June is disappearing fast but I've been quite busy, lately. On the way back home from the wonderful 100th Birthday party of a lovely lady - mother of one of my best friends from primary school - held in Stirling, I took a little long-overdue detour.
Many times, when driving north from the Central Belt of Scotland, I've thought of visiting Ardoch, the site of the (probably) best preserved earthworks of a Roman fort/ encampment in Scotland; in Britain; and likely in Europe as well. Yesterday, I indulged myself since time was not pressing, as it usually is. I spent about an hour and a half wandering around the incredible site, thinking, imagining the Ardoch area when occupied by hundreds of Roman soldiers. However, conjuring up a credible image was not an easy job. It's a truly amazing place but, when on the ground, making sense of the multiple dips and hillocks, so closely set together, is something else entirely.
The rectangular central area of about two hectares is surrounded by a rampart and up to five ditches in places. Visiting towards the end of June isn't the best seasonal time to get the best impression of it, though, as the surrounding vegetation makes it less easy to discern the depths of the ditches and their spans than it would be in winter (cue for another visit!)
I meandered my way around the site, using the pathways, some currently overgrown with beautiful clumps of ferns, the occasional lupin and campions - all adding a hint of colour. I could see where the central fort area was, and probably the 'principia' headquarters building but I found it difficult to decide where the later post-Roman church had been sited that I'd read about.
As I walked along the perimeter pathway, close to the boundary wall at the edge of the road, the A822, I wondered if I was actually walking along the outer rampart defences. I think I was, in fact I'm pretty sure I was, and I was imagining myself as on a daytime patrol and stopped at one of the guard towers built along the wooden palisade. The landscape isn't flat around the area of Braco, but I could imagine sightlines where signal stations might have been erected to be visible from my guard tower.
During the late Victorian era, the fort area was identified as being originally built by Agricolan forces in the late 1st Century, and then had Antonine occupation during the middle of the 2nd Century AD, some material finds attesting to this. The original oblong shape had been shortened during a subsequent occupation, resulting in an elaborate set of defences. Further excavation and investigations indicate that the whole site (it straddles the current A822 road) has a possible annexe and further extensive marching camps, which may also have been used by Severan forces during Emperor Severus' invasions of the early 3rd Century.
There aren't many recorded material finds but a Miss Elizabeth Moncrieffe of Moncrieffe had a collection of coins of which two were worn denarii of Vespasian, and one of Trajan found in the Ardoch area. (1966)
A recent find in 2002 was part of an intaglio from a Roman ring. There is sufficient left of the carving to identify the figure as being of Fortuna and it is thought to have been carved during the Antonine era. (Perth Museum)
It has been suggested that this fort site is the one which appears on Ptolemy's Geographical information and subsequent maps as ALAVNA though it is still speculation.
My own photos don't show the fort area as well as any of the aerial photography that's on (copyrighted) sites like Canmore, but what I can add here is a little video which is absolutely excellent to supplement the information above.
If you're interested in visiting Roman sites, i absolutely recommend a visit to Ardoch but perhaps later in the year than June.
I'm now off to get on with my current writing which is not set in Roman Scotland but is in Victorian Scotland, just for a change.