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Guided Tour of Vindolanda

18 May 2023

John, the leader of Tynedale u3a's Hadrian's Wall group, talks about a guided tour of Vindolanda that he gave as part of the u3a Off the Wall event.

Remains of a 2nd century bath house

 Peter Carney, an official Vindolanda guide and myself were charged with guiding 80 members around the ruins at Vindolanda in four tours. Most of these members had just listened to talks from two of the most eminent “Wall “archaeologist introducing Hadrian’s Wall and Vindolanda, A Frontier in Transition.

It was indeed a hard act to follow.

The members were shown a reconstruction of a stone Wall turret and a section of the Wall, followed by a replica of a gatehouse and a section of wall used in the first wooden/turf forts.

Our audience was shown the extent of the nine forts built on top of each other, with the final fort being located on the site up to 10 meters above the first fort. The first five forts were built of wood, some of which were three times the size of the 3rd century fort which we could see today.

Each fort was levelled when it was replaced and re-surfaced with clay burying the all important rubbish, from which the artefacts are extracted by the excavators over the last 50 years. These wet aerobic conditions preserved nearly 2000 years old artefacts, but in ordinary conditions would not have survived 30 years. As a result, so far we have over 1800 writing tables, 7000 leather shoes, numerous wooden objects and leather.

The writing tablets are unique and are considered one of Britain’s National Treasurers by the British Museum.

The largest building on site was the commander’s house, which had a second storey, a Roman villa ten times larger than an average UK home with underfloor central heating.

Further west we saw the 3 by 4 meter room occupied by 8 ancillary soldiers. Later in the occupation of the fort, the soldier's space increased as the garrison was reduced. After about 80 years, the civilians living in the settlement outside moved into the fort, including the solder's wives and families, creating a village inside the fort.

Occupation continued until the eighth century, several hundred years after Roman control of Britain ceased.

Moving into the settlement you find first a pub, shops and many workshops at one stage housing a larger population than the fort. The reduced garrison made the settlement less viable, with fewer soldiers with money in their pockets.

In the settlement was a guesthouse which had been the commander’s house of a strange fort dating from about 208AD, five years before the visible fort was built. At this time the fort occupied the area of the settlement, and the fort had been levelled and a village of 300 Celtic huts was built, with circular walls and thatched roofs housing refugees from the invasion of what became Scotland.

This fort and settlement were again levelled and replaced by the final fort, the remains of which we had just walked through.

Finally, we looked at the 3rd century bathhouse built for the smaller garrison, a warm leisure centre with an aqueduct supplying it from a spring to the west.

Following the tour, the members then visited the excellent museum at the bottom of the hill.

If want you to know more follow the links to the Visible Remains HERE and the Invisible Remains HERE.

John Sandiford
Tynedale u3a Hadrian’s Wall Group

12th May 2023


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