Captain’s Log Day 5: When in Rome
(The wall, thistles, and England beyond.)
Okay, actually, we did pay a short visit to the Wall before our night at the Inn. But it was a short hike, because we were damn tired.
A short jump from Twice brewed was a trailhead leading over a ridge line, really a series of hills with large sloping gaps in them. The most famous of these gaps has a big old oak tree in it.
This was used in the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I don’t, however, remember when in the movie it appears. We are accumulating a list of movies to rematch because we’ve now seen things in them. This is one of those. Adam probably could have kept going all the way to the Prince of Thieves Tree, but Lisa had a sore back, so we stopped. Still, it was a pretty amazing jaunt that told us quite a bit about the construction of the Wall, and tactical advantage, before hitting any museum or guide.
From the first hill, we had both a returning appreciation for the Roman soldier, who had to learn new skills on arrival, use the local materials, and build fortifications to specifications up those steep sides. We had an appreciation for the design, too, because looking back we could see that the wall curved forward to the north on each hill and receded south into each gap, with a tower in the gaps.
The towers were placed at the weakest points, but the walls drove those points like funnels. In an attack, they would be death traps, giving the Romans a tactical advantage with a fishbowl or flanking affect, turning their weakness into their strength.
The other recourse would be to attack up the hill, which would put you vulnerable to the Roman high ground. One of the hills was a cliff that we observed technical climbing on. Attacking the wall at Twice brewed would not have been easy.
But they did. A lot.
Going to both Housesteads Roman Fort and Roman Vindolanda (Fort, Town, and Archaeological Dig In Process Extravaganza!) we learned that there were (as borders sometimes have) great stretches of stability but also periods of intense turmoil.
(And intense turmoil years later: I’m tiptoing on the rock solid and wide ruin, but the top half has little or weak mortar, likely reconstructed against border reivers or as boundaries. The solid ruin is several feet wider in most places. )
The fortune in finding all of the letters at Vindolanda, some written on wood like post cards, give us great snapshots into the life of the fort and town that sprang up around it. Vindolanda was not a garrison on the wall like Hosesteads, but just off of it, existing before the wall, and later able to resupply or reinforce or patrol a wider area. At times they are planning parties and inviting compatriots. At others it got so bad, that the folks at Housesteads built a bath inside their fort for security reasons because it was too unsafe to venture into their own camp town.
So here you will find a few more interesting glimpses into the frontier life. One amazing find was that at Vindolanda, they recovered pottery matching an unopened shipment of pottery found in Pompeii – same make and signature, from Southern Gaul. This is a great physical reference to prove the widespread trade and production levels that we have to take their word for. Housesteads preserved the ruins, but Vindolanda preserved material culture not found elsewhere because of the anerobic processes in the soil: shoes of all sorts and styles, horse tack, clothing, wigs, paper goods; all these were preserved in the ground. You aren’t limited to pottery and glass at Vindolanda.
Also, a small note: breakfast at the Twice Brewed Inn is particularly hearty and the rooster is a late riser, but tried to make up for it in persistence.
They know there was a mile marker to the next fort but the inscription was long gone, so they put one for the “what life was like” category. It’s all abbreviations, which is common in Latin inscriptions. The inscription is a fairly easy one in Latin since it’s mostly things about Hadrian, and then notes the mileage (20).
This was likely a house built for Hadrian’s stay at Vindolanda: A row of barracks at Housesteads: A single barrack apartment was two rooms. The army figured that ideally the kit and gear and cooking would be stored and kept and done in one room (the front room) while the men from the slept in the bunks in the second room. This wasn’t always the case. You have just enough room for that, so, imagine.
After Rome, it was on our way again, North and East, back to Scotland!
Next: to Dumfries and Galloway and Castle Douglas.