Bern

It’s a little misleading, really. This is not so much Bern, but a spur of land surrounded by loops of river next to the village of Bremgarten, on the very edge of Bern. This was a Helvetian oppidum and became a Romano-Celtic settlement following Caesar’s invasion and settlement of the land. As the Romanisation of the area went on, this settlement seems to have flourished, with a temple district of impressive dimensions (sadly not visible.) What is visible is two areas of consolidated remains that hint as to the level of sophistication this site attained.

The bath complex is partially consolidated and on display in woodland under a roofed shelter. It consists of several rooms with surviving hypocaust floor of tile stacks. Nearby, at the woods’ edge where civiliation begins, are the remains of a small amphitheatre with stone revetment, which probably consisted largely of earth and timber seating cavea.

There are more impressive extant remains in Switzerland, but there is just something about the Bern-Bremgarten (Engehalbinsel) site that makes it special. Travel to Bremarten and head down to the picturesque church. Then take a walk down to the river bank and follow it upstream. The wooded hill across the river is the Gallo-Roman site. As you walk upriver you are following the flow around the site. There are several crossings you can take. When I was there a decade ago there was a quaint rope-hauled ferry at the northern-most point. There will then follow some wandering in the woods looking for the Roman ruins. There are many sign posts, though. This is Switerland, after all, and is therefore organised. From the baths you can find the amphitheatre easily enough. Then you are back in civilization. From there, make your way back into Bern and to the ‘Tram Depot’ for a well-deserved beer.

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

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