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From Aug 2006 - Nov 2013 WeDig provided a live forum for diggers & fans of Vindolanda. It has now been mothballed and will be maintained as a live archive.

Here you will find preserved 7 years of conversation, photos, & knowledge about a site many people love. Vindolanda gets under the skin. (Figuratively and literally as a volunteer excavator!) It's a place you remember, filled with people you remember!

Thanks for 7 great years!

Bewcastle - Roman Fort, Anglian Cross, Norman Castle, Modern Farm!

Overhead view of Bewcastle

About a dozen miles NW of Vindolanda, in the county of Cumbria, lies the tiny hamlet of Bewcastle. Very close to the Scottish border, this sleepy little patch of ground has seen more than its share of drama over the centuries. Now a modern farm, the site is a remarkable collection of fragments of forgotten ages. If you love the way history is laid down in layers -- as well as idyllic countryside and a lovely evening drive -- Bewcastle is not to be missed.

The first known remains at Bewcastle are those of a Roman outpost fort built under Hadrian. (For centuries it maintained a road and line-of-sight watchtowers with Birdoswald.) But the name of the fort, Fanum Cocidii, means "shrine of Cocidius," a local Celtic god. So the site was well-known -- and hallowed -- by the locals far before the Romans arrived. The picture to the right shows the plan of the Roman fort around the 3rd Century (with the much-later Norman fort in the NE corner). No one knows why it was built in such an odd shape, or why the bathhouse (bottom right of picture) was built inside the walls. None of the Roman remains is currently visible, but the ditches and fort platform can be spotted as lumps and bumps.

Plan of Bewcastle Roman fort
(image from Breeze's Handbook to the Roman Wall, 14th ed.)
Two views of Bewcastle's marvelous Anglian cross
Scroll over for a close-up image.
(Images from www.paradoxplace.com)

But Roman earthworks are everywhere. What sets Bewcastle apart is its exquisite Anglian cross still standing in the churchyard. Its carved shaft (the top was lost centuries ago) still reaches more than 14 feet high, and has been standing proudly here since about AD 675! It was erected very soon after the Anglian kings of Northumbria finally conquered the small British kingdom of RhegedRheged itself had held sway here since the end of the Roman period some 250 years earlier, making it one of the longest-lasting native kingdoms that arose from the Empire's downfall. Note that the name "Cumbria," similar to "Cymru" in Welsh, still reflects its long-lasting Celtic roots. and annexed the area.

It is quite an enigmatic structure. On its sides, among images of amazing artistry, are bits of poetry written in runes. Its messages are not at all clear. It possibly commemorates one Cyneburh, wife of king Alchfrith, who failed to win the throne of all of Northumbria and may have gone into exile here. The figures are St. John the Baptist, Jesus as king and law-giver, and (probably) St. John the Evangelist. Its prominence in the landscape, and its possible runic message of being a "victory beacon," give a clue as to just how hallowed and important this land was to the early English Church.

The original church that went with this cross has not been located. The current one
(itself a bit of an enigma) seems to date from the 18th Century. It was quite common in Anglo-Saxon times to reuse a pagan place of spirituality as a new place of Christian worship. So it's not surprising to see this happening at Bewcastle. What is remarkable, though, is the preservation of this piece of the "Dark Ages" to be enjoyed today.

Bewcastle's importance survived the Norman conquest, though in a different guise. Across a small field from the churchyard lies the ruins of a medieval castle. The first recorded castle at Bewcastle appears at the end of the 11th Century. (The name "Bewcastle" comes from "Booth Castle," with the term "booth" meaning temporary enclosure, as for sheep.) King William II of England had just annexed Meaning that in the interim, the land had gone from Anglo-Saxon hands into Scottish ones -- yet another layer of history.Cumberland from Scotland, and he set up castles at Carlisle, Brough, and here at Bewcastle to defend the new frontier.

This original, probably built of wood, survived less than a century. The castle visible today was built from tumbled Roman stonework in the mid-14th Century. By the early 1600s it too was described as partly ruinous. Afterward it was abandoned -- its reason for existence having disappeared

Today, four-footed denizens vastly outnumber two-footed ones.
with the Union of the Crowns. In recent decades it's been through many hands, and curiously now sits ownerless, though within private property owned by nearby Demesne Farm. Consolidated in 2003-2004 by English Heritage, it is now considered safe enough to explore. (Ask permission at the farm, and pick up a leaflet about the fort too while you're at it.)

Ruined 14th Century castle at Bewcastle
(Image from www.visitcumbria.com)
Directions from Twice Brewed to Bewcastle
Directions courtesy of www.multimap.com

Since the 17th Century, little more is recorded of national significance at Bewcastle. It seems to relish its current slumber and the relics of its past, as you hopefully will.

Reaching Bewcastle on a digger's schedule requires a car -- unless you're an avid cyclist with plenty of energy & a day off. By road, it's about 18 miles from Vindolanda, and can be reached in 45 minutes or so. It's an easy drive along mostly quiet roads and country lanes, the last several miles through working fields. Starting at Twice Brewed, simply take the B6318 west, through Greenhead & Gilsland and beyond. Shortly after West Hall, look for signposts to Bewcastle to the right (north). Once on the road to Bewcastle, you will eventually cross a cattle grid and be driving through a working landscape with sheep and cows wandering the road in front of you. The farm & churchyard at Bewcastle will be easy to spot. Parking by the churchyard is ample and free.

A beautiful drive; a destination that lays bare some two thousand years of history; a bucolic setting; and an awe-inspiring piece of ancient craftsmanship & symbol of faith. Not bad for an evening.

Breeze, David. Handbook to the Roman Wall, 14th ed. (Society of Antiquities, Newcastle) 2006.

Page created by Harold Johnson