Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Vindolanda, Roman Fortress and Town on Hadrian's Wall

A lot of the fortifications on Hadrian's Wall were small towers called "milecastles" presumably because the Romans built one every Roman mile (4860 feet or 1481 meters). Larger fortifications were home to a cohort (around 500 men) and outside the fort was a small village of retainers and supporters of the cohort. One such fort was Vindolanda, which is now a major archaeological site and welcomes visitors year round. Visitors see what the Roman presence was really like in the first few centuries after the birth of Christ.

We visited this major fort after seeing Milecastle 42 at Cawfields.  Arriving slightly before their 10 a.m. opening time we had to wait in the car, out of the cold wind blowing over the land. The day was gray and chilly, helping us to imagine the hardship of living along Hadrian's Wall. Seeing the front door of the visitor centre open, we headed in. The entrance had a small courtyard with the sort of artifacts you'd expect in a Roman ruin, a fountain and busts.

You can't see it, but this horse had a fish tail for hindquarters. Pretty weird!

A fine looking fellow

Another fine soldier immortalized

Beyond the courtyard was another building with a model of what the fort and village would have looked like back in the day.

Fort in the foreground with the village out back.

The model had five significant spots marked (the commander's quarters, the bath house, etc.). Buttons on the side of the display case would play an audio about that spot. Jacob and Lucy were very good at taking turns pushing the buttons to hear the audio. They were even good at waiting until the audio was done before pushing another button!

After hearing the audio, we proceeded to the main area. The vast field of excavations and stone foundations of the village and fort were no match for what Jacob found most interesting and to which he immediately raced...

Where is he off to in such a hurry?

Castles! Castles!

One happy boy!!

The original forts in the area (before Hadrian's construction project) were of timber. In the 1970s great enthusiasm was had for replicas and reconstructions of ancient things, so these were built then and have stood up quite well. Jacob loved to climb both the wooden and the stone forts. He went up the wooden one a second time since Auntie Rosemary hadn't gone up on his first trip.

Jacob ascends to new heights!

Barely visible defenders (sorry, Grandpa!)

After this we headed down the hillside to the open air museum and the Chesterholm Museum, which houses many of the recovered artifacts along with the gift shop and cafe. After a brief stop in one of the 17th century buildings where the children pushed another audio button, we had some tea at the cafe. This snack was especially welcome for the adults who were noticing the cold more than the children.

The museum houses many nice artifacts, including dozens of leather shoes, myriad coins, and other bits and pieces from the site. The gift shop has a large selection of books along with the usual assortment of kids military toys (shields, swords, helmets, and such), postcards, magnets, and other assorted souvenirs. I bought a book on Northumberland folk tales.

After that, we visited a few of the waterfalls outside, another favorite for Jacob.

This one has steps!

Just off the path in the woods

We also looked in the Open Air Museum, which consisted of a few buildings representing a Roman temple, a shop, and a home. They were enjoyable but not as interesting as the rest of the area.

Temple, shop, and home

Inside the temple

By this point, lunchtime was approaching. We walked back up the hill and to our car to head off to the charmingly named Twice Brewed Inn in hopes of a hot meal and some good brew, which will be in our next post.

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