Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Celebramus, ergo sumus! We party, therefore we exist!


This is a photo taken of the Queen and Prince Philip and the well known local footballer, Alan Shearer, amongst others at Alnwick Gardens, June 22nd 2011. My thanks goes to a friend, Lynn, for providing this marvellous photo. (Direct link to Alnwick Gardens here.) [Nearby Alnwick Castle was a setting in some of the Harry Potter films.]

We were all invited, my friends and I, as part of a party to celebrate the achievements of Northumberland's volunteers and carers. The Queen was there at the invitation of the Duchess of Northumberland, who is Lord Lieutenant of Northumberland.

It was a very enjoyable day and a good time was had by all. It was nice to dress up for a change and the weather held good at least whilst the Queen was around...


We, at Hadriana's Villa, have a few tenuous regal connections....my husband, Nigel's father (who is still hale and hearty), spent part of World War II guarding Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret at Windsor Castle. Our daughter, who likes lots of stories relating to Kings, Queens, Princesses and Princes...loves to get him to recount his memories of those times.

Nigel, during his days at the Barbican in London as House Manager, looked after all manner of Royals when they attended receptions there. There is one particular story which he will not tell - at all, at all (such is his devotion to the Royal Family). Needless to say it was all swiftly resolved thanks to his superb organisation...

and talking of organisation....I imagine that there are going to be a few Diamond Jubilee parties over the next few days and as such we'd all like to wish everyone an exhilarating Jubilee weekend! Look forward to hearing your stories over the coming days and weeks! Party on!

celebramus, ergo sumus!

We party, therefore we exist!

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 ...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...
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!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Great Expectations at Great Chesters


Great Chesters (Aesica) is a great little fort. It sits on farm land along the line of Hadrian's Wall. So it can be officially termed a 'Wall fort'. I've not been back for ages and must do so some time. Here are some pictures of it on the internet which I have not studied yet but look interesting: here.

This is (I'm told) the top of the strong room popping out of the greenery (as in photo above). It has an air of neglect which adds to its charm. In my head I've nicknamed it "The Miss Havisham Fort" on Hadrian's Wall. This link in Wikipedia describes it in more detail. A hoard of treasure was found in the West Tower of the South Gate in 1894 and I quote from there:

Excavations were carried out in 1894, during which the ramparts were cleared. The west tower of the south gate was found to contain a hoard of jewellery, which included an enamelled brooch shaped as a hare, a gilded bronze brooch described as a masterpiece of Celtic art, a silver collar with a pendant, a gold ring and a bronze ring with a Gnostic gem. During this excavation the headquarters building (principia) was partially uncovered, together with its vaulted underground strong room. A barrack block was also found to the south-west of the principia.
In 1897 a bathhouse was discovered, 100 yards (91 m) to the south, east of the branch road to the Stanegate. It includes a dressing room, latrine, cold room with cold bath, dry-heat room, warm steamy room and hot steamy room.

As far as I can recall all/most of the jewellery from the hoard is on display at The Great North Museum in Newcastle. It is there as I have looked at it very recently. It is wonderful to behold.
The Great North Museum is free to enter which is an absolute bonus.

There is this interesting short film created by the British Museum  (3 mins.) here which also talks about the complete border around the Roman Empire as created by Hadrian. His stone wall in Northern Britain played a part in his grand plan of protecting/limiting the Roman Empire at its very height.

There is a very good Timewatch BBC programme on Hadrian's Wall (if you have 48 minutes to spare). It gives you an extremely good overview of 'Life on the Wall' in the times of the Romans.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Frozen ripples

Amazing what patterns we can see in the ice. This was taken on Cycle Route 72 near our B&B a few months ago. The weather is improving (just!) Our son is refusing to go swimming in the local outdoor swimming pool at Haltwhistle. It's fantastic once you get in....it's just that nippy bit in between the pool and the changing rooms. Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Brocolitia bathed in light

This fabulous photo was taken at Brocolitia (Procolitia - is the local landowner's preferential spelling) , Carrawburgh (pronounced Carrawbruff) or even Badger Holes according to one author (Anthony Riches). It's an altar - part of a copy of a Mithraeum, a temple to Mithras. Another replica Mithraeum - temple to Mithras - can be seen at The Great North Museum in Newcastle.

David is holding an exhibition of his excellent photographic work at The Moot Hall in Hexham next week this time sharing the space with Ann Sheppard - http://www.ann-sheppard.co.uk/ - who paints beautiful botanical watercolours.

David and his wife, Tania, are good friends of ours! If you can - go and visit - it will be well worth your time!

(Sorry for the huge dip in blogging. Been rushed off my feet. Two friends have recently nudged me back into blogging again. :-))