Navio Roman Fort at Brough, Near Hope and Castleton.

Navio Roman Fort at Brough

If you are the least bit interested in the Romans, then make a stop at the village of Brough, just North of Bradwell.  On the face of it, there is not much to see, but with a little imagination a fascinating chunk of Peak District history comes alive in a field just off the road.

Situated in this flat, green field, above a sharp bend in the River Noe, is the site of a small Roman Fort.  It was called Navio in latin inscriptions, a name that means “on the river” and the likelihood is that it was put here to guard the crossing point, but on slightly higher ground, for strategic advantage.  Originally constructed from wood in the first century AD, it was later partly rebuilt in stone and some of this is still visible, especially at the centre of the site; stones that look at first glance to be an old water trough are in fact the entrance to the underground strong room that was at the very heart of the fortification.  Also clearly discernible are the outer boundaries of the fort, laid out in a perfect square and parts of these reveal more stonework.

A wonderful, but not-so-ancient relic shows the way to the field; a cast iron sign erected by the Peak District and Northern Counties Footpaths Society in 1909.  If you walk much in the North of England you will come across these things in all sorts of locations and from all periods right up to the present day, for the “Peak and Northern” is still going strong.  This is a beautiful and well-maintained example and speaks confidently from its Edwardian frame, “PUBLIC FOOTPATH TO HOPE AND CASTLETON VIA THE ROMAN STATION ANAVIO.  KEEP TO THE TRACK. ALTITUDE 616 FEET.”  So, yes indeed, you could incorporate a visit to Navio within an easy circular walk to Castleton, (and avoid the traffic and parking difficulties there).

Back in Roman times, from Navio the roads travelled North West, to the larger fort of Melandra, near Glossop, and South, eleven miles to Buxton.  Parts of that southern road, called Batham Gate are still with us – the main street up through the present day village of Bradwell, for example.  The route North is now no more than a bridleway over the ridge of Win Hill, which dominates the skyline in that direction.

Buxton became a very important regional centre and spa town to the Romans and wealthy Romano-Britons, its name then being Aqua Arnemetiae, or “water of the goddess Arnemeti (or Arnementi)”.    Interestingly, Arnementi was a Celtic goddess; the Romans were real magpies and would readily adopt local deities if they thought there was something to be gained.  It was probably a shrewd move politically, also.

One of the inscribed stones left by the soldiers at Navio is dedicated to Arnementi and almost certainly she would have been worshipped by the local population at this very spot, for here the Bradwell Brook has its confluence with the River Noe.  Confluences were always places of veneration to the Celts and one can imagine offerings being thrown into the waters, right where the magnificent old corn mill belonging to William Eyre and Sons now stands.  The name Noe, is itself Celtic, (as is often the case with rivers) and it means “flow”.

So, what were the Roman soldiers doing here?  Well, the surrounding parts of the Peak District would have been incredibly important to the Romans for the deposits of one of their favourite metals, lead.  The garrison of a few dozen men would have had the task of keeping order among the miners and of ensuring that everything was accounted for properly, as the lead was transported along the roads and over this crossing.  The archaeological evidence suggests that the fort was attacked on one occasion, abandoned and then rebuilt.  Another inscribed stone is dedicated to Mars, the Roman god of war, suggesting that the men were seeking his aid.  The inscribed stones (all of which can be seen in a fascinating display inside Buxton’s Museum) are all in Latin, but the soldiers themselves were from Aquitaine in South West France.  They were moved to Navio after a stint guarding Hadrian’s Wall, so while not quite the South of France, it must have seemed something of an improvement to be stationed in the Hope Valley.

Almost certainly a small settlement of local Celts would have grown up outside the walls of the fortress, to serve the soldiers’ needs and to cater for the travellers using the crossing.  The Romans would have termed this settlement a “vicus” and it quite possibly formed the foundations of the tiny village of Brough.  Brough  means “fortification” in Anglo-Saxon.

While in Brough, have a browse around the aforementioned Mill, now an extensive feed merchant’s (William Eyre and Sons); they sell absolutely everything that a person living in the Peak District could possibly want, from a bale of hay to an extensive range of outdoor clothing (on the whole of the top floor).

The Bamford Garden Centre, just along the A6187 is another fascinating emporium, stocking much more than you might think; it incorporates a second-hand bookshop and an aquatic department with tanks full of exotic fish; it also has a small café with open-air seating.

Pubs serving excellent food are in abundance nearby; The Travellers’ Rest on the main road across the river is within a short walk, while up in Bradwell village there is a great range on offer; The Samuel Fox has more of a restaurant feel to it, while if you seek out The Old Bowling Green (takes a bit of finding), it has fine views from its garden, good real ales and home cooking.