Vindolanda in the Rain

I’ve never seen Hadrian’s Wall. So when I was given the opportunity to join a party planning a gentle stroll around a section of Hadrian’s Wall I eagerly accepted. The day dawned windy and wet and our party of thirteen dwindled down to five, the rest preferring to spend the morning with the Sunday papers and a warm fire.

Romans in Britain

To be honest, I’d expected there would be a car park somewhere close by so we could remain dry and warm and look at Hadrian’s Wall from the comfort of our seats in the bus. Alas, that wasn’t the case. To see Hadrian’s Wall, walking had to take place.

The rain and wind refused to lighten up so the five of us took a quick vote and decided to first visit the Roman remains at Vindolanda, one of the forts built to protect the wall. Hopefully the weather would improve as the day progressed.

“I’ll try and do most of the talking inside in the entry display area” our guide told us helpfully. I suppose she didn’t want to spend a moment longer out in the rain than she really had to. So much for lightening up, by this time the rain was falling sideways.

She told us the excavation work began forty years ago but there was another hundred years worth of excavation work left and many of the people involved gave their time freely, including our guide.

Another interesting fact is that there had been a number of forts built in the same spot over a period ranging from about 80 AD to the beginning of the 4th century with each previous fort being demolished and rebuilt as required.

Talk over, it was time to don macintoshes, seize umbrellas and head out to view the excavations close up. First stop was down the paths towards the remains of the village where the camp followers would have lived just outside the fort.

Remains of the village by Vindolanda Fort

Remains of the village by Vindolanda Fort

The camp followers comprised of the soldiers’ relatives, merchants, craftsmen, slaves and priests. The soldiers were generally well paid and in silver, so most armies would attract a number of civilians who, once the soldiers had set up a permanent base, would settle themselves close by.

The rainy walk continued to the bath house on one side of the excavations. These were quite social places and probably used by civilians too. Our guide told us that Roman soldiers didn’t use soap but oil and steam to sweat all the dirt out of their pores. Afterwards she showed us an instrument which looked like a wooden hook called a strigil  which the soldiers would use to scrape the oil, sweat and dirt off themselves into a special receptacle.

The remains of the military bath house

The remains of the military bath house


My £15 showerproof mac did a relatively good job of keeping my top half dry but my thin linen trousers were quite wet through by the time we returned to the entry display area but it was definitely a fascinating place to visit and worth the discomfort. Unfortunately time ran out and the weather didn’t improve so I didn’t get to see Hadrian’s Wall in the end.

For more information about Vindolanda visit the official website

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