Sunday, 14 July 2013

A Roman Fort on the Edge of Their World

 
Fendoch The Forgotten
 
 

 


 

I accumulated  amongst  my post card  collection of Crieff and Strathearn a late Victorian  or early Edwardian picture of a horse  drawn charabanc ( bus ) drawn up at a place called Fendoch at the entrance  to the Sma Glen  and entitled “ Roman Camp , entrance  to the Sma Glen near Methven “ Apart  from the fact  that it was somewhat closer  to Crieff  than Methven , it  depicted a  scene all but  forgotten locally . In the days prior  to the automobile , it was a popular  excursion  for the better off citizens of the town  to  enjoy a Sunday afternoon trip up by horse drawn coach into the mysterious hinterland that lay northwards of the Strath . Indeed  until comparatively recently  there was an aging sign  painted on the gable end of a house  on East High Street stating “ McArthur’s Charabancs  trips to the Sma Glen ” The destination was the Amulree Hotel on the road to Dunkeld and Aberfeldy . An old coaching inn it  was allegedly the  base for General Wade who with  the assistance of  more than a few Highlanders  constructed a network of military  highways to facilitate  movement of  the Hanoverian redcoats in their  task of “ pacifying “ the Highlands  in the aftermath of  1714 Rising . the “ Roman Camp “ located  at Fendoch  was a point of interest en route to their ultimate destination .
 

 
Why did the Romans  construct not just a fort but  a camp in such an isolated  spot ? We have  covered in previous blogs the  fascinating tale of the Gask Ridge , the oldest Roman frontier in the World  . Thanks  to the detailed  and well documented investigations  by Professors David Woolliscroft and Birgitta Hoffman we are able to piece  together a fascinating account of this turbulent period in our  history . Their  publication “ Rome’s First Frontier “ ( The History Press.Stroud . 2011 ) includes their analysis of Fendoch ‘s location and function . Fendoch was termed  a “ glen blocker “ - intended  by the Romans as a preventative  measure against intrusion  by the Caledonii tribes  who inhabited  the  wild  terrain north of the Gask Ridge  defensive line .
Fendoch was first excavated in  1936 and 1939 by Richmond and McIntyre and their plan of the site became quite famous . It transpires  from Woolliscroft’s  findings that perhaps the accuracy of the information on this plan is somewhat suspect The fort was not excavated in entirety and it appears  that Richmond  and McIntyre interpolated  their  findings and  made more than a few assumptions  based  on a  limited  dig .

 
 
 

It is  clear however that Fendoch did  follow  a similar  pattern of layout to the
“ standard “ type fort  constructed  by the Romans  in the Gask Ridge vicinity in the 1st Century AD . What type of buildings were constructed within it’s ramparts? According to Woolliscroft it would in probability have had an administrative block , store rooms and offices and  in all probability a shrine to the gods . The commanding officer would have had a separate dwelling from the barracks whilst there  would have been a granary . In the case of Fendoch , ovens  were discovered  built into the  external rampart . There may have been a workshop and hospital accommodation . Probable  strength was  between 500 and 1 000 men . It  had been assumed  prior  to the second  investigation  that Fendoch existed as a single phase  occupancy being abandoned systematically when the Romans withdrew. A  pollen analysis has suggested that there would have  a lack of suitable trees  to use in the construction of the fort and  that these would have to have been brought  from further a field . These gives  credence to the belief that these  timbers  would  have been dismantled and  removed rather than merely burned on the abandonment .
Recent  findings  of pottery and other artefacts  suggest that the occupancy was perhaps earlier than had been initially thought . Findings were Samian ( 69 -79 ) and late Neronian ( 54 – 68 ) .
It has  been the belief  since the initial excavations in those far off pre war days  that to the west of the fort , the Romans had constructed a watch tower of the  type found on the Gask Ridge . Woolliscroft has raised some doubts  concerning this and no doubt future excavations  will throw  light on its authenticity .
Recent excavations  carried out  on  account of the Beauly to Denny power line  have revealed an iron age  ( 1000 BC ) settlement and  roundhouses similar  to those found at Pittentian near Crieff .
Fendoch is intriguing and an oft forgotten part of  our local Roman heritage  . One trusts  that it will soon  recover some of its past glory !
 


1 comment:

  1. Strangely enough neither postcard nor the modern photograph actually show the Roman Fort at Fendoch. All three pictures show what is a natural terrace on the left side of the B 8063 just after the bifurcation with the A822. The Roman Fort of Fendoch lies 750 metres to the right of of the B8063 at this point.
    The postcards show a view looking over to where the modern Dallick House lies. The nearest Google Street view is here.

    http://goo.gl/maps/eAudB

    This OS extract shows how the Victorians with a Roman Fort to their right and a probable Roman Signal Tower to their left managed to miss both.

    http://binged.it/Hckm3O

    Sometimes reality is even better than pictures!


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