Exploring Vindolanda in the Rain

During a weekend in Northumberland we were invited to join a party visiting Hadrian’s Wall. As we’d never been there before, we jumped at the opportunity, despite the dark, forbidding clouds hovering overhead. If it was raining surely there’d be somewhere we could park with far-reaching views where we could sit and look at Hadrian’s Wall from the warmth and dry of our mini-bus?

As predicted, the heavens opened but the only way we’d get to see Hadrian’s Wall was if we braved the elements and walked. We therefore had a quick vote and decided we’d first go to the Roman remains at Vindolanda, the nearby site of a Roman fort.

Vindolanda, a Roman fort in Northumberland, UK

I’m not sure why we thought this plan would keep us any drier. By this time, the rain was falling sideways and the Roman excavations were not under cover. “I’ll try to do most of the talking inside in the entry display area,” our guide told us kindly. I suppose she wasn’t too keen to get drenched, either.

She told us that the work there was carried out by volunteers, and had begun over 40 years ago. At that time, it was thought that two successive Roman forts had been built on the site but as the years went by, they discovered about nine forts had been demolished and rebuilt. The painstakingly slow work will probably take another hundred years to complete

Vindolanda, a Roman Fort in Northumberland, UK
Vindolanda Roman Fort – Northumberland UK

Talk over, it was time to pull on the raincoats, seize our umbrellas and head out to view the excavations close up. First stop was down the paths towards the remains of the village where the camp followers would have lived just outside the fort.

The camp followers comprised the soldiers’ relatives, merchants, artisans, slaves and priests. The soldiers were well paid and in silver, so most armies would attract a crowd of civilians who, once the soldiers had set up a permanent base, would settle themselves close by.

The rainy walk continued to the bathhouse on one side of the excavations.

The Bath House at Vindolanda, a Roman Fort in Northumberland,
The Bath House at Vindolanda

These were quite social places and probably used by civilians too. Our guide told us that Roman soldiers didn’t use soap but oil and steam to sweat all the dirt out of their pores. Afterwards she showed us an instrument which looked like a wooden hook called a strigil which the soldiers would use to scrape the oil, sweat and dirt off themselves into a special receptacle. After I’d recovered from the yuck factor, we learnt that there are places in the world today where oil baths are so popular they’re even considered a draw-card.

Roman Strigil (Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Creative Commons)
Roman Strigil (Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Creative Commons)

Standing there gazing out over the remains of the fort, it was hard to get our head around the fact that these ruins were originally buildings constructed between 1,600 and 1,900 years ago. What was life like back then? What would it have looked like? Thankfully AI can give us an idea as you’ll see in this YouTube video.

Vindolanda is located at Bardon Mill, Hexham NE47 7JN

For more information visit the official website http://www.vindolanda.com/

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Vindolanda, a Roman fort in Northumberland, UK