The Scots are a fearful people. So fearful that they should be kept out of the empire at all cost. At least they were in Roman times. Known simply as the ‘Barbarians’ to the Romans, like all people outside their large empire, the Scots were a bridge too far. Emperor Hadrian built a wall to protect the Northern end of the empire from the Scots, just north of the Tyne river, around the year 122 AD.
Much of this ‘Great Wall of Europe’ is still visible, and the 118 kilometer long wall is now dotted with memorials and museums. A great tourist attraction between the cities of Newcastle and Carlisle, in Northern England. A perfect place for a short holiday, for example combining the vibrant city of Newcastle with the beautiful countryside of the Northumberland National Park and the Lake District.
I visited this region several times, most recently in February 2014, when exploring the eastern half of Hadrian’s Wall from Newcastle. The first visit to the easternmost remains of the wall was undertaken by bicycle, right from Newcastle city center, on a guided tour with the nice people of the Cycle Hub. The parts stretching west from Newcastle were explored with local tour guide Alex Jacobs of Northern Secrets. Both highly recommended for exploring Northumberland. Join me on a virtual tour of this great historic place:
Our adventure starts at the Cycle Hub, beautifully located on the river Tyne, at walking distance of Newcastle city centre, with great views onto the bridges.
From Newcastle we follow part of the Hadrian’s Cycleway, a relatively new route that stretches 280 kilometers along the wall.
This is the first and easternmost fort on Hadrian’s Wall. Segedunum Roman Fort is located in aptly named Wallsend, in between Newcastle and Tynemouth. The reconstructed outline of the fort is best viewed from the panorama tower, shaped as a Roman helmet. The first visible remains of the actual wall can be seen along the road, just outside the museum.
On our second day of exploring, our Northern Secrets guide drives us to Heddon-on-the-Wall, about 20 kilometers west of Newcastle, where a long stretch of wall is visible just off the B6528 local road. You can also see the Vallum (ditch) to the right hand side of the wall. This ditch indicated the beginning of the no-go zone just south of the wall.
There are several larger forts along the wall. Some are part of the wall itself, but many are slightly earlier constructions south of the wall, like Corbridge Roman Town. This fort was built on the crossroads of two major Roman roads and was used as a supply base for the legions on the wall. Its remains are pretty well kept and the museum on the site well explains the interesting history of the fort and nearby wall. Nearby Corbidge town is a picturesque English town and a great base to explore the area.
The remains at Corbridge are well kept, but not as touristy as some of the other places along the wall.
One of the best museums near the wall is Vindolanda, which is still an active archeological site. It houses the best museum with some of the best finds of the northern Roman empire, including a large collection of extraordinarily well preserved Roman clothes and shoes. You can even spend your summer vacation here as a volunteer amateur (or professional) archaelogist, helping excavate more treasures that are still buried here!
The Vindolanda Museum is located in a small valley, just outside the large archealogical site. In its garden are replicas of some of the Roman buildings found nearby.
Vinolanda is located on the edge of the Northumberland National Park, with beautiful views on the barren hills of the park. Weather can be very rough around here, so bring proper clothing!
As part of the educational displays, the Vindolanda site has a lifesize replica of a stretch of Hadrian’s Wall and one of its milecastles. This gives a very good idea of what the wall must have looked like when it was finished in 122 AD.
This map shows some of the locations described in this blog. Along the way we passed several other forts not mentioned in the text. The rough weather and lack of time prevented us from visiting all these places. I do want to recommend Housesteads Roman Fort. This fort is located on one of the most picturesque spots in the bare, rolling hills of Northumberland National Park. In sunny weather the short stroll from the carpark to the fort is very pleasant, offering great photo opportunities.
This visit to Hadrian’s Wall was part of a bloggerstrip offered as a minicruise by DFDS Seaways and Travelbloggers.nl in February 2014. My earlier trip in 2000 was part of a summer holiday in Northern England and Scotland. This blog represents my personal excitement about this beautiful (but sometimes rainy) destination.
3 thoughts on “Romans in the North: Hadrian’s Wall”
Really great post Remco! I’d love to go back and see the wall as I didn’t have a chance. I’ve been to Hadrian’s Villa and a few other Hadrian sites in Rome and found them really fascinating so I would’ve loved to have seen this! Next time!!
Nice blog. Good pictures too. I just spotted myself on the bicycle 🙂
Too bad the weather got bad, looks like a great place to explore! Vindolanda would be fun to spend at summer at doing some archeology work.