About Whitley Castle
Stewart Ainsworth from Channel 4’s Time Team called Whitley Castle ‘the best preserved fort in the Roman Empire’ and it’s hard to disagree. Also known as Epiacum (the first town in northern England occupied by the Celtic, pre-Roman Brigantes tribe and probably named for a local chief), Whitley Castle in the North Pennines is not only the highest stone-built Roman fort in Britain, it has the most complex and elaborate defensive earthworks of any known fort in the entire Roman Empire.
The uniquely lozenge-shaped fort was built to fit the knoll on which it was constructed and interestingly, there were small site digs in the early 19th century, then in the 1930s and again in the 1950s but it wasn’t until 2012 that funding to the tune of £49,200 was secured to raise awareness of the site.
Built in the second century (around the same time as Hadrian’s Wall), demolished soon after and rebuilt not long after that, it’s a relatively typical Roman fort in terms of layout. There are straight roads, a headquarters building, barracks, a bath house and a temple and one of the many inscriptions reads ‘DEO HERCVLI C VITELLIVS ATTICIANVS > LEG VI V P F’ or ‘To the God Hercules, Gaius Vitellius Atticianus, Centurion of the Legio VI Victrix, Loyal and Faithful.’
It was garrisoned until about 400AD and while the Romans used Epiacum ostensibly as a base from where to control the area, also it seems they used it to take control of the profitable local lead mining industry.
Today, Whitley Castle is on private land and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument which means that no digging can be done (frustratingly for archaeologists) and nothing can be taken from the site so when you come and visit ‘the best preserved fort in the Roman Empire’, don’t take anything!