One thing I love about living in Newcastle is that it is easy to leave the city and get out into beautiful countryside. We are in easy striking distance of Hadrian’s Wall and the numerous Roman forts scattered along the length of it. This weekend we decided to visit Housesteads Roman Fort, which was an auxiliary fort on the wall. It is the most complete example of a Roman fort in Britain and maintained by English Heritage. We have visited other forts on the wall but have never visited this one.
The fort is about four miles from the village of Bardon Mill in Northumberland. We chose to travel along old Roman military road to get there which runs parallel to the A69 and follows Hadrian’s Wall. It is a lovely drive full of dramatic views across the Northumberland countryside. The road passes a number of Roman sites which you can visit. The road is straight but does tend to go up and down some steep gradients so you need to drive carefully.
It is easy to find Housestead Roman Fort, it is well signposted and the car park is just beside the road. You need to pay £4 for an all day ticket at the car park, but this ticket is valid for all the sites along the length of the road all day so it is good value. Entrance to the fort is though the gift shop. There are also toilets here which are worth taking advantage of.
At the side of gift shop entrance is a wooden platform which is inscribed with distances to various places in km and miles. I was interested to learn it was 1229 miles to Rome from Housesteads Roman Fort, the soldiers were a long way from home.
To reach the fort itself there is a ten minute walk up quite a steep hill. It is a pleasant walk with gorgeous views across the countryside. At the time we visited there were lots of sheep scattered around, you need to be careful to shut the gates. It is best to wear trainers or flat shoes and make sure you have a warm coat with you as the site is exposed. Even though it was the end of June there was a strong wind blowing.
At the top of the hill you find the fort and a museum. The museum is small but fascinating and gives you a great insight as to what life was like as a Roman soldier on the fort. I liked this model that shows how the fort used to look.
The commander lived a life of luxury with underfloor heating while the soldiers were in the barrack blocks. It must have made a really imposing sight at the top of the hill. While you are in the museum do make sure you view the video. It is only six minutes long but it is really interesting. My son was fascinated by the museum and spent time reading the information on the exhibits.
Outside the museum there is a short walk to Housesteads Roman Fort. The fort itself is quite spread out. Each part of the fort has informative signs which tell you exactly what you are looking at and gives detail about what it was like in the Roman times. It takes quite a while to walk around properly and take it all in.
Some parts are quite steep but stairs have been created which make it easy to access.The centre contains the commanding officers house, the headquarters and the granaries as well as a large building that may have been a hospital.
At the very top of the fort you find the barrack buildings. When the fort was in action it contained around 800 men who had to be housed in these buildings. The views across the countryside give you an idea of how isolated they must have felt when they were stationed here, relying on Hadrian’s wall to keep them safe from attack.
The fort joins Hadrian’s wall at the two corners and you can see it sweeping off down the hill into the distance. You can imagine the soldiers walking along it’s length while on patrol and how they must have felt.
It was a really fascinating visit and an interesting glimpse into Roman times. It was not just Roman times we learn about though, on the way out we noticed that one of the buildings had been taken over by a family and used as a fortified house in order to keep their livestock safe from the Border Reivers who were active in Northumberland in the late middle ages.
As we were leaving a sheep started bleating, maybe she was sad to see us go?
My son fell asleep in the car on the way home, all that fresh air and learning had been tiring for him. I am glad we went to visit, it was a really interesting day out. We easily spent a couple of hours looking round.
There are picnic tables on site so you can bring a picnic, which we did. The museum shop also sells snacks, hot and cold drinks so you are not stuck. The little villages along the length of the old military road also have pubs which have food and drink. You can find more information about Housesteads Roman Fort and the other forts along Hadrian’s Wall on the English Heritage website. It is worth planning your trip to visit a couple while you are there.
Disclosure: I was provided with a pass to allow me to access Housesteads Roman Fort. I was not told what to write and my opinions are my own.