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A Short History of Moffat
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The Roman Army were quick to recognise the value of the Moffat area as a route into the Midland Valley of Scotland, building a road from Carlisle to the Forth and Clyde. They may also be considered to be the first travellers to have left signs of their stay, with the roads themselves and various fortifications. Most of these follow the road-lines up from Carlisle, although the famous Iron Age hill fort and training camps at Burnswark lie slightly to one side. The Roman Army was interested in the Southern Uplands as an area of potential conquest, later briefly as an occupied province, but for most of the time as an area where it could meet and defeat threats from the Caledonian tribes.
Moffat itself appeares to have been less-attractive than the ridge to its west and the valley of the Evan Water. The gravel terraces of the Evan Water near Beattock were well-drained and easily dug, so preserve the remains of up to six marching-camps and semi-permanent fortifications. The area was important enough to have had several fortlets with maybe one or two centuries (80 -160 auxiliary troops) in each - enough to patrol and repair the road and to keep local tribes from casual raiding. The full detail of Roman occupation is still sketchy, but the Roman Army certainly marched near Moffat.
The Roman monument of greatest importance to Moffat is undoubtedly this road itself. Ignoring all property-ownership, interested only in strategic and tactical advantages, the road ran north from Stanwix near Carlisle towards Netherby, then north-west to Kirkpatrick Fleming, on the same line towards forts and camps at Birrens, Middlebie, Burnswark, Torwood and the fort at Ladyward. The road there met one from just north of Dumfries and Lochmaben, then headed north up Annandale. There are indications that a lot may have been destroyed by farming, but substantial portions of the road mound survive north and south of Johnstonebridge, before the route crosses the Annan somewhere between Dalmakethar and Tassieholm. From there, the road heads north to the group of marching-camps and fortlet at Milton (Tassieholm), crossing the Annan again (maybe at Holms Bridge) before crossing the Beattock gravels just east of Lochhouse Tower.
There are faint signs of the road causeway near Lochhouse Tower, but north of it the Roman road crosses the southern approach into Moffat and heads up Chapel Hill across the Moffat Golf Course. The best-preserved section of the causeway has been recorded as a stony ridge running west of the Club House and through Chapel Plantation before heading straight to the north for some four miles towards White Type on Ericstane Hill. This section is in remarkably good order, preserving at one point the small quarries or 'borrow pits' used to gather stone to build and maintain the road. North of Gilbert's Rig the road peters out but reappears by the time Aunthousehill Bridge is reached. There onwards the Roman road is frequently confused with the reed-filled 'hollow way' of the post-mediaeval road, which was badly laid and easily eroded and curves down to the modern road at the head of the Devil's Beef Tub.
One interesting feature is that a Roman signal station was set up at White Type, which has a good view in clear weather of sites towards Elvanfoot and down into Annandale and towards Tweedsdale. Without telescopes, it is probable that only basic fire or smoke signals could have been sent to the permanent fortlets to the south, and thence to Stanwix.
The Roman Army engineers had to use all their skills in building the road; at some parts it is a causeway surrounded by drainage-ditches (now bare hollows) at others they had to cut a shelf in the side of Annandale Moss. The Roman road heads across Annanhead Moss along a somewhat-irregular route dictated by the terrain, before a two-mile section towards a fortlet on Errickstane Hill (different to Ericstane Hill, incidentally), before looping along the side of the Evan Valley to the Little Clyde camp on the way down towards Elvanfoot. This point is well outside Moffat, but has significance for the later road-building up to the time of Thomas Telford in the early 1800s.
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All text and images © 1999 Richard Edkins of Dalbeattie Internet.
Moffat Town Website started 9th June 1999.
Last updated 16th December 1999.