Epiacum Roman fort in Cumbria to open to visitors

Sifting through mole hills is the only legal way for volunteers to search for artefacts

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A buried and little known Roman fort near Alston, Cumbria is to be turned into a visitor attraction.

Whitley Castle, or Epiacum, at Castle Nook Farm has not been explored by archaeologists apart from one small dig in 1957.

The foundations of the fort's buildings are preserved, including the barracks, commander's house and bath house.

Landowner Elaine Edgar claims it is the "best preserved roman fort" with everything "lying intact".

She said, despite being unexcavated and "virtually unknown", the fort is "very visible in the landscape".

"It's not at all hidden. The aerial view is without doubt the best view of it but by no means do you have to be up in the air to see it.

"The Pennine Way goes around it and anybody walking... can't miss it."

'Bronze dolphin'

As the fort is a scheduled ancient monument it is illegal to dig the site or remove anything from it, which Mrs Edgar admits is "frustrating".

She said she would like, in the future, to make a case for part of the site to be excavated.

Until then they have to rely on mole hills.

"Last year somebody was walking out with an English Heritage group and looked down and saw, in one of the mole hills, a bronze dolphin," she said.

"It was thought to come from a tap in the bathhouse."

English Heritage is working with the owners and calls the fort "a fascinating insight into Roman Britain".

Mrs Edgar and her husband have nearly £49,200 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for an 18-month project to promote and raise awareness of the site.

Ivor Crowther, head of HLF North East, said the fort held "hidden clues" to the area's past.

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