What Lies Beneath?

by Sarah Cruickshank


Wandering through Lancaster I’m struck by the beauty of the architecture and the striking buildings surrounding me. The Castle and the Priory greet me every morning as I open my curtains and the Georgian splendour of Castle Park speaks of a time when the people of this river city had the wealth to advertise their status as newly rich men.

But as I walk the streets I know there’s something missing, a history the fine buildings have surmounted, for Lancaster was once a Roman fort settlement and this is the story of what lies beneath.

I walk around the castle precincts and the Priory and down in to Vicarage Fields and I hear the 500 horses of the Ala Gallorum Sebosiana clopping about and whinnying. I hear the men hurrying to care for their horses and tack before visiting their families in the Vicus. And even that is gone.

Lancaster is a bustling city, but where are the signs of those Roman families brought to the bleak slopes of Castle Hill following their men? I left my home and my extended family to follow my man to this northern outpost. I felt, as they must have, out of place and a stranger, until I’d established myself and made friends. For me this essay leaves my mark on the place I’ve made my home. The few visible remnants of their lives sit in display cases in the museum, removed from their homes, in isolation as memories of ‘how we used to live’.

I leave the top of Vicarage Field, the site of a fort rebuilt at least six times and drop down to the only remains to survive Lancaster’s gentrification. The Wery Wall, proud and sad at the same time, standing defiantly when almost all else is gone.

Standing next to it is the bathhouse of the lucky administrator who was deemed important enough to warrant his own facilities. No ‘sharing with the lads’ for him. Here was a man who’d really made his mark.

I drop down further towards the river where a fleet was moored to protect against Irish pirates. I want to throw my own offering into the water shrine at the bottom of Vicarage Lane. I cross the river almost every day on a bridge close to the one the Romans built and I have my own problems that could do with a bit of divine intervention, but the shrine, like almost everything else, is gone.

In Caerleon, close to my birthplace, I can walk through the ruins of the barracks and imagine the legion at rest. Sound and light have brought their bathhouse back to life. I can sit in the amphitheatre and watch my father and my son reinterpret the gladiator’s art.

Here in Lancaster I stand on a hill, scarred by the lumps and bumps of times gone by and imagine I hear the hooves of 500 horses carried on the wind.

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