On Saturday 9th July, 40 Cheney classics students from Years 8 to 12, 5 members of staff and a six year old set off on a four day trip to the magnificent Roman monument that is Hadrian's Wall!
We broke our journey north at the beautiful city of Durham, where we walked along the river before visiting the Castle, where we had a lively introduction to some of the sites along the Wall by Dr Andrew Tibbs, followed by a chance to handle some artefacts found on these sites, including amphora pieces, part of a helmet and a fragment of Roman window. We also received a fascinating tour of the Castle by a postgraduate student.
We arrived at Hadrian Lodge, our home for the next three nights, at about 6pm, and we settled in, had dinner and then took an evening walk into the countryside; on our return, students were split into five legions, and asked to design "standards" for their legions. This was to be the first of many challenges!
The next morning saw us all piling back onto the coach to see the amazing Roman fort of Vindolanda. Our visit coincided with the well-known Ermine Street Guard re-enactment group, who had pitched camp there for the day. Dresses in full Roman soldier attire, they had a number of artefact stalls, where they talked through weapons, medical items and domestic relics. Students were able to handle the objects and discuss them at length with the soldiers.
We explored the extensive remains of the fort itself, before visiting the museum, which holds a massive collection of items which have been very well-preserved due to the anaerobic conditions of the site. There is an enormous collection of shoes, pottery (including a Roman dinner set!), jewellery, and of course the tablet fragments themselves, with their wealth of information about the everyday life of soldiers and others along the Wall. We then watched a show by the Ermine Street Guard, which provided a marching chant in Latin "SIM, SIM, SIM DEX SIM!" which pervaded through the next few days.
In the afternoon, we visited the dramatic Roman Army Museum where we saw many military artefacts and learned about the immensely organised and impressive fighting force that was the Roman Army. After this, we took a four mile walk along the Wall itself, which provided stunning views, and an opportunity to experience some of the extent of the Wall.
The following day, we set off to the city of Newcastle, where we visited the Hancock Museum, a visually highly-stimulating museum, which contains, amongst other things, a full size scale model of Hadrian's Wall. Students all followed a question trail which led them around the collection. After this visit, we popped over the road to Newcastle Department of History and Classics, where we had a challenging and fascinating talk about archaeology from Dr James Gerrard, including a chance for every student to identify a Roman coin which had been found in a jug on a Roman fort site, and explore what their discoveries could tell us about Roman life.
We then travelled to Arbeia Roman Fort, where we had a tour, and a chance to explore the recreation of the gatehouse and living accommodation of the soldiers and their commanders. The site at Arbeia was mostly used for storage, and we could see the foundations of the many storage areas within the fort. We then headed to the awe-inspiring site of Housesteads where we had time to explore the remains and the museum. Housesteads was one of only two Roman forts along the Wall which had a hospital on its site, and it is also famous for the remains of its toilets. Students watched a short film exploring the hospital and other aspects in the museum.
Later that evening, we had a Hadrian's Wall themed legions quiz, and legions then performed plays they had written about life on the Wall, featuring bored soldiers counting sheep, and a power-crazed Hadrian commanding his soldiers to build the Wall, amongst many other things!
Prizes were awarded for the best play before everyone retreated for the night. The next morning, we set off towards home. We broke the long journey at Chester, where we ate our lunch at the Roman amphitheatre there, and students recreated gladiator battles using plastic swords! We finally reached Cheney at 6.30pm, tired but having had a very enjoyable and educational four days.
We are very grateful indeed to Durham University and Newcastle University Department of Classics and History, as well as all the many sites we visited during out stay. We are also very grateful to have been accompanied by Dr Matthew Snape, a Cheney parent, and Sue Cook, the Librarian.