Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 15, 2015

Vindolanda and Hadrian’s Wall

As part of our sightseeing on my first day in Northumberland, we headed for Hadrian’s Wall and Vindolanda . The latter is a Roman Fort from around the 1st to 3rd centuries along with the town that grew up around it. Of course, little is left except the foundations, but it’s an interesting look at what Romano-Britain looked like near Hadrian’s Wall.

The area is a working archaeological site and new things are being uncovered every year. The fort complex is well laid out in typical Roman precision. The town that lies outside the walls of the fort is less structured but still quite orderly.

Coming from the visitor centre towards the site you see high hills in the distance. It made me wonder why they didn’t build the fort on top of the hill. It’s not until you reach the far side of the complex that you discover there’s a deep valley between the fort and the hills. Any attackers coming over the hills had quite a climb to try and reach the fort and would have been spotted long before their arrival. A paved walkway leads you down to the museum, gift shop, and café so you can get a feel for what it would be like to make that hike (there are benches for resting along the way if you need them).

Vindolanda view from centre towards hills

Vindolanda view from visitor centre towards hills

Vindolanda Temple

Vindolanda Temple

Vindolanda Mausoleum

Vindolanda Mausoleum

Roman Road

Roman Road

Conjecture is the rule when dealing with anything nearly 2000 years old, but one of the most fascinating discoveries at this site has given us some insight into life in and around the fort. Buried in the oxygen-starved ground, archaeologists found an assortment of wooden writing tablets. We’re not talking some 8 ½” x 11” sheet of paper or even something nearing a greeting card size, but thin strips of wood, many smaller than a business card. With careful preservation they have been able to uncover the ink messages written with a stylus. The contents range from shopping lists to garrison counts and even a birthday party invitation. As we steer closer to being a fully digital society, you have to wonder what people 2000 years from now will find out about how we lived?

Another interesting find was over 6000 leather shoes of varying styles from simple to ornate designs. There’s the usual amount of pottery including coarse, everyday ware as well as nearly an entire set of high-status Samian ware from Gaul. When the troops had to move out, they didn’t have U-Haul to carry all their belongings with them – non-essentials were left behind.

Several examples of hypocaust remain – the ingenious under-floor heating system Romans of status employed. The floor is raised on pillars of brick or stone and slaves at one end of the building feed a fire and the heat is pumped into the under-floor chamber to keep their little tootsies warm.

Vindolanda Hypocaust

Vindolanda Hypocaust

Vindolanda gutters

Vindolanda gutters

Vindolanda - width of the outer wall of the fort

Vindolanda – width of the outer wall of the fort

A water storage facility had been excavated with a series of channels or stone-lined ditches to direct the water where it was needed. The Romans also employed gutters in the street to flush the human and household waste into cesspits.

Vindolanda Water Storage

Vindolanda Water Storage

Vindolanda Aquaduct

Vindolanda Aquaduct

Hadrian’s Wall once ran the breadth of Britain to keep out the Picts and Scots which the Roman’s couldn’t seem to conquer. Much of it is gone, taken apart and used to build homes and businesses, but stretches of it still remain. You can hike along (or on top of) it from a spot near Vindolanda all the way to what’s now known as Robin Hood’s tree – a Sycamore in the middle of a field where they shot scenes from Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves.

Pat to Hadrian's Wall walk

Pat to Hadrian’s Wall walk

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian's Wall - step up to walk along

Hadrian’s Wall – step up to walk along

Hadrian's Wall running over the hillside

Hadrian’s Wall running over the hillside

Hadrian's Wall - Robin Hood tree

Hadrian’s Wall – Robin Hood tree

I’m sure the wall was taller at some point, but it’s impressive in its length and width. Along with the Vindolanda site, it must have taken years (and lots of slave labor) to build.


  1. Dawn, all very interesting! A. Jan

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