Haltwhistle, Northumberland is right in the center of Britain, and that's where my father's family originated. I have traced Ridley ancestors back to medieval times, with knights, bishops, farmers, soldiers and tradesmen forming a long line in the border territory marked by Hadrian's wall.
Our May trip to Haltwhistle included a visit to the Roman site called Vindolanda. Its name means "white expanse" a reference to the fact that this high location, surrounded by rolling hills, remained in shadow and was covered with snow for much of the winter.
|Vindolanda was settled as a frontier fort as early as 85 AD|
|The excavations reveal at least 9 rebuilds on the site.|
|Rendering of the Roman bathhouse|
At the command of Emperor Hadrian, who visited Vindolanda in 122AD, Roman legionnaires of the sixth Vitrix began building the wall that separated the wild, northern Pict clans from Roman territory. Local stone quarried for the project was also used to turn the existing wooden fort at Vindolanda into a more permanent, solid settlement. Masons constructed large military barracks, a granary, bathhouse, workshops, a temple, and a spacious residence for governor Platorius Nepos, the commanding officer. These buildings were equipped with running water, in-floor heating and toilets.
|Volunteer guide Michael brought Roman times to life with his knowledge and enthusiasm.|
|A replica of a section of Hadrian's wall shows the actual scale of the project.|
|Hadrian's wall is a protected World Heritage site and a favourite route for hikers|
|Roman milestones measured the Stanegate road running from Carlisle to Corbridge|
|A replica of a Roman temple graces the garden|
|The museum building is Chesterholm, an 1832 cottage built by Anthony Hedley, first excavator of Vindolanda|
|Sculpture outside the museum|
There are wooden tablets bearing messages from one Roman to another. Thin slices of birch, alder and oak were used like sheets of paper, written in ink and then folded in half with an address marked on the back. The translated messages from the Vindolanda tablets convey personal details of life in the fort. One example is this request for military direction and more liquid refreshment.
Masculus to Cerialis his king, greetings. Please, my lord, give instructions on what you want us to do tomorrow. Are we all to return to the standard or just half of us? .....(missing lines)....
My fellow soldiers have no beer. Please order some to be sent.
Vindolanda is still an active archaeological site, excavated with a team working on stone foundations in the north field. A survey shows a 3rd century vicus yet to be uncovered, and below that level, Antonine workshops, a Roman kiln and the possible remains of a tavern. The current work is being conducted by the Vindolanda Trust with support of a field school from the University of Western Ontario.
For details about signing up as a volunteer excavator see the Vindolanda website.
|Walls of stone and flocks of sheep|