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Housesteads Roman Fort

Part of Housesteads Roman Fort
© Shutterstock / Jule_Berlin
Housesteads claim to fame is that it is the most complete example of any Roman fort remaining in Britain.

Set on a high escarpment of Whin Sill in a remote and wild landscape, the extensive ruins and explanatory Visitor Centre bring the fort vividly to life.

High view of Housesteads Ruins, on Hadrian's Wall
© Shutterstock / Jule_Berlin
The fortification was built after Hadrian's Wall, which was erected around AD122 to mark the boundary of the Roman Empire which never managed to conquer Scotland.

The Roman fort, one of 17 along the wall, used Hadrian's Wall as its northern wall.

At first glance the site appears to be almost leveled but much of the surviving fort is below ground.

Housesteads Roman Fort, showing the ancient hypocaust system
© Shutterstock / Jule_Berlin
A tour of the Visitor Centre before exploring the site will help explain the amazing infrastructure left behind over 1600 years ago.

The museum has a scale model of Housesteads Fort complete with barracks, hospital, granaries, latrine and hypocaust underfloor heating system.

Housesteads Roman Fort was a huge complex covering 5 acres and housing at least 800 troops. The perimeter wall is still intact and there were four double-portal gateways.

Ruins at Housesteads Roman Fort, with re-constructed buildings in the background
© Shutterstock / Jule_Berlin
The East gate was the main entrance and the cart ruts which cut into the road are still visible.

The wheels were a standard 1.4 metres apart and much later in history this set the width for the standard railway gauge, still used by 60% of the world's railways!

The West Gate shows the holes for the bar which secured the gates at night and other mason marks on the stonework.

Hadrian's wall near the Housesteads Roman Fort
© Shutterstock / Patricia Hofmeester
The barracks are beside the east gate and one building is particularly well preserved. Look for the raised floor above the heating system and the ventilation holes in the walls.

The communal latrines are still intact at the eastern corner of the south wall. Water would have flushed through the latrines and the joist holes from the wooden seats can still be seen by sharp-eyed visitors.

The huge room to the north of the complex was an operating theatre and hospital wards are shown around a central courtyard.

The headquarters building next to the hospital was the centre of administration.

It had a sculpture of the god Mars above the entrance, brightly painted.

Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrians Wall Northumberland
© Shutterstock / Gail Johnson
The Commander's House is particularly detailed and still shows its open courtyard, kitchen with the remains of an oven, a heated bathroom with toilet and stables nearby.

Archaeologists have found some interesting remains which are on display in the museum.

There was a civilian settlement that clustered around the gates.

Some small houses were excavated and a number of bodies were found beneath the floor of one house, suggesting murderous deeds.

The flat-bottomed pottery and cooking pots uncovered from the site are Frisian (German) in origin and show that cavalry from Western Europe was stationed here, probably in the 3rd century.

Housesteads Roman Fort with mountain in the background
© Shutterstock / Jule_Berlin
Once the Romans withdrew from Britain, the fort lay abandoned from the 4th century onwards.

Corn mills were added when brigands used the site in the 17th century, but otherwise it lay forgotten until English Heritage made it accessible as a remote but fascinating attraction with great views of the Tyne Valley and the Scottish borders.

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By Bus:
Stagecoach in Cumbria AD122 Carlisle - Hexham railway station(Apr-Oct); otherwise Stagecoach in Cumbria 185 from Carlisle, Wright Bros 681

By Road:
Bardon Mill 4 miles

Housesteads Roman Fort Postcode for SatNav: NE47 6NN


+44 (0) 870 333 1181
+44 (0) 1793 414 926

Nr Bardon Mill
NE47 6NN

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