Go a -Roman by the riverside at historic Piercebridge
PUBLISHED: 11:39 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 17:58 20 February 2013
An attractive village steeped in history stretching back to the Romans, Piercebridge has some interesting tales up its sleeve - as Gareth Dant discovers
Trailers bearing towering tiers of immense straw bales trundle down Dere Street ahead of me en route to Piercebridge.
These harvest leftovers are being hurried home under a late summer sun by farmworkers, their enormous tractors rolling in the footsteps of marching Roman soldiers.
This famous route is a distinctive, sometimes rod-straight legacy of Roman rule, stretching from York up to what is now Scotland. Built in about 80 AD, it was an extremely important military route - the main supply line for Hadrians Wall.
At various points, it has leant itself to the modern day A1 and A68, but on this County Durham stretch, a few miles west of Darlington its the B6275 that takes todays traveller arrow-straight to the River Tees at Piercebridge - the all-important crossing point for the Empire.
The village was notable in Roman times for its relatively rare stone arch bridge, which gave the settlement its name.
Piercebridges Roman origins are thought to go back to about 70 AD and the fort, probably called Morbium, was built in about 260 AD. It grew to about ten and a half acres - among the largest of its kind.
Much of it is now under Piercebridges attractive village green, but a large section was excavated and preserved in the 1970s. The last remains of the Roman bridge lie marooned in a field nearby - the Tees has narrowed and changed its course over the years.
Today, informative panels at the open-air, free-access fort site do a good job of helping to explain the striking features still visible today.
The well-equipped fort had latrines with seating capacity for 30, apparently sociable folks, those Romans.
Key finds from the excavation can be seen at the Bowes Museum, not far
away to the west, on the edge of
Barnard Castle, where they are on permanent loan.
The fort is part of the Dere Street Trail put together by Durham County Council. The trail also takes in Binchester, Ebchester and Lanchester further north, among others.
Much closer to home are some satisfying strolls beside the river - the wonderful Teesdale Way passes through.
While the fort is not a visitor attraction in the brew, loo and view mould of National Trust or English Heritage sites, fear not; plenty of options for first-class refreshment thrive nearby.
A favourite is Piercebridge Organic Farm Shop and Caf, on the other side of the green.
Chris Hodgsons family has farmed here since 1964. He and wife Liz converted to organic a dozen years ago.
Stout, neat white-washed farm buildings denote the status of a Raby Estate farm, belonging to Lord Barnard. A tasteful conversion has created a well-stocked shop and pleasant caf, complete with pleasant outdoor seating area for the warmer months.
When the post office and village shop closed a couple of years back, the Hodgsons took up the baton and now sell newspapers and magazines (North East Life among them) and operate a part-time post office from another outbuilding.
Liz says they have no regrets about opting to go the whole organic hog with their pigs, chickens, cattle and sheep. The change was rooted in the research of son Harry, who when still a young boy sought a better way to rear his chickens. His name still adorns the boxes of eggs sold in the farmshop.
Its hard work and more labour intensive but youre constantly balancing your principles against earning a living, she says.
The Hodgsons are proud of the fact that most of their produce is sold at the shop and caf - either direct to customers or having been converted into baking or ready-meals for the shops large freezers - everything is organic.
Their customers travel from all over the North and beyond.
People plan ahead and perhaps come once a month or a fortnight to stock up, said Liz.
If you fancy more conventional - or alcoholic - sustenance, there are two thriving hostelries in the village. Stretched out along the river by the bridge is The George, a 30-bed former coaching inn. On the Friday I drop in, staff are preparing the ballroom for a wedding
- I suspect they spend most of their summers either getting ready for, or tidying up after brides, grooms and
At the northern end of the village sits The Carlbury Arms, freshly-painted with its woodwork a tasteful shade of light green.
Alan and Margaret Parker opened up almost two years ago, helped by their son Richard. A regular pudding club and wine and cheese tasting evenings have been employed by the Parkers to help fend off the gloom generally settling around the nations publicans.
For now, their main mission is to help put Piercebridge on the map.
A lot of people, even from Darlington, just dont realise what a nice place Piercebridge is, says Richard. Weve lots of nice walks, the river and more.