Where do you go when it’s raining, stay in? No, grab your umbrella and just go for a walk somewhere rather than diving into a shopping mall. With friends here with us on Sunday from Italy, we couldn’t just ‘sit’ we had to do something. On walking along the River Nene after the Great Eastern Run had just been cancelled we stopped to look at the panel of interest there, next to the Customs House. It noted places of which we picked one, got in the car and ventured off to Castor!

Castor is a quaint little village on the outskirts of the centre and definitely worth a visit. We parked up along the side of the road and walked up the avenue to Castor Church – St Kyneburgha. (The Celtic Christian foundation at Castor was established by Kyneburgha, aided by her sister Kyneswitha. After their deaths circa 7C a shrine was established in this Saxon minster church, to the two sisters and it became a place of pilgrimage. Later,outlying chapels were built at Ailsworth(no longer exists), Sutton, Upton, Milton and Marholm {www.castorchurchtrust.co.uk/history/} ) The height of this hill is the first thing that attracts your attention as Peterborough is so flat! At the top you are greeted with the church’s graveyard and a history panel to read all about it and it’s fascinating what was once here. Did you know that in this graveyard was a ‘Praetorium’ – Castor Palace? I certainly didn’t! And, did you know that it’s the second largest building yet to be found in Roman Britain!!! The history panel shows what this huge building would have once looked like (not giving it justice in a small black and white sketch – you will find a nicer one in Vivacity’s booklet ‘Explore Roman Peterborough’ which I happened to pick up inside the church.

Walking up to the church is an old stone pathway which looks amazing taking you to the church doorway. Old and extremely heavy, the church was empty to we had a nosey around. You could smell some sort of insence on entering possibly from the burning candles in the corner. We tip-toed around as we looked at the treasures inside. Everything is old, nothing has been changed into the moderness of today which was lovely to see (except for a row of wooden chairs nearer to the alter). Two rows of dark wooden pews and in the far corner a mural which stands on show in the corner from centuries ago. Look up and there’s an amazing wooden ceiling with angels at every hammer – simply stunning. Also in the far corner was a small exhibition of Roman finds from vase pieces to money and hidden under the display cabinet, an old clock. Exiting the church you realise just how dense the door is and the lock is larger than an A4 piece of paper, incredible that in those times gone by that we were able to create mechanisms like this.

Walking around the church towards the upper graveyard you’ll find sheep and goats in the field as the resident lawn mowers. They’re a friendlyish bunch, as two of them were brave enough to want a stroke and some fresh grass from the verge. As we exit the gardens at the top we found a dead mouse, laid there as if in flight of a jump to something…. and at the kissing gate towards to the road were mushrooms struggling to grow in the roman pebbled path.

Out on the side road which forms part of the hill up the side of the church you can see the main wall across from you which writes about Castor Palace (praetorium) with a sign: “These fragments of walling are the remains of one of the largest buildings in Roman Britain. They formed part of the eastern ragen of a set of rooms within a building that extended across the top of the hill and underneat the church. The building was 120m long and 90m wide and was probably built around 230AD. The walls are set in  a herringbone fasthion and still have original Roman concrete bonding the stones together. The rest of the walling and the rooms for this building lie buried underneath the medieval church or were dug away when the road you are standing on was dug into to reduce the gradient. The building was connected with the administration of the Roman fenland which was part of a vast imperial estate. Parts of the building appear to have survived until the Saxon period where it may have formed part of an early Christian foundation associated with Kyneburgha – to whom the church is dedicated.” Dr Stephen Upex 2017.

Our leaflet advices that by 450AD the town had largely been abandoned and the settlement moved further to the east. Many artefacts have been found of which you’ll find Peterborough museum. The rain had stopped so we walked to the top of the hill and wall which is the fence to a large house behind, and at the top to the house covered in bright red ivy on High Street. We continued along Church Hill where the houses there are so typically cottage-like with wonderfully trimmed gardens and lovely facias. I was in my element here as I love photographing doors – something about the interest of what lies behind that you’ll never see. Down the hill and winding through the residential area you also come across a lovely white thatched cottage, fantastic for our Italian friends to see up close. Winding down more still and a squirrel crosses our path as it runs into another nearby well-kept garden. A house which looks more like a ‘new’ palace with it’s grandeur and garden size. On the right we then venture in the Prince of Wales pub for a drink to try the local ale. Dark and full of locals, low black beams, just as you would think a country pub.

We then walked back to the car in search of something to eat…the Coffee shop further on at Ailsworth was full (people all sat eating cake and afternoon teas), we bypassed the Chubby Castor (sorry not quite dressed for a 5 star meal) and then saw the Royal Oak pub, which funnily enough was just two minutes up the road from where we had left so we parked up again (in their carpark). A warm welcome from the staff, the smell coming from the kicthen was inviting and we sat in a corner on a wall seat next to a huge old fire. The walls are adorned with photos from times gone by and of interest. We ordered from their small menu: handmade pizza (for us) and baked camembert and a pickled egg for them (lol you’ve got to make them try something traditional haven’t you) – they liked both thank goodness.

Full bellies and time to go home after spending around two hours here. Something, if the circumstances had been different, we would have never have ventured to…. So, next time you’re thinking of where to have a little walk around or a nosey, think of Castor and Ailsworth. You may even get a nice spot in the cosy cafe and a cake! I may even go back and do the actual walk (walk 1 – takes 2-3 hours/4.2 miles)

Find more info about the Praetorium here: https://peterborougharchaeology.org/peterborough-archaeological-sites/castor-praetorium/

Findings by Dr Stephen Upex: https://peterborougharchaeology.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Published-version-of-CAS.P..pdf

#WeLovePeterborough #WeLoveCastor #WeLoveAilsworth #Heritage #Romans #TheRomansAreComing #Praetorium #Artefacts #HistoryOnYourDoorstep #CastorVillage #StKyneburgha #Peterborough #RomanPeterborough #PeterboroughWalks

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