Hadrian’s Wall – Vindolanda and Chesters Forts

Vindolanda (Chesterholm)

From Corbridge I headed west on the A69 for 11 miles, following the Tyne valley, to Vindolanda Fort and Museum. ‘Vindolanda’ is though to mean ‘white or shining lawn’ or ‘enclosure’ in the local tribal language. The site, managed by the Vindolanda Trust, is nestled in rolling hills, about a mile south of the Wall. The site offers a comprehensive view of a Roman fort and its civilian settlement, including a part-excavated bath house located outside the walls of the fort. There are two reconstructions for visitors to climb on – a stone tower and parapet, and a wooden gatehouse. On the path to the museum there is a reconstructed Roman kiln, and a temple.

A wooden fort was built around 85 and later became a stone walled fort (re-built as many as nine times) in continuous occupation throughout the Roman period. At the centre of the fort is the Headquarters building, partly excavated, as is the Commanding Officer’s house next to it. At its height, Vindolanda fort and surrounding settlement would have supported a population of up to 5,000, of which 1,500 would have been soldiers.

Vindolanda has produced the most important find of the last fifty years – the writing tablets. These documents, some on display in the museum, not only provide valuable information about the details of life on the frontier of empire, but are also very similar in content to documents found on the eastern edge of empire, showing a similarity of experience. There may have been gaps between cohorts of a legion being billeted at Vindolanda, including a long gap from c. 280 to 305 when the site was derelict and needed re-building. All this building activity over the years has completely hidden the ‘white lawn’ and its landscape witnessed by the first Romans to come to Vindolanda. Archaeologists believe the site continued to be occupied after the Romans departed until the ninth century.

The Romans deliberately placed their temples and bath house close to the water supply (streams and wells) so that their gods could watch over this precious asset. From the wells and water tanks a series of aqueducts fed the bath houses, and went down village streets and into the fort. Stone and timber were used for carrying and holding water, but not lead, as used in other Roman sites.

The museum is one of the best Roman museums I have been in – no wonder it has award-winning status. The short films are well-made and add a layer of understanding to life in this most remote of Roman settlements. The writing tablets have their own room and the translations make fascinating reading. A tavern was excavated in the town, thought to be part timber with stone foundations and most likely two storeys, perhaps operating as a brothel as well as a beer-drinking meeting place. The owners buried 270 coins in a pouch under the kitchen floor, no doubt hoping to return one day to claim their savings. They did not return, and excavators uncovered the hoard in 1977 – some of the coins are on display, as is a part of a glass goblet painted with fighting gladiators (see picture).

The Vindolanda writing tablets contain a rich array of personal accounts from Romans based there, most from the early years of occupation up to the 120s. Letters were written by soldiers of all ranks and community members of both genders, giving a glimpse into their daily lives, interests and concerns. One such letter is a birthday party invitation from Claudia Severa to the Commander’s wife, Sulpicia Lepidina in the year 100. There are also letters between slaves, children’s writing lessons, doodles and demands for beer.

Emperor Hadrian display at Wallsend Museum

Chesters Roman Fort

From Vindolanda, I headed east on a B-road that followed the contours of rolling hills dotted with grazing sheep for 15 miles to Chesters Roman Fort. This incredibly beautiful site that slopes down to the rippling North Tyne River is managed by English Heritage. It sits on the estate of the Clayton family, who did much from the nineteenth century onwards to excavate and preserve Roman findings. Here can be viewed the remains of a fort laid out at foundations level, a bath house situated beside the river, and the 130-year-old museum built by the Clayton family to display many stone carved tablets and headstones.

Chesters was first occupied by a cavalry unit called ‘Augusta for valour’ according to an inscription, but throughout most of its life was the base of the Second Cavalry Regiment of Asturians (from Northern Spain). The fort was placed astride the Wall, with three of its four gates opening north of the Wall. A replica of the Chesters Bath House can be seen at Wallsend Roman fort and museum.

Hadrian’s Wall – Rome’s Most Northerly Outpost

In September 2020 I finally made the trip I had been dreaming of for many years – the museums and excavated sites along Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. I started at the most easterly end in South Shields, where the Roman fort of Arbeia once guarded the mouth of the River Tyne.

Replica West Gate of Arbeia Roman fort

The archaeological ruins were first uncovered and laid out in 1875. In more recent times, the local council have adopted the site that occupies an entire block in a residential area. Features include the restored and re-constructed Commanding Officer’s House, with courtyard and shaded portico, and the impressive replica gatehouse (pictured above). It is thought that the visible stone fort was built in the time of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180), replacing an earlier wooden fort that dated from the time of Hadrian (117-138) when major construction of the wall commenced at Wallsend on the north Tyne. Arbeia’s function was expanded to include extensive granaries, and it became the main supply fort for Emperor Septimus Severus’s (193-211) campaign against the Caledonian (Scottish) tribes. The restored Commanding Officer’s house (pictures below) gives an insight into how the commander and his family lived and worked, and the many luxuries they had, including underfloor heating, in the second and third centuries.

Next stop was Wallsend (Segedunum) fort and museum on the north Tyne. In the 1970s the site was recovered from housing that had been built over it, and it is now a museum managed by the council. As the name suggests, Wallsend is literally the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall, and my picture shows the excavated outcrop of wall that ran down to the riverside, leaving the marshy estuary beyond as a natural barrier to any incursions from the north. In the corner of the site is a replica of the bath house building whose ruins can be visited at Chesters fort in the middle section of Hadrian’s Wall. I am pictured standing in front of the replica building, that was unfortunately closed at the time of my visit. In the site is a reconstructed herb garden (pictured), and inside the museum is an interesting display of the hospital block with description what injuries and ailments would have been treated by legionary surgeons and healers. There is much information on the life and trials of the soldiers – mainly cavalrymen – who were stationed here. For instance, did you know that there is no mess hall or any evidence of communal eating? This is because each soldier was given a weekly ration of food and they had to bake their own bread (in a communal oven) and cook their meals on braziers, most likely in ‘buddy’ groups with those they bunked with in the barracks. Also pictured is a bronze bust of the Emperor Hadrian on display in the museum.

My next stop was eight miles to the west of Newcastle, at Heddon-on-the-Wall, where a lengthy outcrop of the Wall has been partially excavated. The Wall is 3m wide and there were no platforms for soldiers to stand or walk on between strategically-placed observation towers and more substantial mile towers. The forts that could garrison a cohort (480 men with stables for horses) were positioned off the east-west Stanegate road at intervals of roughly 13 miles, as this was the distance a legionary could march in a day with a full backpack weighing approximately 125 pounds or 57 kgs. The forts (often with civilian settlements adjacent) could be on the Wall (as with Chesters) or up to two miles south (as with Vindolanda). The Wall itself (when complete) ran for 73 miles across the narrowest part of the island, from Bowness-on-Solway (east of Carlisle) to Wallsend, and there were most likely seven forts in total – although not all have been excavated.

Heddon-on-the-Wall

Driving west for 10 miles along the A69 road, I arrived at the English Heritage-managed site of Corbridge Roman Town (Coria). This is an extensively excavated site of what was once a walled town and barracks that sits on a bluff above the River Tyne valley, where it once guarded a bridge no longer there. I was fortunate to be given an impromptu guided tour by a knowledgeable volunteer, who explained the layout and functions of a town where civilian tradesmen and women rubbed shoulders with a cavalry unit. It was a supply fort for legions marching north, west and east, and stands on an important crossroads where Dere Street (S-N) and Stanegate (E-W) intersect. The town was occupied throughout the Roman period from the 80s to late 390s, and beyond into the Dark Ages by Romano-British nobility. In the centre of the town lay an impressive fountain at a meeting point surrounded by temples to a wide range of gods from across the Empire, including deities from the far east, that have yielded many interesting stone carvings, some of which are on display in the adjacent museum. There is also evidence of some temples’ conversion to Christian churches from the early fourth century. The bustling town, located two miles south of the Wall, may have been home to as many as 3,000 people at the height of its occupancy. Pride of place in the museum is a sandstone carving of a lion standing over a slain goat (pictured) that is thought to have been a tombstone that was later employed as the centrepiece of a fountain.

In my next post, I’ll be describing my visits to Vindolanda and Chesters Roman forts.

Children In Read 2020

This year I’m taking part in the Children in Read charity fundraising offshoot of Children in Need.
With over 300 authors and 500+ books to bid for, there is something for everyone – please scroll through the website lovingly put together by Paddy Heron (@ChildrenInRead) and John Jackson (@jjackson42).
Mine and Cathy’s three-book Adventures of Charly Holmes series (listed under Action and Adventure) is one lot, so bid away – the winning bidder (UK only) will receive paperback copies signed by the author and personally dedicated…

http://mybook.to/CharlyHolmesSeries

Please visit the website and scroll through the many books on offer: https://jumblebee.co.uk/childreninread2020

BBC Children in Need

What We Do

We provide grants to projects in the UK which focus on children and young people who are disadvantaged. We are local to people in all corners of the UK and support small and large organisations which empower children and extend their life choices.

We are currently supporting over 3,000 local charities and projects in communities across the UK. The projects we fund help children facing a range of disadvantages for example poverty and deprivation; children who have been the victims of abuse or neglect or disabled young people.

BBC Children in Need currently awards grants at six points during the year and funds two types of grants. The Main Grants Programme is for grants over £10,000 per year to support projects for up to three years. Meanwhile, the Small Grants Programme supports projects for up to three years, and includes grants up to and including £10,000 per year.

Through the Year

The BBC Children in Need Appeal Night takes place every year in November. The Appeal show is a whole evening of entertainment on BBC One with celebrities singing, dancing, and doing all sorts of crazy things to help raise money.

There are also plenty of one-off specials of your favourite programmes, which in the past have included Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, The One Show, EastEnders and much more!

Before we get to BBC Children in Need Appeal night, there is plenty going on around the UK. You can get lots of tips and ideas on how to get involved, including how to organise an activity in your local area, or there is plenty of fun stuff going on for you to take part in so there’s something for everyone.

For every pound donated to BBC Children in Need, a minimum of 95p goes directly towards changing the lives of disadvantaged children and young people across the UK. This includes the grants we make to projects working with children and young people around the UK, the costs of making sure that these grants are properly monitored and evaluated, and the costs of undertaking research and initiatives designed to ensure we have a positive impact on young lives.

Charly in Space

Great launch day review from Karen Cole on her book blog, Hair past a freckle…

“It’s my pleasure to be sharing my review of Charly in Space today and I’d like to thank Tim Walker and his daughter, Cathy and wish them a very happy publication day.

Charly in Space is the third book to feature the irrepressible Charly but each story is a separate adventure so readers can enjoy this one without having read the first two in the series.

I could tell from the start that I was going to like Charly – she has a real sense of fun about her and I’m sure she will appeal to young readers who want believable, relatable characters in their stories. I also really loved that the adventurous main character is a girl and that she is a bit of a rule-breaker and risk-taker. The reason why she ends up on the International Space Station is entirely down to her inquisitive nature but fortunately she joins a remarkably patient and forgiving team of astronauts!

Charly in Space is only a short book but she has a few exciting experiences, including an important spacewalk and a momentous – and well-timed – canine encounter. The vivid descriptions of the European Space Agency and the International Space Station will fascinate children, and the astronauts on board the ISS are both men and women who are equally intelligent and courageous. Charly in Space would be an ideal book to encourage imaginative discussions about space in schools or at home. Even though Charly is a teenager and although described as being suitable for readers aged 9+, I feel this delightful little book would be most enjoyed by children in the 7-11 year old bracket and even younger space fans would surely enjoy having it read aloud to them.”

Grab you ebook or paperback HERE

#BookReview Charly in Space by Tim and Cathy Walker @timwalker1666 #PublicationDay

Today is publication day for the Kindle version of Tim and Cathy Walker’s latest collaboration, Charly in Space, so I have been asked to read and review it. About the Book Schoolgirl Charly Holmes has an out-of-this-world experience! Charly in Space is an adventure story for young readers involving British schoolgirl, Charlotte Holmes (called ‘Charly’ by […]

#BookReview Charly in Space by Tim and Cathy Walker @timwalker1666 #PublicationDay

Author Interview with Tim Walker

Q1.  Tell me about yourself – biography, career, likes, dislikes, hobbies etc…anything you would like to share about yourself?  Any fun, interesting facts?  Please insert a photograph if possible. Thanks for inviting me to your blog again. I’m Tim Walker, an independent author based in Windsor, UK. My career background is in marketing, journalism and […]

Author Interview with Tim Walker

Tumbleweed Town

Is it time to admit that we’ve now been browbeat

By the crocodile smiles, the lies and conceit?

When they’ve sold the very soil from under our feet

What dire fate do you think we peasants shall meet?

Our plants wilt and the animals choke

As the fetid air slowly merges with smoke 

While we scrimp and save and do what we can

And wonder what life will be like after man.

Continue reading “Tumbleweed Town”

Arthur, King of the Britons – book review

BLACK BOOKS BLOG

#BOOKREVIEW ARTHUR REX BRITTONUM BY TIM WALKER @TIMWALKER1666

Posted by blackbooks2017

Today I am reviewing book 5 of Tim Walker’s Light in the Dark Ages called Arthur Rex Brittonum

ABOUT THE BOOK

From the decay of post-Roman Britain, Arthur seeks to unite a troubled land

Arthur Rex Brittonum (‘King of the Britons’) is an action-packed telling of the King Arthur story rooted in historical accounts that predate the familiar Camelot legend. 

Britain in the early sixth century has reverted to tribal lands, where chiefs settle old scores with neighbours whilst eyeing with trepidation the invaders who menace the shore in search of plunder and settlement.

Arthur, only son of the late King Uther, has been crowned King of the Britons by the northern chiefs and must now persuade their counterparts in the south and west to embrace him. Will his bid to lead their combined army against the Saxon threat succeed? He arrives in Powys buoyed by popular acclaim at home, a king, husband and father – but can he sustain his efforts in unfamiliar territory?  It is a treacherous and winding road that ultimately leads him to a winner-takes-all clash at the citadel of Mount Badon.

Tim Walker’s Arthur Rex Brittonum picks up the thread from the earlier life of Arthur in 2019’s Arthur Dux Bellorum, but it can be read as a standalone novel.

Fans of Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden and Mathew Harffy will enjoy Walker’s A Light in the Dark Ages series and its newest addition – Arthur Rex Brittonum.

MY REVIEW

This is book 5 in Tim’s Light in the Dark Ages series, which follows Britain in the 6th Century after the Romans had abandoned Britain and turmoil started before Arthur came along to try and Reunite the land.

As with the previous books this one is really well written and immersed me in the action start from the start.

Throughout the book there are adventures, journeys throughout the very well described land and some epic battles as Arthur tries to prove to the rest of Britain that he is the king who can bring peace to the land.

If you thought you knew everything there was to know about the legend of Arthur then think again as this bring more depth to his legendary character

Overall it is yet another great book by Tim and I have loved reading them all and learning about the early centuries of Great Britain.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

AUTHOR PROFILE – TIM WALKER

Tim Walker is an independent author living near Windsor in the UK. He grew up in Liverpool where he began his working life as a trainee reporter on a local newspaper. He then studied for and attained a degree in Communication studies and moved to London where he worked in the newspaper publishing industry for ten years before relocating to Zambia where, following a period of voluntary work with VSO, he set up his own marketing and publishing business.

Tim at an old Iron Age hillfort on the Ridgeway

His creative writing journey began in earnest in 2013, as a therapeutic activity whilst undergoing and recovering from cancer treatment. He began writing an historical fiction series, A Light in the Dark Ages, in 2014, following a visit to the near-by site of a former Roman town. The aim of the series is to connect the end of Roman Britain to elements of the Arthurian legend, presenting an imagined history of Britain in the fifth and early sixth centuries.

His new book, published in June 2020, is Arthur, Rex Brittonum, a re-imagining of the story of King Arthur (book five in the series). It follows on from 2019’s Arthur Dux Bellorum, the story of young Arthur (book four in the series), that received recognition from two sources in 2019 – One Stop Fiction Book of the Month in April, and an honourable mention in the Coffee Pot Book Club Book of the Year (Historical Fiction) Awards. The series starts with Abandoned (second edition, 2018); followed by Ambrosius: Last of the Romans (2017); and book three, Uther’s Destiny (2018). Series book covers are designed by Canadian graphic artist, Cathy Walker. Tim is self-published under his brand name, timwalkerwrites.

Tim has also written two books of short stories, Thames Valley Tales (2015), and Postcards from London (2017); a dystopian thriller, Devil Gate Dawn (2016); Perverse (verse and short fiction, 2020); and two children’s books, co-authored with his daughter, Cathy – The Adventures of Charly Holmes (2017) and Charly & The Superheroes (2018) with a third in the pipeline – Charly in Space.

Find out more about the author at – http://www.timwalkerwrites.co.uk 

Author Website: http://timwalkerwrites.co.uk 

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/timwalker1666 

Amazon Author Page: http://Author.to/TimWalkerWrites

Facebook Page: http://facebook.com/TimWalkerWrites

Twitter: http://twitter.com/timwalker1666

Abandoned

3 THOUGHTS ON “#BOOKREVIEW ARTHUR REX BRITTONUM BY TIM WALKER @TIMWALKER1666

  1. TIMWALKER1666Thanks Dimon – another great review! Glad you’ve enjoyed the series 😀Liked by youREPLY
  2. TIMWALKER1666oops… SimonLiked by youREPLY
  3. Pingback: #BookReview Arthur Rex Brittonum by Tim Walker @Timwalker1666 – Tim Walker

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I’m very new to blogging so please bear with me and hopefully it will pick up and be brilliant. I will review all the books I read on here as well as hopefully some author interviews and other interesting book related things so enjoy and if you want me to include your book or someone else’s then please let me know

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#BookReview Arthur Rex Brittonum by Tim Walker @Timwalker1666

Today I am reviewing book 5 of Tim Walker’s Light in the Dark Ages called Arthur Rex Brittonum About the Book From the decay of post-Roman Britain, Arthur seeks to unite a troubled land Arthur Rex Brittonum (‘King of the Britons’) is an action-packed telling of the King Arthur story rooted in historical accounts that […]

#BookReview Arthur Rex Brittonum by Tim Walker @Timwalker1666

A Light in a Dark Age

A Light in the Dark Ages is a book series conceived and written by British author, Tim Walker. It began in 2015 as a reflection on a question that popped into his head on a visit to the site of a Roman town (Calleva Atrebatum/Silchester) – how would the Briton tribes have reacted to the end of nearly 400 years of Roman occupation?

The first book, Abandoned, was published as a short novella in 2015, but was extensively re-written an re-launched as a novel in 2018. The narrative is loosely based on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s description of the politics of post-Roman Britain in his 1136 work, The History of the Kings of Britain, but supplemented by scraps of researched historical opinion.

Picture shows the author at the Roman wall remains at Silchester.

Although widely dismissed by historians as at best, wildly inaccurate, and worst, a work of fiction, Geoffrey has been credited with accumulating and working from source material, including a mysterious ‘text in a native tongue’ that remains undiscovered by historians. More recently his work has been re-evaluated with attempts made to try to understand why he moved historical figures and events around in his timeline in a sort of Middle Ages cut-and-paste job. Historian Miles Russell offers an interesting attempt at ‘decoding’ Geoffrey’s work in his Arthur and the Kings of Britain (2019).

Certainly the figure of Arthur, plucked from early Welsh folktales and mentions by church clerics such as Nennius in his work, History of the Britons (820), has been embellished with the deeds of other heroic leaders to create Britain’s first superhero. The deliberate creation of an heroic Briton leader who defeated the hated Saxons in battle is thought to have been done to please his Norman readership and sponsor. So there is a backbone of researched historical facts (and earlier mythology) in Geoffrey’s work, although it fails as a history due to the creative embellishments and the switching around of events and people to plug gaps in his timeline – and, presumably, to make his book a more enjoyable read.

Abandoned is followed by Ambrosius: Last of the Romans (2017). Both high kings Vortigern and Ambrosius Aurelianus are believed to be genuine historical figures in mid-fifth century Britain, due to mentions from a range of sources. This book charts the intense rivalry between these two figures that ultimately resulted in defeat and death for Vortigern, and victory and renewed hope for the Britons with Ambrosius.

Ambrosius is followed by Uther’s Destiny (2018), a story that is also based around Geoffrey’s tale of Uther, Merlin and the birth of Arthur. Uther’s name, ‘Pendragon’ is a title that literally means ‘The Head Dragon’. This may have been the title given to kings of Gwynedd in North Wales, some historians believe, hinting at a possible base for a historical ‘Uther’. But no early king of Gwynedd has this name, leaving historians with another puzzle to solve.

Arthur Dux Bellorum (2019) is the fourth book in the series. This covers the early life of Arthur, from late teens to late twenties. The idea for the plot came from an article historian David Ford Nash, who wrote an article on his best-guess for the locations of Nennius’s twelve battles of Arthur. He believes that Arthur first three battles may have been fought in Lincolnshire, in East England.

Other battles could have take place around York and further north in Northumberland and the Central Lowlands of Scotland, including Cambuslang – now a suburb of Glasgow. So, my young Arthur travels north from Winchester, though Lincolnshire and Yorkshire to Northumberland and Hadrian’s Wall, where he is based at the old Roman fortress of Vindolanda. From here, he leads his men into battles north of the wall, in the Caledonian Forest of Celidon and further north at Cambuslang. Distance wise, the journey from Winchester to Hadrian’s Wall is less than 300 miles, so perfectly achievable over a number of weeks on horseback using Roman roads.

This book is followed by Arthur Rex Brittonum (2020), covering the remainder of Arthur’s life – from thirty to his late forties. Again, following Nash Ford’s speculation on the possible locations of Arthur’s battles, he leaves the north and travels to the Welsh borders and, finally, to the West Country. The author has opted to locate Mount Badon near Bath, and Camlann at Avalon in Somerset in the West Country.

This series is fiction, loosely based on scraps of historical evidence, and the author remains fascinated by this ‘black hole’ in British history. What really happened in the 200 years between the end of Roman rule and the establishment of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms? Perhaps one day historians and archaeologists will find the missing pieces in our historical jigsaw puzzle.

Order the book series HERE