On the edge of the beautiful North Yorkshire Moors just off the road running between Cropton and Newton-on-Rawcliff and approximately 10min (4miles) drive north of Pickering is probably the most famous Roman site on the moors. Cawthorn Roman military complex dates from around the late 1st century CE and early 2nd century CE.
This site forms part of a network of sites across the moors and coastline such as the forts at Malton (DERVENTIO) and Lease Rigg, two villas and five coastal signal stations of which the best preserved example can be found inside the grounds of Scarborough Castle. Cawthorn is also not far from the well known Wheeldale Roman road. Thought for many years to be a surviving section of the Roman road linking Cawthorn with some of these sites, many historians now believe it to be of later construction built towards the end of the roman period.
In recent years there have been attempts to interpret Cawthorn. The site consists of an irregular, coffin-shaped camp situated between two more substantial rectangular shaped forts. The total area which the site takes up is approximately 5 ¼ acres in size.
The three camps were long considered just a group of practice camps but it is now clear that the two forts are too substantial to be practice camps with the western fort having the most elaborate earthworks of the three it’s south eastern corner cutting through the earlier marching camp boundary and the eastern fort showing signs of being extended at some point to include an annex which is as large as the original fort itself.
There are some signs of Pre-Roman use of the site as well as later use from the Viking period with the discovery of a sunken dwelling known as a ‘Grubenhausen’ (Grub House), which are found throughout northern Europe between the 5th and 12th centuries. As well as this there is an easily identifiable medieval pack horse trail which runs through the centre of the site known as the ‘Portergate’.
I visited this site in late March 2011 on a grey and overcast day with a cold wind that cut across the site giving it a melancholy atmosphere and apart for the odd couple walking dogs and a hardy family of five I had the site to myself. I kept roughly to the route suggested with regular forays to points of particular interest to me, something I recommend to get a real feel for the site which is a wonderful place to visit and boasts one of the most spectacular views in Yorkshire.
Cawthorn seems to also boast many reports of a more supernatural nature. The strength of these reports lead to the site being investigated by paranormal investigators ‘Abbey Ghost Hunters’ who visited the site back in Samhain (Halloween) 2006. If you are interested then I have included links to their investigation report and site photos which are interesting to say the least.