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Hadrian’s Wall at Birdoswald, England.

This evening, I am reporting on Hadrian’s Wall in northern England.

Overview

The Wall was built during the approximate period AD 122- 138 and originally extended for 80 Roman miles (74 British miles) in a line from/to the modern English towns of Maryport and Wallsend. The Emperor Hadrian was unusual in that he consolidated the Empire, no doubt driven by the military and economic imperatives of managing an ever-expanding empire in context of hostile tribes to the north of the Wall. Here are some key statistics and information:

  • The Wall stretched for 74 miles and was 15 feet high and 10 feet wide.
  • Building commenced around AD 122-125.
  • It was (and remains) a magnificent feat of engineering comprising 18 million specially prepared blocks of stone, most of which was sourced locally.
  • A fort was built at seven mile intervals. There were 17 major forts of which Housesteads is a famous example. Such forts held about 400 people.
  • Castles were built at 1 mile intervals, but not always in a logical place relative to the local terrain. Clearly, there was rigid adherence to the design.
  • It is estimated that 10,000 soldiers were assigned to constructing the Wall with each Century allocated a specific portion to construct.
  • The Wall was constructed by the 2nd, 6th and 20th legions aided by auxiliaries. It acted as an imposing frontier for about 300 years.
  • The Wall is now a World Heritage Site.

Information on key sites along the Wall.

Maryport (Alauna): This fort protected the Western end of Hadrian’s Wall. It was probably built for military units from Dalmatia and the lower Rhineland. The Maryport fort was one of the largest on the frontier and extended to 2.3 hectares. Senhouse Museum is close to the site of the fort.

Aerial view of Aluana at Western end of Hadrian’s Wall.

Birdoswald (Banna): A very significant site located atop an escarpment overlooking the River Irthing. Originally built of turf and timber before reconstruction with stone. Evidence suggests a very long period of occupation through to the fifth century and possibly later. The site benefits from an excellent visitor centre and museum.

Birdoswald Roman Fort

Roman Army Museum: Located next to the fort of Carvoran. A popular visitor attraction.

Chesterholm (Vindolanda):An extensive and fascinating site which lies just south of the line of Wall and pre-dates the Wall with occupation dating back to AD 85. A very extensive military and civilian site with excellent visitor facilities and on-going excavations. This site is famous for the Vindolanda Tablets, which collectively rank as one of Britain’s top historic treasures. These record routine Roman correspondence on slivers of wood preserved in anaerobic conditions. Here is a video clip of excavations in process,

Vindolanda Roman Site, England

Housesteads (Vercovicium): Probably the best known and iconic site on Hadrian’s Wall. Located high on a ridge and integrated in a line of the Wall which remains reasonably well-preserved. An extensive site including granaries, headquarters, barracks and latrine. There is a small museum on site. Access via a gentle, uphill walk.

Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall

Carrawburgh (Brocolitia): This fort is on private land but there is public access to the nearby temple to the god, Mithras. The actual fort was a subsequent addition to the Wall whilst the mithraeum may date from around AD 200.

Brocolita Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall

Chesters (Cilurnum) Fort: A well-preserved fort which lies in the valley of the North Tyne River. The on site museum contains finds from Chesters and other forts on the Wall.

Chesters Roman Fort, Hadrian’s Wall

Corbridge (Coria) Roman Town: Established around AD 80 and thus pre-dates the Wall. The civilian town once extended to 12 hectares. Remains include a fountain, granaries and temples. On site is a well stocked museum featuring sculptures and inscriptions found locally.

Corbridge Roman Site, Hadrian’s Wall

Heddon-on-the-Wall: At this location can be viewed a long stretch of preserved Wall with a width of 10 Roman feet (2.9M).

Hadrian’s Wall at Heddon on the Wall,England

Wallsend (Segedunum): This Roman fort was located at the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall. The site has been reconstructed and includes a  museum and visitor centre. The Roman site includes HQ building, granary, hospital, barracks and bath house.

eia Segedunum, Hadrian’s Wall, England

South Shields (Arbeia): Probably dates from late 2nd century AD. Originally a fort but later extended to a 22 granary supply base. The very well presented visitor site now includes replica barracks and a replica courtyard house.

Arbeia Roman Fort, Hadrian’s Wall, England.

Reenactment at Doune Castle, Scotland.

This evening, I am focusing on Doune Castle in central Scotland.

The name Doune means hill or mound, sometimes a fortress or castle, which is clearly apposite in this case although the name would long pre-date the castle as seen today.

Doune is village located some 8 miles N.W. of Stirling in central Scotland where there is a larger castle and former Royal Palace. Doune Castle is believed to have evolved from a hunting lodge associated with the Scottish royals at nearby Stirling. This edifice gives an impression of strength and solidity, augmented by the 100 foot high Gatehouse. It was built for defence and afforded a high degree of security. The castle seldom changed hands as a function of military action.

Key historical time lines are:

  • Built by Robert Stewart, the Duke of Albany in the 15th century incorporating elements of an earlier castle.
  • Became a Royal fortress and hunting lodge post 1424.
  • Served as a dower house for the three widowed Stewart queens.
  • Held out in support of Mary, Queen of Scots until 1570.
  • Ownership in hands of the Earls of Moray since 1590.
  • Occupied by Marquis of Montrose in 1645 and by British military Redcoats in 1689 and 1715.
  • Taken by forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745.
  • Restored by Earl of Moray in 1883.

Doune Castle, Scotland.

Inner Courtyard at Doune Castle, Scotland.

Great Hall at Doune Castle, Scotland.

Doune Castle has proved popular as a film location featuring in:

  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
  • Game of Thrones
  • Outlander TV series.

Inside can be found the impressive Duke’s Hall with musicians gallery, double fireplace and carved oak screen.

Duke’s Hall, Doune Castle, Scotland

The castle is open to visitors throughout the year. Close-by is the River Teith and various hiking trails.

River Teith with Doune Castle.

Hermitage Castle in landscape.

This evening, I am posting information on the austere edifice known as Hermitage Castle which is located  six miles north of Newcastleton in the Scottish Borders region and about seventy-one miles south of Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital.

Today’s peaceful and gently rolling landscape belies an unruly past. From around the 1200s through to the early 1600s much of the Scottish Borders region was lawless and famed for the activities of the Border Reivers which comprised constantly feuding family groups with no overall control by the governments of Scotland or England. The ‘brutal’ castle architecture has to be viewed in context of the absence of the rule of central government in the Borders region during the medieval period when the castle represented a major power centre in the region.

Paradoxically, the name Hermitage actually derives from a peaceful and holy man who lived near Liddel Water.

There is a record of a castle here in the 12th century but the earliest parts of the present ‘H’ shaped structure date from the mid 14th century, Summary chronology as follows:-

  • Besieged and taken by Sir William Douglas in 1338 who was murdered in 1353, The oldest part of the castle date from the time of Sir William and his English successor Hugh D’Acre.
  • Great corner towers were added by the third Earl of Douglas in the 1390s.
  • The powerful Hepburn family gained control in the 15th century, on orders of King James IV.
  • In October 1566 Mary, Queen of Scots visited James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell who was in bed at the castle suffering from battle wounds.
  • In 1624 the castle passed to the Scotts of Buccleuch.
  • Due to changes in military technology the castle became obsolete and was abandoned in the 17th century.

Aspect of Hermitage Castle, Scottish Borders

Castle interior

View of castle from chapel ruins.

Here is a video clip of drive through local scenery.

The castle is now a visitor attraction managed by Historic Environment Scotland.