The Roman fort at Lunt was quiet, the day we visited. Very quiet. Actually, me and Diane were the only visitors on a damp and drizzly weekday afternoon. Possibly for that reason, the staff were very friendly and eager to chat.
We paid our £3.50 admission charge each, and avoided a spell of rain by walking around the visitor centre, which has been set up in the reconstructed granary store on site. To a large extent, this has been set up to accomodate groups of children, which is fair enough as they apparently get a lot of school parties and families turning up. Don’t be put off by that. There’s an array of (reproduced) Roman armour, shields, weapons and other equipment to examine, including a lifesize mannequin of an auxiliary cavalryman mounted on a lifesize mannequin horse.
There’s a good reason for having him there. The thinking is that Lunt, during the latter part of the 1st century BCE, served as headquarters for the cavalry element of a cohors quingenaria equitata (a mixed unit of foot and mounted auxiliary troops). The strong evidence for this is the finding, at Lunt, of a gyrus – a circular paddock in which horses could be trained. We were told that only one other gyrus has so far been found as part of a Roman fort in Europe.
The gyrus has been rebuilt on site. Inside it, there’s a wooden post set up for training with the gladius. And yes, I did want to have a go at that, but regrettably no wooden training gladius was available…
Also reconstructed, there’s one of the fort gates, now serving as entrance to the site, and a small section of the wooden walls. Parts of the walls have seen better days and look as if they’re on the verge of collapse as brambles and other shrubs are pushing them over, but at least you can get some impression of how things must have appeared in Lunt’s heyday.
Other than that, there isn’t much outside the granary store besides foundations and some information boards (oh, and a toilet block, which was appreciated!). If you want to visit, it may be worth keeping an eye on Lunt’s website at http://www.luntromanfort.org/ for one of their events involving re-enactors, talks and workshops, which seem to be held periodically. The site is only opened during school holidays, by the way, which is also something to bear in mind if planning to drop by.
Back in the visitor centre, there’s quite a large diorama showing the fort as it may have appeared when in use. It contains plenty of interest, and staff claimed that every member of the Roman garrison is represented on there somewhere (I can’t verify this, I didn’t count!) but for some reason it’s been taken from its original (and logical) horizontal position and upended onto one edge, so that as an observer you’re given a sort of bird’s eye view. I don’t really know why this has been done. I’d much prefer to see it laid flat and in a space where I could walk around and look at it from various angles, and not be given the impression that the whole thing is liable to fall off the wall at any moment. A couple of miniature Romans have, in fact, fallen off and lie forlornly at the bottom of the glass case. As a side note, I’m pretty sure that the wagons on the diorama are yet another iteration of that Airix ‘Wagon Train’, only this time converted from their Wild West origins into two-wheeled Roman wagons.
Nearby, there’s a full sized and functional scorpio, a Roman bolt-shooting engine. Quite impressive it is, too. While we were stood looking at it, one of the two women on duty wandered over to join us. I made some comment about it being a shame the scorpio was festooned with DO NOT TOUCH notices, as I’ve always wanted to shoot a bolt from one.
“The thing is”, said the woman sadly, “we’re not allowed to do that anymore”.
“We did use it to actually shoot a bolt, once”, she said, “but missed the target completely. The bolt went flying through the open window of a nearby bungalow, passed right through the house, and came out of another open window on the other side. Nobody was hurt, though”, she added hastily.
As we were leaving, I noticed a signpost indicating an Air Museum somewhere down the road nearby, but we didn’t have time to check that out. Maybe we’ll look on another occasion. It stopped raining, too.