Flanders Moss NNR
Jane Petrie, our blog editor writes:
It’s oft been noted that a map is as good as a book if you’re wanting a read and it’s something I found to be true recently while pouring over some maps of the Flanders area on the excellent www.nls.uk/ site. I spotted a small moat marked on various editions of maps on the western side of Flanders betwixt Blaircessnock and Ballangew and decided to see if I could find out a bit about it as I had hitherto been quite unaware of its existence.
Where to start? Well, the maps themselves, as shown below. In both the 1866 OS map and the 1923 OS map below, the moat is marked as a ‘camp’. In absence of any proof to the contrary, any instances of raised earthworks or ditches were frequently assumed to be ‘Roman camps’ or forts. And certainly, given the amount of remains also attributed to the Romans elsewhere around Stirlingshire and Perthshire, one can see why it might have been tempting to think so. For example, accounts from mid 19th century sources point to remnants of a Roman road were traced which passed through Stirlingshire from north to south, and a branch of this road was thought to have broken off towards Stirling and crossing the Forth, stretched to Flanders Hill (Stirling OS name books, 1858061, Stirlingshire Vol 09, OS1/32/9/35). Nimmo’s History of Stirlingshire tells of the discovery of this ‘Roman Way’ discovered in the Moss of Kincardin[e], ’12 feet broad and formed by trees laid across each other and in Flanders Moss another, running from the south east to north west’ (Nimmo’s History of Stirlingshire, published 1880).
Another homestead moat, also wrongly attributed to the Romans lies nearby, at Gartfarran. Further, there are several stretches of (genuine) Roman roads and camps in Perthshire towards Callander and Braco (where Ardoch Roman fort is) and Muthill, and the presence of the Antonine Wall at Callendar Park in Falkirk is close enough that 19th Century local historians would have been aware of it.
Archival evidence is always useful and here we have some information from local land leases (held in the NRS and kindly supplied by John Harrison) from 1871 and 1903 which show that the idea of a Roman camp or fort were firmly entrenched:
1871 GD1/393/46/1/73 ‘Lease Ballengrew to David Chalmers 1871 for 19 years; presently possessed by him (reservations as above ‘and also reserving the old Roman Camp situated on the said Lands and a space of ground of twelve yards in breadth outside and around the same; as also reserving the water leads passing through the said lands and a space of ground of four feet in breadth along each side of the said leads, with liberty to the Proprietor to take water by the said leads from the high ground to Ballangrue Dam without compensation; and lastly reserving the game including hares and rabbits’; tenant may keep only one dog etc; to pay £180 pa; clauses about drainage etc as above, no sheep unless they are properly enclosed with hurdles and fences and to keep no winter hoggs and to be fined £2 for each loose sheep’ and as late as 1903 (1903 GD1/393/46/2/38) another lease of Ballangrew to Richard Robb, refers once again to the ‘Old Roman Camp ‘.
Another ‘go to’ source of local history is The Statistical Accounts – written by the minister in each parish, and usually contains topographical and economic features, snippets of local flora and fauna and amusingly sometimes, the minister’s own personal views about his parishioners. In the 1845 New Statistical Account, for Monteith, County of Perth, NSA, Vol. X, 1845, the Rev Alexander Gray, Kincardine in Monteith (i.e. Blairdrummond) wrote of Roman signal stations ‘along the Forth and Teith in the direction of the camp at Ardoch’. Further, he writes of antiquities found including ‘two large brass kettles’ thought to be Roman camp kettles and ‘There are no ancient roads in this parish, except the one found by the moss improvers, which is universally ascribed to the Romans. Seventy yards of it in length were discovered on the surface of the clay, at the bottom of the moss, after the peat, to the depth of 8 feet, had been removed. It was formed of trees about 12″ in diameter, having other trees of half this size crossing them, and brushwood covering the whole. This road crossed the moss of Kincardine northward from a narrow part of the Forth, towards the Roman road, passing between the moss and the River Teith [and connected to] Camelon, on the Roman wall. It is supposed to have been made by the Romans for checking the incursions of the Caledonians by the Pass of Leny and for opening a communication by Dunblane with the well known station at Ardoch’.
But what light has been shone on this site in modern times? Well, modern archaeology has been able to settle some of the myths and the ‘camp’ is now known to be a medieval or even later ‘homestead moat’ rather than Roman. The ‘brass’ kettles as described by the Rev. Gray as found in the area are now known to be late bronze age, made of very thin beaten bronze and held in the National Museums of Scotland.
Interestingly, some Roman coins were said to have been found and passed to the museum, though there is now no record of these items held. The Canmore website states that the moated site ‘probably stood deep in the confines of the Moss and may have served as a hunting lodge’, although the moat actually stands just off the western edge of the moss, on the glacial Flanders Hill rather than ‘surrounded’ by the moss, which only forms on carse clay. John Harrison, historian and author of numerous excellent papers and publications, has suggested that the site might even have been a hunting lodge built for James IV for his hunting in Menteith. And I must say, the idea of James IV (who reigned 1488 – 1513) and his entourage riding out from Stirling Castle to hunt the lands of Menteith and the moss around is an evocative one that sparks the imagination. It’s also worth remembering, that the moss was not a near continuous peat mass as once thought, but has been shown to have actually been a patchwork of different habitats (1), areas of which were passable and useful for hunting and agricultural purposes. As John has also noted, there is not likely to be any documentary evidence on the question of a hunting lodge, so the issue would have to be resolved archaeologically.
So there we have it – and this all goes to show what a rich and wonderful area the mosses and carse of Stirling are. And of course, there is always more to discover….
(1) John G Harrison, 2008/9. ‘East Flanders Moss, Perthshire, a documentary study’, in Landscape History, vol. 30, pp. 5-19.
John G Harrison and Richard Tipping, 2007. ‘Early historic settlement on the western carselands of the Forth Valley; a reappraisal’ pp. 461-470, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 137.
SNH Commissioned report No. 002, A Historical background of Flanders Moss – John Harrison, 2003.