Bardon Mill Hexham NE47 7JN
The greatest excavation site and visitor attraction on Hadrian's Wall is the old garrison fort of Vindolanda – a place where Roman Britain really comes to life. It's one of the few places in Britain where you can watch live archeological excavations taking places – with digs happening every summer – and over the years they've unearthed an extraordinary array of buildings, from houses and workshops to barracks, temples and bath-houses. Generations of soldiers and their families called this place home almost two thousand years ago, when it was an important frontier fort and village. Their lives are recorded in Vindolanda's most famous discovery, namely hundreds of rare wooden writing tablets that deal with everything from written miltary orders to birthday party invitations. Now returned from the British Museum, some of these amazing artefacts (the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain) are on display in a special exhibition. There's plenty more in Vindolanda's excellent on-site museum, which shows a wide selection of the other excavated finds, and more too in the sister museum, the Roman Army Museum, sited four miles (a 15min drive) away at a wild section of the old Roman wall. You're encouraged to see both on the same trip and it certainly makes sense, to get a full picture of the lives of Roman soldiers at the northern limits of their great empire.