Day 11: Mike and Bone, Hitting the Wall! (Hadrian's Wall!)  


Main Page > 2023 Roman da North in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles ! >


Mike and Bone arose early and got the breakfast before it opened at 6:30! When the Dining Room opened, the Boys were treated to an awesome 5 star breakfast!


Farewell to the Walled City of York!

After breaking their fast, Mike and Bone boogied out of the Hotel back to the York Train Station for a iconic train ride through the north of England to the fine capital of Scotland, Edinburgh!  On the train for 2 1/2 hour ride north, the Boys noticed that the flat terrain quickly turned into the rolling hills of the North, and once the Boys Train passed the venerable city of  Newcastle (home of Roxy Music, Sting, and a might fine British ale Newcastle!) they crossed the border for the last country of the tour, Scootland! (as they pronounce it!)  Getting there around noon, they were at a cross roads: Relax the afternoon, or push on to Hadrian's Wall? They had been pushing hard since they landed in Sarajevo, take the afternoon off?! Well the next day a tropical storm that hit the States was going to go through the North of Britain, so what do you think Mike and Bone would do? Yep! they dropped their gear at a hotel, rented a car and headed the 2 1/2 hour drive down to Hadrian's wall!


Driving out of Edinburgh south to Hadrian's Wall!

1/2 hour drive down to Hadrian's wall was not a simple drive down the Freeway!. Poor Mike had to first drive in the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road and navigate twisting, turning roads up and down hills and mountains, all while being tired from days of touring! Fortunately, a few good cups of Joe the Boys bought in a cool little coffee shop in Edinburgh fueled them in the traditional cloudy, misty Scottish landscape until they hit the border! Fortunately not the Border Rocks!


The Border Rocks!

Mike and Bone stopped at the border to take in the beautiful, windswept panorama.  

The region is hilly and largely rural, with the River Tweed flowing west to east through it. The highest hill in the region is Broad Law in the Manor Hills. In the east of the region, the area that borders the River Tweed is flat and is known as 'The Merse'. The term “Borders” sometimes has a wider use, referring to all of the counties adjoining the English border, also including Dumfriesshire and Kirkcudbrightshire, as well as Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland in England. It is also a place that has historically bore the brunt of the conflicts between Scotland and England, both during declared wars such as the Wars of Scottish Independence, and armed raids which took place in the times of the Border Reivers. During this period, at the western end of the border there was a strip of country, called the "Debatable Land", because the possession of it was a constant source of contention between England and Scotland until its boundaries were adjusted in 1552.

Today, across the region are to be seen the ruins of many castles, abbeys and even towns as a result of the bad blood. To this day the English see Scotland as a part of their country, and the Scots see it otherwise! Scotts may have a point in that many do not realize that geographically Scotland is not a part of England. England is on the European plate, and Scotland, once an island “crashed” through continental drift into England which is why it is so mountainous today! After a few pictures, the Boys took account of the time and wanted to see the northern-most Roman Fort in the Empire that is on Hadrian Wall, Vindolandia!!


"Ain't no Landia like Vindolandia!"

First to understand Vindolandia, you need to realize that for Mike and Bone, getting to Hadrian's Wall, meant they were at the VERY northern outpost of the Roman Empire at its Peak! However, it was far more than a wall. Hadrian’s Wall was a complex system of communications and defenses.

As well as the Wall itself there was an earthwork, a ditch, two major roads and numerous forts, milecastles and turrets along the 73-mile frontier, from sea to shining sea!

The Wall was built under the command of Emperor Hadrian who travelled extensively across his Empire, making improvements to its defenses and consolidating its borders.

When the Romans arrived, Britain was home to numerous warring tribes. Some like the Picts (the future Scots) rebelled against the Romans, but others, such as the Brigantes tribe in northern Britain, became close allies. So, the Wall was really a controlled Border crossing to manage who was let in such as the Brigantes, and who to keep out, like the Picts!  At each border crossing the Romans established a fort to manage those crossings in and out! Naturally, those good ones coming in wanted to trade and hence, most Roman forts grew trading villages, such as Vindolandia!

The Vindolandia Charitable Trust is really a Family Affair!

While Vindolandia was never quite "lost," it was definitely forgotten and ignored. It was largely “forgotten,” until in the 1930s, when the house at Chesterholm where the museum is now located was purchased by archaeologist Eric Birley, who was interested in excavating the site. The excavations have been continued by his sons, Robin and Anthony, and his grandson, Andrew Birley, into the present day. So, Vindolandia is a Family Affair! The Family has since established the Vindolandia Charitable Trust, with funds from the Museum, the Family and volunteers each summer to this day perform archaeological digs on the site, where some of the archaeological deposits reach depths of 20 feet! The anoxic conditions at these depths have preserved thousands of artifacts, such as 850 ink tablets and over 160 boxwood combs, that normally disintegrate in the ground, thus providing an opportunity to gain a fuller understanding of Roman life – military and otherwise – on the northern frontier. Along with ongoing excavations (in season) and excavated remains, a full-size replica of a section of Hadrian's Wall, in both stone and turf, can be seen on the site.

It gained international attention in the 2014 excavation season, when the BBC ran a story about the discovery of one of the few surviving examples of a wooden toilet seat to be found in the Roman Empire. A crappy way to get attention! In the same year, they also recorded the discovery of the only (very old, very worn) gold coin ever to be found on the site with a mint date of 64 or 65 AD, lying in a site layer dating to the 4th century AD. Having a quick review in the Museum, the Boys bought their tickets and headed out in the blustery late afternoon weather. The "Tropical" Storm had hit the island!!


Looking out over the Borderlands for the Fearsome Picts in Vindolandia

As the Boys walked out in the 40 mile hour winds, the archaeological excavations of the site showed it was under Roman occupation from roughly 85 AD to 370 AD.

The garrison consisted of infantry or cavalry auxilia, not components of Roman legions. From the early third century, this was the Cohors IV Gallorum equitata also known as the Fourth Cohort of Gauls. It had been presumed that this title was, by this time, purely nominal, with auxiliary troops being recruited locally but an inscription found in a recent season of excavations suggests that native Gauls were still to be found in the regiment and that they liked to distinguish themselves from British soldiers. The inscription reads:  

A translation of this is "The troops from Gaul dedicate this statue to the goddess Gallia with the full support of the British-born troops". Mike and Bone got how this remote little outpost at the top or border of the Roman Empire, had troops from all over that Empire!

It was interesting to the Boys how similar the Roman building looked to the later medieval structures in England, it really proved how far ahead of their times the Romans where this far from the city of Rome!!


Windy Ramparts!

The earliest Roman forts at Vindolandia were built of wood and turf. The remains are now buried as much as 13 ft (4 m) deep in the anoxic waterlogged soil. There are five timber forts, built (and demolished) one after the other. The first, a small fort, was probably built by the 1st Cohort of Tungrians about 85 AD. By about 95 AD this was replaced by a larger wooden fort built by the 9th Cohort of Batavians, a mixed infantry-cavalry unit of about 1,000 men. That fort was repaired in about 100 AD under the command of the Roman prefect Flavius Cerialis. When the 9th Cohort of Batavians left in 105 AD, their fort was demolished. The 1st Cohort of Tungrians returned to Vindolandia, built a larger wooden fort and remained here until Hadrian's Wall was built around 122 AD, when they moved, most likely to Vercovicium (Housesteads Roman Fort) on the wall, about two miles to the north-east of Vindolandia.

Soon after Hadrian's Wall was built, most of its men were moved north to the Antonine Wall.

A stone fort was built at Vindolandia, possibly for the 2nd Cohort of Nervians. From 208 to 211 AD, there was a major rebellion against Rome in Britain, and the Emperor Septimius Severus led an army to Britain to cope with it personally. The old stone fort was demolished and replaced by an unconventional set of army buildings on the west, and an unusual array of many round stone huts where the old fort had been. Some of these circular huts are visible by the north and the southwest walls of the final stone fort.

The Roman army may have built these to accommodate families of British farmers in this unsettled period. Septimius Severus died at York in 211 AD; his sons paid off the rebels and left for Rome. The stone buildings were demolished, and a large new stone fort was built where the huts had been, for the 4th Cohort of Gauls.


Roman Officer Quarters!

The Boys could see the differences in the eras, especially in the Officers Quarters! As the afternoon progressed into the evening (pushing 5:00PM) the winds and rain began to really pummel our hapless heros!


Mike and Bone, Roman Vindolandia in the Storm!!

After 30 minutes more in the wind and rain in the blustery northern British terrain, Mike and Bone had covered the whole, very cool Vindolandia archaeological. But their mission was yet to be completed! They needed to hit the Wall! Vindolandia is just a part of the area that had the wall, Bone knew of an iconic spot 7 miles away to finally hit the wall!!


Mike and Bone, Roman Vindolandia in the Storm!!

As the Boys headed out of Vindolandia they walked by an interesting Roman Column that marked the distance from Rome to the northernmost fort in the Roman Empire. An ironic catch as the Boys were about to wrap the Tour!


Mike and Bone, Steeling themselves for Hadrian's Wall at Steel Rigg!

Hadrian's Wall today goes in fits and starts across the English Borderlands. As was discussed earlier, it was actually a series of walls, forts, and moats. Most of the wall at Vindolandia was reconstructed, from the original rocks. However, to check out the "untouched" original is  one of those absolutely beautiful northern British landscapes called Steel Rigg, about seven miles from Vindolandia. Driving there, Mike and Bone planned to "cap" and "tap" the Northern Roman Border Tour by hitting the Wall!


Mike and Bone, Steeling themselves for Hadrian's Wall at Steel Rigg!

Hadrians Wall today goes in fits and starts across the English Borderlands. One of the iconic areas to check it out is also an absolutely beautiful landscape in called Steel Rigg about 7 miles from Vindolandia.


Mike and Bone, Hitting the Wall!

Walking out in the now gale force winds of the storm at the Steel Rigg Car Park, Mike and Bone saw through the sleet and rain the Wall snaking up and along the crags, with the lake of Crag Lough in the distance. Crag Lough was formed by glaciers in the last Ice Age and is one of the Wall Loughs that the Romans leveraged as part of their Wall strategy.  The Boys sludged through the mucky path to the now grass covered rock wall dating back to that master builder Hadrian! By tenderly and respectfully tagging the wet, soggy grass covered wall, (then snapping a few pics to memorialize the event!) Mike and Bone completed their mission of checking out the northern Roman Border through nine countries  in Planes!  Trains !! and Automobiles !!!

By now it was getting dark in the wind and rain, and the Boys had a 3 hour drive back. So the soaked Boys headed back into the rental car and started back to Scotland!    


Bone, muddling with other Roman Ruins

Poor Mike! After a loong day of train travel and the harrowing drive through two-lane twisty, turning roads, he now needed to retrace that path back to Edinburgh in the dark!! How did Bone help? By asking Mike to stop every five minutes to check out another Roman Fort site! They stopped at Carrawburgh Roman Fort Site. Carrawburgh, known to the Romans as Brocolitia, was one of sixteen large forts along Hadrian’s Wall similar to Vindolandia.

The fort housed about 500 soldiers, first from south-west France and later from other north-western provinces of the Roman empire. Built later than the other forts on the Wall, perhaps around 130 AD, it may have kept its garrison until shortly before Roman rule in Britain ended. Today the fort’s surviving structures lie below the turf, visible only as earthworks. The remains of the nearby temple dedicated to Mithras were once part of the civilian settlement that developed outside the fort. However, unlike Vindolandia, Carrawburgh is only muddy (really muddy on this evening!) grass foundations. After 10 minutes of getting muddy and soaked, Bone came back (Mike, wisely stayed in the car) all wet! the benefit of taking pictures of grassy divots in the ground was not worth the mud!

Now driving in the wind and rain in the dark was a challenge for poor Mike! Fortunately, the Boys banter about the day helped quickly chew up the 3 /2 hours back to Edinburgh.

Getting back in Town, the Boys dropped off the car, and walked back to the hotel. Right next to the Hotel was one of the classic Scottish Pubs where the Boys could grab dinner and celebrate!


Mike and Bone, Celebrating at The Royal Theater Pub in Edinburgh!

Grabbing a table, the Boys ordered the classic British Shepard's Pie and even more classic Guinness'es for Dinner.  After the delicious shepard's pie (it really was awesome!) the Boys downed several more rounds of the brown creature (those awesome Guinneys!) till around 11:00PM.

It had been a looong but eventful day, and they had one final day to play in Edinburgh, so they put in for the night!