England road trip: day 7 – Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland

Another day discovering Hadrian’s Wall country. Whilst I would happily visit every Roman attraction youngest teen was already muttering we’d done too much ‘Hadrian’ (i.e. one museum, one walk beside the wall).

Therefore time to prioritise, with just one fort and one further wall section on the itinerary for day 7.


Vindolanda is a large partially excavated Roman site; the sister attraction to the Roman Army Museum we visited the previous day.


We joined a tour to learn more. The site, which lies to the south of Hadrian’s Wall, comprises an auxiliary fort and museum. We toured the fort and its accompanying supply village, learning why the site was chosen, who lived at Vindolanda and what activities took place. We learnt Vindolanda means white land; during the winter the hill behind shields the site from sun, causing it to remain white and covered in frost.


One highlight was the bath house, which also housed the only public toilets for the fort and village. Our guide showed us the steam and cold water rooms. Very spa like until she also described the likely smell, dirt and grease. I don’t think it’s one I’d want to visit.

Vindolanda is still being excavated; indeed it’s estimated that only around a quarter of the site has been uncovered. Volunteers come for 2 weeks at a time to trowel, transport soil and process finds. I’m semi-tempted but would I enjoy sitting in a potentially cold, wet and muddy hole for a fortnight?


After the tour we visited the museum to see the excavated finds. The most famous of these are the Vindolanda tablets, handwritten documents which detail everyday life in Roman Britain. Most tablets are kept in the British Museum, but a small selection have been retained at Vindolanda. The translations record requests for shoes and underwear, soldier movements and even an invitation to a birthday party.

We all thought Vindolanda was excellent; the tour was informative and entertaining. Plus the rain held off.

Bardon Mill

I spotted the village cafe in Bardon Mill when we’d arrived the previous day. We returned after visiting Vindolanda and ate excellent toasties for lunch.

Between the cafe and our Airbnb was a pottery. It had a fascinating history, originally making clay sewerage pipes then branching out into pots after the advent of plastic pipes in the 1970s. I was very taken with a couple of the garden pots but there was no way we could fit them in the car!

Steel Rigg and Sycamore Gap

We retreated to our Airbnb after lunch as the previously forecast torrential rain arrived. A chance to read my book and drink coffee. We ventured out again late afternoon, with a drive up to the car park at Steel Rigg where we sat for half an hour waiting for the rain to stop.

View from Steel Rigg car park
View from Steel Rigg car park

We eventually spotted a glimmer of blue sky so much changed into walking boots and donned waterproofs for a short walk along the wall to Sycamore Gap. This is one of the most photographed spots along Hadrian’s Wall. The three hundred year old tree has appeared on screen several times, most notably in the film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. It was also voted Tree of the Year in 2016.

Sycamore Gap, Hadrian’s Wall
Sycamore Gap, Hadrian’s Wall

Despite its fame we were the only visitors. After taking the obligatory shot we wandered back to the car. Whilst the tree is spectacularly sited it’s only one small part of the landscape. For me the views of Hadrian’s Wall, Peel Crags and Crag Lough were the real highlight.

Overnight stop

After leaving Steel Rigg we picked up a takeaway from the Zaki Indian Restaurant in Haltwhistle. Eldest teen made the mistake of ordering peri-peri chicken tandoori, thinking it would be akin to Nando’s (despite us telling her otherwise). It was so spicy it was inedible, even my partner couldn’t eat it! Fortunately there was enough of the other meals to share round.

We spent another night in our Bardon Mill Airbnb. We’d discovered lots of bats, of all sizes, flying around the garden the previous evening so it was a joy to watch them again.

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