*Disclaimer* I apologise in advance for the quality of the photos in this post. They were taken with my phone which is affectionately called “The Potato.” 

After a wonderful weekend in York that Meghan has told you about, we headed back to Vindolanda. However, I decided to take a bit of a detour and stop off in Middlesbrough, a city in Yorkshire, for a few days. (The locals call it Boro or my favourite, M’Bro.) Here’s a map of my journey:

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The blue circle shows York, the orange shows Middlesbrough, and the green shows Vindolanda

In actuality, the reason I’m here is that I was kindly invited by Dr. Gillian Taylor who is a forensic and analytical chemist as well as a lecturer at the university here. Gillian does a lot of work with Vindolanda and in particular, she and Beth have been looking into Roman Leather. The chemist inside me jumped with joy when I found out about this and, long story short, I’ve come here for a couple of days to work in the lab. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you more about the lab work that I’ve been doing (I promise it will be interesting to non-science and science folk alike) and the wonderful people I’ve had the chance to meet.

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I’d like to share with you a bit of information about Middlesbrough itself and my experiences thus far. The city itself is right next to the Tees river and lies on the border of the Durham and Yorkshire counties.

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A closed down old style bar

The main industry in the city is chemical based giving rise to clearly visible smoke stacks near the river. In the 19th century and carrying on into the 20th, Middlesbrough was a significant industrial city for steel and iron production. As this declined, so did the population and this has had a profound effect on the city.

Regardless, in several areas, there are upcoming businesses and beautiful parks, especially one by the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. During my walk today, I was treated to a great fountain show surrounded by people lounging in the sun with their children. It was a perfect summer day with blue skies, a few clouds, and a gentle breeze. I also had a fantastic dinner at a curry restaurant named Akbar and an even more enjoyable gelato dessert at Creams down the street.

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Park outside the MIMA

Middlesbrough is also a university town home to Teeside University which is where I have been working. The campus is quite pretty and reminds me a bit of our university at home. It’s a good combination of modern buildings with older exteriors. For instance, there is a building that was designed by the same architect who designed the library at Cambridge. Needless to say, it is quite old and incredibly beautiful. The city itself also reminds me of London, Ontario because the surrounding area is geared towards the student population with signs for student housing, student deals, and hip, young bars like those on “Richmond Row.” I was half expecting to turn out of the gates and see a King Richie’s Pizza.

The highlight of my day was visiting the bright blue transporter bridge that connects the two counties as well as M’Bro and Port Clarence. The bridge transports nine cars at a time across the river on a small transport deck. For 60p one way, I had the opportunity to take the short ride and see the incredible views of the river as well as chat with the friendly operators of the bridge. Both named Paul and both very intelligent and knowledgeable, they pointed out the landmarks and history of the surrounding region. They even let me press the button that operated the transporter bridge! It was like back in the day, being a child and being able to go to the cockpit during the flight. Because they knew I was digging at Vindolanda, they pointed out the location of a now eroded signal tower where Roman bodies were found, a Roman road that ran along the hills to the Southeast, the location where a ceremonial helmet was discovered, and the location of a small Roman villa on top of several bronze age remains.

Overall, it was a great first day and a very educational one. I greatly enjoyed the ability to experience a different part of England and English culture and I look forward to experiencing more. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post where we delve into some science!

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