In about 1533, King Henry VIII conferred a new title on his library keeper, John Leland: "Royal Antiquary." Leland was the first, and last, ever to hold the title. As part of his responsibilities, he was commissioned to "search after England's antiquities, and explore the libraries of all cathedrals, abbeys, priories, colleges, and all the places wherein records, writings, and whatever else was lodged that related to antiquity" (from Wikipedia). He took his job seriously, and spent several years travelling all over England and Wales, visiting records offices and sites first-hand, amassing an incredible amount of information (published originally in 1549, then republished in 1906 in five volumes). He presented his work to the King, and his notes are still held to this day in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.
Leland traveled to Northumberland (a brave thing to do in the heyday of the Border Reivers), and wrote possibly the first post-Roman eyewitness account of Hadrian's Wall. He doesn't appear to have visited (or known of) Vindolanda. Still, his is an amazing window into a time now long gone by. Below is his account of the Wall, viewable in the 1906 version at http://www.archive.org/stream/itinerary ... 0/mode/2up. Maddeningly, it begins in his notes with a blank space, apparently to hold information that he never got back to writing.
...thens yt goith withyn a myle and lesse of Newcastel, and so croketh upward toward Tinemuth.
Doctor Davel told me that S. Nicholas chirch in Newcastel stondith on the Picth waulle.
Betwyxt Thyrwal and North Tine yn that wast ground stondeth yet notable peaces of the wall, the which was made ex lapide quadrato [from squared stones - ed], as yt there appeareth yet. Looke wher as the grownd ys best enhabited thorowg the walle, so there yt lest appereth by reason of buildinges made of the stones of the waule. The walle on the farther side toward the Pictes was strongly dichyd. Beside the stone wall, ther appere yet yn very many places vestigia muri cespititii [he's talking about the Vallum - ed], that was an arow shot a this side the stone wal; but that it was thoroughly made as the stone wal was yt doth not wel appere there.
Fro Bolnes to Burgh abowt a iiii. myles, fro thens yt goeth within half a myle of Cairluel, and lesse on the north side, and crosseth over Edon a iii. quarters of a myle benethe Cairluel, and so to Terreby a litel villag a myle fro Cairluel, then thorowgh the barony of Linstok; and thorowgh Gillesland on the north side of the river of Arding a quarter of a myle of the abbay of Lenarcost, and then a iii. myles above Lenarcost yt crosseth over Arding, then over the litle brooke of Polt rosse, the which devideth Gillesland in Cumberland from South Tyndale in Northumbreland, then to a castel called Thirlewal, stondyng on the same, thens directly est thorowgh Sowth Tyndale not far fro the great [rui]nes of the castel of Cairvorein, the [which] be nere Thyrlwal, and so over North [Tyne, then] directly [est thorowgh the hedd of] Northumbreland.
A few pages earlier in this version, Leland also notes the current state of some of the ruins in the far west of the Wall. A couple more little snapshots:
Bolnes is the poynt or playne of the ryver of Edon, wher ys a lytle poore steple as a fortelet for a brunt, and yt ys on the hyther syde of the ryver of Edon, abowt a viii. myles from Cair Luel. Abowt this Bolnesse ys part of the Pict wal evidently remayning, and yt may be supposed that yt is cawled Bolnes, as who showld say the Wal yee, or poynt, or end....
At Drumbuygh the Lord Dakers father builded apon old ruines a prety pyle for defens of the contery. Drumbuygh ys almost yn the mydde way bytwyxt Bolnes and [Burgh]. The stones of the Pict wal wer [pulled d]own to build Dumbuygh. For the wal [ys very n]ere yt.
Didn't the Venerable Bede leave a fairly clear description of the Wall? Surely he would have seen it.