Tuesday 27 June 2023

Making sense of Ardoch

Hello again.

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.


Wednesday 14 June 2023

June is blossoming!


The month of May has come and gone most of it on various trips away from home. My current writing is still very slowly progressing, but since two of my visits during May were to places of interest for my writing research,  I've - at least - been doing useful work.

En route to a wedding in the Borders town of Kelso, I stopped off at the museum in Kinross to do some sleuthing. The curator wasn't there on the Tuesday but an appointment was made for me to consult with him on the Thursday on my way home. I spent a marvellously useful 3 hours that Thursday gleaning a general feel of what the next-door town of Milnathort was like in the 1840s and 1850s. So all told, including the couple of hours spent on the Tuesday, I clocked up more than five research hours on the Kinross area. 

The ruin of the Muckle Kirk (Secessionist Free Church) below gives an impression of what it might have looked like when in use. It features as a newish building in my novel!

Muckle Kirk Milnathort

The wedding was wonderful at Kelso in between, a delight to see my author friend, Amelia, tie the knot with her equally lovely husband Richard. I would certainly like to visit Kelso again and do more pottering about around the Borders. 

Another jaunt away from home was to the New Lanark Mill Hotel, part of the New Lanark Preservation area. The New Lanark Mill project of the late 1700s and early 1800s was an incredibly innovative initiative and was so successful, the mill was still operating, in part, all the way towards the end of the 1900s. Though Robert Owen gets most of the recognition for the establishment of a mill village, where good housing and schooling were part of the whole concept, he was just one of the people involved in encouraging better working conditions in mills, which could be incredibly dangerous places to work for children and adults alike. 

Since the New Lanark Mill is about a 3 hour drive away for me, I decided to stop off on my home at yet another Roman Scotland site that I'd not yet visited. 

Strathclyde Park, near Hamilton in Central Scotland, is home to the ruins of a Roman Bathhouse, and a fort site (invisible today to the visitor). The Bothwellhaugh Roman Bath House (Clotagenium) has been known for a few centuries but since the ruins were in danger of becoming flooded the whole area was lifted and the stones se-sited, exactly as they were found, in a new location just out of the danger zone. This makes it an interesting, though not quite authentic, site to visit. 

This month of June is mainly devoted to garden maintenance and new planting work though my intention is also to add a good bit more to my ongoing writing set in Victorian Scotland. 

Till the next time....Happy Reading!