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A history of the Antonine Wall and a guide to the surviving remains of Rome’s Northernmost Frontier

Beyond the Wall

Dumbarton


A Roman Road was built on the northern shores of the Clyde extending west from Old Kilpatrick. It was originally mooted that this was to facilitate patrols along the banks of the river but it is now generally accepted this was to link the Wall with the port facilities at Dumbarton. The natural harbour at this rock would have enabled resupply of the western garrisons and probably also supported a detachment of the Classis Britannica for patrolling the Clyde.

Travel and Parking

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Key:

Known Fort Location (No Visible Remains)

Fort (Visible Remains)

Other visible remains

This section consists of a variety of sites to the north, east and west of the Wall itself. On-road parking available near most of the sites but note Lurg Moor and Outerwards are  only assessable by the adventurous.

Getting There

Summary


Prior to dredging in the late eighteenth century, the River Clyde was significantly shallower than today with the section between Old Kilpatrick and Dumbarton, approximately 4 miles west from the Wall's end, incapable of taking anything but the smallest vessels. In this stretch there was at least one fording point at Dumbuck.

The Antonine Wall was part of a much larger military deployment in Central and Southern Scotland. Whilst the Wall provided a controlled barrier across the thin neck of land between the Rivers Forth and Clyde, it would have been meaningless without garrisons to the east and west guarding against any unauthorised crossing of the two waterways. Furthermore Roman interests did not end at the Wall; the line it took was dictated by the geography and undoubtedly trade and military activity continued further north.

Lurg Moor and Outerwards Fortlets


Bishopton Fort suffered from limited visibility to the west and, to mitigate against this deficiency, the Romans built two fortlets. One was positioned at Lurg Moor near modern day Greenock and enabled observation of the western segment of the River Clyde. The second, Outerwards near Skelmorie, was positioned to monitor the Upper Clyde including Bute and the Cumbraes. Both were built in a same configuration as the fortlets along the Wall enclosing around 02.5 acres. The ramparts were made from turf and were almost certainly topped with a breastwork or palisade. A defensive ditch surrounded both fortlets.

Forts and Fortlets

Bishopton Roman Fort:

(Site of - no visible remains)

Lat/Long:  55.915821N 4.530319W

Grid Ref:   NS 4196072085

Postcode: PA7 5NY

Lurg Moor Roman Fortlet:

(Slight earthworks)

Lat/Long:  55.926334N 4.730367W

Grid Ref:   NS 2950773731

Postcode: PB19 1BE

Barracks at Cramond Roman Fort

Inveresk Roman Fort


There have been settlements at Inveresk since the Iron Age and when the Romans arrived here, first in the AD80s and then again during the reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius in the AD 140s when it was home to the Votadini tribe. Situated on high ground overlooking the Firth of Forth, the fort enclosed over 6.5 acres almost certainly meaning there was a cavalry presence here. The site lies under the graveyard adjacent to St Michael's Church. A large civilian settlement (vicus) was constructed outside the walls and there is some evidence to suggest the presence of an amphitheatre.

Looking across the Clyde towards Dumbuck  - last known ford over the river

Site of Inveresk Roman Fort

Missing Forts?


Inveresk was the most easterly known fortification on the Antonine frontier. Beyond this point the distance between the coast of Fife and Lothian widens significantly. However, some 12 miles east of Inveresk, the coast of North Berwick juts out into the Firth of Forth closing the gap to just 7 miles. It seems strange then that there was no Roman military presence here - especially as the site went on to be heavily fortified in the medieval period (Dirleton and Tantallon Castles).

Outerwards was situated on the high ground overlooking the Cumbraes

Cramond Roman Fort


The Wall ended at Bo'ness with Carriden Fort in the immediate hinterland of the Wall. Cramond Fort was situated a further 12 miles east and guarded the shores of Lothian from a sea borne crossing launched from Fife, the coast of which is just over 3 miles away. It was constructed concurrent with the frontier by the Fourth Cohort of the Second Augustan Legion (Legio II Augusta). Furthermore, it operated as a logistics base probably being used to offload supplies from the larger sea-going ships and transfer them to smaller vessels for movement along the River Forth. For these reasons, it was a particularly large structure; the fort enclosed just under 6 acres and also had a large annexe that descended from the high ground to the waterline. A small civilian settlement grew up adjacent to the fort.


Cramond Fort was connected to the main Roman military network, including the Antonine Wall, by Dere Street - the main road running north east from York. It was garrisoned by the First Cohort of Tungrians (cohors Primae Tungrorum) - a 1,000 strong infantry recruited in what is modern day Belgium. This unit had previously been attested at both Vindolanda and Carrawburgh during the first occupation of Hadrian's Wall; given the size of the latter (the only fort on that frontier not large enough to garrison an entire Regiment), it is likely the force was divided between the two locations. This seemed to continue when the Regiment moved north to Cramond as the Regiment was also recorded at Castlecary during the same period. The detachment at Cramond was under the command of a Centurion from the Twentieth Legion (Legio XX Valeria Victrix).

Dirleton Castle

Tantallon Castle

Camelon Roman Fort


Camelon Fort was the first of the outpost forts surprisingly situated just 1 mile north of Watling Lodge. Originally founded during the campaigns of General Agricola in the AD 80s, it had formed part of the defensive chain which he established across the Forth/Clyde isthmus. It was also a key outpost in his efforts to contain the Highland massif; it was connected (via Dere Street) to a series of outposts working north to the Legionary fortress at Inchtuthil. Camelon was abandoned circa-AD 90 but was re-occupied concurrent with the building of the Antonine Wall. However, rather than re-use the Agricola earthworks, the new fort was laid out slightly to the north and included an annexe. Given the decision to rebuild the site, it is perhaps surprising the installation was not moved onto the line of the Wall especially as there is no obvious reason for its exposed position. Today the northern fort is buried under the Falkirk Golf club whilst the southern Agricola era fort is buried near the Tesco Superstore.

Camelon Roman Fort is buried under Falkirk Golf Course

Doune and Ardoch


During Genera Agricola’s campaign, the next fort north after Camelon was at Doune. Excavation on this fort however has not yielded any evidence to suggest occupation during the Antonine period nor has any other installation yet been found. Pending further discoveries it must be assumed that the next fort in the Antonine-era line was Ardoch - once again an Agricola fort was rebuilt. Occupying a key route through Perthshire, the earthworks of the former fort were re-used albeit the new outpost enclosed a slightly smaller area; accordingly the northern side had a new rampart whislt the existing defensive ditch was simply incorporated into an ellobarate multi-ditch defence system. The garrison of this outpost during the Antonine period is not known.

Strageath Roman Fort


Overlooking the River Earn, Strageath enclosed an area of around 4.5 acres. Today traces of the fort's ramparts are visible as low spread banks.

River Almond near Bertha Fort

Bertha Fort (from West) near A9

Bertha Roman Fort


The final known fort in the northern line was Bertha. This occupied a naturally defendable location at the confluence of the River Almond with the River Tay and was a particularly large fort at over 9 acres. The garrison(s) are unknown but it is likely that an outpost in such an exposed location would have had both an infantry and cavalry presence. It is also possible the fort was well armed with heavy weapons - at High Rochester, an outpost beyond Hadrian’s Wall, stone throwing ballistae were provided to the auxiliary garrison. Today visible traces of the site have all but been eliminated by erosion from the River Almond, development of the A9, building of a railway and agricultural activity.

Outerwards Roman Fortlet:

(Trace earthworks/cropmarks)

Lat/Long:  55.859448N 4.827348W

Grid Ref:   NS 2314566533

Postcode: N/A

Cramond Roman Fort:

(Foundations visible)

Lat/Long:  55.978067N 3.299290W

Grid Ref:   NT 1901976882

Postcode: EH4 6NS

Western Sector: Guarding the River Clyde


LAT/LONG

OS GRID REF

POSTCODE

Bishopton Fort (Site of)

55.915821N 4.530319W

NS 4196072085

PA7 5NY

Lurg Moor Fortlet

55.926334N 4.730367W


NS 2950773731

PB19 1BE

Outerwards Fortlet

55.859448N 4.827348W

NS 2314566533

N/A

Cramond Fort

55.978067N 3.299290W

NT 1901976882

EH4 6NS

Inveresk Fort

55.937259N 3.054697W

NT 3421272081

EH21 7UA

Camelon Fort (Site of)

56.007402N 3.817954W

NS 8674280877

FK2 7YH

Ardoch Fort

56.267595N 3.876012W

NN 8391009928

FK15 9QA

Strageath Fort (Site of)

56.341887N 3.783234W

NN 8987018043

PH5 2BJ

Bertha Fort (Site of)

56.424825N 3.465097W

NO 0973026809

N/A

Inveresk Roman Fort:

(Site of - no visible remains)

Lat/Long:  55.937259N 3.054697W

Grid Ref:   NT 3421272081

Postcode: EH21 7UA

Camelon Roman Fort:

(Site of - no visible remains)

Lat/Long:  56.007402N 3.817954W

Grid Ref:   NS 8674280877

Postcode: FK2 7YH

Ardoch Roman Fort:

(Extensive earthworks)

Lat/Long:  56.267595N 3.876012W

Grid Ref:   NN 8391009928

Postcode: FK15 9QA

Strageath Roman Fort:

(Slight earthworks)

Lat/Long:  56.341887N 3.783234W

Grid Ref:   NN 8987018043

Postcode: PH5 2BJ

Bertha Roman Fort:

(Site of - no visible remains)

Lat/Long:  56.424825N 3.465097W

Grid Ref:   NO 0973026809

Postcode: N/A

Bishopton Roman Fort


Built directly opposite the former Dumbuck ford, Bishopton Fort was constructed on the plateau of a hill some 60 metres above sea-level affording a good view over the River Clyde. Little is known about the station - neither its name nor garrison - but it enclosed approximately 2 acres making it comparable in size to the secondary forts of the Antonine Wall. Presumably the troops stationed here had responsibility for patrolling the southern shores of the Clyde probably supported by a maritime element.

Hill on which Bishopton Fort was built

Site of Bishopton Fort

View from Bishopton Fort - Dumbarton Castle is to the left

Dumbarton Rock - site of a later castle but also a Roman port

Lurg Moor Roman Fortlet

Summary


The geography in the east is significantly different from the waters of the Clyde. Here, on the Forth, the water barrier was wider and less sheltered. At Bo'ness, the Wall's eastern terminus, the Forth is around 1.5 miles wide. It then narrows briefly at Queensferry before starting a gradual widening. There were no fording points east of the Wall greatly reducing any threat. It is also likely that the east was better populated than the west; a significant factor as the vested interests of the landowners would have led the communities to resist incursions that could have resulted in Roman military retribution.

Eastern Sector: Patrolling the Forth

Site of Carriden Roman Fort

The view towards Fife from Cramond Roman Fort

St Michael’s Church

Summary


The Antonine Wall was never intended to be an impenetrable barrier; it was built on the most suitable line as dictated by the geography but the Romans still conducted activity in the north. In particular there was a clear Roman interest in Fife; a network of forts extended north from the Wall and were positioned between the peninsula and the Highland massif. These forts were connected via Dere Street, the main Roman road running up the eastern spine of Britannia, and which passed north through the Antonine Wall at Watling Lodge.

Northern Sector: Controlling Fife

The ditch near Watling Lodge - Dere Street headed north from near this point

The spectacular remains of Ardoch Roman Fort

Traces of rampart (centre distance) at Strageath Roman Fort

Bertha Fort (from South)

There are no other known Antonine-era forts beyond Betha and so that concludes our look at the frontier. Despite their much depleted state, the Roman military remains in Scotland during this era remain hugely fascinating and have informed wider understanding of actions across the former empire. One day perhaps the Antonine Wall will get the same recognition as its southern counterpart.

Conclusion

Visit the Antonine Wall

Carriden to MumrillsMumrills to RoughRough to CastlecaryCastlecary to WesterwoodWesterwood to Bar HillBar Hill to KirkintillochKirkintilloch to CadderCadder to BearsdenBearsden to CastlehillCastlehill to Old KilpatrickBeyond the Wall

Visit the Antonine Wall