06 July 2013
We love to read books in our house, they are often the first thing we reach for if we want to find something out. When my eldest shows a real interest in a particular topic that usually means we have a large amount of books related to it strewn around the house, books that we own and ones borrowed for the library. If I can find a suitable place to visit I will organise a trip out to consolidate the learning. One of the recent topics has been Romans and we have visited various local Musuems which have small displays of Romans artefacts which have been found locally. The place that we really wanted to visit tho was Hadrian's Wall a defensive fortification built at the edge of the Roman Empire. It is thought that building started in around AD122 at the behest of the Emperor Hadrian, no surprises there, and stretches from the Solway estuary in the West to the Tyne river in the East a distance of 73 miles and crosses some wild, rugged and beautiful terrain. We recently spent four days near a section of the wall, camping a short distance from the wall and near to the places that we wanted to visit.
We spent an afternoon at one of the forts on the wall, Housesteads, which would have housed a considerable number of soldiers and civilians in its time. It is hard to imagine that many people living there. The site itself has been extensively excavated giving you a good impression of the size of the buildings contained within the fort and the overall size of the fort itself. We took a short walk from the fort along the wall itself, which is intact to height of about 3ft in this area, to a mile castle. These were built at every Roman mile (approx 1500m) along the wall.
We also visited the fort, Chesters, which was a cavalry fort. This had been less excavated than Housesteads but was no less impressive. There was a wonderful bath house situated just outside the fort which showed what fantastic engineers the Romans were and how important sanitation was to them. When you have a large number of people living in close proximity, as life would have been in the forts themselves, it would have been easy for disease to spread, I have no doubt that the bathhouses served to ensure that this risk was minimised.
On a day that was forecast to be wetter we headed indoors for the morning to the Roman Army Museum a interesting museum which had exhibits on the soldiers who are likely to have built the wall, on Emperor Hadrian and the wall itself. It is run by a trust who also run Vindolanda a fort situated on Stanegate a roman road. This fort and surrounding buildings, which we spent the afternoon exploring, was huge and has been extensively excavated by the trust. There are regular excavations taking place each year you can read about them too! The museum on the site was full of artefacts that had been dug up on the site which were a wonderful collection of items that would have been part of everyday life for those that once lived there. There was also an exhibition on an amazing find, writing tablets, that had been perfectly preserved in the soil. Despite the cold damp weather (cold enough to need hats, gloves, coats and scarves!) this was the best of all the sites for me and one that I will definitely return to in the future as it is likely to be different.
On our journey home we visited Birdoswold fort. This was the least excavated of all the forts we visited but the site has been continuously lived on since the fort was built. The old farm building is now a holiday cottage for groups. We walked a section of the wall from here to an old bridge abutment which now stands in the middle of a field some distance from the river! We had a long play by the river and found many fossils in the shale on the river bank to diversify our learning.
It was a wonderful place to spend a few days, we had a great time and learnt loads. If you want to learn more about the Romans or add to what you have learnt its a great place to do that.