Go back to "On the Road"

Roman Forts
North Elmham
Castle Acre
Sutton Hoo

Anglo-Saxon and Norman Sites in Norfolk

Three Roman forts:

This map shows the 3 Roman forts in the tidal basin c. A.D. 100; obviously a lot has since changed.

1. Caistor St. Edmund (Caistor-by-Norwich on the map) is near Dunston, south of Norwich. It was built c. 160 by the Romans following the Iceni's revolt against the Roman occupation. Ed Oakley pointed out three mid-Saxon cemeteries on the ridges overlooking the fort, center upper-right of the first photograph.

The church nearby is twelfth century, with many alterations, and like most such churches we saw in Norfolk, in a sad way.

Trees grow out of the wall line, or what's left of it; there's a lot to excavate, but what has already been excavated has been covered up and you can't get much of a sense of the fort from what you see (I forgot to photograph the story board).

2. Caistor-by-the-Sea is near Yarmouth and was built around 200. This is the best site of the three forts I saw because the outlines of buildings have been preserved. The long house was divided into seven rooms and was just one in a large series of structures like this built using local flint.

Sheds at the rear of the site preserve objects from the dig but they were locked,of course, and evidently there is nobody around now to open them for visitors (if they still serve that purpose). An elderly gentleman walking by pointed them out and observed that "nobody comes here anymore."

This longhouse had seven rooms and was one of a series, as the photo at the right suggests. The view below is from the short end.

Below: the heating system was under the floor.

3. Caistor Burgh is just (!) this massive wall.

If anything was excavated inside the walls, all that has been covered over. The view down and out to the River Yare is impressive, and even as a ruin the wall is monumental. I loved being able to inspect the courses of stone with their layers of brick.

There is, as at Caistor St. Edmund, a wonderful old church nearby; it was actually in use when I was there, so I didn't get inside; it seems to be in very bad repair.

North Elmham

A mixed bag--a wonderful fourteenth-century church with splendid fifteenth-century (probably) paintings and beautifully carved pews--and even a memorial to the dead of World War I. I had hoped to visit many churches like this, but it was not to be (World War I on the left, World War II on the right).



The old Anglo-Saxon cathedral remade into a manor--not a very successful remodeling job, I thought. The best view for me was a look at the 14th-century church. The weather was not good and the pictures are much too dim to capture the nuances.

Castle Acre

The castle was positioned on the highest point
overlooking the river valley, so the view is wonderful.
The scale of the earthworks is amazing.
Looking down on the main gate.

The visitors give some sense of how imposing all this once was. It's an impressive example of manipulation of the landscape by a Norman lord to underscore his importance. Evidently the old Roman road was reconfigured so that it passed the priory and then approached the castle, all the better to make the point, if making it needed.

What it comes down to:
dressed stone from the castle
used in the wall of a house
near the priory, below the humble
and ubiquitous flint of Norfolk.

The Priory is a beautiful ruin but ultimately a depressing sight. It was obviously a beautifully built church before Henry VIII had it demolished. For some reason the façade was left standing.

An overview of the priory at its most complete.

The façade (no. 2 on the map)

The column is near #3 on the map.
One can see a lot about the construction
of such buildings from the ruins inside--
the filling of the huge columns, for example.
There's a lot to see, many buildings
including a two-level redorter adjoining
the dormitory.

I was especially taken with the prior's
own house, his upper rooms, as it were,
which were painted with the Tudor rose
(a bitter irony, that proved), and beyond
and bove them some rooms of unspecified use,
white, empty, perfectly proportioned, empty, quiet.

Sutton Hoo

The exhibition features original food objects, elevated here to monumental memorial purposes. There's a good overview of food on the first photograph (of a photograph). Food figures prominently in Mound 17, the burial of the warrior and his horse; three cooking objects, including a cauldron and a pot, are buried next to him.

The is a photograph (of a photograph) of the excavation in progress.

A close-up of the warrior before excavation,
showing the pots next to him, one (the pot
to the left) nestled inside the other
(the cauldron).

Mound 1 is the famous ship burial; this is a reconstruction showing the disposition of objects, including pots, center left immediately below, and the immense cauldron (for mead, hung from the ceiling by its long chain), 2nd photo below. The third photo shows the construction of the ship.

The mounds are some distance away from the exhibition center and the treasury; there are 19 altogether, but only one of them retains something like its original height.

March 2009