It’s easy to see why Housesteads – Roman Vercovicium – is the most visited fort on Hadrian’s Wall. It’s worth going for the site alone, but the remains of the ancient fort are in surprisingly good shape, considering that almost 2,000 years have rolled over them. It also has access to one of the best parts of the wall. You won’t be alone here, and you should avoid summer weekends to dodge the crowds. Visit the museum first to get the big picture and admire archaeological treasures. Then climb to the remains of town buildings by the South Gate. These buildings still show the grooves that once held shutters, so they may have been shops or taverns, and you can imagine Roman legionaries unwinding over a pint here after a hard day’s Pict-bashing. The gate itself was rebuilt as a bastle in the Middle Ages for a family of horse-thieves. Through it, to the right, you can visit the 12-seater latrines. There was clearly no sense of privacy in the Roman military. The Romans built everything to a standard plan, and Housesteads followed the standard square pattern, with the headquarters in the centre and the commanding officer’s house south of it. You can also see the remains of the hospital, complete with operating theatre, and the granaries. The fort was built to protect Knag Burn, one of the wall’s weak points, and the North Gate has huge foundations on the crag above the burn. Climb it for a classic wall view, then walk westwards along the wall westwards to Milecastle 37 or, to really stretch your legs, as far as Steel Rigg, where you can see how the massive military structures of Rome have been absorbed into the Northumbrian landscape.
Facilities – at a glance
Assist dogs allowed
- Parking nearby
- Facilities: Disabled parking available at the top of the hill (arranged with Information Centre) & next to Museum (pre-booked), handrails, induction loops
- Open all year
- Opening Times: Open all year daily, Apr-Sep, 10-6; Oct, 10-5; Nov-Mar, 10-4. Closed 24-26 Dec & 1 Jan
Also in the area
About the area
If it’s history you’re after, there’s heaps of it in Northumberland. On Hadrian’s Wall you can imagine scarlet-cloaked Roman legionaries keeping watch for painted Pictish warriors while cursing the English weather and dreaming of home. Desolate battlefield sites and hulking fortresses such as Alnwick, Dunstanburgh, Bamburgh and Warkworth are reminders that this, until not so very long ago, was a contested border region. The ruins of Lindisfarne bear witness to the region’s early Christian history.
Northumberland also has some of Britain’s best beaches. On summer days, and even in winter, you’ll see surfers and other brave souls making the most of the coast. Inland, there are some great walks and bike rides in the dales of the Cheviot Hills and the Simonsides – just hilly enough to be interesting, without being brutally steep. There's dramatic scenery in the High Pennines, where waterfalls plunge into deep valleys, and there are swathes of heather-scented moorland. Northumberland National Park covers over 400 square miles of moorland and valleys with clear streams and pretty, stone-built villages. It’s just the place for wildlife watching too. You’ll find flocks of puffins, guillemots and other seabirds around the Farne Islands, and seals and dolphins offshore.
Places to Stay
Restaurants and Pubs
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