The wall: Vindolanda – June 20

Today we did not walk on the wall. At Once Brewed, we are halfway through our trip, so we designated this day as a rest day. That does not mean that we didn’t walk, though: near Once Brewed is the site of Vindolanda, a fort that was not on the line of the wall itself but nevertheless made up a part of the the network of Roman military installations on the frontier.

We had a change in the weather today. After a couple days of generally gray skies and scattered sprinkles, the weather today was sunny and dry with the sky full of white cotton-ball clouds. We had a pleasant hour’s walk from our B&B to the site. On an ordinary trip, I might have thought that was much too far, but after walking multi-hour days for several days in a row, we thought nothing of it.

Looking back at the crags where we walked yesterday. They don't look so high from here

The Vindolanda site is still being actively excavated, but the portions that have already been studied are open as part of a site museum. Finds are displayed in small galleries nearby. The fort was built on the western slope of a river valley in the fold between two lines of crags.

Along the road to the site, looking down into the valley where the fort was built

Looking over the site

The slope of the land allowed running water to be channeled both through the fort and through the vicus, the civilian village that grew up outside the fort walls.

A model with the fort on the right and the vicus on the left

Civilian houses in the vicus

A buthcer's shop with drain channels running through the floor

Among the most important finds from Vindolanda have been the wooden writing tablets. Thin slats of wood were used in the Roman world as writing surfaces for everyday documents, but these very rarely survive. The chemistry of the Vindolanda site, however, preserved a large cache of these documents, which has given us a valuable insight into daily life on the frontier. The documents include personnel reports from the fort, a letter from a merchant complaining about bad treatment by soldiers, a letter from a soldier to his brother about an investment in land, the record of food to be prepared for a feast, an invitation to the commander’s wife’s birthday party, and so on. Most of these letters are in the keeping of the British Museum, but the Vindolanda Museum has a handful on display.

The fort's granary. The floor was elevated to stop damp from coming up out of the ground and spoiling the grain. The Vindolanda tablets suggest that Celtic-style beer was the most popular drink in the fort, quite possibly made on site or in the vicus with the fort's grain

We spent much of the morning walking around the site, then wandered over to the museum. Unfortunately, there was no photography allowed in the museum; otherwise we could have gotten pictures of a lot of interesting finds.

The road through the vicus, leading back uphill away from the fort

After enjoying the site and museum, we started back again. By the exit to the site there was a little cafe selling locally-made ice cream. On such a warm, sunny day we thought ice cream sounded good. I got heather honey flavor and E. got double ginger. Both were delicious.

We had dinner in the local pub again and spent the evening relaxing. Tomorrow we get walking again.

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