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excerpted from Take Your Kids to Europe
Since flights to London are often inexpensive and there's no language barrier in Britain (well, not much anyway), Take Your Kids to Europe recommends more kid-pleasing possibilities here than in any other country---over 40, in fact. One our kids liked a lot was Hadrian's Wall.
The Romans occupied much of England from the first to the fifth centuries. Between AD 117 and 138, they built Hadrian's Wall across the narrowest stretch of Britain to mark the northern extent of their conquered territory. Today, remnants of the wall remain, along with traces of seventeen forts and settlements that housed more than 18,000 soldiers and their camp followers.
Local tourist bureaus have banded together to put out a brochure ("A Visitor's Guide to Hadrian's Wall") listing twenty-seven different sites---forts, milecastles, museums, temples, towers---along the Roman frontier. Pick it up at any tourist office or souvenir shop, then combine a wall-walk with a visit to one representative site.
We walked along a small section of wall at Walltown Crags. The kids were disappointed to find the wall only a few feet wide and less than six feet high. "I could've climbed right over this, if I was invading!" scoffed ten-year-old Sam.
Sam was right. While you can easily see Hadrian's Wall snaking off across the desolate hills, it is a sorry shadow of the original wall. Sheep and cows graze on either side of the old stones, while tourists clamber along the top of the wall. The idea that a simple stone wall---even in its original uneroded form---was expected to be a major defense system was incredulous to our Star Wars era kids.
At nearby Vindolanda we were able to see what the wall really looked like in its heyday. Here, at a Roman fort-site, pieces of both the original turf wall and its stone successor have been rebuilt. You'll realize that the Roman wall was up to ten feet wide and over fifteen fieet high. Sam no longer scoffed as he climbed the towers of the reconstructed wall.
Vindolanda, like so many European sites, lets visitors wander freely. You can explore the foundations of a complex of Roman buildings--an inn, a few homes, a bath-house and a fort. Without any ropes or "Do Not Touch" signs, we were able to spend time studying the hypocausts, or heating ducts under the floors, and the sensible draining system in the baths. Did the introduction of modern plumbing and heating benefit the conquered Celts?
Once you've had enough of the ruins, visit the museum, housed in a small cottage at the edge of the excavations. Vindolanda's unique soil has preserved items usually lost to history--a Roman housewife's invitation to her birthday party, old socks, pieces of tents---as well as the more usual durable items of pottery and metal. This museum is small and special, with just the right amount of displays for a kid's attention span.
Hadrian's Wall (www.hadrianswallcountry.org) runs roughly parallel to route A69(T), from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Carlisle in northern England. The best extant section runs for seven miles between Once Brewed and Carvoran. The wall runs freely through open country, with no hours and no admission charges.
Vindolanda (www.vindolanda.com) is in Chesterholm, between routes A69 and B6318, 1.5 miles N of Bardon Mill, about equidistant from both Newcastle and Carlisle. Open 10am-4pm daily (later in summer). Closed November to mid-February. Adults £3.80, children £2.80.
This is just one of the entries on Britain in Take Your Kids to Europe. If you'd like more, click here to get information on ordering the book.