We had a fantastic and wonderfully sunny day/evening up at the Village Hall to launch Epic Epiacum Ltd this last Tuesday (May 22nd). Elaine Edgar is the owner of a farm near Alston (just up the road from here) called Castle Nook/Whitley Castle (Epiacum). There is a link to a local paper, The Journal, here which describes Elaine's plans for Epiacum and here in the Hexham Courant.
"The name Epiacum is possibly a contraction of epi-acumen meaning 'surrounding the point', which could refer to the fort's outstanding tactical position surrounding the summit of a small hill. The modern name means 'the castle in the white clearing'"This is quoted from the excellent website Roman Britain.The name, Epiacum, is debated ...it could also been the property or estate of Eppius - a Romanised Celtic/British name.
Elaine is "the wife of a farmer" (her words) and sitting on their farm is an unexcavated Roman fort.
I first got to know Elaine as we are Governors for the federation of local primary Church of England Schools. Through those meetings we got chatting and given that she has a Roman fort at her fingertips...I naturally got interested!
"Whitley Castle, or Epiacum, at Castle Nook Farm has not been explored by archaeologists apart from one small dig in 1957. The foundations of the fort's buildings are preserved, including the barracks, commander's house and bath house. Elaine Edgar claims it is the "best preserved roman fort" with everything "lying intact". She said, despite being unexcavated and "virtually unknown", the fort is "very visible in the landscape"." (Quoted from the BBC article.)
Through the Area of Natural Beauty North Pennines I started to attend the guided tours and walks that have been (and still are) taking place around the fort. Paul Frodsham, is the main archaeologist, who works for AONBNP and he has been instrumental in setting up a volunteer led programme for budding local archaeologists called 'Altogether Archaeology'. Through this programme they have been conducting molehill surveys at the fort. I had to miss last year's as I was committed elsewhere but I did manage to attend one day this year. I found some shards of pottery. Other people have found some other artefacts too which show up on this BBC Look North short film here of that molehill survey day.
Elaine very kindly invited me to join the steering group which is advising the Directors of Epic Epiacum earlier this year. It's been Elaine's vision to create a visitor centre at Epiacum to welcome all visitors there, improve access and tell them more about the farm, the landscape, the history, the fort and much more besides. (The history is not all Roman as there are tell tale signs in the landscape which date back to the Bronze Age.) Through her unstinting efforts Epic Epiacum Ltd has just been awarded some money from the Heritage Lottery fund to make the fort more accessible to school parties and tourists as well as the many walkers who follow the Pennine Way footpath around the margins of the fort. By creating improved access and interpretation facilities we hope that future visitors will be able to appreciate just what a unique and astonishing place this is (quoted from EH website).
Paul Frodsham has also been working with *Stewart Ainsworth of Time Team fame and English Heritage. As such the fort has now been extensively surveyed by English Heritage and its reports begin here. *Stewart's first contact with Whitley Castle was over thirty years ago. He has stated that he enjoys being in contact with this part of the world for the warmth of its people and for the richness of an apparently bleak landscape (when it is anything but!)...he is shown in two of the photos above in the cap and blue jacket.
There are many things I could tell you about Epiacum/Whitley Castle but for now
I'll restrict myself to these:
- the fort has seven defensive ditches (!!!) - that's a very high number...
- the fort/farm sits on a Roman road called the Maiden Way
- the fort was there (most likely) to exploit the mining of lead and silver
- the fort/older farm steading was the birth place of Northumbrian historian, John Wallis/Wallace, in the eighteenth century. Apparently he stated that being born on a Roman fort inspired his love of history...
Looking forward to helping you now and in the future!
PS - A new website is being created for Epic Epiacum and you can follow Elaine on Twitter @epiacum
You can also become a Friend of Epiacum to be invited along to special events and training opportunities. Ask Elaine for more details!