Vindolanda is a very special place. All this blog can do is to give a flavour of it. If you haven’t visited, why not? Their website is here. The main entrance is at the west of the site, car park and welcome centre, with a lovely fountain. From here it is a flatish walk to the main remains. More on them in a moment.
Those of us with a wheelchair usually go to the other end, the eastern end. The shop, café and museum are easily accessible, and you can easily get through to the gardens with various reconstructions. Then it is a very steep hill to the remains.
The Vindolanda Trust is intimately linked with the Birley family, who have been excavating here for many decades. Andrew is a very good speaker, and there is always something new to discuss. Every summer there is an extensive programme of excavation, with diggers from all over the world, and they always find exciting things. These photos are from 2010. They hit the headlines last year with a wooden toilet seat.
Today (15 July 2016) they tweeted that they had found this carved stone boar. Imagine being the person who found it!
Soil conditions here mean that wooden items have survived, and the Vindolanda Writing Tablets are marvellous. Most of them are in the British Museum, but the museum here has some lovely stuff. Here are a couple of photos I took (and I’m not sure I should have done), and a photo of an early Christian symbol. On one occasion they were having a pot-handling afternoon, so we handled pots.
The garden is a beautiful spot. They have some lovely art, and some good replicas. Their buildings are rather fun – a voice welcomes you to the shop and talks about the problems of getting goods to the far north. In the temple a mother asks the gods to protect her son who has just left on a journey for Rome – I came here once just after my Gareth had left to go on holiday to Rome. I shared that mother’s prayers.
The Roman army built its first fort here around AD 75. Vindolanda could be the Latinisation of the local name, meaning “white lawns” or something similar. The fort was on the Stanegate, the road that ran across country – and you can follow the line of the road to the north of the site. Still in place is a milestone – it is north of the east entrance to the site. It still stands to its full height in its original position, “the only such survivor out of the thousands that once lined the Roman roads in Britain” to quote an old edition of the guidebook. Its inscription, probably giving the mileage to Roman Corbridge, has been rubbed away, but there is a replica in the garden. Elaine is modelling Roman traveller.
The original fort was made of timber, and timber forts needed replacing every few years. The fifth such fort was constructed early in Hadrian’s reign. When the Wall was built about two miles north of Vindolanda in the 120s the first cohort of Tungrians moved north to Housesteads, but the military presence continued here until the end of Roman rule shortly after 400 AD. Much of the visible stone remains date to the C3 and C4 when Vindolanda was the base of the Fourth Cohort of Gauls, part-mounted and 500 strong. As well as the fort, there was also a vicus (civilian settlement) and bath houses.
Back in 1972/73 they built replicas of the Wall – turf and stone. It is fascinating to see how they have survived 40 odd years, though it is worth remembering that erosion by rabbit was not a problem the Romans would have had.