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Hadrian’s Wall: Ancient Rome in Britain


Ancient Romans built Hadrian’s Wall to block off barbarians in what is now Scotland. Today, this 73-mile-long wall — now reduced to its foundations — is punctuated by small forts, including Housesteads Roman Fort, where the soldiers were stationed.

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Leaving the Lake District, we drive east for more highlights of North England. The road parrallels my favorite ancient Roman sight in Britain. Hadrian’s Wall was built by the Romans during the reign of Emperor Hadrian nearly 2000 years ago. This is one of England’s most thought-provoking sights and much loved by hikers. This great stone wall stretched 73 miles from coast to coast across the narrowest part of northern England.

This was more than just a wall. It was a cleverly designed military rampart manned by 20,000 troops. At every mile along the wall, a small fort guarded a gate.

Its actual purpose is still debated. The wall, which often takes advantage of natural contours in the land, likely defined the northern edge of the empire and helped defend Roman Britain to the south from pesky, hard-to-conquer barbarians to the north. Today's modern border between Scotland and England still runs pretty close to this ancient wall.

A particularly well-preserved segment of the wall leads to Housesteads Roman Fort. Roman forts had a standard design: a rectangular shape containing a commander’s headquarters and barracks. There's little more than stone foundations remaining — these stones raised a floor to give stored grain ventilation and this was once a set of spartan barracks. Pondering these desolate ruins, I can imagine the bleakness of being a young Roman soldier stationed here 18 centuries ago.