Today it’s just another unassuming field on a quiet farm in mid-Cornwall - usually guarded by Censor the bull. Back in the first century of the modern era, it bustled with the noise and the activity of military men from across the Roman Empire. They hadn’t come for the fine beaches or the local archaeology - indeed, they were unwittingly becoming part of the local archaeology. No, the invaders were here to gain access to the rich mineral lodes, and to cart off their spoils for the greater glory of Rome itself.
Yet long before the legionaries set foot
in what is now the south of England, the Romans, and their predecessors, had
been conducting commerce with the communities of the Celtic peninsula for many a long year. In fact, it could be argued that when the uniformed colonisers arrived in force, their trading kinsmen were probably better known to the local inhabitants than those of the troublesome tribes from closer to home.
Nanstallon sits close to the strategically important watershed between the Camel and the Fowey rivers. In years gone by, it would have been on a very significant trade route from Ireland and Wales in the north to Brittany in the south - as well as being a collecting and processing area for the important local sources of silver and tin. It would have been a place worth protecting.
Our dowsing, led by Alan Neal, started with an examination of the dimensions of the fort’s surrounding bank and ditch. These we dowsed with considerable consensus and we marked them out in BSD standard-issue yellow flags. Those of us who had not adjusted our co-ordinates correctly for the day’s dowsing, also found a further outer ditch of pre-Roman origin.
The fort itself seems rather cosy by modern military standards. It is barely a hectare in area, yet was home to around 300 people, including at least 100 men at arms, at the peak of its occupation. We mapped out the main roads crossing the classically-aligned site and we located the Omphalos at the centre of the fort.
It was news to me that, despite the seemingly cavalier Roman approach to both their own Gods, and to those of the territories they annexed with great regularity, the senior soldiers were actually more respectful of dowsing - in its previous incarnation as divination - than I had appreciated. Apparently, an augury was employed to define the central point - what we would now describe as the energy centre - of the site prior to its construction. Around this, the trademark playing-card shape of the fort would be created. It seemed a little strange that a couple of thousand years later, a group of latter-day Sunday afternoon diviners would be checking that the augury had done his, or her, job properly. However, we concurred that they had indeed found the crossing point of the two main energy lines in the area, which were still embellished with the usual seven ringed earth energy spiral.
We were aware that previous professional digs in the 1960s and 1970s had uncovered the remains of various buildings, so we set out to look for some of them. Alan soon found the outline of the remanence of the main structure on the site, the Praetorium, adjoining the Omphalos to the south east. It was a substantial oblong construction - and dowsed as having been constructed around 70AD and destroyed around 110AD. Despite the obvious effort put into the construction of the site, it does not appear to have been used for very long. We also found the locations of several other smaller buildings, including, in my case, a significantly pre-Roman roundhouse!
Gordon located a small sacred site adjacent to the western gate, together with its energy spiral. It seemed a little asymmetrical in shape and may have been the plinth of a statue or receptacle. Perhaps this is where the residents left an offering before they ventured out into the worrying wilderness of nearby Bodmin Moor (it can have its moments even today) - or maybe they gave thanks to their chosen deity for their safe return.
This was a day where both spiritual and scientific dowsing were brought to bear on proceedings. Jen sensed, and drew, the image of a spirit, a non-Roman man from the period of the occupation, with striking Mediterranean features, who was still quietly ‘living’ on the site. Dave Naylor picked up the energy of marching soldiers, carrying standards - at a location that others had separately indentified as a kind of parade ground. He also sensed a spot where pain had been felt and its remanence remained - perhaps it had been a whipping post. It was apparent that not all the inhabitants were here of their own volition - although it seemed that those who were effectively slaves had a better life with the incomers than they might have experienced in the outside world, where greater freedom came with greater insecurity.
There was also a sense that flags, with specific insignia, were very much part of the daily life of this place - and that it might have been as much a signaling post to the surrounding high points as a defensive site in itself. As if in silent corroboration, an ancient line of consciousness, apparently unknown to the Romans, crosses the site, and picks out the mobile phone mast on a hilltop overlooking Lanivet.
The locations of a midden, some stables, an arsenal or weapons store, a burial area (just outside the fort itself) and a local pub - well, probably a victualling area - were also identified by various members of the group.
Despite the military associations, there was little evidence of violence or aggression here. It dowsed as being more a place of commerce and assembly. Indeed, it seemed an energetically warm and pleasant site, used throughout the pre-Roman eons, and now an appropriately calming place to tether a bull.
Many thanks to John McCoryn for putting so much effort into organizing and setting up this excellent, and well-attended, event. Thanks too to Mr & Mrs Keats for allowing us access - and for kindly moving their livestock out of the field.