Special Roman festival planned for Alston this weekend

Gladiators, centurions and more will descend on Alston, Cumbria, this weekend for a festival of Roman life

A Roman cavalry display will be part of the events
A Roman cavalry display will be part of the events

Gladiators and centurions will be descending on a town at the weekend when it hosts a Roman festival.

Aspects of Roman life will be on display on Saturday when Alston stages battle re-enactments, period cookery demonstrations and a Roman hospital.

The event has been organised by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership and Epiacum Heritage Ltd, which manages Epiacum Roman fort just north of Alston.

The event is largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and aims to build on the success of a smaller event last year.

Paul Frodsham is project manager for the AONB Partnership’s Altogether Archaeology project, which recently made headlines after two of the community project’s youngest volunteers discovered a 4,300-year-old gold ornament in a dig.

He said: “It really brings the town alive. Last year we were delighted with the amount of people who turned out and everyone enjoyed themselves.

“So this year we thought we’d pull out all the stops.

“One of last year’s highlights was the gladiator fighting and Roman hospital.

“I have to say I’m glad I wasn’t a gladiator because even though the Romans were very advanced for the time, the medical procedures weren’t the most delicate.

“I suspect that some injured gladiators, while lying on the operating table, probably wished they’d failed to survive their combat.”

The day begins at 11am, with the first of three Gladiator fights at 11.30am, and at midday there is the first of five oesteo-archaeology master classes, where an expert will be examining a medieval skeleton.

The town’s St Augustine’s Church is being transformed into a heritage hub that will host Roman pottery workshops, a Roman market stall, crafts and children’s activities all day.

In the Market Place the Rent-a-Peasant stage will show demonstrations of everyday Roman life and cookery classes and even soft toys will be getting in on the action when the Teddy Bear parade takes place at 3.45pm with people invited to dress up their teddies up in Roman costumes.

Tyne Willows playing field will be the stage for Roman cavalry re-enactments by Comitatus, along with ballista firing and archery.

The town’s South Tynedale Railway will be visited by Roman centurion who will tell passengers about the life of a Roman soldier.

Paul Frodsham will also be joined by Stewart Ainsworth from Channel 4’s Time Team to give a presentation about Epiacum and the archaeology of Alston Moor, from 7pm to 8.30pm in the town hall.

On Sunday there is a chance to get out and explore the history of the area with Paul and Stewart when they lead a Romano-British archaeological excavation guided tour.

A vintage coach will take people from Alston to Gilderdale Bridge to look at the Altogether Archaeology excavations at the nearby settlement.

All of Saturday’s events are free but donations towards the work of Epiacum Heritage will be gratefully received.

The Sunday tour is £5 and booking is essential as places are limited. To book call 01434 382080 or visit www.epiacumheritage.com

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