Roughly 30 miles along the Hadrian’s Wall Path, you’ll find Birdoswald, a former Roman Fort. It’s one of 16 forts along the length of the wall.
Once there you’ll find a visitor centre featuring artefacts from the fort and a wealth of information about it during Roman occupation and beyond. There’s also a model of Hadrian’s Wall at the same height as it would have been originally – complete with a periscope allowing visitors to put themselves in the shoes (or sandals) of a Roman soldier surveying the wall.
The site is open daily from March to October, and weekends for the rest of the year. If you have English Heritage membership, you’ll get a discount on entry fees.
It’s ideal for families and children, with plenty of space for kids to play in and pretend they’re Roman soldiers guarding the fort. History of the Site Birdoswald is one of the best preserved forts along the wall, and serves as a snapshot of what the site was like in ancient Roman times, as well as during post-Roman occupation. The site is one of the only places along the wall with clear evidence of activity since the Romans left, so is especially remarkable. Remnants from this time include a Dark Age hall and a medieval tower house. In ancient times the fort was known as “Banna” meaning “horn” in the Celtic language in reference to its position with cliffs to the south and east, overlooking the River Irthing.
Located around half a mile from the River Irthing crossing, one of the fort’s intended functions was probably to guard the crossing.
The fort, originally made of turf before the stone one was constructed, served as a station for troops at the northern limit of the Roman Empire, where they could protect the border from Scottish attacks.
Excavations have found that the fort featured a drill and exercise hall, which is now covered in part by the farmhouse and visitor centre. This is a unique occurence for a Roman auxiliary fort, the most likely reason posited by historians is that this was included to allow soldiers to train in cold and wet conditions (unfortunately still present in the north of England).
It’s estimated that Roman auxiliaries occupied the site between the years AD 112 and AD 400. Birdoswald has been the subject of extensive excavation, with 20th century excavation commencing in 1911, the site was even featured on Channel 4’s Time Team in 2000. Things to see and places to stay.
As well as offering historical interest, Birdoswald is also positioned in an area of great natural beauty.
The site of the fort overlooks the stunning River Irthing gorge, near the village of Gilsland in the north east of Cumbria. Walking outside the west wall around the southside of the fort gives an astonishing view of the River Irthing valley from the fort’s vantage point, roughly 200 feet above the river.
Birdoswald is the best place to see the longest continuous remaining stretch of Hadrian’s Wall. Despite the line of the north wall being underneath the road built later, the walls are exceptionally complete, at nearly their original height.
Once inside the visitor centre, there’s plenty of activities to entertain and inform kids and adults alike. There’s the opportunity to learn how the wall was built and play with bricks at the same time, an aptitude test to figure out which role you might have played in the Roman army, and a signalling game that teaches the purpose of the wall.
There’s also a cafe on-site which provides an excellent stop-off point even if you’re not looking around the fort itself. It’s ideal if you’re a walker or cyclist making your way the historic length of Hadrian’s Wall.
The rustic cafe serves local Cumbrian produce and Roman burgers! Romans supposedly invented the burger and were the first to bring it to British shores, though the recipe differed somewhat featuring pine nuts and fish sauce – a tad fancier than today’s standard burger.
A gift shop stocks various local heritage gifts, so you can take away a souvenir from the fort.
A whole host of excellent accommodation options surround Birdoswald, as it’s a popular stop-off point along Hadrian’s Wall. Numerous quaint B&Bs, and there’s even the option to stay in farmhouse-style accommodation on the site itself.
There’s parking 200 metres from site with over 50 spaces, so even if you’re not tackling Hadrian’s Wall on foot or bike, you can get easy access to Birdoswald There are male and female toilets as well as baby changing facilities to ensure comfort.