My week in Hadrian’s Wall Country was an adventure in discovering some incredible Roman footprints, including an amazing Roman leather shoe collection at the Chesterholm Museum at Vindolanda. From toddler’s booties to exquisitely designed women’s shoes to soldier’s hobnailed sandals, I got to see what well-heeled Romans were wearing when they built and lived on the most impressive monument of Roman Britain – Hadrian’s Wall.
Also at the museum is a display of the Vindolanda wooden writing tablets that have been named the Top Treasure of Britain. These rare tablets, first discovered here in 1973, were preserved in anaerobic soil and reveal the lives of people who lived on the wall in the first century AD. Tablets are still being discovered because excavation continues at Vindolanda. If you would like to see the tablets online go to http://vindolanda.csad.ox.ac.uk/index.shtml
I also confirmed that sheep are the true inheritors of Roman Britain. I found two Swaledales standing on the wall at Walltown Crags keeping watch to the north for invading blue-faced Caledonii. Or maybe they were just enjoying the view of the mists in the valley below on a sunny autumn morning like I was. Then there was the Cheviot stuck on Brunton’s Turret who kept his wary eye on the camera-welding sheeparazza (me) taking almost as many pictures of sheep as I was taking of Roman forts, milecastles, turrets, and temples.
Two of my favourite sites on this 75 mile stretch of Roman ruins were Benwell Roman Temple and Carrawburgh Mithras Temple. Benwell Temple is located in the middle of a housing estate in Newcastle, actually in a little fenced lot among a street of modest redbrick houses. It is a tiny temple to a local god, Atenociticus, which was originally located outside of the fort on the wall called Condercum that is no longer visible. Down the block and around the corner are the remains of a vallum (the ditch that runs on the south side of the wall) crossing.
Carrawburgh Mithras Temple lies west of Chesters Fort (Cilurnum), near the earthwork remains of Brocolita (or Procolita) fort. Reconstructed cement altars, statues and posts, replicas of those found at the temple, added to the sacred ambiance of the site. As did the mist shrouding the temple and earthworks. Cows were patrolling the fort but sheep were not far away (keeping an eye on the cows perhaps?).
We spent the week in a quaint little farm cottage in Lambley, south of Haltwhistle and right beside the River Tyne. There were, of course, sheep (North of England Mule), as well as three alpacas and lots of chickens on the farm. It was the perfect base to explore from east of Newcastle along the wall to Carlisle and then along the Solway Firth all the way down to Maryport.
Stay tuned for more of my week on the wall.