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Housesteads Roman Fort

Home > Newcastle Upon Tyne > Day Trips | Escape the City | Museums | National Parks | Walks
by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published February 18th 2014
Originally known as Verovicium, Housesteads is an iconic site on Hadrian's Wall, known for its distinctive playing-card shape, perched up on the wall, gloriously visible across the fields. If you want to blow away the cobwebs in the gorgeous English countryside and soak yourself in history at the same time, this is a wonderful day trip destination.

hadrians, wall, housesteads, roman, fort
Housesteads


Hadrian's Wall was built from 122AD, marking a boundary to the Roman Empire, keeping citizens safe and controlling trade. It's punctuated by milecastles, turrets and forts, including Housesteads, purely military site.

The museum was recently refurbished. It may be small but it is excellent. A short film shown on a regular loop introduces you to the site and its position on the wall. The rest of the museum offers a story of the site and its discovery.

hadrians, wall, housesteads, roman, fort
Housesteads museum


A model of the fort gives you some sense about how organised and impressive the site was 2000 years ago.

hadrians, wall, housesteads, roman, fort
Model of Housesteads


The finds are also remarkable. Blending native English and imported Roman cultural and religious traditions, all kinds of mixed pieces can be seen. A particularly lovely example is the personal, family icon of three hooded spirits, the genii cucullati.

hadrians, wall, housesteads, roman, fort
Three hooded spirits


There are leather insoles, unexpected organic material which has survived all these years and reminds us of aspects of Roman daily life we don't usually encounter. The Romans dressed in 'local' style with fur boots and trousers in order to cope with the climate, and from nearby Vindolanda we even have postcards written home asking for more socks to cope with the cold. Small details like these are brought to life as stories in the museum.

A particularly good case charts different bits of metal. All look unassuming, but it demonstrates how they form part of the life cycle of a fort, and how archaeologists come to interpret them. The museum teaches you about the process of studying the site, as well as about the site itself.

hadrians, wall, housesteads, roman, fort
A physical flowchart of ancient artefacts


The site could be inaccessible to children, but English Heritage have done their best to make sure children will love it. In the museum there is a dressing up box which will help them get into the spirit of the place. They've created a character 'Felix', whose orange circle crops up all over the site to give children some fun facts.



Across this site (and others) are also a number of small soldiers providing a 'hunt' for children. Here's Marcus.



The site itself consists of barracks, the commander's house, the headquarters, a series of gates, ovens set into the walls, granaries, a hospital and the remnants of a turret which preceded the fort. The granary floor has gone, leaving a splendid hypocaust for historians to marvel at and children to run through.

hadrians, wall, housesteads, roman, fort, hypocaust
Hypocaust under the granary


The latrines, meanwhile, give a great sense of Rome's communal washroom style, and it's easy to imagine what it must all have been like, with this mucky place positioned right on the fort wall.

hadrians, wall, housesteads, roman, fort
Latrines


There's a visitors' centre on the B6318. It's small, but useful, with toilets, parking, café and a shop. All visitor centres along this part of the wall seem to offer hot drinks from small self-service machines too, which can be extremely useful on a cold day. The centre is a good 5-10 minute walk up and downhill from the car park, so you need to be feeling fit to make the trip, but it is well-worth it.

hadrians, wall, housesteads, roman, fort
The route between fort and visitors' centre


If you do arrive via the wall itself you can buy tickets in the museum. Both English Heritage and National Trust are represented here, as the site has support from both. You can park at the visitor's centre, for £4, which buys a ticket valid at the other national park car parks in the area.

The English Heritage website includes interactive maps, and links to other resources. It will help you to plan your visit in advance, and follow it up with lots more information and activity. The National Trust website is also helpful, with information about places to stay and things to do.

The easiest place to stay is the Once Brewed Youth Hostel, a YHA property beloved of school parties. It's excellent value and very well-run.

Opening times are dependent on the season. Check the English Heritage website for your particular dates.
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Why? A fabulous Roman fort
When: 10-4 every day until 31st March 2014, check the website for summer times
Phone: 01434 344363
Where: Haydon Bridge
Cost: Free to English Heritage Members. Adults £6.20, Children £3.70, Concessions £5.60
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