Winter on the Wall

People walking in snow along Hadrian's Wall

With its northerly location and unprotected terrain, Hadrian’s Wall can take a battering from the weather in the winter. So how did the Romans deal with the severe conditions?

It’s often assumed that the legions that were stationed on the wall came from the warm climates of the Mediterranean, but they were actually mostly made up of soldiers from chilly Northern Europe. Although they may have been quite used to harsh weather, the human body isn’t designed for sub-zero temperatures, so in order to survive and function during the winter, the Romans had to implement some surprisingly modern tactics.    

The soldiers had extra garments that were worn when the weather became too cold. These included hooded cloaks, socks, leg warmers, multiple tunics, scarves, and hats. Alongside this, the Romans designed an ingenious heating system known as a hypocaust, which utilised a network of pipes to circulate hot air under the floors and inside the walls. This was, however, reserved for communal buildings (such as bath houses) and the residences of the upper class, so only the commanding officer’s home would be fitted with such a luxury. The rest would be resigned to huddling round a roaring fire.

These days, the winter weather on the wall offers more benefits than problems. Due to the altitude of the site, the cold season is usually accompanied by snow, cloaking the scenery in a crisp, white blanket – a picture perfect scene. This snowfall also provides the opportunity for any little ones to complete some of the 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ activities, like number 34 Track wild animals or number 15 Play in the snow.

The countryside around Housesteads offers some spectacular walks that are mapped-out to make the most of the views. And in winter, these trails take on a seasonal beauty as the rough and striking landscapes are exposed. After exploring the extraordinary canvas of Hadrian’s Wall country, our café is the ideal place to get warm with a mug of hot chocolate.