top treasure. These tablets are on thin pieces of wood akin to postcards and are the oldest handwritten documents to survive in Britain. Nearly 2,000 years old, they act as window into the past, shedding light on the lives of those living here almost two millennia ago. Despite being from such a distant era, some of the subjects are not dissimilar from those of today’s texts and emails, such as one woman inviting another to her birthday party!
Finally, after a long day out, we returned safely to Newcastle. Luckily, when we came to leave the fort, the bus-driver remembered the existence of Vindolanda.
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