Date published: 7th May 2020

Hello, my name is Heather, and I am a volunteer heritage guide at Vindolanda Roman Fort. A few weekends a year, I make the five-hour-round trip to welcome visitors to Vindolanda to show them around the fort and its vast surrounding vicus, and to help continue the stories of those who once lived there. 2020 would have been my third year of touring at Vindolanda, and I am disappointed that the current circumstances have led to the temporary closure of the site. However, I am excited to talk a little bit about my Vindolanda Top Five.

 

5) The Approach

One of my favourite things about visiting Vindolanda is approaching the site from the West Gate, as visitors to the site almost 2000 years ago would have done. The surrounding landscape is largely unchanged which makes it easy to imagine how impressive Vindolanda would have looked in its prime. I still get goosebumps each time I step out of the doors onto the site and see this view!

4) The view from Barcombe Hill

Quite often on my breaks between tours, I enjoy a walk up the old Roman Stanegate Road which runs alongside the fort and up towards Barcombe Hill. From here, the true extent of the fort and vicus can be appreciated, as well as the earthworks yet to be uncovered. It is also a brilliant vantage point from which to appreciate Vindolanda’s position within the wider landscape, a mile south of the militarised zone at Hadrian’s Wall.

3) The Bathhouse

The 3rd century bathhouse at Vindolanda is one of the best-preserved buildings on the site, and it is possible to get a real sense of scale when standing close to this structure. I love pointing out the original Roman concrete flooring which is still held in place by the well-preserved hypocaust system, and I especially enjoy sharing stories of the many activities that would have taken place here. Perhaps my favourite bathhouse fact of all is that there is a 17th century written account which describes the bathhouse as standing with its domed roof still in-tact! It really is quite amazing to think it survived for so long.

2) The original Roman drains

This is perhaps one of my more obscure favourites, but they have fascinated me since my first visit to the site. As you enter the main street of the vicus, you will notice a large drain running right the way down towards the fort. After a period of heavy rainfall, the water still gushes down these drains from the higher ground at the top of the site, and it really is a spectacle of Roman engineering. It blows my mind that this drainage system still works effectively after almost 2000 years, and I love to encourage visitors to listen out for the trickling of the water as we enter the vicus.

1) The wooden artefacts

Finally, my top favourite thing about Vindolanda is the wealth and unbelievable preservation of the wooden artefacts discovered here. It is impossible to overstate the significance of what has been uncovered at the site, from the world-famous Vindolanda writing tablets, to wooden aqueducts discovered metres under the ground with water still running through them, to intricately detailed combs such as the one below. The people who lived here could not have imagined that their pattern of fort re-building would preserve their legacies for thousands of years, nor could anyone have imagined the significance of what would be found at Vindolanda when the Trust was first established fifty years ago. I feel extremely grateful and proud to be a part of the continuing history of this amazing site, and I cannot wait to once again share the magic of Vindolanda with our visitors.