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 http://vindolanda.csad.ox.ac.uk/index.shtml

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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Discover Ancient Thera


The main attraction of the Greek Island of Santorini is its unique landscape. The island was literally blown apart by one of the world’s largest volcanic eruptions in 1620 BC. Its picturesque villages, with their white and blue houses, drape along the hilltop overlooking the blue Aegean basin called the Caldera, the crater left by the volcano.

Wall Fresco from Akrotiri

For lovers of ancient history, the island’s past includes an advanced sea-faring civilization with connections to the Minoans of Crete. Their town at Akrotiri, buried during the ancient volcanic disaster, was discovered in 1967 and is considered by many to be the lost city of Atlantis written about by Plato. It is often called Greece’s Pompei. It is not currently open to visitors, but many of Akrotiri’s artifacts are on display in the Archaeological Museum of Fira on the island.     

Head of Artemidoros carved in stone of temenos

But for me, when I visited Santorini this spring, the lesser known site of Ancient Thera was a very special discovery. An extensive archaeological site on top of Mesa Vouno, a ridge on the island’s southeastern side, is open to visitors and well worth the trek. 1000 feet above sea level and the town of Kamari, Ancient Thera was the island’s main town during Hellenistic and Roman times.
Ancient Thera’s ruins include a theatre, a large agora with a basilike-stoa, Roman baths, cult sanctuaries, Hellenistic and Roman houses, and the unusual temenos or sacred precinct of Artemidoros of Apollios with its rocks carvings of the eagle of Zeus, lion of Apollo, dolphin of Poseidon and his own self portrait.
For more info on Ancient Thera visit the Ancient Thera page under Graecia.   

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Rooftops and Rebar

Rebar and Solar Water Heater on Greek House
Bird Chimney Pot on Greek House
Little House Chimney Pots in Bodrum, Turkey
Roof Top Decoration on Samos

I’ve been going through my photos of Greece and Turkey and labelling them. Not an easy task given the number of places and ancient sites I saw. And of course, it is not always obvious what structure (temple? house? latrine?) any particular pile of grey stones is supposed to be. Not to mention whether it is Greek, Minoan, Roman or Hellenistic. And for over a week we did meander back and forth from the coast of Turkey to the Greek Islands of Kos, Samos, Chios, and Lesbos.
So I’m taking a break, sipping some Turkish apple tea, and reflecting on the few somewhat blurry and askew photos I took of rooftops. Who knew that the view from tour buses lent itself to rooftop gazing? Somewhere on Crete I began to see metal chimney pots shaped like birds alongside the solar water heaters, and the rebar that seems to be on about 80 percent of Greek houses.
So began my quest for the perfect rooftop photo tri-fecta (trinity, triad?) – a picture of a roof with a bird chimney pot, a solar water heater and rebar. Not as easy as you might think. I did see a few roofs with all three but taking the picture was the hard part because the bus never stopped near any of them and I never knew when they would pop up. I didn’t manage to get one photo of all three together.
Why is there rebar on the roofs of Greek houses? I was told that it is there because if a house isn’t finished then the owners don’t have to pay taxes on it. This might be a clue as to why Greece is in so much economic trouble. To be fair some of the house owners may actually be planning to build another floor on top of their house in the future for their children. But most of the houses look finished except for the rebar.
Chimney pot decoration changed in Turkey to miniature houses. And on some of the eastern Greek Islands, like Samos and Kos, there were some clay birds and other decorations on roof edges. The rooftops in my neighbourhood are kind of boring in comparison.

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