Roman Britain

Sheep Among the Ruins

A bonus of my tour of Roman footprints in Britannia has been the expansion of my ovine knowledge. In other words, there are sure a lot of sheep among the ruins. And who knew there were so many different breeds? Here are a few of the woolly Romans I’ve met along the way.

North Country Cheviot Sheep stationed on Brunton’s Turret, Hadrian’s Wall
Two Swaledale Sheep on the North York Moors near Wheeldale Roman Road and Cawthorn Roman Camps
North of England Mule Sheep on Lambley Farm, my Hadrian’s Wall Headquarters
Sheep Sentries on Hadrian’s Wall – Walltown Crags
Herdwicke Sheep near Hardknott Roman Fort
Suffolk Black Face Sheep on the walls of Venta Icenorum, Norfolk
Greeting Committee of Norfolk Horned Black Face at Burgh Castle (Garionnonum), Norfolk

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Museums Along Hadrian’s Wall

The many museums from Newcastle to Maryport are filled with excellent artefacts and exhibits, and give a glimpse into the lives of the people who lived along Hadrian’s Wall.

Roman Glass
Copy of Corbridge Lanx

Great Northern Museum Hancock in Newcastle has an interactive model of the full length of Hadrian’s Wall, a reconstruction of Carrawburgh Mithras Temple, as well as many artefacts from the eastern forts of Arbeia and Segedunum.

Vindolanda Fort’s museum is filled with rare leather and wood finds, preserved by the anaerobic soil of several wood and stone forts built there over the years. These include the extraordinary wooden tablets with the words of the people who lived and worked at the fort. There is also a wonderful display of shoes and tools.

The Roman Army Museum (associated with Vindolanda Fort) has a very good film of the history with computer generated reconstructions and aerial footage of the wall. I’ve always been astounded by the delicate blue Roman glassware that has survived for almost 2000 years and one of my favourite souvenirs is a replica beaker with horses and riders I bought at RAM. This was made by Roman Glassmakers (

At Corbridge (Corstupitum) there was an early fort that predated the wall. Here there are also remains of the civilian settlement that surrounded the fort. Inside the site’s small museum are many interesting artefacts, including the Corbridge Lion and a replica of the beautiful silver Corbridge Lanx (the original is in the British Museum).

We chose a rainy day to visit the Tullie House Museumin Carlisle with its collections of artefacts from Roman Carlisle (Luguvailum Carvettiorum) and Hadrian’s Wall. We then travelled south along the Solway Firth to the SenhouseMuseum in Maryport with its extensive collection of altars and inscriptions.

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A Week On The Wall Part Two – Roman Britain Tour 2010

Wall down to Willowford Bridge Abutment






For me, Cawfields Milecastle holds a special place because it was the very first site I saw of Hadrian’s Wall in 2005. Standing there, leaning on the wall and looking out over the somewhat bleak northern English landscape, I felt a connection with the Romans who lived around and patrolled the wall.

But during my 2010 visit, I saw many more sites that were equally as impressive. For stunning wallscapes, the Walltown Crags section was hard to beat. Part of the Hadrian’s Wall’s attraction, besides its amazing engineering and the fact that a lot of it is still standing, is the rugged, craggy landscape it snakes along.

Another walk along the wall I would recommend is from Gilsland to Birdoswald, a stretch just over a mile with two milecastles, two turrets and the Willowford bridge abutment remains at the River Irthing. Unfortunately time and weather kept me from hiking along the Steel Rigg and Crag Lough sections, but they are said to offer great views. I could see these sections from the B6318 road that runs up and down parallel to the wall.

Forts on the wall include Corbridge Roman Town with an excellent museum. Corbridge was an early fort that predated the wall and there are remains of the civilian settlement that surrounded the fort. Chesters Fort has the best preserved Roman military bath house in Britain, and Housesteads and Birdoswald Forts have long lengths of wall attached. Vindolanda Fort is south of the wall and there was a fort there about forty years before the wall was built.

Hadrian’s Wall was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, and in 2005 it became part of a new multi-national World Heritage Site called Frontiers of the Roman Empire. Hadrian also built various frontier structures along the Rhine and Danube Rivers in Europe and in North Africa.


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A Week On The Wall – Roman Britain Tour 2010

Sheep Sentries at Walltown Crags

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

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.


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Roman Britain Tour 2010

Cawthorn Roman Camp

The There Will Be Mud (and copious amounts of sheep sh*t) Autumn Explorationof Roman sites in northern England began in Leicester at the Jewry Wall. This high (13 feet) bath wall was in the centre of Leicester (Ratae Corieltauvorum) and was accompanied by a museum with artefacts from the site, including the Blue Peacock mosaic pavement.

We continued on to Lincoln (Lindum) to explore the various Roman remains around this beautiful cathedral town, including the Newport Arch, the only surviving Roman gate still open to traffic. Built in the 3rdcentury, this fortress gate spanned the Roman road now called Ermine Street.

Moving northward, we stayed in Piercebridge beside the River Tees and the site of a fort (Morbium) and rare Roman bridge remains. This is where the Roman road (Dere Street) crossed the Tees and travelled north. The area was the home of the Brigantes tribe of Britons. We also visited the fort in nearby Binchester, next in a supply line of forts along Dere Street going north to Hadrian’s Wall.

But the highlight of the northwest area was a day trip around the North York Moors National Park. Traveling along narrow, twisting roads through the purplish red moorlands, coloured still by the dying heather, we were in search of Wheeldale Road, a stretch of ancient road believed to be Roman. But on the map there was a dot labelled “Roman Fort” not far from where the road was supposed to be, which raised my curiosity. After exploring down a dead end road, we had almost given up when we passed by a tiny wooden sign that said Cawthorn Roman Camps.

We trekked out along the muddy paths, and were excited to discover the earthworks of THREE Roman fort-shaped camps covered in heather, grass, moss and ferns. The camps are located on a ridge overlooking a stream and the breathtaking view stretches out over the moor landscape into the distance – a perfect location for Romans keeping an eye out for unfriendly natives.  It is always a delight to discover something I wasn’t looking for and didn’t know about.

Wheeldale Road was not very far from the Cawthorn camps so it makes sense that the road should be Roman. We had to drive over two fords of half a foot and a foot of water to continue on our journey over the moors, as well as dodge and chase Swaledale sheep along the road. Twisting our way down to the town of Grosmont we came to a ford of water three feet high, so we had to turn back and go around the long way.

Another adventure in search of Roman footprints that took me off the beaten path and rewarded me with a rugged and beautiful landscape.


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Gone For 1600 Years But Their Footprints Remain

View from Housesteads Roman Fort

1600 years ago, in AD 410, the Roman Empire’s official presence (army, administrators and wealthy elite) left the province of Britannia. The empire could no longer sustain its infrastructure in its far reaches, and soon after it would no longer be able to maintain the Western Empire at all. The end of an era.

But the Romans left many footprints behind to discover and I think it’s time for me to go back and continue my journey along the ancient Roman roads of Britannia.

What better time of year than autumn to ramble along Hadrian’s Wall, looking out over the wild windswept landscape? What better way to spend a week than visiting the forts and milecastles attached to the wall that snakes its way along the ridges and slopes between Carlisle and Newcastle and beyond?

But before I get that far north there are a few things to see along the east side of England – the Jewry Wall in Leicester, Lincoln’s Roman sites, Aldborough’s Roman town of Isurium Brigantium,and a Roman bridge in Piercebridge.

A clamber through the North Yorkshire Moors is also on the itinerary, where I’ll have a look at a section of ancient road that is likely Roman at Wheeldale. Perhaps if I’m fortunate, the purple heather on the moors will be in bloom.

Journeying back south, my Roman rambling will take me along the Solway Firth to the Senhouse Roman Museum in Maryport. And, if I haven’t had my fill of Roman forts yet, the forts at Hardknott and Ambleside will lead me astray into the Lake District. Rumour has it that it’s one of the most beautiful areas of England.

Thank you to the Romans for leaving their footprints behind in some pretty incredible places!

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