From brochs to mansions
Summer Field Trip 2003: Falkirk District
Bucking the trend of the past couple of years, the PAS field trip to Falkirk and district was blessed with unusually fine weather! On Sunday 29 June, twenty members and guests assembled at the Falkirk Wheel to rendezvous with guide for the day, Geoff Bailey. As Keeper of Archaeology and Local History of Falkirk Museum, was eminently well qualified to conduct us on a tour around some of the district's most impressive historical and archaeological sites.
Though as yet neither a historical nor an archaeological monument, the Falkirk Millennium Wheel is truly impressive (possibly even an uplifting experience!—Ed). Not least this is because, unlike some other Millennium projects, it does actually work ...well, that is it usually works! (it chose broke down that day—Ed)
A short walk up the hill from the Wheel brought us to the Antonine Wall, which was built in AD 142, during the reign of Emperor Antonius Pius. The Wall stretches from Bo'ness on the Forth to Old Kilpatrick on the Clyde, some 37 mites, and it marked the northern edge of the Roman Empire at that time. Unlike Hadrian's Wall, it was built of turves on a stone base, with a ditch as much as 12m broad and 3.7m deep, on its northern side. Forts were constructed every 2 miles and watch towers every 1/3rd of a mile along its length.
Rough Castle is one of the forts, and the earthworks here survive much better than on other parts of the Wall. Excavations have been carried out; the most extensive being in 1903 when the plans of the stone buildings within the fort were identified. With a bit of imagination, Rough Castle is the ideal place to get an idea of what army life would have been like on the Wall in Roman times.
Our next port of call was Torwood Castle, where we enjoyed a picnic lunch. Torwood was built in 1566 by Alexander Forestar of Garden who was for a time Provost of Stirling. The castle is a fine example of traditional 16th century Scottish architecture, built to the highest standard, with many finely moulded details. The castle is of particular interest because of its evident transitional character between castle and mansion house.
During its existence it has been altered and adapted in many ways, as proved by excavation. During the 18th century it was used as a farm and even as recently as 5 years ago it was still being lived in by its reclusive owner, who was bravely if ill-advisedly attempting to restore it. At present it is in a bad state of decay and sadly it looks set to continue to deteriorate in the future.
Situated conveniently close by, along a path through the woods, was the next destination on our itinerary— Torwood Broch. Again 'impressive' was an appropriate description. Built in the late Iron Age on high ground with good visibility over the surrounding countryside, now obscured by woodland, it must have been an eloquent statement of power at that time.
It is a massive structure, with walls in parts as much as 7m thick, with a single entrance and an intramural stairway leading up on to the top of the walls, which exist internally to a height of 2m. Just like the nearby castle, it is suffering badly from neglect.
Our final venue was Callendar House, which also has had a long and chequered career, starting as a tower house owned by the Callendar family, in the 14th century. It is now in the ownership of Falkirk council and used as a museum, exhibition centre and venue for Sunday afternoon picnics. Half our number elected to view the outside 18th century landscaping features, including superb examples of a mausoleum and icehouse, whilst the rest toured the inside of the house itself.
Here ended what had been a most interesting and enjoyable excursion, with thanks to Geoff Bailey, our informative and often entertaining guide, Trevor Cowie for arranging the trip, and Bob Knox for acting as minibus driver.
Report contributed by Joyce Durham