Monday, September 5, 2011

Hadrian's Wall: Housesteads Roman Fort

To celebrate Labor Day weekend, we went on a trip to see Hadrian's Wall, the number one labor project of 122 AD in Britain.

The project began under Roman Emperor Hadrian. The intent of the wall isn't quite clear. Most think it was to protect against the Pict barbarians to the north, though some claim it was just a project to keep the soldiers busy or to establish a definite and secure border. The wall ran from Newcastle on the east coast to Carlisle on the west coast. Small forts were built every Roman mile with two smaller turrets evenly spaced inbetween. Twelve large forts were built along the wall as well.

The most complete ruins of a large fort is Housesteads Roman Fort, owned by the National Trust but managed by English Heritage. It's estimated that 800 to 1000 soldiers were quartered there through the 300 years of its use. Historians and archeologists are not sure why the Romans left, though most likely they just abandoned it for what we would now call "budget cuts" in the early 400s. Clearly they didn't succumb to a barbarian onslaught or anything spectacular like that. No physical evidence supports that.

The fort itself is a standard square-shaped fort with gates in the middle of each wall. Barracks, headquarters, a commander's house, a hospital, and granaries are all in evidence. The fort also supported a small town to the south, with the sort of shops, taverns, and homes for families that spring up around soldiers needing to spend their hard earned pay. Not much of the town remains today.

model of fort and town in the museum, behind some glass, unfortunately

Our visit was mostly delightful. The children enjoyed climbing all over the ruins of the fort. Jacob thought it was a big stone maze and scrabbled all over the place. Lucy did likewise. The views were pretty spectacular, though the cloudiness eventually turned to rain. We started to head back down the hill.

Jacob stands on a rock and avoids sheep droppings along the way

Windy days make for crazy hair

Mommy and Lucy on the rocks

Enjoying the remains of the fort

Jacob shows the way out of the maze!

Lucy at the granaries

Lucy on the lookout for Picts at the north gate

Hadrian's Wall continuing off to the east

Jacob had a fairly major meltdown as we were leaving. He wanted to stay and play on the fort but we wouldn't let him. We wound up carrying him down the half mile path to the car park. When I was carrying him, he kept insisting that I couldn't carry him all the way down, though he wanted me to. With such motivation, I did get him all the way to the car. He still wasn't happy. We had a snack in the car and headed off to Hexham to see their abbey and have dinner.

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