This year Hadrian’s Wall Live was on Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th September, with events taking place at both Birdoswald and Housesteads Roman Forts. By day, Birdoswald was the place to be with Romans and Barbarians setting up camp and preparing to do battle. By the early evening, the action shifted to Housesteads as the Romans prepared to defend the fort, and at nighttime the action returned to Birdoswald for a theatrical performance of a Roman ritual. I visited Birdoswald for the daytime event and myself and my mum enjoyed our afternoon, spending more time at the event than we had originally anticipated.
We arrived at Birdoswald, successfully navigating the muddy car park, just in time for the Romans Vs Barbarians battle, which was meant to be the highlight of the day. The weather was grey and wet – not perfect for standing around outside but it did make it more atmospheric. I’m not going to lie, reenactment battles aren’t particularly ‘my thing’, but I was keen to see what all the fuss was about.
I imagine as a child it is probably quite exciting to watch, but I found it slightly underwhelming. The entire battle only lasted about ten minutes. Some of those who had been ‘killed’ were struggling to stay dead. perhaps I’m being cynical, but it didn’t feel particularly realistic. However, I did enjoy admiring some of the costumes (I wouldn’t want to be walking round a muddy field in sandals), which we had greater opportunity to do when they performed a lap of honour at the end of the battle.
Following the battle, we decided to take a look at what else was on offer, having been provided with a programme of activity for the entire day. First stop was the Barbarian camp, which was actually pretty impressive. The ‘Barbarians’ were cooking food, making things, and it did feel like a proper settlement. There were parts where we were unsure whether we should be walking that way as it did feel slightly like we were intruding on proper village life.
However, despite this feeling quite realistic – we were a little disappointed by an obvious modern ‘blot’ in the otherwise authentic scene… Can you see what’s wrong with the image below?
Slightly predictably, the Roman camp was more popular and therefore a lot more crowded so we soon headed off to see some of the other stalls and the falconer’s tent. For us, the falconry display had to be the real highlight of the afternoon. Whilst that may be because I have more of an interest in falconry than I do in battles, I also think it was because the team behind the ‘Falconry of Roman Britain Display’ were excellent. The compere spoke clearly, was interesting, and knew how to work her audience. The falconer was excellent with his birds and made the Peregrine Falcon in particular work hard, really demonstrating what it was capable of. I felt much more of an adrenaline rush watching this and wondering whether I was going to get scalped as the falcon came into land than I had done watching the battle. It was also wonderful seeing a Golden Eagle in flight, possibly the first time I have seen one fly in a display (unfortunately due to the rain I didn’t get particularly good photos). It was a really powerful bird with a huge wingspan and an impressive amount of strength – apparently it had already broken the falconer’s finger twice this year through his gloves!
A ticket for the full day at Birdoswald, which included the evening event, had a non-member price of £11 for an adult, whilst family tickets could be bought for £28.60. There was plenty going on for children throughout the day, and I can imagine it making a good value family day out, particularly with the evening event thrown in. Tickets for Housesteads had to be bought separately, but also included the evening event at Birdoswald, and had a non-member price of £10 for an adult and £26 for a family. I enjoyed the afternoon and whilst I won’t hurry back next year (particularly if it has the same line-up) I would recommend the experience. It’s something a bit different, and a great way to learn more about history by having it brought to life.
Since the event, Birdoswald has won the Carlisle Living Award of Best Place to Visit 2016.
To find out more about Hadrian’s Wall Live, you can watch the English Heritage trailer online.