A Walk Around Castleshaw Roman Fort

Having been a bit lazy since we got back from our holiday in the Lakes, I decided to take G for a walk this morning. Ever since we moved to Saddleworth I've known there are the remains of a Roman Fort somewhere near Castleshaw, itself an old hamlet now nothing more than a few scattered farms and houses between Delph and the pass at Standedge. So I packed the back carrier, OS map and some nappies, and headed off to find it.

The Castleshaw Valley has a couple of reservoirs in it these days, and I parked up next to one of them. G is now well used to her back carrier, and she didn't mind me getting her into her waterproofs and strapping her in. As I started off up a not-particularly-steep incline in the general direction of the fort, I instantly remembered why our walk up a hill in Cumbria last week was such hard work. Carrying an almost-one-year-old is hard going, especially if the child is rubbing it in by gurgling and laughing as she bobs along on your back.

This being England, you have to look for proper public footpaths if you want to go anywhere in the country. Being Scottish, I still don't understand why this is, as all it seems to do is turn ramblers, normally the most placid of folk, into militant merchants of rage, angrily pointing at ancient rights of way on old maps as they insist on striding through someone's back garden. Thankfully for me, I was spared any confrontations with equally furious landowners, as I found a signposted footpath soon enough, and headed on into a field.

The view back down the valley towards Delph looked lovely. A few years ago there were plans to turn the area into a big windfarm. Even though I like those modern windmills, all stark and sleek and futuristic-looking, I'm not sure they would have really fitted in here.

My OS map was pretty vague about the actual location of the fort, but after wandering around for a few minutes I came across this sign. That's supposed to be a Roman helmet below the arrow. Clearly every expense has been spared in advertising this monument to would-be visitors.

However, once I'd walked uphill a bit further, I came to a load of lumps and bumps in the ground, and a couple of interesting if tatty-looking information boards. It turns out Castleshaw was only occupied by the Romans for 10 or 15 years during their attempts to conquer northern England and Scotland, and it was a stop on the main road from Chester to York. Then as now people used Standedge to get across the Pennines, making Castleshaw something of a Roman military service station. Apparently one of the groups of soldiers garrisoned there may have been from the Yugoslavia area, although I can't imagine the warm-blooded Croatians and Serbs enjoyed swapping the Adriatic for miserable old Saddleworth too much.
This board ambitiously describes Castleshaw as "Frontier of Imperial Rome" which sounds a bit grand to me, when it's basically just some mounds of earth covered with sheep. When Emperors looked at the maps of their domain prepared for them back in Rome, was Castleshaw really marked proudly on them as the furthest outpost? I'd like to think so, but somehow I doubt it.

As for the sheep, well there were plenty of them roaming around the fort. I snapped this one standing on the inner ramparts, chewing away on the grass. G, having shown little interest in my lectures to her about the finer points of Roman military strategy, paid much closer attention to the sheep. She laughed, gurgled, pointed, drooled. All the things baby girls do when they get excited about something.

There was nobody else there. And nobody else in sight in the whole valley either, apart from the odd car going by on the main road up above. So I had to take this picture of G myself, pointing the camera over my right shoulder. As the photo suggests, it was quite blowy. No wonder they wanted to put a windfarm there.

On the way back out of the fort, I spotted this sign. I think this is another way of saying: 'we haven't got any money to do anything with this fort, and to be honest there isn't much there anyway, so we're just going to leave some sheep there so at least the grass stays short.' Hopefully someone will spend a few quid on some new information boards and better signs for Castleshaw Roman Fort though. It's good for Saddleworth folk to know as much as possible about the people who were living here a couple of thousand years ago. Even if they were from Yugoslavia.


kim mcgowan said...

That is really interesting!

Richard said...


Anonymous said...

I didn't know that one! The Hadrian's soldiers were apparently from Frisia (sp?) in what is now North Netherlands/North Germany. Wonder where they sent any British Auxilliaries?