The Association’s Events Officer, Liz Bickerstaffe, recently visited a small and fascinating Roman museum in Melrose at the feet of the distinctive triple peaks of the Eildon Hills in the Scottish Borders.
“The Trimontium Roman Heritage Centre may not initially have promised a great deal, being packed into one room on the Market Square at Melrose in the Scottish Borders, but it certainly surpassed all our expectations, mainly due to the knowledge and enthusiasm of its volunteer guides.
George, the Caretaker, welcomed us in before opening time and provided an entertaining double-act with Donald Gordon, a venerable Classics scholar. Donald launched into an impressive exposition of the Roman occupation of the area and its productive co-existence with the native Celts. He explained how the Romans had recognised the triple-peaked Eildon Hills as the most prominent feature in the landscape and then planted their first fort at the foot of the northern hill, calling the camp ‘Trimontium’, ie the place of the three hills.
A series of excavations, started in 1905 by Dr James Curle, revealed seven phases of occupation of this area around Newstead from around 80 AD to approx 185 AD. At its peak there were 1,000 Roman troops garrisoned at the permanent fort with evidence of nine temporary camps housing up to 5,000 additional Romans, plus extensive annexes including bath houses and an amphitheatre.
The museum is jammed with eye-catching displays relating to the lives and occupations of both Celts and Romans. Its substantial coin collection was animated by Donald’s helpful interpretation; evidently, the profiles appearing on the coin faces were sometimes those of rulers’ wives or sisters and served as ‘fashion plates’ for the popular Roman hairstyles of the day.
The excavated finds are now housed at The British Museum, though items are regularly offered on loan by the National Museum of Edinburgh to the Trimontium centre, the current one being a fascinating array of ancient footwear.
We could happily have spent longer than our allotted hour there and regretted not being able to join one of the regular walking tours of the Roman site. Judging by the warm welcome we received at the museum, the guided walks are sure to be lively and highly memorable. If you plan to visit the Borders, do consider dropping in to support this excellent heritage centre in Melrose. Check the website for opening months and events.”
Further information at http://www.trimontium.org.uk/wb/
Liz Bickerstaffe, Events Officer, Lytham St Annes Classical Association