Look at those grins! They really do say it all, now my kids are getting older they really don’t like to stop and pose for a photo, but there were so many willing smiles on our weekend to Northumberland. They had already spent the previous blissful day, a bonus INSET day, sailing to the Farne Islands and exploring Bamburgh Castle, before retiring to the glorious Bamburgh Castle Inn to watch the sunset over Seahouses harbour. Saturday we drove down to the Tyne Valley, it was all about the Romans and Hadrian’s Wall – utterly mind-blowing stuff. Our Visit England #OMGB tour continues, with six more Oh My Great Britain moments…
Housesteads Roman Fort – goosebumps, murder and toilets
There are 73 miles of Hadrian’s 84 mile long wall that snake across Northumberland, and they are among the best preserved. Housesteads is the most complete example of a Roman fort in Britain, this hill top site gives unforgettable, 360 degree, awe-inspiring views of the surrounding countryside.
I love this first image at Housesteads, she turned to me after, smiled and simply said ‘Mummy, it is so beautiful.’ The combination of 360 views and a 2000 year old history site gives you goosebumps, an incredible feeling of connectedness, to the land and to history. That’s magnified a billion percent when your kids totally get it too. I blooming love it when they appreciate their place in our amazing world.
I discovered after our visit that English Heritage encourage people not to walk on Hadrian’s Wall to preserve it for future generations. We weren’t advised of this and didn’t see any signs, and while we did wonder if it was allowed, lots of people were doing it and it’s hard to see where walkways become walls in places at Housesteads. It is a tricky one, I can see the argument for preserving things, but I also think part of the joy and the coming to terms with history is in being able to interact with it physically, and in juxtaposing ourselves with what was.
‘We’ve found the toilets!’ came the cry, so of course we had to leg it down the hill to see.
Not any old public convenience, but the oldest toilets in the country, they are exceptionally well preserved! Imagine festival toilets, but communal, the soldiers sat over where the ditches on each side can be seen.
These two had all kinds of theories about the ‘murder house’ and how the two bodies came to be there…then we wandered into the museum to the top right of this shot, and marvelled at Roman artefacts found at the site.
Vindolanda – What’s that coming over the hill? Is it a Roman?
We were really lucky to meet the world famous re-enactors of the Ermine Street Guard demonstrating their battle tactics and weapons, displaying Roman food, toys and household objects. The kids got to make Roman coins too. Yay for shiny things!
The Ermine Street Guard were hilarious too, “We’re available for all photo opportunities, decent and indecent.” one guard joked.
“It’s for Visit England, for their #OMGB moments.” I told them.
“So we’re an #OMGB moment?” they smiled puffing out their armoured chests.
My kids found walking round the museum alongside the costumed re-enactors fascinating, the museum is jam packed with artefacts found at this incredible ongoing archeological dig site, from weapons to jewels to bones and shoes, it’s rather like CSI Roman style. The cabinet full of shoes really impressed me, 2000 year old gladiator sandals really were stylish pieces of craftsmanship and oh so intricate in pattern and design. You can also play in, around and on a replica of the wall, complete with watch towers.
Taming of the Shrew
Utterly unrelated to the Romans, but L spotted a baby shrew ambling around a tree in the pretty grounds by the tea shop at Vindolanda and followed it for several minutes, I’ve never seen one before, and so it really was incredible. I didn’t let her touch it, but she couldnt help but see how close she could get to it! Amazing.
Herding Hill Farm Camping and Glamping Site
Herding Hill Farm came alive for me when I was invited to read it’s owner’s story on the wall and got chatting to Steve and Anne. After Steve was made redundant for the 5th time – something we can relate to as the video games industry is equally volatile – they decided to escape the rat race and moved from Leeds to Northumberland. They took a risk and bought the farm land near the main Hadrian’s Wall attractions, without planning permission.
Six years on, Herding Hill is a fully fledged, thriving camping and glamping site that is always attracting new visitors. As parents themselves, Steve and Anne put the emphasis is on making life as easy as possible for campers. You can bring your own caravan or tent, stay in a wooden WigWam like we did or hire a belle tent, tipi or the holiday lodge. Some of the Wigwams have hot tubs and the family even deliver home-made pizzas by golf buggy!
There is a BBQ hut, a Sauna hut, very modern toilet block with baths (my kids always ended up bathing in a bucket when camping as they hated baths as toddlers) and showers, free hairdryers, so no need to find 20ps and no entry codes to remember. There is a drying room with a vending machine for hot chocolate or midnight feasts, a shop and lots of farm animals to admire.
The site is really well designed with a central grassy area so that kids can meet up and play safely. Nestled in a valley the site is sheltered and peaceful. I could not believe how warm and well insulated the WigWams were, they have heaters, but we didn’t need them. Ours was a Big Chief and could sleep 5. It also had a microwave, fridge, toaster and kettle. You just bring your own bedding to put on the mattresses which are comfortable high density foam with breathable, but waterproof covering – we all slept soundly.
Cawfields – where did the wall go?
It is only a mile from Herding Hill to Cawfields which was one of my favourite spots in terms of appreciating the scale of Hadrian’s wall in peaceful contemplation. Cawfields Quarry dismantled part of the wall, and so beyond the sign you see below it falls off the edge of the cliff. But if you climb up here you really feel a sense of the unyielding power of the wall and the Roman’s determination not to let anything stand in their way, the wall just snakes on relentlessly across the undulating landscape.
Northumberland you blew our minds, filled our thoughts with history, our eyes with breathtaking views, our hearts with warm welcomes and our bellies with great food, we will be back to appreciate you more fully. I feel like we experienced several lifetimes in your castles, walls, forts, beaches and landscape, but we were still just getting to know you.
See, hear and experience it with us here:
Looking to recreate this trip?
We stayed at Herding Hill Farm in a Big Chief WigWam. Wigwams from £58 per night.
Find out more about Day One in Seahouses, the Farne Islands and Bamburgh.
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