Scottish Tour Guide's Blog

CatsWhiskersTours provide unique tour experiences tailored to suit you. Call +44 (0) 141 638 5500

Commanding Officer’s house at Arbeia Roman Fort

This morning, we departed our lodgings in York, NE England and drove north with first stop at Kiplin Hall in north Yorkshire.

Kiplin Hall

Kiplin Hall

This intriguing Jacobean house was built for George Calvert, Secretary of State to James I and founder of Maryland, USA.

Cecil Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore, was the first Proprietor of the Province of Maryland, ninth Proprietary Governor of the Colony of Newfoundland and second of the colony of Province of Avalon to its southeast.

Since it was built in 1619, the house has belonged to four fascinating families, connected by blood or marriage. Former owners had royal connections including King John, James I, and Charles I and II.

Throughout the centuries alterations and additions have been made to the house and gardens.

The house is packed with the furniture, portraits, paintings, objects and personalia of the families who lived here.

There are special connections with certain U.S.A. educational establishments, viz:

  • The University of Maryland, with funding from the state of Maryland, in 1986 opened the University of Maryland Study Center at Kiplin Hall, established a resource “built out of what was originally a stable house and blacksmith’s shop.” It is open for students in the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.
  • Washington College in Maryland offers a three-week summer program in English Literature. Lectures are presented each morning and students participate in afternoon field excursions. Significant historic, literary, landscape, and architectural sites of interest are part of field excursions. Influential literary figures such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley and others found the area around Kiplin Hall inspiring to their works.
  • The University of South Carolina has a summer program (Hist 786) in England to “provide comparisons with U.S. theory and practice in archives administration, museum management, and historic preservation. It offers behind-the-scenes tours of museums and historic sites, as well as meetings with curators, archivists, administrators, and government officials to discuss the practice of public history in the UK.” This includes Kiplin Hall.

Next, we continued north to Hadrian’s Wall where we visited two specific sites:

Arbeia Roman Fort

Arbeia Roman Fort at South Shields

This partly reconstructed fort is located at the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall overlooking the mouth of the River Tyne. Key facts:

  • Probably built around AD 161-180 to replace an earlier fort in the vicinity.
  • Site extended from 1.7 to 2.1 hectares after AD 200. Rationale was to extend capacity as a supply base in support of strategy to conquer northern Britain.
  • The site was extended to include 22 granaries, to hold vital food supplies for the troops.
  • After abandonment of the northern campaign Arbeia acted as a supply base for Hadrian’s Wall, no doubt aided by its strategic location with access to the sea.
  • Around AD 300 the site suffered a disastrous fire. Final HQ building was a re-build following the fire.

This site sits somewhat incongruously surrounded by residential housing. The site is run by Tyne and Wear Museums and includes an on-site museum. There are replica barracks, courtyard house and entrance gate which, combined with the extensive visible archaeology, enable visitors to connect with the Roman period in a tangible way.

Inside Commanding Officer’s House

Vindolanda Roman Fort

Archaeology at Vindolanda Roman Site

Vindolanda is extensive, comprising both military fort and civilian settlement (vicus). Archaeological research is ongoing and has revealed a wealth of artifacts and finds including textiles, footwear, human and animal bones, weaponry, coins, leather goods and unique written communications know as the ‘Vindolanda Tablets’.

Summary information on the site as follows:

  • Original fort established around AD 85, some forty years before commencement of Hadrian’s Wall.
  • In the early years the fort was constructed of wood and hence was required to be rebuilt at regular intervals. It is likely that the fort had been rebuilt five times by the early years of Hadrian’s reign ( 117-138). At each rebuild the old fort was levelled and covered in turf, a process which created perfect anaerobic conditions for preservation of perishable items such as textiles, leather and wood. Overall, the Vindolanda fort could have been rebuilt ten times before the Romans departed in the early fourth century.
  • Initially, the fort housed the 1000 strong, Ninth Cohort of Batavians ( from Gaul/France) who departed in AD 105 to fight in the Dacian Wars (Romania). For most of the life of the fort it appears that Vindolanda was the base for the Fourth Cohort of Gauls, a unit possibly half the size of the Ninth Cohort.
  • The site today comprises (a) a playing card shaped military stone fort within which were barracks, residence of Commanding Officer and H.Q. Building and (b) a civilian settlement outside the west gate of the fort made up of homes, shops and workshops plus a bath house and granaries.
  • The site was well-engineered with water supply system part of which remains extant.
  • The physical stonework remaining today mainly dates from the 3rd and 4th centuries.
  • Vindolanda is probably best known for the famous ‘Vindolanda Tablets’, a large number of routine military and private communications written on thin veneers of wood in the mid 120s but unintentionally preserved owing to being discarded in a water-logged pit and then secured in the anaerobic conditions adverted to above. These tablets provide a unique insight into daily life and social conditions including, surprisingly, the presence of women on the frontier.
  • The site continued to be occupied into the 5th and 6th centuries, long after the collapse of Roman power in Britain in AD 410. There is evidence of an early Christian Church on the site dating from the post-Roman period.

Archaeology at Vindolanda

Record of Roman military units which served at Vindolanda

Tonight, we are staying in the Hexham area. Tomorrow we visit more sites on the Wall.

Street decoration in York

Today, we visited aspects if the ancient city of York in northern England whilst maintaining the underlying Roman theme of our tour.

Roman York

York was known as Eboracum. Consistent with other Roman forts the plan at York was based on a playing card design with strong external defences and a grid of streets inside. Hadrian visited in AD 120 in context of initiative to build his famous wall. Initially York was garrisoned by the Ninth Legion and subsequently the Sixth Legion.

Roman HQ building

The civilian section contained public buildings such as bath houses and temples plus fine houses for the wealthy.

The Emperor, Septimus Severus used York as a base for military campaigns in the north during 208-211. In AD 306 the emperor Constantinus I died in York and his son Constantine the Great was acclaimed emperor by the army.

Roman York

The Romans abandoned Britain in AD 410 as a consequence of which York fell into decline.

York Minster

York Minster

Minster was an Anglo-Saxon name for a missionary church. The first Minster in York was established in AD 627. This was superseded by the Norman Cathedral in 1080 under auspices of the Roman Catholic Church. This structure was subsequently embellished and extended through to 1534 when the Church of England ( Episcopalian) separated from Rome. Subsequent to the 16th century three major fires occurred which required restoration plus underpinning of the central tower (in 1967) which was in danger of collapse.

Interior of York Minster

The actual site of the Cathedral dates back to the Roman period. The Undercroft of the Cathedral contains evidence of the Roman Principia, a Roman wall painting and drain.

High quality plasterwork

Roman Wall and drain

Today, the Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of York and home to the Minster Choir, one of the U.K.’s top choirs.

As will be evident from the images herein the Cathedral is well endowed with stained glass and outstanding architectural features which date back to the medieval period.

Stained glass from Norman period

East Window

Other Aspects of York

Some group members availed of the opportunity to visit the Jorvik, Viking experience. Other opportunities included:

  • Yorkshire Museum which holds an excellent collection of Roman era artefacts.

Carving of family

Roman Mosaic

  • The Multangular Tower which has Roman origins.

Multangular Tower

  • Roman Bath (in basement of a pub).

Roman Bath.

Tomorrow we move on to Hadrian’s Wall.

Castle Howard,Yorkshire.

This morning we departed Chester in N.W. England and drove N.E. to Yorkshire and our objective of Castle Howard. This name is actually a misnomer because although built on site of a former military castle the building was never designed for military or defensive purposes. Today, Castle Howard ranks as one of Britain’s finest historic houses.


Summary information on Castle Howard as follows:

  • Building commenced in 1699 but completion was not achieved until 1811.
  • Built by Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-17760) who also designed a similar masterpiece, Blenheim Palace.
  • Remains under long-standing ownership of the family associated with the Earls of Carlisle (Howard family). The Howards still reside at the property.
  • Inside can be found dramatic designs and collections of furniture, paintings and other items.The building  is surrounded by 1000 acres of parkland comprising rolling hills and unexpected monuments and statues, many with a classical theme.
  • Castle Howard is, perhaps, best known as the setting for two versions of Brideshead Revisited, in 1981 and 2008.
  • A Baroque structure with two symmetrical wings.#
  • Suffered extensive fire damage in 1940, which was not war related.
  • Close to the Castle are immaculately maintained specialist gardens.

Interior Room


Great Hall

Lady Georgiana’s Bedroom

Chapel inside main building

Temple of Four Winds in landscape

Castle Howard

Aquatic Scene.

Tomorrow we visit York.