|The stimulus for December’s talk was an organised walk in July 2022 to Maiden Castle, a small Roman fortlet overlooking the A66 and the Eden Valley, led by Judith and Alan Mills; ten people came on the walk including John Nolan of the Northumberland Archaeology Group. (See item 158 on the news archive.)
Alan began by contrasting the subject of this talk with both a ‘normal’ Roman fort such as that at Birdoswald on Hadrian’s Wall and the probable Iron Age Maiden Castle on the north facing slopes of Harkerside, Swaledale. The Roman Maiden Castle is considerably smaller than both and is one of approximately 50 known Roman fortlets, mostly found in the Scottish borders and North of England. They are characterised by the lack of a principia, the administrative centre of an ordinary fort, and only being of sufficient size to hold one or maybe two ‘centuries’ of troops; 80 -200 soldiers. They are typically found guarding strategic points such as river crossings or as here, important roads– the Roman road through the Pennines from York to Carlisle.
He went on to consider the fortlet’s place in the Roman landscape. It was an interval fort, set between the major Roman forts at Bowes and Brough. He explained how it fitted in with the three earlier marching camps at Rokeby Park, near Greta Bridge, Rey Cross and Crackenthorpe, thought to date from Governor Cerialis’ invasion of around 70AD and the later construction of the road, the forts along it and Maiden Castle, all probably part of Governor Agricola’s campaign a decade or so later.
In addition to the Roman road, marching camps, and forts there are a number of what are thought to be the sites of Roman Signal Stations or Watch Towers. It has been suggested that these were part of a chain of Signal Stations for the rapid transmission of information along the line of the road. Alan spent some time considering this and was of the view that the likelihood of inclement weather, and the absence of any evidence of long distance transmission of information in this way, made it much more likely that the sites were Watch Towers; that is to provide early warning of incursions, for example, to the nearby forts. He concluded that an early form of ‘Pony Express’ would be the quickest and most reliable form of communication between York and Carlisle!