Elslack (Olenacum?)

Elslack fort lies buried beneath a cattle field, bisected by the Victorian railway line, along which you can walk from the road to visit the fort. There is little to see other than topography and vague earthworks. The fort site is discernable, and one can imagine the bath house at the corner above the valley with its stream. A small sign covered with peeling paint explains what you are looking at. Of course, visiting Elslack (a few miles SW of Skipton next to the A56) you are on a win anyway. If you can see little of the fort, you can at least appreciate its position and the surrounding landscape, and for those with even the faintest interest in industrial archaeology, walking the railway line is fun in its own right.

Remains: 1/5    Atmosphere: 3/5   Access: 2/5    Overall: 2/5

Metchley

In the south end of Birmingham, not far from Cadbury world, in the open ground between Birmingham University and the Queen Elizabeth hospital, stand a few shallow ditches and mounds, dotted with notice boards. This is what remains of Metchley’s Roman fort, constructed in the mid 1st century, with two separate periods of occupation and abandoned in the Hadrianic period. The fort was timber and turf, with no stonework, and the plan is somewhat complex due to the existence of two distinct sets of ramparts superimposed from the two periods of occupation, as well as several external annexes, each fortified in their own right.

The name of the fort is unknown as no epigraphy has come to light and the fort was abandoned long before the Antonine Itinerary and the Notitia Dignitatum, the two sources used to plot the Roman names of Britain’s sites. The physical remains are rater confusing, and lie in a small area of green that are hard to visit by car, due to the road system and the parking difficulties of hospital and university. There is a station very close. But in a place I never expected to find it, Metchley’s remains form a tiny oasis of calm in a busy concrete world.

Remains: 1/5    Atmosphere: 3/5   Access: 2/5    Overall: 2/5

Piercebridge (Morbium?)

The pretty little village of Piercebridge in County Durham sits atop a fort originally of late 1st century date, which may be the ‘Morbium’ mentioned in the Ravenna Cosmography.

The fort here guarded Dere Street’s crossing of the Tees, and the impressive remains of the bridge abutment on the south bank can still be seen. Piercebridge is a sleep little village and pleasant to stroll around. Park up in the village centre. Beneath the village green are the central range of buildings (headquarters, CO’s house and granaries.) Look for the small, interesting church and take the alleyway  one house to the right of it. This brings you to the main area of excavations.

Here you can see the east wall and gate of the fort, with some lilia pits (for defensive spikes) marked outside it, an impressive section of defensive ditch with a causeway, a few internal buildings, including a late Roman courtyard house with heating or drainage channels, and a few parts of civilian buildings across the ditch. It is an interesting set of ruins despite the minimal excavations. At the far end, looking over a house’s back wall, you can see stonework that apparently belonged to a bath house.

Across the causeway and out past the wall, stop and look across the hedge in front of you. This is the area of the vicus (civilian settlement.) Turn left from here and walk along the path past the farm. If you are very lucky you will be able to get into the field behind the barn and explore the fort’s corner tower and a latrine. When I was last there it was so overgrown my photos look like shots of deepest Borneo and show no stonework at all.

From there, head back into the village, and then leave southwards, over the bridge and past the pub (I know…. past the pub, not into it. You can always come back.) Park up in the big car park just before the bend and look for the signs for the footpath leading towards the river. This will take you to the bridge abutment which, along with Willowford and Chesters on the wall, is one of the three best in Britain. This gives you some idea of the impressive scale of the bridge in its day.

Remains: 3/5    Atmosphere: 4/5   Access: 4/5    Overall: 4/5

Ambleside (Galava)

The auxiliary fort of Galava is a Hadrianic construction atop the remains of a Flavian fort. The home of an unknown auxiliary unit who may have been the same unit that practiced with slings at Burnswark, since similar discard piles of sling bullets have been found at both sites.

Galava is in a stunning location. At Waterhead, from the Windermere ferry terminal, walk past the Waterhead hotel (just past it, for now!) and across the Borans field park. At the far side of the park you will find the site of Galava. It is freely open to visit. The fort platform is clearly visible and the few parts that have been excavated are enclosed within fences. These consist of the south and east gates, and the central range of stone buildings (commanding officer’s house, headquarters building and two granaries). From the fort there is a pleasant view over the bushes south across Windermere.

The stone remains are well preserved and surprisingly well-kept considering they are in a field and clearly largely untended. Of particular interest are the two granaries built in slightly different forms, and the headquarters strongroom. Walking the fort area is very pleasant and Ambleside is a stunning location anyway. From Ambleside, if you’re feeling brave enough and your car’s not an old banger, head for the Hardknot pass and the fort nestled on the pass top there. On the way back into town, you’ll pass the Waterhead Inn again. NOW you go in… 😉

Remains: 2/5    Atmosphere: 4/5   Access: 4/5    Overall: 3/5