Built almost two millennia ago to house a garrison of some 500 troops, Chesters Roman Fort is one of the most impressive visitor attractions in the North East. Members’ Panellist Rob Scott takes us on a whistle-stop tour, and tells us why a visit there makes for an ideal family day out
"Hadrian’s Wall Country is graced with many wonderful sites, but the jewel in the collection is undoubtedly Chesters Roman Fort. Situated in the rural splendour of Northumberland, it’s easy to imagine that the landscape hasn’t changed all that much since the last Roman left the fort and it fell into disrepair.
“Here and there excavated sections can be seen to really whet the appetite”
Driving to the site takes you alongside the Wall and here and there excavated sections can be seen to really whet the appetite. Crossing the Tyne you can visit the remains of the bridge that the Romans built almost 2000 years ago – long before the famous Tyne Bridge was even considered!
Chesters was one of the permanent forts built during the construction of Hadrian’s Wall, occupied for nearly three centuries by troops using the valley as a corridor to the north. The 19th-century excavations here have been done with care, revealing the gates and defensive towers along with examples of the principal buildings to be found within, providing hints of the grand scale of the camp.
It’s widely regarded as the best preserved cavalry fort in Britain; you can visit every gate, walk the barrack blocks, stroll the central avenue and marvel at the under-floor heating that kept the Romans warm so far from home.
“One can easily get lost in the details of every altar, and the lives behind each inscription”
On arrival at the site the welcoming visitor centre leads through to a fascinating museum. This is full of exquisite Roman archaeology including a vast array of altars found in and around the site, tombstones, milling stones and a plethora of remnants of everyday life in the fort. One can easily get lost in the details of every altar and the lives behind each inscription.
A path then leads to the fort itself and you enter by the North Gate. Detailed information boards accompany all excavated areas and lead you round to the barracks, where the cramped and very public nature of life for the soldiers is obvious. Moving further though the fort you can see how the officers, each with individual rooms, lived, whilst the commander had a suite of rooms and a headquarters building to call his own. Additional excavations reveal the underground strong-room where the soldier’s pay was kept.
“You can follow in the footsteps of those who came here so long ago”
As fantastic as the fort and museum is, for me the very best part of the site is located beyond the fort walls and a two minute walk down to the banks of the Tyne. Here you will find the remains of the bath house – the finest example of a military bath house in Britain.
Visiting the baths allows you to follow in the footsteps of those who came here so long ago. There is the cold room, hot room and plunge baths. You can see where the fire to heat the water was kept stoked and you can also share a pew in the communal latrines – although the cold stone isn’t particularly comfortable! It is easy to imagine the soldiers coming here to unwind and forget for a while that they are living at the edge of the Roman world.
“If you haven’t been – GO! And if you have been – go again!”
Chesters is a fantastic site full of history and information. There is plenty to see and explore and with a brand new tearoom, plentiful benches and school holiday activities for children it is an ideal family day out. We visit many times a year and always have a wonderful time. There may be many other Roman sites in the area but this is the one we always come back to and our family cannot recommend it highly enough. If you haven’t been – GO! And if you have been – go again!!"
Visit Chesters Roman Fort and Museum – Hadrian’s Wall
Chesters Roman Fort and Museum is open daily until Sunday 1 November, allowing visitors to experience what life was like at one the Roman Empire's most northern outposts. Plan your visit now.
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