Dating back to AD85, the former Roman garrison of Vindolanda in the heart of Hadrian’s Wall UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the best preserved sites along the famous wall.
With the atmospheric garrison remains, two museums and the opportunity to speak to on-site archaeologists, Vindolanda also provides a great opportunity to learn about life on this northern frontier of the Roman Empire, as well as its power and influence at its peak. On weekends throughout the season experienced guides are on hand to host fascinating tours. After receiving 6.3 million in 2009 for redevelopment, Roman Vindolanda Museum and its sister site the Roman Army Museum have both been radically transformed and were officially reopened to the public by the Duchess of Northumberland in April 2011. Inside the Roman Vindolanda Museum is a comprehensive overview of all that is known about life in Roman times. Among the new improvements are outstanding displays of the living archaeology at Vindolanda, with state-of-the-art design and audio- visual effects, as well as a new education centre.
The museum also boasts a purpose-built, temperature-controlled room dedicated to a selection of the Vindolanda writing tablets, the oldest handwritten records found in Britain, which were first discovered at the site in 1973 and some of which have since been returned to Vindolanda on loan from the British Museum in London. At Greenhead, seven miles west of Vindolanda, the Roman Army Museum showcases artefacts from Roman military history, telling the story of Hadrian and his life as Emperor. In a new cinema room, visitors can also watch The Eagle’s Eye – Edge of Empire, a brilliant new 3D film that was created specifically for the museum at a cost of over 300,000. Produced by Newcastle film company, Dene Films, it follows the story of Aquila, a young army recruit adjusting to the surroundings of his new position as an auxiliary guard, shedding fresh light on the life of a Roman soldier on the front line.
Getting there: By car, Vindolanda is off the A69. Exit following signs for Vindolanda, near Bardon Mill village. For the Roman Army Museum exit the A69 following the tourist signs. The museum is near Greenhead village. By train, the nearest rail station to Roman Vindolanda is at Bardon Mill. Connections can be made from Carlisle and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. For the Roman Army Museum the nearest rail station is Haltwhistle. Connections as before. For booking visit www.thetrainline.com or National Rail Enquiries: 08457 484 950
Where to stay: Ashcroft at Haltwhistle is just five minutes’ walk from Haltwhistle station and has rooms from £39 per person per night with breakfast. Tel: 01434 320 213 www.ashcroftguesthouse.co.uk
Where to eat: Bouchon Bistrot, 4-5 Gilesgate, Hexham serves delicious French fare. Tel: 01434 609 943. www.bouchonbistrot.co.uk
Don’t miss: the ancient Vindolanda writing tablets
More information: Roman Vindolanda and The Roman Army Museum, Head Office, Chesterholm Museum,
Bardon Mill, Hexham, Northumberland. Both sites open daily, 10am-6pm/5pm in winter months. Tel: 01434 344 277. www.vindolanda.com