Hidden outside the modern village of Corbridge, where the ancient Dere Street meets the Stanegate (a road that runs parallel to Hadrian's Wall) is a wonderful site which gives us an insight into life OFF the wall as well as ON it.
Corbridge is one of four sites associated with Hadrian's Wall managed by English Heritage.
Rather than being a military bastion, Corbridge (also known as Coria) was a supply town, there to help provide for the army and offer a home to their families.
As with all the English Heritage sites, they make a real effort to engage all visitors, but particularly children. At Corbridge you need to look out for Grricola, a ubiquitous lion who pops up as a tour guide of the site. His name is based on Agricola, perhaps the most famous governor of Britain, but also the Latin word for a farmer.
Stroll along the street and soak up the atmosphere of this old Roman town. The granary and associated buildings have more floorstones left on top of their hypocaust. The benefit of this site, like the other ones on Hadrian's wall, is the chance to walk right over the buildings, to immerse yourself in the place rather than just looking over cordons at a distance. It helps to evoke the spirit of the site and call to mind those men, women and children who lived here nearly two millennia ago.
The site is partly unexcavated (which means still lying under the local fields), but it has also remained prominent for several centuries, providing a base for subsequent waves of people.
In the museum there are exceptionally poignant monuments, such as the memorial to a dead daughter Ertola. We imagine Hadrian's Wall as the brutal preserve of the army, but monuments such as this bring alive the family side of Roman life.
There's also the Corbridge Hoard. Typically, organic materials such as leather rot away over time, and metals rust and corrode. One iron-bound, leather clad chest, however, preserved its contents so well that we now have what acts like a time capsule, that is, an excellently preserved hoard of Roman armour, tools, weaponry, wax writing tablets and papyrus dating from the wall's start in AD122 until AD138. This site predates the wall though, with a fort in place from 84AD as an earlier part of the campaign to occupy Britain.
A wonky wall showing how the ground level has changed
Parking at Corbridge is free. There's a small gift shop, a machine selling hot drinks, and toilets. The site represents just a corner of the town which was once there, and picnic tables give you the chance to sit back and try to take it all in, to participate in the lives of the Romans and not just stroll around looking at the ruins. It's only a half hour drive from Newcastle, so could easily make a half day trip to give you a very different outing as part of a city break, or form part of a longer exploration of Hadrian's Wall.