Surely the most impressive ancient site in East Anglia, if not anywhere in Britain, Burgh Castle is, along with nearby Caister-on-Sea, one of the Saxon Shore Forts constructed by the Romans to fend off troublesome invaders along England’s south-eastern coastline. Although the interior buildings of the fort are now long gone, its external wall is incredibly well preserved, still standing to an impressive height on three of its four sides. It is this huge wall that makes the approach to Burgh Castle such an unforgettable experience, a rare change to see the exterior of a Roman fort in its (almost) full glory.
Constructed in the late third century, Burgh Castle, possibly known to the Romans as Gariannonum, seems to have proved an effective bulwark against invasion for over half a century, and looking at it today it is easy to see why. Although plundered over the centuries for their masonry, the fort’s wall still stand close to their original height of around 4.5 metres in places. More than just functional, the rubble core of the wall was originally faced inside and out with decorative bands of flint and brick.
Later, the fort was further fortified with distinctive bastions at intervals along its walls and on every corner. Each of these solid D-shaped structures had a hole at its top, the purpose of which is debated – some suggest that they were constructed to anchor catapults, others conecture that wooden watchtowers would have topped each bastion.
One of the most interesting parts of Burgh Castle Roman Fort is the section of collapsed wall along its western side. Huge chunks of the stone defence still lie just where they fell, giving a strong sense of the monumental scale of the walls and bastions, and a rare chance to view their internal construction close-up.
At some point after its abandonment the north wall of the fort collapsed completely into the surrounding marshland, opening up impressive views overy the surrounding landscape. Just like Pevensey Castle, Burgh later became the site of a Normal castle, although unlike Pevensey this later fortification was short-lived, and few signs can be seen of it today.Now owned by the Norfolk Archaeological Trust and under the care of English Heritage, Burgh Castle remains an evocative reminder of the military might of the Roman Empire and its impact on the ancient British landscape.
For more details on visiting Burgh Castle, click here.