Bar Hill Roman Fort lies near the top of Bar Hill, in a superb strategic location looking north over the Kelvin Valley to the Campsie Fells. It was built as one of the forts housing troops manning the Antonine Wall, which was for a while the north-west frontier of a Roman Empire that stretched all the way to the Middle East. Along with Rough Castle near Falkirk, it is one of the two best locations along the Antonine Wall to gain a real impression of what the wall was like, and what life would have been like for the troops manning it.
The Antonine Wall was built from AD142 to 144 and ran for 37 miles (60km) from Bo'ness on the River Forth to Old Kilpatrick on the River Clyde. Like the better known Hadrian's Wall to the south, it formed a solid barrier right across the country. A clear symbol of Roman power and authority, the wall probably served to control the movement of people and goods between the Roman-controlled area to the south and the lands to the north.
The wall was in use for around 20 years. The relatively short period of occupation and the materials used in its construction mean that it has survived less well than Hadrian's Wall: but in its day it would have been just as formidable a barrier. The wall itself was built on stone foundations, 15ft (4.3m) broad, on top of which turf was laid to a height of 12 feet (3.6m). The top of the wall probably carried a wooden walkway protected by a wooden breastwork.
In front of the wall (i.e. on its northern side) a ditch was dug to a depth of 12ft (3.6m) and a breadth of up to 40ft (12m), with the spoil forming a mound along the north edge of the ditch. And in some places, as can be seen at Rough Castle, the wall was additionally protected by pits containing stakes. A little way to the south of the line of the wall ran a Roman Road, the Military Way, which was some 20ft (6m) wide. At intervals of around 2 miles a fort was built to house the troops manning the wall. There were probably 19 of these along the wall, though only 17 have been found on the ground.
Bar Hill Roman Fort was unusual in that its north wall does not form part of the Antonine Wall itself. Instead, while the Antonine Wall follows a course a little way down the shoulder of the north side of Bar Hill, the fort is draped over the summit of the hill and built on its upper slopes. The Military Way passed between the fort and the wall.
It has to be said that the Antonine Wall as it runs along the flank of Bar Hill is not as well preserved as it is at Rough Castle, though here you do get more of a sense of how it would have commanded the landscape. Perhaps the best reason to visit is that, after excavations between 1979 and 1982, the plan and some lower levels of stonework of some of the buildings were left on view.
The largest visible building is the headquarters, placed on the south-facing slope of the hill, presumably with an eye to maximising sunlight. But in many ways the most impressive building is the bathhouse, which originally stood close to the north wall of the fort on the fairly steep northern slope of the hill. Here enough remains on the ground to give an impression of the function of what, for many who lived here, would have been one of the most essential buildings in the fort.
You get to Bar Hill via a pedestrian-only track from the village of Twechar, which is on a minor road off the B8023 almost mid-way between Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch. Parking is not straightforward, but possible.
The track takes off uphill past the war memorial and opposite a small industrial estate. Take no notice of an old sign telling you it is "¼ mile" to Bar Hill: it's actually a little over 0.5 miles and a 250ft climb, making a really superb short walk that follows the track until it reaches a dome-topped reservoir on a hill, then turns left up another track to the top of Bar Hill itself and the fort.