Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site Cumbrian coast tourist trail

A scenic driving route from the great border city Carlisle, through the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and along the coast to Maryport. Enjoy spectacular views over the Solway Firth, interesting Roman attractions, wonderful wildlife encounters, and great places to eat as you explore this part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site.

Distances

  • Full: 75km (46.5 miles)
  • Carlisle to Bowness on Solway: 20km (12.5 miles)
  • Bowness on Solway to Abbeytown: 25km (15.5 miles)
  • Abbeytown to Maryport: 30km (18.5 miles)

The 75km (46.5 mile) route can be done in one day or could include overnight stops in Bowness on Solway, Silloth, Allonby or Maryport to give you more time to explore everything the area has to offer.

Look out for the signs and it's an easy route to follow.

Hadrian's Wall and the Coastal Frontier

In the second century AD Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a frontier to consolidate the Roman Empire. In Britain a wall stretching for 80 Roman miles (117km / 73 miles) crossed the north between Bowness on Solway in Cumbria and Wallsend near Newcastle on Tyne, with major forts located 8.2 Roman miles (11.5 km) apart with smaller fortlets (milecastles) every Roman mile, and two small turrets or lookout stations between every milecastle.

The network of forts and turrets extended down the Cumbrian coast as far as Ravenglass, following the same pattern as those on Hadrian's Wall. As well as allowing the Roman Army to keep an eye on its borders this carefully organised frontier enabled communications to be relayed easily and quickly between stations using beacons and semaphore signals. Supplies were transported by sea to forts along the coast and then moved on by road to troops in the north and along Hadrian's Wall.

Carlisle

Tullie House Museum's family friendly Roman Frontier Gallery is the place to start. It tells the fascinating frontier story and shows the effect of Roman occupation on Britain through interactive exhibitions and Roman artefacts.

The museum sits partially over the site of the large fort Luguvalium and much of Carlisle City Centre is above the Roman civitas,a town that would have had a forum, temples and baths. The imposing 11th century Castle also straddles the fort and Roman masonry can be seen in walls that have withstood many sieges and battles. The medieval cathedral was also built using stone from the fort and has a beautiful interior.

Leave Carlisle following the dual carriage way that runs between Tullie House and Carlisle Castle, heading west towards the McVities biscuit factory. On the approach to the mini roundabout you'll see the first tourist trail icon on the sign. Take the second exit for Cumberland Infirmary, Kirkbride and Burgh. Follow this road, turning right when you see the trail sign on to Burgh Road. This leads to another roundabout, follow the sign straight across and make your way towards Burgh by Sands.

Burgh by Sands

This now peaceful village had a turbulent past, playing an important part in many border conflicts. Roman regiments from northern Europe and North Africa garrisoned the cavalry fort Aballava to protect a major crossing point onto the Solway Firth. Although the fort is no longer visible, Roman masonry can be seen in buildings all around the village, notably St.Michael's Church.

This fortified church has a remarkable history, in the 14th century the body of King Edward I 'The Hammer of the Scots' lay in State here after he died on Burgh Marsh during a failed campaign to conquer Scotland. As the area became increasing lawless the pele tower was added so people could take refuge during cross-border raids and in the 16th century the infamous Border Reivers terrorised the area. There is a small exhibition in St Michael's Church. Free admission, donations welcome. Continue on toward Bowness on Solway via Drumburgh.

Drumburgh

As you enter Drumburgh look out for the tower house on the left known as Drumburgh Castle. Built  using stone from Congabata fort the house is not open to the public but Roman altar stones are visible from the road.

Drumburgh Moss Nature Reserve is accessed from the village (take the left before the postbox) and is a fine example of lowland raised mire, one of the most threatened habitats in Europe, and a lovely place to stretch your legs with a short walk to a viewing platform.

Follow the main road through the village and on to Bowness on Solway. The spectacular views across the narrow Solway Wath highlight how vulnerable this area was and why the Roman coastal defences were so important.

Bowness on Solway

Campfield Marsh RSPB reserve and Cumbria Wildlife Trust's Bowness on Solway nature reserve are on the coast road as you leave the village. Both are wonderful places to experience wildlife including breeding birds in spring, dragonflies and butterflies in summer, and the stunning sight of thousands of barnacle and pink footed geese in autumn and winter.

Continue following the road through Cardunock and Anthorn before turning right towards Kirkbride. Just before the Kirkbride village sign follow the trail towards Newton Arlosh, and then on to Abbeytown.  

Abbeytown

Named after the medieval Holme Cultram Abbey built by Cistercian monks in the 12th century. A parish church in the remains of the Abbey is open to the public and tells the story of how the landscape and industry along the Solway was shaped by people, from the Roman legions to Cistercian monks.

From here follow the trail to Silloth via Calvo and Skinburness.

Silloth

As you drive through the cobbled streets Silloth's past as a popular Victorian seaside resort is evident in the architecture. It's a good place to stop for a stroll around the Green or to sample some tasty treats in one of the cafes, pubs, or chip shops. As you follow the B5300 south to Allonby you'll pass nature reserves including Mawbray Banks, a breeding site for rare natterjack toads.

Allonby

Sandy beaches and ice cream from Twentyman's make Allonby a popular place with visitors and locals. Hadrian's Cycleway runs through the village and the surfaced path is suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs as well as cycles.

A short distance along the B5300 towards Maryport is Milefortlet 21. This is the only place where you can see the layout of a milefortlet on this coast. A short walk up a path branching off the cycleway and you can explore the ramparts and look south to Maryport, the location of the Roman fort Alauna. (free admission)

Follow the B5300 to Maryport, then the brown tourist signs to the Senhouse Roman Museum.

Maryport

Senhouse Roman Museum, next to the earthworks of the fort Alauna looks out over the Irish Sea. Legions from across the Empire were stationed here and it was an important part of the supply chain with goods coming into the port and being moved north by road. Civilians including shopkeepers, publicans, and tradesmen lived in a town in the shadow of the fort. The museum's collection of military altar stones, the most ever recovered from one site, and artefacts found in the local area, give a fascinating insight into the multicultural nature of the Empire and the career paths of its senior officers and administrators.

After visiting the museum head for the harbour via cobbled Fleming Square with lovely Georgian houses. There are shops and places to eat in the town centre and around the working harbour. Visitor attractions in this part of town include Maryport Maritime Museum, the Lake District Coast Aquarium, and the Wave Centre.

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