Ten remarkable places across the UK where you can relive the dramatic events that took place there long ago.

Ten remarkable places across the UK where you can relive the dramatic events that took place there long ago.

1. Vindolanda Roman Fort, Northumberland
Where the Romans divided Britain

When, in the 120s AD, the Roman emperor Hadrian had his great wall built to separate the untamed north of Britain from the occupied south, he had the foresight to construct it over some of our loveliest hills. This makes the wall a perfect day out destination. Perhaps the best place to get a handle on what life was like on the Roman wall is Vindolanda, the legionary fort that’s set a little wall proper.

What you see today
You can explore the foundations of the fort buildings, climb up to the ramparts of a reconstructed section of the wall and visit a museum. Archaeologists here have uncovered more than 1,000 wooden tablets, preserved in waterlogged soil, which the soldiers used for writing notes – everything from birthday invitations to accounting documents. It’s a direct link to the everyday concerns of the people here almost 2,000 years ago. This discovery has revolutionised our understanding of what life was like in Roman Britain.

2. Lindisfarne Priory, Northumberland
Where the Viking age began

In the little museum, alongside the remains of Lindisfarne Priory, is a scary stone. It’s a ninth-century grave marker, one of several dug up here by archaeologists. The frightening aspect is the carving of a band of seven furious looking warriors, weapons raised in what appears to be a wild assault. The flattened perspective gives the impression that these attackers are one-eyed fiends. It is thought that these figures might be Vikings, and that would tally with the Lindisfarne story, because the records state that in 793AD, the priory was subject to a bloodthirsty assault by the northern raiders. It was their first major attack here and it heralded the start of the Viking Age, with several centuries of violence, raids and invasions to follow.

What you see today
Lindisfarne’s Anglo-Saxon church was abandoned not long after the arrival of the Vikings, but a few centuries later, a new priory was established here. And it’s the ruins of that which you can see now, in a lovely, calm corner of Holy Island. If you make a trip over here, via the tidal causeway, you’re rewarded with a beautiful ruin to mooch about in, enlivened by the slender Rainbow Arch that has somehow survived the years. You’ll also witness a tremendous view over a quiet bay and across to the Tudor Lindisfarne Castle in the distance. Happily, it’s the barking grey seals rather than the marauding Vikings that are likely to disturb you today.

3. Runnymede, Berkshire
Where the foundations of democracy were laid

It was in these pleasant Thameside meadows that, in 1215, King John put his seal to Magna Carta, a document that has a continuing resonance far beyond its original intention. This medieval great charter laid out ideas on human rights that have since provided the bedrock for civil liberties across the world. That wasn’t John’s aim at the time – he was just trying to wriggle out of a dispute with his barons – but the ideas stuck, so this peaceful wildlife haven has an importance that belies its bucolic charms.

What you see today
There’s something terribly English about Runnymede. Perhaps it’s the 1930s tea rooms and the National Trust car park; possibly it’s the sight of the Thames flowing slowly past, or maybe it’s the combination of oak woodland, buttercup meadow, creeks and ponds. Or perhaps it’s because of its link to Magna Carta, and all that implies for liberty and democracy, which is so ingrained that it can’t help but exude Englishness.

4. Cartmel Priory, Cumbria
Where you can see the lost world of the English monasteries

For a small village in the Lake District, Cartmel’s parish church is out of all proportion. It is far too big. Its tower rears full and fat over the small, but very pretty, cluster of houses that surround it. It’s as if you’ve stumbled upon a cathedral that has lost its way and somehow ended up in rural Cumbria. But this isn’t just any standard parish church: it was originally part of a monastic priory. The monks of Cartmel grew rich through gifts of land from those who wanted to curry divine favour. By rights, the priory ought to have been shut down during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s, when Henry VIII closed the monastic houses throughout the country, took their wealth for the crown, and sold off or knocked down their buildings.

What you see today
 This is a rare example of an English medieval monastery that has survived the Dissolution virtually intact. Most monasteries were unable to resist being destroyed by King Henry, and that’s why today they are romantic ruins, roofless haunts of tourists. That this church did not suffer such a fate is entirely down to the villagers of Cartmel. They appealed against the priory’s destruction, citing its foundation charter, which said that part of the church had to be reserved for use by the locals. And they were successful.

5. Porthcurno, Cornwall
Where Britain’s empire was connected

Porthcurno has a great little beach. Its gently sloping sand funnels out from a verdant Cornish valley. It is only a couple of miles from Land’s End so has always been a bit out of the way. These factors entice holidaymakers today, but they also attracted the attentions of Scottish cotton magnate John Pender in the 1860s. He had seen the potential of the new technology of telegraphy, which simply put, used electricity to send words over wires. He decided to lay a telegraph cable from Britain to India, and this required an undersea line. Porthcurno’s location seemed ideal, and in time it became a hub of the telegraph network.

What you see today
You can see the remains of Pender’s cable station, plus some tunnels that were dug to keep telegraph operators safe from bombs in the Second World War, and have a nice walk on the beach, while you digest the story of the ‘Victorian Internet’.

6. Dolbadarn Castle Gwynedd
Where Welsh independence was asserted

Wales has not always been part of the United Kingdom. Before the conquest by England’s Edward I at the close of the 13th century, a number of local rulers held independent territories in north Wales. Llewellyn the Great was one such lord, who by the start of the 13th century had managed to bring so much of north Wales together under his control that he was calling himself Prince of Wales in charters. He was the first Welsh ruler to make a written treaty with an English king (John), and in that treaty of 1201, Llewellyn agreed to do homage to John, while in return the English king acknowledged all the territorial gains that Llewellyn had made. It was probably Llewellyn who had Dolbadarn Castle built.

What you see today
This gloriously positioned round tower, at the foot of Llanberis Pass, looking out over the twin lakes Padarn and Peris and up into the sharp crags of Snowdonia, was a statement of Llewellyn’s power. Though it’s a ruin now, in its day, it was the latest in castle design. It controlled the way into the mountains, and though any modern invading army would be able to easily circumvent it by taking the mountain railway from Llanberis up to the peak of Snowdon, Dolbadarn still stands testament to the days when England and Wales were far from united.

7. Fort George near Inverness
Where Highland rebellion was thwarted

The thing to do at Fort George is to walk along the great grassy ramparts that defend it. When the place was built, in the mid-18th century, these earthy banks were at the sharp end of military engineering. And they needed to be, because this part of Scotland was at the sharp end of military activity. The fort was built shortly after the 1746 battle of Culloden, King George II’s victory over Bonnie Prince Charlie and his rebellious army of Scottish Highlanders (and others), which was fought nearby. The fort is the state’s heavy-handed response to the rebellion. But the tactic worked: after Fort George was built, the Highlanders were subsumed into the British state and became stalwarts of the imperial army.

What you see today
 The ramparts of Fort George are a tremendous place on which to stroll, with lovely views over the Moray Firth (a good place for dolphin spotting), and the hills around Inverness. They also offer an excellent vantage point from which you can appreciate the massive scale of the fort.

8. Framlingham Castle, Suffolk
Where the stage was set for two queens

In 1553, Princess Mary came here, on the death of her brother Edward VI, to gather forces for her bid for the throne. Mary’s succession was far from a sure thing, but at Framlingham she showed her enemies that she meant business. She became Queen Mary I, and earned the moniker Bloody Mary for her persecution of Protestants (she was a Catholic in a post-Reformation England riven by religious discord). Mary also broke the mould of male monarchy, and made it possible for her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth to follow her as queen. Without Elizabeth’s long reign, the Protestant church wouldn’t have been so firmly established in England, so ironically that was Mary’s, and in a sense Framlingham Castle’s, great legacy.

What you see today
Framlingham has a perfectly preserved set of medieval ramparts and you can climb up and walk around the 12th-century curtain wall. The view from the ramparts, over the fields with the lake mirrored in the lake below, is singularly photogenic.

9. Badbea, Sutherland
Where the land remembers the Highland Clearances

A modern visitor might think that Badbea, on remote Scottish cliffs overlooking the North Sea, would be an ideal place to live. But it would hold no allure for the people who were forced to live here. The ruins that emerge from the bracken are the remains of one of the most emotive episodes in British history: the Highland Clearances. This was the process by which thousands of Scottish Highlanders were forced from their homes to settle in harsh places like this. The villagers began to arrive in the late 18th century but from the mid-19th century, they were leaving to find better lives. The steepness of the slope to the cliffs can’t have helped: the 12 families that survived here had to tether livestock and children to stop them toppling over the edge. Badbea is typical of the Clearance experience, with people being moved from Highlands to coasts, and then often moving on again, to foreign shores.

What you see today
 As well as the stone foundations of their houses, these displaced people are remembered by a stark monument. It’s a fine setting to mull on the human impact this uprooting would have had.

10. Rushton Triangular Lodge, Northamptonshire
Where a religious divide is obvious

There’s an odd triangular building quietly minding its own business by a road in rural Northamptonshire, surrounded by trees, fields and not much else. It’s based on the number three: it has three sides, three floors, three-leaved windows, three triangular gables on each face. It was built by Sir Thomas Tresham, in the 16th century. He was a Catholic who didn’t want to conform to the Protestant faith that had been introduced in the Reformation, when Henry VIII broke the church in England away from Rome. For the sin of staying Catholic, Tresham spent a lot of time in Tudor prisons. He kept his spirits up by designing extraordinary buildings. By modelling Rushton on the number three, he was making a pointed link with the Holy Trinity, saying that he thought good Christians who believed in the Trinity ought to be Catholics, not Protestants.

What you see today
 Visit Rushton for what it tells you about the charged religious times of the 16th and 17th centuries. It is fun to seek out the three-themed puzzles, but don’t forget the lot of those who had to live here: Tresham’s rabbit keepers. I imagine they cursed Sir Thomas daily for lumbering them with such a palpably impractical construction. There is a reason that most of us don’t have three-sided homes.

Dave Musgrove is editor of BBC History Magazine and author of 100 Places That Made Britain.

The article 'Sites that shaped Britain's future' was published in partnership with BBC Countryfile magazine.