Great time for Roman around Falkirk’s history

An aerial shot outlining the remains of the Roughcastle fort, which was inhabited by Romans around 143 AD
An aerial shot outlining the remains of the Roughcastle fort, which was inhabited by Romans around 143 AD

By the time you read this Big Roman Week, the annual celebration of our Roman heritage, will be well underway.

I was brought up in Watling Drive in Camelon next to Wall Street, but I had no idea why they had these names or why the pub on the main street was called the Roman Bar.

That was until I first found my way to the old Falkirk Museum in Dollar Park where there were all kinds of artefacts on display like bits of pottery, coins, tools and rusty weapons. All of them had been discovered in the late 19th century when parts of the Roman wall and several local forts were excavated by amateur archaeologists.

Ever since, Falkirk district from Kinneil in the east to Castlecary in the west has attracted the attention of scholars anxious to understand as much as they can about the incredible 38-mile barrier constructed from the Forth to the Clyde almost half of which lies in our area.

Since the wall was declared a World Heritage Site interest at home and abroad has grown and just this week archaeologist Geoff Bailey and I walked from the Falkirk Wheel to Roughcastle fort with two German artists who are planning a project next year linking their bits of the Roman frontier with ours.

It was during the reign of the Emperor Antoninus Pius around 142AD that the wall was built by up to 10,000 Roman soldiers from four legions along with auxiliary troops and pressed or paid locals. It was a civil engineering project to rival the canals, railways and motorways of the modern world.

The wall stood on a stone base about 14-feet wide and was built for the most part of blocks of turf piled up to a height of 10ft and tapering to six feet wide at the top.

To the north of this rampart, facing the wild Caledonian tribesmen from Stenhousemuir and beyond, the engineers placed a huge 40 foot wide v–shaped ditch, 15ft deep to provide further protection for the peace-loving folk to the south – presumably those from Slamannan and the Braes!

Hardly a trace of the rampart now remains, though the great ditch can be identified here and there. In Callendar Park it is easy to see and at Watling Lodge in Camelon, you can come closest to experiencing the ditch as it was 1800 years ago.

It is the best preserved example on the whole length of the wall.

As well as the great rampart and the ditching, the legionaries also built a road called the military way linking a series of forts for the garrisons which would eventually hold the frontier.

One under the Pleasance in Falkirk town centre where it was identified by Geoff back in 1991 and a few miles away at Roughcastle the fort has been preserved in such a way that it is possible to see the rampart with protective ditching and the defensive pits known to the Romans as ‘lilia’.

It is well worth a visit and the opportunity is on offer this weekend. On Saturday you can visit a Roman encampment at Kinneil, meet up with the Antonine Guard in full Roman gear and try your hand at Roman art.

Then on Sunday Geoff Bailey will lead a walk along the wall from Callendar House to Roughcastle starting at 2 p.m. All welcome but be warned – it’s four miles one way.