Once the most heavily fortified border in the Roman empire, Hadrian’s Wall consists of a string of forts, milecastles and turrets stretching 73 miles along the Empire’s northern frontier from Carlisle (Luguvalium) to Corbridge (Coria). Begun in AD122 during the rule of Emperor Hadrian, it was a colossal feat of engineering that took six years to build and was used as much as customs posts as a military fortification. Much of the wall still exists and can be followed on foot along the Hadrian’s Wall Path or by cycle along NCN Route 72. Made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 it has become the most popular tourist attraction in northern England, particularly two of its best-preserved forts – Vindolanda near Hexham and Birdoswald at Gilsland near Brampton.
Interesting interactive displays and artefacts at Birdoswald as well as a model representation of the wall at its full height make it well worth a visit. Enjoy delicious locally-made cakes and treats in the tearoom and try to spot the abundance of wildlife in this nature haven – including badgers, red squirrels and owls. Birdoswald also offers farmhouse-style accommodation available for those wishing to stay within this historic site.
Roman Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum lie in the beautiful central section of the wall within the Northumberland National Park. Formerly a key military post on the northern frontier of Britain, Vindolanda is one of Europe’s most important Roman archeological sites, with excavations open to the public taking place every year. Everything on display in the museum was found from the Roman site only yards away and each piece offers a unique insight into the everyday lives of our predecessors. Objects including textiles, leather goods, wooden artefacts and flora and fauna have all survived thanks to the exceptional conditions found at Vindolanda. The museum also has the largest collection of Roman leather anywhere in the Empire, from shoes to bags and buckets, and purses to an archer’s thumb guard. Other special finds on display include jewellery, bronzes, weapons and animal bones. Meanwhile a new 3D film screeened in the museum, Edge of Empire, gives a gripping and realistic soldier’s-eye view of life on the northern frontier.
Vindolanda Roman Fort, Chesterholm Museum, Bardon Mill, Hexham, Northumberland NE47 7JN
Tel: 01434 344 277
Birdoswald Roman Fort, Gilsand, Brampton, Cumbria CA8 7DD
Tel: 01697 747 602