Day 4

A long day’s ride from Exeter to Richborough (Kent) via Dorchester to see the remains of the 4th century Roman town house. Reaching Richborough late afternoon, we visited the deeply impressive fortified gateway into Roman Britain. The remains of a Saxon shore fort cover one of the first significant footholds of Roman power within Britain and is a must-see for any Roman enthusiast.

Roman Richborough

Gary’s Highlights: Richborough, what a place, I felt a sense of walking in the steps of literally thousands of people who arrived and departed from this place. A must-see.

Andy’s Highlights: Being able to show Gary Richborough for the first time, it really is a must visit place for all pilgrims of Roman Britain. Such a warm and impressive welcome after a long day’s riding. Felt a bit daft for not realising that the Roman house at Dorchester was closed for refurbishment but hey-ho another reason to go back again.

 

Day 5

Passing Rochester, close to the scene of the battle of Medway, which according to Cassius Dio lasted 2 days between the Romans and the British tribes in AD43, we headed into central London (Londinium), where we visited the mystical Mithraean Temple, situated under the Bloomberg Space. Next stop was Colchester; Camulodunum, as it was known, has claim to have been both Rome’s first true city in Britannia and the first capital for the province. It was famously sacked by Boudicca in AD 60/61. On our way to our overnight camp site we passed Water Newton (Durobrivae), which started as a fort and ended as a fortified Roman town. It became well known in both Roman and modern times for its production of Nene Valley Colour Coated Wares or Castor Ware pottery, much of which found its way to supply the soldiers of Roman Britain including those stationed at Magna and Vindolanda on Hadrian’s Wall.

Colchester Tombstone

Gary’s Highlights: Colchester, I loved the museum, in the Norman castle, on top of the Roman temple. So much history here.

Andy’s Highlights: Another Roman road conquered! Watling Street from Richborough to London. Not being wiped out by large SUV’s in London, surviving the M25 on a Vespa (not to be recommended) and like Gary, Colchester. Also seeing Gary being quizzed by a friendly policeman and sniffer dog for loitering outside the Mithraeum while guarding our bags while I popped in to pay my respects, one of the funniest moments of the trip 😊.

Day 6

Last morning camping in Lincoln

The final leg of the journey and what an adventure it had been. Our first stop of the day was Lincoln or Lindum Colonia, at one time the Legionary base for the Ninth Legion. By the time of Domitian (AD86) it had been converted into a provincial centre and city or Colonia. We then followed the Ninth Legion on their journey to York (Eboracum). The earliest known mention of Eboracum is on a Vindolanda stylus tablet. Not one but two Roman emperors died in York, Septimius Severus in AD211 and Constantius Chlorus in 306. His son, Constantine, who became the first Christian emperor, was crowned in York after his father’s death. From York, we travelled north to what was once a native British capital and home of the Brigantes, Roman Aldborough. Like York, Aldborough is mentioned in the tablets from Vindolanda. The road from Aldborough then took us on a military journey, across roads and bridges, forts and passes to the supply base at Catterick. A modern military outpost overlies the Roman one, and although most is now hidden, Catterick or Cataractonium was a vital supply fort for the northern garrisons. A now famous letter, the Octavius letter, from Vindolanda gives us the first reference to the state of Roman roads in Britain from this site to Vindolanda, stating ‘they are bloody awful.’ The penultimate leg of our journey took us from Catterick to Corbridge (Coria), running along the line of Dere Street, we headed back to the frontier, and picked up the Stanegate road at Corbridge.

Lincoln Gate

Then, finally, having gone full circle we return to Vindolanda: home sweet home for the weary vespa riders, and the end of a nearly 1800 miles journey in 6 days, through some of the best that Roman Britain has to offer.

Gary’s Highlights: Aldborough, worth a visit for the mosaics alone. But the real highlight was the return to Vindolanda. Having visited so many incredible places, when you see Vindolanda again you realise what a wealth of information has been discovered at this remarkable place and how it continues to reveal stories from the Roman world.

Andy’s Highlights: Lincoln, York and Aldborough are all special places with a wealth of things to do. But like Gary, riding down the Stanegate road and seeing a slightly damp Vindolanda below us. We had made it home and completed this journey while knowing that there are so many more to do travelling through Roman Britain.

Return to Vindolanda

Overall, what we both loved about this trip was the warm welcomes, meeting old friends and new friends along the way, and the support and encouragement we received from around the world via social media. It really did help push us on. Thank you to everyone who has also donated to the Revealing Magna campaign, so far we have raised over £6,500.

We can’t finish without mentioning our Vespas, they did us proud, such great workhorses, which didn’t miss a beat. Motorcycling is such a great way to connect with people and the outdoors, and it added another dimension to the experience. 

Our tour was meant to be a canter as we were both only able to take a few days off work, and our aim was to highlight the diversity and richness of Roman Britain. However, if you would like to follow in our footsteps, give yourself 10-12 days and you’d have a lot more time to explore – and you won’t be disappointed.

Gary and Andy's Vindolanda via Britannia adventure was in aid of raising funds for the Revealing Magna Appeal. the Roman fort of Magna is next to the Roman Army Museum.  The site covers an area larger than Vindolanda and has the same preservation layers of organic remains and it is now under threat from climate change. The appeal is still open and all contributions towards the project will help the Vindolanda Trust excavate and understand this fantastic site.