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

Bearsden

The fort at Bearsden, of whose Roman name we are unaware, lies buried beneath housing. It was a fort with a turf rampart, and a turf wall also divided the enclosure into a main fort and an annexe. The fort’s north wall was the Antonine wall itself. Internal buildings were of both stone and timber.

One edifice has survived, though, and has survived well, remaining one of Scotland’s best preserved Roman sites. In the fort’s annexe was a bathhouse and latrine, constructed of both stone and timber. This has been excavated and consolidated and sits sandwiched by housing blocks by the appropriately named ‘Roman Road’. It is a lovely site and well maintained. Moreover, despite being on the edge of the Glasgow conurb, Bearsden is actually rather pleasant. All in all, Bearsden is one of the best sites to visit on the Antonine wall.

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

Augst (Augusta Raurica) & KaiserAugst

The twin sites of Augst and Kaiseraugst sit at the northern end of Switzerland, close to Basel. Founded during Caesar’s Gallic wars by his lieutenant Plancus – yes, sorry Augst, but I made Plancus an insufferable a-hole in my Marius’ Mules books – Augst is one of the most impressive Roman sites this side of the Alps. The city thrived as a trade hub on the majot mercantile route that runs from Italy to northern France and Germany. Sitting on the bank of the Rhine, and at a navigable level, goods shipped from Rome could be moved from Augst downstream, and vice verse. In the late third or early fourth century, the constant threat of barbarian violence and economic and farming difficulties led to the abandonment of the great city and the creation of an impressively heavily walled fortress beside the river, which could shelter the civilians.

The remains of Augst (and Kaiseraugst, which is the name applied to the district that contains the late fortress) are the most impressive in Switzerland, and in fianact some of the best I have ever visited. Beginning at Kaiseraugst, it is possible to visit the walls of the fortress along good lengths and standing quite high, and a bath suite and later early Christian church in a curious little doorway on the riverbank and underneath a building, lit rather eerily.

From there, you could take a taxi or a bus, but you can easily walk. There are some hostelries along the way, one of which I visited with a friend and was rather pleasant. It is less than a mile from the riverside fortress to the ruins of the city, and half way, there are the preserved remains of a Roman house with a workshop and shop attached, which are excellent. Arriving at the Roman city, you will first find the theatre (rather obvious) and the museum. Visit the museum first, then the stunning theatre and the schönbühl temple opposite, which affords great views of the former. From there, explore the capitol and forum and the baths.

Augusta Raurica is a sprawling site of hidden surprises. Beyond what I’ve mentioned above, there are many, many places to visit, including other temples, gates, the amphitheatre, the aqueduct. All I can suggest is plan it all very well beforehand. The official website has a nice map and guide, and go here to find it. I spent half a day at Augst and as the sun began to sink I regretted not having longer. I would say make a whole day of Augst. It deserves it. If you love your Roman sites, do NOT miss Augst.

Remains: 5/5    Atmosphere: 5/5   Access: 5/5    Overall: 5/5

Ardoch (Alauna?)

Originally dating from the time of the 1st century campaigns of Agricola, Ardoch is an impressive sight. The first fort, which was part of the so-called ‘Gask Ridge’ system, was replaced after a period of inactivity by a second, Antonine fort. The first fort was of timber and earth, though the second contained a number of stone buildings within. Although no stonework is visible today, Ardoch remains one of the most impressive Roman sites in the British isles.

The remains, which consist of some of the most striking rampart and ditch defences in the entire Roman world, were enclosed by the local landowner centuries ago, protecting them from the usual ploughing that would have ruined the site. What we are left with is simply breathtaking. The south and west ramparts are impressive enough, but the north and east are incredibly pronounced. The site lies just outside the village of Braco. Parking is easy enough, a little uphill from the fort on the road side, from where you can walk back downhill towards the village and cross the gate into the field to explore the ditches.

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

Girona (Gerunda)

One of the four regional capitals of Cataluyna, Girona (or Gerona) is a beautiful city – the old part, anyway. Full of Jewish and Medieval remains with an enchanting arab bathhouse, breathtaking painted houses along the Riu Onyar, there are a thousand reasons to visit the town.

As Gerunda, the city was a Roman foundation upon an existing Ausetani tribal settlement. Pompey created fortress here in the Sertorian war. The city flourished as a civil settlement and continued to grow into late Rome and beyond. It had an atypical plan, largely due to the early military foundation being limited by topography. Rather than the traditional ‘playing card’ shape, Gerunda was limited by walls in a roughly triangular shape, with the base of the triangle being the river and the upper point at the top of the hill.

No interior buildings remain of the Roman city, buried as they are under other historic structures, but two facets remain to thrill the Roman fan. The first is the museums – the city’s History museum close to the cathedral and the Archaeological museum in the monastery of St Pere de Galligants, at the northern edge of the city, outside the walls. Both contain a wealth of artefacts, including fabulous mosaics, lapidary delights and an excellent corn measure.

And then there are the walls. The medieval walls follow the Roman line for some of their circuit. Start at the city’s north gate on the Carrer de la Fora, near the cathedral. From the northern side of the gate, follow the outer edge of the walls up the slope past the cathedral complex up to the ruined fortress complex known as the Gardens of Germany. All this way, the medieval walls are built upon the Roman ones, using them as foundations. At the gardens, find the full-height walls again and follow them south along the edge of the city. This section is medieval, but from it, looking back towards the cathedral, you can see a fine section of the earlier Roman walls rising above the roofs and gardens. You can get to the bottom of those walls through a car park if you wish. They, with the north gate, are the most impressive remains in the city. In the meantime, complete the circuit of the later walls, and then find the plaça sant domenec, where the last Roman fragments can be found. Here, if you examine the walls to the side of the street, you will see the stonework of the Roman gate known as the Porta Rufina within the later walls.

Girona is one of Catalunya’s most stunning cities and the atmosphere is remarkable. Go to Girona. Go for the Roman remains. Stay for the rest.

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

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