Did you know that the Romans occupied early Britain for nearly 400 years?
To act as their most northern border and keep out the barbarians they built Hadrian’s wall (now a UNESCO world heritage site) and then erected 14 plus forts along it. We visited Houseteads Fort, originally named Vercovicium by the Romans. Now it is under the custodial care of the National Trust and the English Heritage.
Greeted by a raven in the carpark:
You enter Housesteads site through the National Trust Visitor Centre. There are also refreshments and lovely facilities to use here (and I do recommend using them as it’s a long and often chilly walk up.) Leaving the Visitor Centre you round some woods and then glimpse up to see some of the ruins at the top of the hill.
As we hiked up the hill my toddler got very excited about seeing sheep so close by. They are the natural lawnmowers of the landscape here.
While Max and I took our time to walk up stopping off to point out sheep every couple of meters, Hugo and Angelina were keen to explore. They ran ahead. I was glad to have brought their cycling hi-viz jackets with us; they were highly visible!
We caught up with them at the Museum (run by English Heritage). Although small, the museum is well laid out; it has some displays especially aimed at children and a Roman character, Felix, to tell a story and engage the children more. Our favourite part of the museum: there were some dressing up clothes and props. My two older ones quickly grabbed some swords and donned some costumes.
There’s a short film in the museum, which (sort of) runs on a loop; it gives a quick way of digesting the contents of the museum. It tells about the history of the site, background of the Romans in Britain and about the lifestyle of the people in the fort.
In the museum Max was wreacking havoc, I had to contain him in the baby carrying rucksack. Though to compensate, he got stirrups to chivvy me along.
After the museum, armed with some understanding of how the for would’ve looked and how people would’ve lived there, we headed up to the remains of Housesteads Roman fort. Hugo just couldn’t get enough of climbing over everything. Angelina also tested her balancing skills by walking over the pillars that once held the floorslabs.
It was amazing seeing sewage systems and central heating systems from nearly 2000 years ago; imagining how the fort used to be, how people lived there.
This fort apparently has the best preserved latrines of Roman Britain. I’m slightly gutted for my brood that we missed these somehow. They are at the perfect age for toilet humour.
Out of Housesteads Roman fort we walked up along Hadrian’s Wall and out to a Milecasle fortlet.
This stretch of Hadrian’s wall is especially impressive because of the sheer drop of the natural landscape on one side. The staggering drop on the North side of the wall is frightening. I was forever squirming as Hugo skipped along merrily, Angelina was more cautious and Max for strapped onto me thankfully.
As it was lunchtime by the time we got to the Milecastle we enjoyed our picnic lunch just outside by Hadrian’s wall. We ate quickly as, despite the sunshine, the early April weather was chilly and the wind especially so.
I wish the dressing up clothes could be borrowed to take out to Housesteads Fort too. I think the kids would have engaged even more with these ruins had they reflected on the stories we heard and not on the challenge of scaling the walls.
Hints and tips:
There is an entry fee for Housesteads Roman Fort and museum, though it is free for English Heritage and National Trust members. (More here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hadrians-wall/prices/
The Car Park is owned by Northumberland National Park and there is a parking fee to all visitors, including National Trust and English Heritage member, However, as I understand it, you can use your parking ticket from site to site along the wall. Disabled badge holders enjoy free parking.
- If you are visiting, make sure that you have windproofs as the site is very exposed.
- Take some swords and make some paper shields ahead of your visit.
- Have a picnic with you to enjoy while overlooking the stunning landscape on both sides of the wall.
- Make sure you and children have sturdy footwear. This is not ideal terrain for wellies with little support for feet.