On the Roman Frontier – Vindolanda Fort in Northumberland

You know all that English and Scottish history I keep talking about? There is just no escaping it. We see it when we walk through every city, drive every country road, and climb every hill. We stumble across it even when we’re not looking for it.

Want job security? Become an archaeologist. There will never be an end to the work here in the UK.

On the way back from our Christmas hideaway, Brian and I played our favorite driving game of “follow the brown signs”.  Half way home we saw one reading “Vindolanda Roman Fort”. Roman fort? Sure, why not.


We followed the tiny road a few miles, turned off onto an even tinier mud track and arrived at the visitor’s center. We were the only car in the parking lot and thought maybe they were closed. They weren’t. We were just lucky and had the place to ourselves until a tour bus showed up an hour later.


The visitor’s center is tiny, but the staff were the friendliest I’ve ever come across at any attraction we’ve yet been to. They were full of information, offered us a guided tour and pointed us in the right direction to start exploring. They have this great scale model, which gave us a really good idea of what we were looking at when we got to the ruins outside.


The fort was built nearly a hundred years before Hadrian’s Wall, and nearly a thousand years ago.


A thousand years! A thousand years ago, and they’ve dug up artifacts like jewelry, games, beads, and birthday party invitations. Items that show a clearly recognizable way of life that probably wouldn’t feel all that foreign to us today.


OK, so maybe they didn’t have Facebook, but still.


There were pubs, and stores. There were nice neighborhoods, and ‘low rent’ residential districts outside the fort walls. There was trade with local communities.


There were marriages, illness, celebrations, families and stressful visits from the boss.


There was a bank of sorts, a large stable of horses and the hired grooms to take care of them. There were veterinarians, doctors, some midwives and ladies who lunch.


You could take your clothes to the cleaner, or have your boots repaired. There were arguments between neighbors that had to be moderated.


Sound familiar?


Below the ruins, at the bottom of the hill near the stream, there is a museum which covered everything they’ve found, and what it all means. We almost skipped that part because we were freezing our tails off, but I’m glad we stopped in. Hot tea and hot sandwich from the cafe perked us right up, and thawed our fingers.


Outside the museum were a few exhibits showing how things might have looked. There were snippets of life on display, including religious houses, supply shops and typical family homes.


And graves. Of course, there are always the graves.


It seems the Romans had a fear of being forgotten, so they made sure they saved enough money to have a decent headstone carved for posterity.


Our little side trip off the main road turned out to be quite an educational adventure.



I’m still amazed at how many of the Roman troops and leaders were moved around and stationed all over the world. Just the fact that they had to walk most of the way up here is impressive, especially considering a lot of them came with families. Just imagine asking your five year old to walk for hundreds of miles to a new home they’ve never seen, on an island that doesn’t see much sunshine, and without a Polar fleece jacket or Timberland boots.

We are spoiled.

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About akil3655

A Scotsman and his American photographer wife traveling the world and writing about it. Tales, reviews, photos, interviews and crazy goings on. Because you never know what's going to happen.

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2 Responses to On the Roman Frontier – Vindolanda Fort in Northumberland

  1. Angela
    Twitter: Acook2121
    January 9, 2013 at 2:26 am #

    Sights like these are what I miss about Britain :)
    Angela recently posted..Scottish Recipes – Haggis RollsMy Profile