IN the year 122AD, Roman Emperor Hadrian came to Britain to begin construction of his stone wall across the north of England. He had decided it was time to stop the Empire expanding. Only 20 years later (142 AD), his successor, Emperor Antoninus Pius, ordered an amazing U-turn. Romans were supposed to expand the Empire. So he abandoned Hadrian’s Wall and ordered the construction of a new defensive frontier: this time in turf, across Scotland’s central belt.

Thanks to its turf and timber construction, the Antonine Wall is less well preserved than Hadrian’s Wall, yet there is plenty to see along its 37-mile stretch, if you know where to look. Yet while England had created a National Trail Path along their stone Hadrian’s Wall, there was until recently no recognised trail in Scotland along our own turf Antonine Wall. Something had to be done.

As a keen walker living in the north Edinburgh village of Cramond, whose name derives from that of the Roman fort, Caer Amon, which was part of the Antonine Wall infrastructure, I decided to create a new Antonine trail and write a guide book to it, complete with colour pictures and walk-maps.

First, I had to check that there was stuff worth seeing. Not much remains (often nothing) of the turf wall. But, in front (to the north) of that, the Romans dug a vast ditch, miles of which are still dramatic. Great long lengths are rarely visited and are virtually unknown. Yet the dimensions are impressive. If your pal had stood at the foot of the original ditch and you'd stood on his shoulders, you wouldn’t have seen over the edge. Seventeen forts along the Antonine Wall completed the package. Today their main feature is the view: those forts were designed for watching over the troublesome natives to the north.

The Antonine Trail takes advantage of some great scenery and makes use of sections of Forth and Clyde and Union Canals towpath. I found some great refreshment stops and plenty of choices of overnight stops at reasonable prices; these are all detailed in my new book, An Antonine Trail.

Beginning in Dumbarton and ending in my home village of Cramond, the trail is broken up into seven sections, beginning with a three-mile (five km) walk from Dumbarton East Station to Milton. After an introductory visit to Dumbarton Castle, a rock the Romans visited, we stroll by the Forth and Clyde Canal passing Bowling Canal Basin and marvelling at the mighty 1971 Erskine Bridge.

Yes, we find plenty to interest us with no Roman connection at all. We do pass four Roman fort sites (check the views), concluding with the fascinating and beautifully presented Bearsden Roman Bath House.

There follow six day-long walks. Days two and three begin by following the Allander Water to Dobbie’s Garden Centre, taking in a mock-up cross-section of Antonine Wall and a very real coffee shop. We pass through Kirkintilloch.

The town’s name means “the fort at the end of the ridge”, and here, we find another fort site with another view to the north.

The town became a coal-mining centre and, once the Forth and Clyde Canal opened, it became a great boat-building-yard complex. Soon we come to what Historic Scotland has dubbed “the best seven-mile walk”, with spectacular stretches of ditch, taking us to Castlecary, where you can visit a Roman fort.

The day four walk takes in Rough Castle, a dramatic fort two kilometres southeast of Bonnybridge, which sports defensive ramparts as well as man traps, for catching intruders. There’s a great length of ditch and rampart on display, and en route, we can visit the Falkirk Wheel for a boat trip underneath the Antonine Wall.

We switch to the Union Canal to walk through the half-mile Falkirk Canal tunnel (it does have lighting – and a footway). The 14th century Callendar House (free entry) offers refreshments, a Roman museum, and a great section of ditch. From the line of the Wall we get dramatic views over Grangemouth oil refinery and petrochemical works – not usually found high up the list of visitor attractions.

Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway offers steam and diesel train trips. The Wall ends at the rather grand 2012 AD replica Distance Slab, showing how Roman Legionaries proudly proclaimed their building achievements. The final stretch passes the three bridges over the Forth at Queensferry: the earliest of these, the railway bridge, having recently joined The Antonine Wall as a World Heritage Site. The last stop on our trail is at the delightful Cramond Village with its boat moorings, inn, church, and a final Roman supply-fort site with some excavated foundations.

My book is designed to let readers choose their own length of daily walk, selecting their routes according to the weather forecast and public transport availability. Since 2008, the Antonine Wall has been listed as a World Heritage Site, and Historic Scotland and the various local authorities through whose territory the monument passes, keep a watchful eye on all that affects it.

Recently, all those authorities have pledged thousands of pounds to boost awareness of our monument. The hope is it will become a tourism magnet to rival our Scottish lochs and castles.

Cameron Black is a retired civil engineer. His book, An Antonine Trail, is designed to fit in the walking-jacket pocket and includes more than 70 colour illustrations including eight large scale day-walk maps by David Langworth. To find out more visit

5 stops on the Antonine Trail

Duntocher Roman Fort, Goldenhill Park, Clydebank

The Antonine Wall climbed straight up a steep slope to the fort, which was built on a hill top. The Romans constructed their wall on a 4.5m wide stone foundation. Here we see the dressed kerb stones on each side of the wall, with other stones placed by hand to fill the gap in between. Other Roman turf walls don't seem to have had the stone base; for instance, the western length of Hadrian's wall was originally of turf but without the stone base. So the Antonine Wall had a design innovation.


The town's Camphill Avenue is actually on the line of the Antonine ditch, with the wall running parallel. Camphill refers to the Roman fort or camp on this very hill. At the top of the Avenue, turn right between trees to (try to) find two plaques on the grass explaining that in the 1950s the stone base of the Wall was uncovered here (but is, unfortunately, now covered with grass). Continuing slowly on the path through the park, we pass a fountain commemorating Faustina, Antonine's daughter. Next, there is the bandstand, and a raised site of a medieval motte; both occupy the site of the Kirkintilloch Roman fort. Do take in the views.

Barr Hill Roman Fort

This fort is, somewhat exceptionally, separate from the Antonine Wall by some 30 or 40 metres. In fact, the military way passed between them. At 150m, this is the highest fort on the Wall. Check out the views. The headquarters building is marked out on the ground in concrete. In its courtyard we find the fort's well – more or less at the top of the rise. The bathhouse is downhill, in the north-west corner.

Victory stones

At various places along the Antonine Wall, we find evidence that Roman soldiers felt a continuing security in remembering their victory by actually worshipping the goddess of Victory. For whatever reason (pride, or the employment of masons), the Antonine Wall was liberally provided with "distance slabs" of stone, sometimes elaborately carved. The slabs proclaimed each length of Wall that whomsoever had just completed. At least four of these – one found in 1969 – featured the goddess Victory. In one, she raises a laurel wreath to the beak of an eagle – the bird which features so strongly in Roman insignia.

Cramond Roman Fort

Here, we find some excavated remains and several useful interpretation panels. A first-generation fort is thought to have been Agricolan, c81 AD; second-generation 142 AD, courtesy of Antonine. The visible remains date from 208 AD, the visit by Septimius Severus. Cramond Kirk is built on the site of the Roman basilica or headquarters building because it was an important site with a history. It also had a good supply of dressed stone, If you peer at the outside of the church you'll see that some of the largest blocks have criss-crossed diamond-patterned grooves because that is how the Roman masons dressed the stone. As I write, funds are being sought for a visitor centre and to re-excavate the bathhouse which was reburied, for safety, downhill of the fort.