If someone asked you "where is one of the most prominent earthwork monuments in the North region?" What would you say? Most likely, the most obvious would be somewhere on Hadrian's Wall - Housesteads, Vindolanda or such like? It probably wouldn't be "2 miles north west of Alston" would it?

If someone asked you "where is one of the most prominent earthwork monuments in the North region?" What would you say? Most likely, the most obvious would be somewhere on Hadrian's Wall - Housesteads, Vindolanda or such like?

After intensive research and study, Stewart Ainsworth (English Heritage investigator and Time Team presenter) concluded that this title belonged to Epiacum (Whitley Castle), two miles North- West of Alston, and went on to say that it is "arguably the best preserved roman fort in the UK".

Stewart's interest in Epiacum began a few years back when English Heritage were beginning their farmer miner landscape study on the Alston Manor area. Whitley Castle was not to be included in this as it was decided that the Northumberland border should be the boundary of the study area. However, the North Pennines AONB office suggested that English Heritage should at least consider it as they were aware of our plans to raise the profile of the fort and increase visitors knowledge and understanding of it. At that time, only a few visitors came to the fort - those who knew something about it already.

Whitley Castle from the air courtesy of English HeritageSo, Stewart arrived and said he would have a "quick look" at the fort and let me know at a later date what his decision was. Following a two hour visit, during which he enthused about Epiacum, he suggested there and then that not only should Epiacum be included in the study but it should be the starting point of his five year long project.

The next 18 months or so were busy! Visits from Stewart and Dave Went, his colleague and Durham University were frequent and they carried out a range of research techniques including geophysics, resistivity and lidar photography. The results were published in a comprehensive report, which is available to view or download from English Heritage (it is very large!)

In the meantime, Epiacum Heritage Ltd was formed as a rural business and we submitted an application for a Your Heritage grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. After an anxious wait, at the end of February we were told it had been successful and we were awarded £49,200 to spend on a project called "Epic Epiacum" which will promote the site through a range of activities and public events, train volunteers to carry out guided walks, establish educational activities on site and also provide training for heritage skills such as dry stone walling. Our purpose is to evidence the need for a larger project and to identify Epiacum as a visitor destination with full visitor facilities.

We are only at the very start of a long, but exciting journey. If you are interested in knowing more please do not hesitate to call me on 01434 382080. Alternatively, "like" the Epiacum (Whitley Castle) facebook page or follow us on twitter @epiacum. Or visit our website at www.epiacumheritage.org where you can sign up on the "Help Out" page to volunteer or just find out what is going on.

The whole project is about community involvement so we anticipate lots of interesting activity and opportunities to learn more about this fort which has been largely ignored in favour of the Wall. We personally like the title it has been given of "The Hidden Gem of the North Pennines". Like any gem it needs looking after but also it needs to be treasured and celebrated as something to be proud of.

There will be a public "drop in" event 
from 2-4pm on Tuesday, 22 May
at Cairns Community Hall
(Knarsdale Village Hall, outside of Slaggyford)
Please come along .... have a cuppa and find out more about what is happening - and get involved!!

 

Digging and metal detecting are both illegal on the site but we are open to all ideas about how to best promote and explore this fascinating site.

Our first event of the project took place recently - a molehill survey. The moles, unlike us humans, have no concept of law breaking and so, in spite of the ban on digging on site, they continue unashamedly and oblivious. Farmers, of course, regard Mr Mole as a pest and employ many hours trying to get rid of them. However, for once, they are doing "good work" - in revealing some of the hidden treasures of roman history. Upwards of thirty keen volunteers joined us in systematically sieving molehill soil in an awhitley_castle_findsrea of the fort which had been gridded out in 10x10m squares. The first job was to count the molehills in each square so that any finds could be assigned to a specific area. We were surveying in the area where the barracks would have been - and we were not dissapointed. People found pottery, rims from cooking pots, a bead from a necklace made from jet and nails in abundance [some finds from the Fort pictured above]. Roman nails are quite gruesome to look at! These were interesting to the archaeologists on site as they were evidence that the barracks were built from wood rather than stone.

We were only able to carry out this work due to Rob Young from English heritage being on site to oversee the survey - please not it is illegal to remove anything from an archaeological site. Digging and metal detecting are strictly forbidden by law.

Information on our summer programme of events, including a range of guided walks, open days as well as a two day education event with roman reenactment and learning activities can found our website.

Elaine Edgar
on behalf of Epiacum Heritage