In search of Roman footsteps

My stories to date have almost exclusively covered those parts of Europe outside British shores, so in an attempt to redress the balance a little, I thought I’d give you a glimpse of England’s past and present, which I hope will make you consider a trip to our shores.

Angie by our home away from home

Our flight two weeks ago took us to the glorious city of Edinburgh. Believe me when I say that we meant no disrespect to either Edinburgh or Scotland when we made a hasty retreat to the Scottish borders to the south, but we were after all in search of Romans and they always camped south of Hadrian’s Wall.

However, Edinburgh was a convenient start to a weekend road-trip in Northumberland. It is an area of England we had wanted to visit for years, so when sister-in-law Angie was planning a one-month camper van trip around the UK and asked friends and family to join her for parts of the trip we hastily booked our slot. It turned out to be the best decision, as Northumberland turned out to be a revelation!

Beautiful Berwick-upon-Tweed

RIMG0119.JPGAvoiding the motorways, day one of our journey took us down the fabulous Northumberland coastline, where the road hugs the shore offering great views over the North Sea. Our first stop was the beautiful Berwick-upon-Tweed, a historic little town perhaps best known for its Elizabethan town walls. Built in 1558 to keep out those frightening Scots, Berwick-up0n-Tweed’s walls are the only Elizabethan town walls still in tact in the whole of England. But there are other reasons for visiting this lovely town.

Stone bridge across the river TweedIt’s stone bridge across the river Tweed is just beautiful, as is the Royal Border Railway Bridge, which was designed by Robert Stephenson and opened by Queen Victoria in 1850 and is still in use today. The town, which has lots of lovely shops and cafe’s, was much loved by the artist L.S Lowry  and a trail through the town follows in his footsteps.


the castle on Lindisfarne (Holy Island)With little time to spare, we pressed on down the coast to the Lindisfarne, otherwise known as the Holy Island.  Back in the 7th century Lindisfarne was home to St. Cuthbert, a Saxon religious leader. Lindisfarne became the birthplace of Christianity in England and is probably most famous for the Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the most important manuscripts of medieval times, which dates back to around 700AD. The threat of Vikings raids in 875AD caused the monks on Lindisfarne to flee to their lives, but not without taking both St. Cuthbert’s remains and the gospels with them. These days, the gospels are on permanent exhibition in Durham. Holy Island itself is only accessible at low tide, when a long causeway becomes passable. Lindisfarne Castle offers beautiful views over the coast and nearby village and the ruins of the Priory beautifully frame Lindisfarne Castle in the background.

Bamburgh CastleLeaving Lindisfarne behind, we soon discovered that Northumberland is peppered with the most amazing castles, all of which we want to return to for a much longer visit. Bamburgh Castle appears to have everything as it literally towers over the small town of Bamburgh! Fantastic setting, imposing position, an amazing history but also – important in this day and age – one of the most informative and beautiful websites, which makes me wish we’d had time for a very long visit…..

County of Castles

Alnwich CastleSimilarly, still avoiding main roads, we literally stumbled across Alnwick Castle, the home of the Percy family. The town of Alnwick is charming and picturesque and it is hardly surprising that the castle was used as a location for the Harry Potter films.

A small town garden near the Alnwick town centre is home to the statue of Sir Harry Hotspur (1364-1403), son of the first Earl of Northumberland. Harry was famed for his heroic battle skills but eventually came to a very sticky end at the battle of Shrewsbury in a rebellion against King Henry IV. To prove Harry Hotspur was really dead, his body was put on display in Shrewsbury forStatue of Harry Hotspur in Alnwich some time, after which his head was sent to York, while the rest of his body was divided into four parts, which were sent to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Chester, London and Bristol as further evidence of his death. Despite all this gruesome history, or perhaps because of it, both Alnwick and Bamburgh are wonderfully inspiring castles to visit with kids.

Hadrian’s Wall

VindolandaDay two of our visit took us to the main attraction – Hadrian’s Wall.  First up was Vindolanda, which is home to a truly fabulous information centre and museum about Hadrian’s Wall. Although the Roman history of Vindolanda is obviously ancient, the story of how archaeologists discovered the Roman remains and the Vindolanda Tablets is fairly recent, equally fascinating and beautifully presented. A working archaeological dig, Vindolanda is constantly evolving, with more items still being discovered. The tablets themselves give fantastic glimpses of life in Roman days, including a soldier’s request to his family to send more socks and a Roman lady’s invite to her birthday party. Despite the fact that at Vindolanda you don’t actually see Hadrian’s Wall (the fort site was located just south of the wall) we absolutely adored it and we couldn’t wait to visit the actual wall the next day.

Hadrian's Wall at HousesteadsFull of anticipation, we made our way to Housestead’s Roman Fort and Hadrian’s Wall on day three and we were not disappointed. Jointly run by the National Trust and English Heritage, the site at Housestead is vast and truly wonderful. Seeing Hadrian’s Wall – and, more importantly, walking on and along it – was an unforgettable experience. On the other hand, the facilities at Housestead were very low-key and not always informative, so we were glad to have visited Vindolanda first. And then that wall….. Well, what can I say – the mind boggles! Part of the Roman frontier, it was built in 122AD by approximately 15,000 men in just 6 years.

In Roman Footsteps

Hadrian's WallStretching the full 118 kilometres from Tyneside on the east coast to  the Solway estuary on the west coast, Hadrian’s Wall successfully kept out those dastardly Scots for a very long time! Although some stretches of the wall have disappeared over time (no doubt having become building stones for the many farm houses along the route…) there are walkers’ and bikers’ trails along the whole length of the wall and for those who do not like carrying luggage, there are baggage courier services available – which means that all you have to do is follow in Roman Footsteps! 🙂

Northumberland countrysideAll in all, Northumberland turned out to be a complete treat! The rolling countryside was beautiful and full of wild flowers, the towns and villages were full of charm and steeped in history. As we reluctantly made our way home again, we were left feeling that we had only barely touched upon the beauty of this county – a longer visit is definitely required.

Annemieke Waite is a freelance travel writer who specialises in writing for families and young people about EU travel destinations.

For more photo’s of Northumberland, take a look at the photo gallery!



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  1. Aleida Brinkman
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    I feel having travelled with you… very inspiring, great story!

  2. Amber McPhetridge
    Posted July 9, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for glimpse, definitely need to add this to my list of destinations! I have always wanted to see Hadrian’s wall and Edinburgh! Thank you my traveling friend!

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