A Roman Fort on the Wye

For some time I have been intrigued by the indication on the OS map covering the Upper Wye Valley, where I often go walking, of a Roman fort in the middle of the Forestry Commission plantation. This area has recently been opened up so decided to visit the site. It didn't look possible to get very near it in the car, so I planned a circular walk from the Forestry Commission parking place which also included a climb out of the upper part of the forest to an open mountain area.

I began at the point where the two upper branches of the River Wye - the streams of the Wye and the Tarenig - join after running off the mountain of Pumlummon. The initial walk along the river was pleasant. The climb up through the forest was strenuous. Emerging from the trees onto the open plateau of Llechwedd Llwyd, pelted by a hailstone shower, I made my way across the boggy ground to the heather-clad mound which is the summit (535m). Around this is an expanse of wet ground dominated by mosses and the bleached, pale brown colour of last year's growth of mollinia grass forming large tufts which make it very hard on the ankles to walk through. The idea was to traverse the plateau and descend through the forest on the other side to the Roman fort. But because of the steepness of the slope and the closeness of the plantation trees, this was only possible by locating a path down through a gully. Such was the plan at home with the map. But finding the place on the ground was less easy and I wandered about perplexed for a while and began to doubt whether I should have come up here alone, though I was rewarded with a stunningly beautiful rainbow framing the mountains to the North. I went that way and just below me to the left saw the gully running down towards the trees. In fifteen minutes I was on the upper forestry ridge track and was able to follow it down, winding across the steep slopes first one way, then the other, to where the Roman fort was marked on my map.

The trees to one side of it had been harvested so I had an open view of the site, though I wouldn't have noticed very much that was significant about it without knowing it was there. It is on a sort of flat area with steep slopes behind and to each side and the ground below sloping more gradually down to the river. Before the forest was planted it would have provided good views along the wide valley. It took more ankle-turning progress over tufts of mollinia, moss and heather to get up onto what is left of the parallelogram structure. It was originally a turf and timber construction with a defensive rampart with towers and gate houses.

Sitting on the remains of this rampart, I tried to imagine life here in Roman times in what, even now, is a remote and wild place. While not on one of the main 'Sarn Helen' routes, it is mid-point, in a straight line, between the larger forts of Trawsgoed and Caersws. It might, therefore, have been maintained as an overnight stop between these forts. I thought of the strains on my ankles over just a few miles of this rough terrain and wondered what it was like for a Roman soldier on the march all day. Then gladly followed the relatively flat stony track back to my car.

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