Falkirk and the Antonine Wall

The impressive front facade of Callendar House On Saturday 1st March 2003, a very small Scottish outing took place. In deference to the likely weather at that time of year it had been decided that at least some of the day should be under cover. Therefore the venue was to be the Falkirk area, and the first meeting place was to be Callendar House, part of Falkirk's museum service. We met in the shop, paid our entrance fees and embarked on our journey of discovery. I had visited Callendar House before and had a good idea of what I would be seeing, but for Douglas, Laura, Eleanor and Catriona, however, it was a first time experience. The first part of the ground floor is a history of the house from mediaeval times until its purchase by the Forbes family. This was followed by a visit to the amazing 1820 kitchen. It has remained more or less untouched since it was set up (with one or two late 19th century “improvements”) and the visit is enhanced by the services of a costumed interpreter who tells what life would have been like for a scullery maid in the early 19th century, as well as explaining what all the various kitchen implements were for. A visit to this kitchen is a pleasant experience in March because they still light the open fire every day - I’m not so sure whether I would enjoy it quite so much in July! The fire has a spit roasting mechanism which uses the heat from the fire rising up the chimney to turn a vane, which in turn via a series of cogs and pulleys rotates the spit to ensure even roasting of the meat, thereby saveing the arms of the kitchen maids or the paws of the dogs that were used to turn earlier versions of such spits! Every visitor to the kitchen is allowed a tasting of something made to an authentic recipe, it was a kind of Spanish shortbread biscuit that we were offered, and very nice it was too! On leaving the kitchen we went through an interesting temporary exhibition on the history of photography, which was enhanced by enlargements of works by local photographers. It had a nostalgia factor on two levels, firstly for the local visitors who were going through the "Oh, I remember when it was like that!" routine, and for us who were doing the "I had an Instamatic just like that one!" bit..... Next, we ascended the stairs to take a look at the fine Morning and Drawing Rooms, as well as

the Library which now houses Falkirk Distict's Local History Research Centre (and incidentally has an amazing painted rib ceiling). Climbing again we reached the main exhibition floor which houses the exhibition "William Forbes' Falkirk". This is a very thorough look at the history of the area from the late 18th century into the 19th century - in fact we agreed that if anything, it was a bit too thorough. We could see that it would be useful for school parties who might only be looking at one particular aspect, but for the general visitor there seemed to be just too many words! There were things that we did like however. The girls enjoyed putting cogs together in the right way to make the hands of a model clock turn, and we all liked the three costumed interpreters we met in this part of the museum. First was a clockmaker/repairer, who showed us around his shop, and explained the use of diamonds in a watch mechanism.....something I had always wondered about! Next we met the girl serving behind the counter of the General Store, who showed us the range of things that were sold in such places and told us that at that time shops had to be licenced to sell tea! Finally, we visited the printer where they showed us how to set type, how to ink the plates and sent us away each clutching a watch repairers slip, such as we had seen a few minutes before at the clock shop.

The bank of the Antonine Wall as it passes in front of Callendar House

If you want a driveway to your front door - just drive straight through any obstacles, even if the obstacle happens to be a Roman earthwork!

By this time it was nearing one o'clock and stomachs were beginning to rumble, so we decided to repair to the tea shop in the stables of the old house. After lunch we went to explore the remains of the Antonine Wall which run through the grounds There is a break in the Wall here, however, where the Forbes family wanted a driveway to lead straight to their admittedly impressive facade, they just drove it straight through the banks! A stroll around the house brought us to the adventure playground, where it was decided that we would part company, Douglas and Laura deciding that the girls, who had been impeccably behaved all morning, probably wouldn't want to visit another museum

The back door of Callendar House

Letting off steam I drove on to another site administered by Falkirk Council, not knowing really what I was going to! Arriving on the main drive of the Kinneil estate there was a superb view towards a house that I had previously been unaware of. I eventually worked out (I had to work it out because the sign had been vandalised) that the museum was in a small building off to the right of the drive. I parked the car and went in to an enthusiastic welcome from the attendant. She explained that there was a 15 minute video to introduce the estate and offered to set it going for me. After watching the presentation which did a very good job of outlining the history of the estate and what there was to see, I went back into the main part of the museum and looked at the displays. Again the attendant was very helpful and gave me copies of the various leaflets they had. One was a guide which detailed a trail around the remains. Since the weather had proved much kinder than anyone has a right to expect that early in the year, I decided to see where it would take me.

Kinneil House, with the museum in the right foreground. The line of the Antonine Wall can just be made out, running between the two, roughly through the tall conifer

In the museum, a model of Kinneil fortlet, and some of the finds from the excavations there

The finds include leather footwear

Roman altar displayed in the museum

Starting from the museum you can walk along towards the house, parallel to the visible line of the Antonine Wall. The house itself, dates (in its earliest parts) from the early sixteenth century, when it was built by the Hamilton family. It was added to in 1553 by James Hamilton, the Governor of Scotland until Mary Queen of Scots came of age. In 1677 Duchess Anne Hamilton completed the building. But from the early eighteenth century the Hamiltons concentrated on their other homes and Kinneil was let to a succession of tenants. Behind the house is a ruined cottage originally built as a workshop for the engineer James Watt. He was working with a tenant of the house, Dr John Roebuck (founder of the Carron Ironworks) on a project to develop an improved steam engine for use in pumping water from coal mines. The prototype was tested on the privacy of the estate to keep the development from being copied. Watt worked here in 1769 and 1770, but the trials were not entirely successful and after Roebuck went bankrupt, Watt continued his work with Matthew Boulton in Birmingham, where the engine was perfected.

Passing the north face of Kinneil House , at the start of the trail

Remains of the cottage where James Watt worked Beyond the cottage the trail goes over a deep ravine carved by the Gil burn, so deep that it caused the Roman engineers to deviate in a dog-leg from the straight line of the Antonine Wall! Crossing the ravine via a foot bridge, the path leads the visitor around to the remains of Kinneil Parish Church, of which only the western gable with its double belfry - once a landmark for ships entring Bo'ness harbour- remains. It is a 12th century building which once served a large parish including the mediaeval village of Kinneil. The visible slabs in the graveyard are all 17th century, but this is a layered cemetery where new soil would be brought in whenever the

graveyard was full so that new burials could take place - leaving the ground outside the church 5 feet higher than the floor level inside! In the 17th century a population shift into the new port of Bo'ness led to Kinneil church being under used, and then, in 1669, suppressed in favour of a new parish church in Bo'ness.

Gorge of the Gil Burn

The remaining gable of Kinneil Parish Church with its twin bell housing

The place where Kinneil village once stood Again the path leads on and, passing the site of the village of Kinneil, follows the line of the Antonine Wall towards the Roman fortlet which was once part of the defensive system delineating the northernmost frontier of the Empire. Around 20 soldiers would have patrolled the area from their billets in the fortlet. An excavation in 1981 showed that the outer wall was of turf blocks laid on a stone base, there was a gravel road running from a south gate to a north gate, and today timber posts mark the sites of a barrack building and a store. From the fortlet, a pleasant

amble back over the meadow completed an interesting trip which had covered periods of history ranging from the second century AD, through to the industrial age. Altogether, a rewarding day out.

Looking along to Kinneil fortlet, marked by large timbers to the right if the photograph

A nearer view of the fortlet

The north gateway of the fortlet

The original line of the defensive bank of the fortlet is marked by stones set into the turf

The information board at the Fortlet

Final view of Kinneil House report and photos by valerie reilly

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