The Romans had a huge influence on the area we know today as the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The long straight roads, the stonework of so many buildings, the archaeological finds and, of course, Hadrian’s Wall, are all part of their legacy.
The Romans arrived in the area in AD 71-72 and advanced into southern Scotland. A line of defence, forts along the Stanegate Roman road, was eventually drawn between Corbridge in Northumberland and Kirkbride via Burgh around AD 100-105.
The construction of Hadrian’s Wall was taking place by AD 122, taking the shortest route across northern England, from Bowness on Solway in the west, to Wallsend near Newcastle upon Tyne in the east.
It was built as a boundary, both physical and symbolic, between the Roman perception of ‘civilised’ Britannia and the barbarian lands of Scotland. It is said that, despite its impressive defences, it may not have been intended as a fighting line but rather to provide surveillance of the whole frontier and enable a rapid response from the major garrisons along the Stanegate. It functioned as the north-western frontier of the Roman Empire, enabling taxation on imports and exports.
West of the River Irthing on the border between Cumbria and Northumblerand, the Wall took the form of a turf wall on stone footings. Towards the end of Hadrian’s reign, the turf sections were rebuilt in sandstone.
The wall was designed with a sloping bank, the ‘glacis’, backed by a deep ditch, a flat ‘berm’ and the Wall itself. To the south of the Wall, a road, the Military Way, and a broad, flat-bottomed ditch, called the Vallum, ran parallel. The turf wall ended at Bowness-on-Solway, but evidence suggests a timber palisade continued westward.
The Romans didn’t just build a wall, there were also forts holding between 500 and 1000 troops – Maia at Bowness on Solway, Congubata at Drumburgh, Aballava at Burgh by Sands and Uxellodonum at Stanwix in Carlisle.
And then there were the fortlets, like Mile Fortlet 21 north of Maryport, created to protect a weak point in the defences by the sea. The Wall itself had small fortlets at mile intervals and intervening watch towers at every third of a mile.
Civilian settlements sprung up around these forts and, once the soldiers had moved on in the AD 140s, these expanded over the forts themselves. Today the main road through Bowness follows the line of the Via Principalis through the former Maia site, with a similar pattern at Burgh by Sands.
As Hadrian’s Wall and the forts fell into disrepair, stones were removed and reused. Today they can still be seen in homes and farmsteads around the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – Drumburgh Castle is a prime example.