Friday 25 May 2012

Epic Epiacum's Big Launch Day

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 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...
Anyway returning now to recent history (last Tuesday night)..the launch to the local community and a wider audience in the evening was a resounding success! Many thanks, Elaine and everyone, for creating such a wonderful atmosphere, presentation, organisation, buffet (as provided by the very scrumptious Blue Sheep Catering of Alston)!

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!


the fly in the web said...

What a dream, to have a roman fort on your land!

Expat mum said...

My friend used to have a bit of the Roman Wall in her back garden, but this takes it to a whole new level!

Maggie May said...

Its all very fascinating.
Love to hear about the things that are found neat the Roman sites.
We have several places round here where the Romans left their mark.
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Hello Fly, expatmum and Maggie. Hope the weather is good where you are! Here - it is fabulous...long may it continue!

Elaine is lucky to have all this on her doorstep!

....I still need to check out bits of Roman wall, temples etc. in Newcastle which are in the middle of housing estates...and Maggie...I'd love to know/see what is near you....maybe one day! :-)

expatmum....maybe your friend lived near here?....

Love to you all! Hxx

Nota Bene said...

That's amazing...we might have a bouncy castle to celebrate the jubilee...but a whole Roman Fort buried in your garden????!! Wow

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Hello there NB,

Hope you are keeping well! Yes, I must admit that I am a tad jealous of Elaine. I think we must all be. ;-) Have a great Jubilee party!!! Hxx

The bike shed said...

The holding picture on the planned website makes it look stunning - so often it is the landscape and setting that provides the sense of place and grandeur. I think this why so much of the Ridgeway fails to inspire - because so often the view is of urban sprawl and Poer stations!

Hadriana's Treasures said...


The Bike Shed! yes I agree with you....the pictures of Epiacum ARE stunning. Hopefully there is much more to come..... :-)

BethAlexander said...

It is just lovely - we have a brilliant event on next week to for anybody who wants to come and see this amazing site.

Better still it's FREE, and there will be lots going on for the whole family

Book your FREE place for your family
01434 382080

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Thanks Beth for the info! I will spread the word far and wide!!! :-) Catherine/Hadriana