Thursday, 6 October 2016

Romans and After in North Cumbria - Hadrian's Wall Community Champions' Exploration Events

In Gilsland (almost at Poltross Burn)

Yesterday, as part of Hadrian's Wall Community Champions' Exploration Events, we were able to hear about Lauren and Liam's organic farming activities at Willowford Farm (& B&B) and at The Samson Inn. They are a young couple who are passionate about local produce and are dedicated to the area. After Liam's talk we visited Milecastle 48 (at Poltross Burn also known locally as The King's Stables since medieval times). We walked the Roman mile (49) to Birdoswald Roman Fort taking in turrets, the Stone Wall, the bridge abutment, the modern bridge and Milecastle 49 at Harrow's Scar. We were also able to spot inscriptions and phallic symbols in and around Hadrian's Wall along the route.
Milecastle 48/Poltross Burn/King's Stables

Turret 49A (Willowford)

Willowford Bridge Abutment

We, 16 of us, enjoyed a delicious lunch at Slack House Farm where Dianne and Eric Horn farm in an organic, sustainable way. Lunch was served in the Scypen (next door to where they also have a bunkhouse) and where they make their fantastic Birdoswald cheese. They were very welcoming to us and they talked about their farming activities too.
Walking down to the bridge abutment

After lunch we visited the Roman Fort at Birdoswald (also known as Banna) where we discussed the turf wall, the beauty of the landscape, all things Roman, warlords, Arthurian legends (linking King Arthur to Hadrian's Wall) and St. Patrick's possible birth place. The English Heritage team were very helpful. There is talk of an upgrade to the whole site for 2017 which sounds as if it will be fabulous if it does go ahead. Fingers crossed.
At Harrow Scar Milecastle (49)

We went by bus to Upper Denton to the churchyard and the Norman church with Saxon elements. It is just below Birdoswald where we looked up again at the site of the fort. We discussed the effect of the Reivers on Sir Walter Scott. He visited the area several times and one of his novels in particular, Guy Mannering, is based on certain real people and places in Gilsland.  (Will Higgs' website has lots of research on the Guy Mannering characters.) During the day we reflected on all the different historical elements within Gilsland: steam locomotives, railways; the E-W train line (and the campaign to reopen Gilsland station); the history of Gilsland Hotel and Spa, the Scottish/English border wars; the Romans; the Reivers; Romance; Writers and Poets; Religion and so on. We also inspected a fortified vicarage/bastle house and an earthwork which may possibly be Roman given its proximity to the early Stanegate supply 'frontier' road that runs through Upper or Over Denton.
Upper Denton Churchyard & Norman/Saxon Church with Roman arch

All in all, it was a marvellously sunny autumnal day and a good time was had by all.

(Many more things/people/events/history were discussed during the day and I hope to expand this blog post with a further series of posts - expanding on what I have mentioned above.)