If Emperor Antoninus Pius had not been in charge of the Romans, would they have invaded Scotland?
It’s a very interesting question to ponder as the district prepares to celebrate its annual Big Roman Week.
Founded some 10 years ago by Friends of Kinneil in Bo’ness, the two week festival celebrates the Antonine Wall in the Falkirk district.
So it seems only fitting that the fun-packed family programme will kick off this Saturday at Kinneil House.
With a little help from Historic Environment Scotland and Falkirk Community Trust, Friends volunteers have laid on an amazing treat for families from 1pm to 4pm.
As part of Doors Open Days, Kinneil House will be open for free tours from noon to 3.30pm and visitors will also be able to enjoy a feast of Roman-themed activities in the grounds.
Ian Shearer, Friends chairman, said: “The Antonine Guard will be setting up camp at Kinneil.
“They are a brilliant living history group who take you right back to Roman times.
“We’ll also have displays from Falkirk District Wargames Club, making a return visit to the estate, as well as a dressing-up stall, craft sessions and fundraising stalls.
“Admission to the house and estate is free of charge, although there will be a small charge for some of the activities to cover costs.
“It should be a great afternoon, with lots of activities for families – just remember to bring your camera along!”
Author Mike Nicholson will be entertaining younger children in Kinneil Museum from 2pm to 3pm. One of his Museum Mystery Squad books focuses on The Case of the Roman Riddle.
Wee ones will also be able to try fun archery sessions, priced 50p for five shots.
And in the estate’s orchard, Falkirk Community Trust (FCT) has lined up a series of free activities to help families find out about the site’s biodiversity.
There will also be fundraising stalls, food and refreshments.
If the Kinneil event whets your appetite, there’s plenty more to sink your teeth into during Big Roman Week.
Geoff Bailey, FCT’s heritage engagement officer, should know as he helped co-ordinate the programme.
But he’s doing more than just overseeing it all – he’ll also be presenting two talks and leading several events.
And surely few people are more qualified to do so, as Geoff was actually on site when the Roman Fort was discovered in Falkirk in 1991.
He recalled: “They were demolishing the scout hall at the Pleasance in the town centre and we were given three days to excavate.
“I was leading that first dig when we found Roman remains on the site.
“But we’ve made so many more discoveries since.”
And those discoveries will form the basis of one of Geoff’s free talks, in Trinity Church on Wednesday, September 19, at 7.30pm.
The annual round-up of work is hosted by Falkirk Local History Society and always shines new light on our Roman heritage.
Geoff said: “This year, we’ve explored the tidal mill at Higgins Neuk, the Roman fort annexe at Mumrills, the temporary camps at Carmuirs and the designed landscape at Kinneil.”
Going on the premise that it’s always best to leave people wanting more, Geoff wouldn’t reveal more – so you’ll have to go along!
However, he is delighted to see the expansion of Big Roman Week this year.
He said: “Historic Environment Scotland is hosting a conference for the first time.
“It will mark the 10th anniversary of the inscription of the Antonine Wall as a World Heritage Site and celebrate the ongoing involvement of communities along the wall.
“Glasgow Archaeological Society is also getting involved with the aim of extending Big Roman Week along the length of the wall.”
The free Antonine Wall Community Conference will be held on Saturday, September 29, at Glenskirlie Hotel in Bankknock.
Booking is essential at www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/antonine-wall-community-conference-2018-tickets-48730067945.
In the meantime, it’s advisable to book in for the other activities too.
Geoff added: “We have a wide range of events this year, suitable for both adults and children, most of which are free. However, most will need to be booked to avoid any disappointment.”
As for Emperor Pius, he’d probably be delighted to see the “barbarians” celebrating his wall; enthusiasm for his pet project died when he did.
Your guide to Roman around ...
Around 142AD, the Antonine Wall split the Falkirk district into the civilised Roman south and the barbarian north.
Discover where they left their mark during Big Roman Week.
Saturday, September 15
10.30am to 11.30am: Build the Antonine Wall in Lego at Grangemouth Library.
11am to noon: Chatterbooks: the Antonine Wall in Bo’ness at the town’s library. Suitable for children aged six to 12 years.
1pm to 4pm: Kinneil House and Estate, family fun day.
Sunday, September 16
2pm: Walk – Bridgeness to Kinneil. A magnificent replica of the largest distance slab has been erected at Kinningars Park in Bo’ness, the starting place for this free walk.
2pm to 3pm: Author Michael Nicholson will discuss his Museum Mystery Squad at Kinneil Museum.
Wednesday, September 19
7.30pm: Talk – recent archaeological work in the Falkirk district by Geoff Bailey in Trinity Church, Falkirk.
Thursday, September 20
2pm to 3pm: Talk – The buildings in the Antonine Wall Forts by Geoff Bailey in Bo’ness Library.
Saturday, September 22
10.30am to 11.30am: March to the beat of a Roman drum and learn to fight like a Roman at Meadowbank Library in Polmont.
10.30am to noon: Big Roman Lego event at Larbert Library.
2pm to 3.30pm: Building a Roman world at Callendar House. A family friendly workshop on building techniques, led by Geoff Bailey.
Sunday, September 23
2pm: Walk – Twechar to Kirkintilloch.
Thursday, September 27
5pm: Build the Antonine Wall in Lego at Bo’ness Library.
Saturday, September 29
11am: Build the Antonine Wall in Lego at Meadowbank Library.
For more information, visit www.bigromanweek.org.uk.