Hadrian’s…Toilets?

Let me start by saying that Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall is a truly impressive historical site, managed with great care and professionalism by the English Heritage charity, and is completely worth your time and effort to visit. I could go on about the many extraordinary features – the well-preserved walls and gates, the hospital, the hypocaust, the granary…but I won’t (you’re welcome). You can read about it elsewhere or you can visit. I highly recommend the latter.

No, this is about a more personal experience.

Modern day orators declaiming from ancient Roman stones.

My husband and I, driving south from Scotland, wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall and needed an interesting stop a comfortable distance along the way. A quick internet search turned up Housesteads, and we were off.

Now, what that type of cursory search does not convey is the esteem in which toilets are held at Housesteads.

Our first inkling presented itself at the modern day toilets at the visitor center, on the outside of which was a cartoon depiction of happy Roman soldiers chatting and enjoying a nice communal poo. Because I have the emotional maturity of a twelve-year-old, I found that fairly entertaining, but hey, the Romans were known for their advanced sanitation, and that kind of cartoon was for the kids, right? (Right?)

The actual site was located about a half-mile along a gravel path running through a rolling green field filled with sheep and lots of lambs, all quite vocal, all adorable. Also non-aggressive, which was a bonus. We were rewarded at the end of our trek with a great gift shop museum staffed by truly helpful people, who told us we were just in time for a guided tour. Naturally, we abandoned our search for souvenirs…I mean, knowledge… and went galloping up the slope to the remains of the great south gate, where a learned and friendly historian welcomed us into his flock (see what I did there?).

After herding us around the entire site, pointing out unique features and bringing history to life for us, our intrepid guide finally brought us to the grand finale with a flourish and the words, “and now we come to the part you’ve been waiting to see.”  Yes, we’d arrived at the toilets.

“Peer into the oldest toilets you’ll ever see.”
English Heritage site

Well…sure. Never mind the 75-mile long, 15-foot high, 10-foot thick wall. Dammit, I’m here for the toilets! (See emotional maturity, referenced above).

And why not? They were impressive. Sometime between AD 122 and 300, the Romans had implemented running water and waste management on the top of a windswept hill in a wild and strange country. Not too shabby.

Nevertheless, I believe I will go on telling people (at least those I don’t know too well) that I visited Hadrian’s Wall, not Hadrian’s Toilets.

But we all know the truth.

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