Author: Helen Charlie Nellist

Helen has worked for the Vindolanda Trust for 9 years, she would normally be welcoming people through the doors at Roman Vindolanda. In 2019 Helen completed her training to become a volunteer guide for the site and gives time on her days off to share her passion for the site and Roman history with our visitors. This closure has been tough for all of our staff and Helen has put into words how she feels in this beautiful letter to Vindolanda.

We have created this video to go along with Helen's touching words (make sure you have the sound on).

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My dearest Roman Vindolanda,

There'll be those I'm sure who think me strange for writing so fondly to a place, a collection of stones arranged with mortar. You've been a shelter and a home for so many over the last two thousand years that I believe you should be given credit as your own seperate entity since you are more than just the mere sum of your parts.

In my mind I travel to you in your heyday at the edge of the Roman Empire on Hadrian's Wall. I stroll along your bustling streets with your robust cobbles and buildings bowing due to the weather. I'm almost blinded by the smoke coming from your bath house but I don't mind because I can hear children at play, the chatter of women and animal sounds all around me.

Above the smell of latrines and beasts I pick out the scent of pies cooking in the butcher's shop and then I stop for a while outside the noisy tavern to drink in the happy sounds of life, the songs and stories being swapped.

I cannot linger for too long, I must follow the clomping feet of the soldiers through the west entrance. Taking time to note the bored soldier sharpening his sword on the water trough just inside the huge gates that lead into your fort.

I can hear little dogs barking in your granaries as they chase down rats to protect your precious grain. Then I head to your centre, the beating heart of Vindolanda. The headquarters building where Cerialis is addressing the troops in a crowded courtyard. It's pay day today so I note the clatter of chests in the strong room to the back and I figure there will be some sore heads in the morning and a very happy brewer. 

On I go now to my final stop to watch lady Lepidina open the letter from her friend in the Commanding Officers villa. Will she go to the birthday party I wonder, I hope she does.

Then my mind continues on to how you should be now. Life continues in your busy streets though the Romans have long departed and your roofs have long gone. Spring is here and the sun glistens over your ruins. An excited school party chatters away as their teacher leads them on. If they are good she'll let them play soldiers on the replica milecastle before they get back on the bus. Wouldn't that be fun! 

I listen out for questions from my tour group as I lead them around, feeling proud I get to wear the blue jacket and represent the Vindolanda Trust. My favourite part is coming up, where I tell them all the smelly things that go on in the bath house and gross them out. It works - they laugh and I draw their attention to our current excavations.

To the volunteers from around the word unearthing our past. Maybe this year we'll find more writing tablets, perhaps 2020 will be when we unravel the mystery of those puzzling roundhouses.

Then I'm reminded of our currrent state in the world right now and I worry for you. I worry for the people in the Trust I now call family and my home away from home. For the first time in 50 years your streets are deserted at the busiest time of our season. Where there should be celebrations there is only silence.

But I hope. I hope we will weather this you and I. That I will soon be reunited with my friends and colleagues and hear the hustle and bustle up there on the frontier once more. I pray that you have impacted so many lives that donations will sustain you until this lockdown ends and people will flood to you again.

Your buildings and artefacts have stood the test of time, reminding us that technology changes but humanity doesn't. And if your nine forts have taught us anything it's that on a whole we are a resilient and adaptable species. That is what I love most about you the people and the stories echoing through time.

Until we meet again, I will think of you and continue to spread the good word. With luck we'll soldier on until all this madness is over.

Missing you terribly, with all my love,

Helen Charlie Nellist

Custodian and Volunteer Guide