I have vague recollections from my own childhood of coming to the Arbeia Roman Fort with my Dad and little brother. I can remember climbing the steps of the reconstructed Fort. It was great fun to look out over the River Tyne across to North Shields. Until recently due to my parents relocation, I knew little of this historical area of the South Shields. To be honest, despite many seaside trips to South Shields I had kind of forgotten the Roman Fort existed. On the first really hot day of the year, we decided to rectify this and pop along to Arbeia Roman Fort.
Location of Arbeia Roman Fort
Arbeia Roman Fort is located in the Lawe top area of South Shields. The Fort stands high above the River Tyne and not far from the main shopping area. As we were visiting my parents we parked in their street Lawe Road and walked along. Parking on the roadside is free and plentiful in the surrounding streets. One word of caution is to check the opening times before you head over. Arbeia Roman Fort is open seasonally and on the day we visited, a Sunday in April, was open 1-4pm. If you haven’t been to The Word, South Shields newest library and exhibit space I would recommend combining the two in one trip. Well worth a visit for more great views and the Ridley Scott exhibition.
Free entry at Arbeia Roman Fort
One of the best things about Arbeia Roman Fort is that it’s free entry, with donations accepted. Now there’s not too many places you can say that about! Arbeia Roman Fort is easy to find. The Fort well signposted from the main road and the entrance is an old school building. In the school building there is a small reception desk, gift shop and two rooms of Roman artefacts with exhibits telling the history of the site.
One of the most interesting parts of Arbeia is that it lay unearthed for many years. During the Victorian Times was a pleasure park where people could relax in the roman ruins. As more excavations took place, part of the fort was discovered lying under the homes in the adjoining streets. In the 1970’s one adjoining street was compulsory purchased and demolished to uncover more historic remains. Excavation still takes place to this day. My Mam confirmed this to be a FACT as she sees archaeologists (or maybe volunteers) digging when walking her lurcher Spencer.
The Fort – Gatehouse
Arbeia Roman Fort was of major importance to the Romans, providing a garrison and military supply base to the soldiers up on Hadrian’s wall. Although the Fort looks onto the river now, once it looked out across the sea. Years of over silting and land reclamation have changed the land mass. Now there are probably six streets of housing between the Fort and the sea!
The Gatehouse has been reconstructed to give you a flavour of just how large this fort was and as a vantage point across the excavation site. On this base there were probably at least 4 gatehouses across the site. On the first floor there are mock up models of how the fort would have looked, and a few interactive exhibits for kids such as ‘Guess the smell’ which amused Imogen. Unfortunately the grassy top of the Fort is closed off, which I’m not sure why but you still get a cracking view.
Roman Living Quarters
Arbeia also has out buildings in the grounds depicting the living quarters. The commanding officer, as you would expect, lived pretty lavish with the biggest setee (or bed, if it is true what they say about the Romans?) I’ve ever seen. On the other side of the coin, the soldiers lived a much more modest life in cramped wooden bunks using moss for toilet paper. I know which side of the building I would have rather lived on!
The girls took a shine to a friendly cat who decided he quite liked the Mediterranean style of life in South Shields.
We completed our visit by having a little look around the Ruins. In this area you can see the bricks of buildings such as granary’s and mill stores. We could see the next part of the excavation that the Arbeia team are working on.
Information on Arbeia Roman Fort
For more information, of opening times and special events head to the Tyne and Wear museum website. Over the Easter Bank Holiday the Roman Spring Festival will be celebrated where you can:
Visit the Roman market or Mercatus and buy delicious goods, watch a performance by Roma Antiqua and see a magnificent weaponry display
Sounds like a great event. Let us know if you go and are planning a visit to this historic Fort in the middle of Tyneside.