Weather: Well, it was a family holiday so obviously it was raining - it is always raining on our holidays. Mind you, this was a kind of rain that seemed to channel the contempt that the Roman deities held for humans. Spiteful rain.
Logistics: I doubt there’s any easy way to get here except by car - there were no apparent bus stops. It is well signposted with plenty of car parking spaces - though the over flow car park was a bit hidden away. Also, you can drive between the two museums - we did, as there was no way I was adding endless whinging to the already endless rain.
I really do need to give a special mention to the staff on both sites as well. Every person we met was really helpful and enthusiastic about the work being done. They were all so kind to our kids and really motivated to find things they would be interested in and to give us added extras to make our day special - including a photo of the kids in full fancy dress in front of a green screen so they can see themselves as part of the action. For free - which makes mummy very happy.
Activities: There are two museums for your money - plus a real life archaeological dig to boot.
The Roman Army museum is suitably bellicose in it’s displays. You are greeted by a life-size model of one of the cavalry which is very impressive. There are buttons to push, knobs to turn and even a bow to fire. They have an excellent display about some of the archeological stories they have uncovered that both contextualise what you are looking at and also stimulate the bit of your brain that likes murder mysteries. There was also information on the local deities which was of interest to Big Kid - who at nine years old is very much developing a god complex. The 3D film was worth a watch - though small kid hid under the chairs at the bit where the soldiers kill a deer and didn’t come out until it had finished. Ho hum.
The Vindolanda Museum itself is excellent. As she was in a museum, small kid was instantly on alert for a whiff of anything even vaguely educational but the displays are so well done that she was actually willing to participate in most things. She was particularly taken with the shoes, ranging from baby to adult with myriad different designs. The displays have been brilliantly curated and really pull out a sense of real lives lived on Hadrian’s Wall and around it. I really felt for the Syrian archers - it was a nice touch to show images of the roman ruins in Syria to give a taste of how different life on the Wall must have been for them. Poor bastards - I’d just come back from a week in France and I was finding the weather difficult to cope with.
There’s plenty of jewellery and coins on display but the real treasure here are the Writing Tablets; written by a wide range of people living on the site over the decades, they offer incredible insights into the day to day life and the friendships and feuds that occupied the occupiers. Big kid and I could have spent an entire day here just reading these out to each other - it’s one of those moments where you feel you could just reach out and shake the writer’s hand; person to person across the centuries.
Coffee: Lovely. Just what was needed on a miserable wet day.
Food: Thanks to the rain it was a car picnic for us - not sure what the food in the cafe was like but I tried Stottie (local bread) and cheese savoury (local filling) and it was excellent. Seek it out when in the area.
Grounds: It’s a frickin’ Roman Fort and village. Old grounds and good. Initially it may just look like a ‘series of small walls’ (to quote Eddie Izzard) but it is easy to see the difference between the regimented lines of the barracks and the more sprawling chaotic streets of the adjoining village - even when your attention is mainly focussed on preventing the children from plunging into the gutters or backflipping off the wall of an ancient toilet. They have guided tours, which I am sure are excellent, but we dared not risk small kid going full Barbarian on the guide. The walks around the site aren’t too onerous and there are plenty of bits and bobs to stop and explore as you travel. You can climb a watch tower and look at the bumpy ground and speculate on what treasures still lie hidden beneath.
Accessibility: Its an archeological dig so some wheelchairs might find it tricky but I did see a couple of cool off-road wheeled electric wheelchairs managing the terrain without any difficult. Also, the combination of indoor and outdoor activities can help to people to find a place to be calm or energetic as they wish.
Overall: This is a site that is curated with love and enthusiasm and it really shows. I genuinely think there is something for everyone here - walls to climb, films to watch and lots to learn. Even the vengeful weather deities couldn’t put us off. Devote a day to this place and you will be rewarded.