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The situation of the range is remarkable. Rising as nearly as possible midway between sea and sea, it also contains the highest ground along the line of the isthmus. The view from the top of the Castle Hillthe most favourable point for the purpose-is very extensive. On the north, visible in its completeness from end to end, stretches the low valley that runs from Forth to Clyde. Across the intervening river Kelvin frown the Campsie Fells and their sister hills, forming an imposing natural bulwark to the "northern realms of ancient Caledon." Even the uninstructed feels instinctively that this would be a position. of vital importance to any military force attempting to hold the isthmus from the south. As a matter of fact, when the spectator turns eastward, his attention is immediately arrested by the deep depression that still marks the course of the great Ditch dug by the Roman legions. His eye would find it easy to follow the line all the way from Croy Hill to the very spot where he is standing. Some thirty or forty yards beneath him, it sweeps along the northern face of the Castle Hill, hewn nine feet deep into the solid rock, and passes away to the west. Behind it are still discernible the traces of the companion Rampart.
A glance at the map will show how the conditions imposed by the configuration of the ground were met by the Roman engineers. Both Ditch and Rampart at this point of their course bend decidedly to the north, with the express object of enclosing the Castle Hill, a coign of vantage which it would not have been safe to leave outside. But the slopes of the hill itself were far too steep to afford secure foothold for the Military Way, which was thus compelled to keep some distance to the south. When the green basin already spoken of, generally styled the Castle Hill Park, is under cultivation, the line of the Roman road can even now be clearly made out, crossing it from east to west, and marked by a slight elevation of the surface. About half-way up the western side of the basin it divides into two, one section branching northwards so as to approach the Rampart once more, the other ascending directly towards the centre of the Bar Hill proper.
There is good reason to think that somewhere within this basin, under the shelter of the friendly hills, there may at one time have nestled a civil settlement or annexe, such as was the ordinary accompaniment of every permanent Roman military station. An indication to that effect was furnished during the progress of the recent excavations. And other signs have not been wanting. An altar dedicated to Silvanus was found here in 1895. Again, about the middle of its southern side there is an excellent spring of water, near which (according to the testimony of labourers still living) drainage operations have disclosed substantial remains of stone paving. However this may be, it is certain that the Bar Hill proper was the site of a Roman fort. It is admirably adapted for the purpose. Its top consists of a wide and comparatively level expanse, but on every side except the south the descent is sufficiently steep to be a material aid in defence. To the north, more especially, the fall of the ground is rapid. An attacking party from that direction could only have got within striking distance after a continuous climb of nearly 300 feet. Finally, the discovery of a buried well showed that in the very centre of the plateau there had been in Roman times an abundant supply of water.
Two hundred years ago the remains of the buildings of the fort were still considerable. There is, indeed, no mention of them in the earliest 'archaeological survey' of Graham's Dyke, the well-known letter of 1697 preserved among the Portland Papers. The writer has much of interest to say concerning the eastern half of the Vallum and its forts. But when he reaches the neighbourhood of Bar Hill, he breaks off with tantalising abruptness. Kilsyth, he tells us, is
a pretty good countrey town, but inferior to Fallkirk or Linlithgow; but this I say for it, there is better entertainment for man and horse and more reasonable than anywhere upon the road. . . . When I am at leasure I will give you the rest of this.
1 The operations referred to were carried out in 1873, and the stones are said to have been carried away to be used as drain covers. Systematic search recently made for traces of the paving has been fruitless.
2 Hist. MSS. Commission, Portland Papers, vol. ii, p. 57.
Ten years later (1707) Sir Robert Sibbald, using the materials collected by Timothy Pont, Irvine, and David Buchanan, wrote as follows:
From thence [Shirva Burn] a large mile to Barhill, where was a great Fort, which hath had large Entrenchments, the ruins of Buildings were traced there, and many Stones have been found there with Inscriptions, and some with Figures upon them, which are kept at the Houses of the Nobility and Gentry in the Neighbourhood, there is a fresh Spring there and a Fountain, and amongst the Rubbish of the Fort, there was found a large Iron Shovel of a vast weight, and divers Sepulchres covered with large Stones, were found there upon digging the Ground.1
Sibbald's mention of the "fresh Spring" and the "Fountain" is of interest. The latter is probably identical with the spring that still bubbles on the south side of the green basin. The former was in all likelihood the overflow from the buried well in the centre of the camp. If this surmise be correct, a further accumulation of debris on the surface must have almost completely choked the "Spring" soon after it was seen by Sibbald (or his authorities). There is no reference to it in the Itinerarium Septentrionale, and yet it is just one of the things that could hardly have failed to catch the eye of 'Sandy' Gordon, had it still been visible. His description is as follows:
[At Bar Hill there] is to be seen a very large and well preserved Fort upon the Wall: Here the Foundations of Buildings appear very distinct within the Area; which is surrounded with a considerable Number of Ditches and Ramparts, particularly at the East and West Ends of this Fort. . . . There is no Roman Fort, which I know of in Scotland, where the Vestiges of the old Buildings appear so plain as here, seeing the Prætorium, where the Præfect's Tent stood, is as yet very discernible, together with the Lodgements of the other Officers. The military Way along Graham's Dike, divides itself into two Branches here, the one running by the side of the great Ditch, the other comes up to the Ramparts of this Fort.3
As it stands, the statement regarding the division of the road might be interpreted as perfectly accurate. Gordon's actual plan, however,
1 Historical Inquiries, p. 29.
2 The possible effects of mineral operations in the neighbourhood must also be reckoned with. It may be mentioned that the water of the well now rises to within 2 feet of the surface, at which level it stands. 3 Itin. Sept., pp. 54 f.
Op. cit., Plate 22.
is erroneous, and would appear to have been completed, not by the aid of observations on the spot, but by a literal interpretation of the text as printed, for the southern branch of the road, instead of soberly entering the fort by the eastern gate, is made to run full tilt against the ramparts.
Horsley, writing in 1732, was almost as much impressed by the remains as Gordon had been. He says:
Barhill fort deserves a particular regard and description. Its situation and strength, and the ruins of buildings within it are very remarkable. It has a triple rampart and a ditch on all sides but the north. The praetorium is visible, and of a similar figure within the fort itself. And three rows of ruins resembling ramparts and ditches appear within the praetorium.... There is a branch goes off from the principal military way to the north entry of this fort, and goes out again at the east entry, and then passing round the south side of the southern summit, comes up again to the main way.1
There is an obvious confusion here regarding the road, and the rampart is single, not triple. But the "three rows of ruins" (well shown, by the way, in Gordon's plan) were rediscovered during the recent excavations, when their true significance was made apparent. Maitland (1757) offers no fresh contribution of importance to our knowledge. As usual, his main anxiety is to detect flaws in the statements of Gordon and Horsley. Their accounts of the road give him an opening of which he takes full advantage. Unluckily, after he has administered a severe castigation to his predecessors for their stumbling, he himself falls headlong over precisely the same obstacle. "After the strictest search," he denies that the Military Way ran on the north of the fort. He is positive that it went straight through.2
Roy, in his Military Antiquities, deals very briefly with the Bar Hill station.
The fort, which is a little way detached from the south side of the wall, was probably one of those previously erected by Agricola. It is surrounded with double ramparts [and] contains many ruinous foundations within its area, whose vestiges, however, are not now so entire as represented in the Itinerarium.3
1 Britannia Romana, p. 169.
2 History of Scotland, pp. 176 f. 3 Op. cit., p. 160.
Roy, it will be seen, has been misled by surface appearances; as has already been remarked, the rampart is a single one. In his plan, too, he goes wrong about the roads just as Maitland had done, for he makes the Military Way traverse the camp from east to west. Yet his reference is exceedingly interesting for two reasons. He was the first observer to draw attention to the peculiarity presented by this fort in being completely detached from the body of the Vallum, a feature the true significance of which his military instinct enabled him to divine. Again, from what he says we can gather that the latter part of the eighteenth century saw many inroads on the ruins. One of these destructive raids seems to have taken place about 1790. In the old Statistical Account of Scotland1 (1791) the minister of Kirkintilloch, speaking of Bar Hill, says :
The fort is a square area of 150 yards. Some vaults belonging to it have lately been discovered. These are still entire; and are covered above with flat bricks, and floored with a mixture of lime and black and white gravel, resembling sand from the sea-shore, very unlike any that is now to be found in the neighbourhood.
During the early portion of the nineteenth century the process of quarrying went on apace. The site of the fort forms part of the estate of Gartshore, and in 1801 and 1802 the then proprietor carried out an extensive improvement scheme which was doubtless responsible for much. It may be to these changes that Stuart alludes when, writing in 1845, he tells us that
Many of [the foundations] have only been recently removed, to supply materials for building, or to serve the purpose of enclosing the adjacent fields."
1 Vol. ii. p. 276.
2 Caledonia Romana (first ed.), p. 331. In the second edition, p. 338, a footnote (from another hand than Stuart's) gives a remarkable story of destruction said to have been wrought in 1809, when "stone walls" were "demolished" and "massive foundations rooted out." The accuracy of this whole statement is open to serious doubt. It is asserted, for instance, that the fort was surrounded by a thick stone wall forming a great square." Mr Whitelaw's excavations proved conclusively that this was not the case. The original narrator may have been confusing Bar Hill with Castlecary.