Moving to Scotland some years before had been the saving of me. My life in the business world had become manic, causing me to feel stressed, and along with other life changes, I left that hectic, and somewhat shallow world behind, moving lock stock and barrel, northwards.
I had been along this unclassified road, many, many times. It travelled North, leaving the small village, which I had made my home, and climbed into the nearby hills. Riding this way, allowed me to gain access to a local track, an old Roman road, which led out onto these hills, it was much quicker than if I had taken any other route.
The road ran parallel with an old stone wall, the likes of which I hadn’t seen anywhere else. The wall was of substantial proportions, and perfectly vertical. It was approximately eight feet high, and appeared to be of ancient construction. It always struck me, that such a wall, seemed to be in rather an odd place. It only had one side, and was about a quarter of a mile long. It was the same height for the whole distance, and always seemed clean, and the facings showed no effects of disintegration.
But the thing that really intrigued me, was that about halfway along the wall, was a heavy wooden door. It had an arched top and was set into thick, solid frame. The door was built of solid oak, and had heavy iron studs at regular intervals across its entire face.
Every time I passed by the wall, I couldn’t help but wonder at it. Even my old horse seemed to cast a glance in its direction.
Summer had come and gone that year, I had been ill, and unfortunately my old horse had died. I felt that the world had conspired against me, and won.
But as luck would have it, a friend of mine, he offered me a young quiet stallion, which he had called “Caleb”. He was a small horse, around 14 hands, slightly on the small side for me, but he had presence, his languid stance, belied a strength hitherto un thought of.
I liked him as soon as I saw him, a good looking horse, with a kind, but a most purposeful eye.
The Autumn days passed by, with Caleb and I getting to know each other, he was kind to me, being a forgiving horse, and not one to mind a day, when we couldn’t get out.
December the 21st, the winter Solstice. It was calm, frosty, and clear, the early morning sun shining across the snow laden ground, casting a red and golden glow on the land.
Caleb was saddled, and thanks to the snow, there were no vehicles around. It was as quiet as the grave.
I`d always enjoyed the early morning, it gave me time to think and decide on the days activities.
Caleb walked through the snow at a sure footed pace, neither slowing or increasing speed, it was a pleasure to feel, the lithe muscular horse beneath me.
And so it was that on that beautiful morning, we turned along the unclassified road, with the parallel wall.
The snow was powder, light and crisp, the surface virgin, unspoilt by anything.
I had been quiet for some time, but had begun to notice miniscule differences in Caleb`s ear position. His head was turned to the wooden door, he whinnied.
Now why would he do that? What`s more, I got the impression that he was trying to get a response from another horse.
Gently stroking his neck in response to this change, my trusty friend trod on. I had long desired to live in such a place as this, rich in history, and with stories abounding of battles and “murderous reiving`s!”
The low winter morning sun cast a long shadow over the landscape, the wall, alone and serene in the snow, was, it seems to me now, an invitation to the past. The wooden door, it was as usual, tightly closed.
Caleb and I enjoyed the day, high on the hills that surround the Inchtuthill Pass. We followed old drove roads, and finally followed the remains of an old Roman road that led back along the valley floor. Several miles further on we came back to our wall. I had started to call it “our” wall, as it had become quite a feature in the life of Caleb and myself.
The evening light was fading as we reached the wall. It no longer had the sparkle of life, that the early morning sun had imbued it with. It was dark and foreboding, I felt a shiver run down my back, Caleb moved away from that side of the road, to the other. His head was turned in agitation towards the stone edifice. A wind had sprung up, snow whipping around Calebs feet, and clouds began to scud across the evening sky, the noise of the wind was intense.
Caleb was uneasy, he stopped and started, like a young colt, frightened.
Uttering an ear piercing scream, he reared up on his hind legs, pawing at the air! But what frightened me that moment, was the terrific answer he got! The air was rent with the answer of, well, what I can only describe as the sound of hundreds of horses! I tried to dismiss this all, as, well, a moment of mental madness! It didn’t work!
Finally, we moved on, struggling in what now can only be called a creeping fog, I kept looking for the wooden door, but was unable to find it in the darkness that had descended upon us. There was a clashing sound, almost metallic, I began to hear a cacophony of voices, at first a muffle, but then, more distinguishable. By now Caleb had stopped dead, he was looking towards the wall. I could just make out the stone structure, as I strained my watery eyes to look, I was startled to see figures moving on the top of the wall! Caleb whinnied loudly! His call was heard and replied to again!
Horses? How? I was one of only two people, who kept a horse in the area.
But sure enough, I could hear the sound of many! The clanking of metal! Shouts! In a language I had never heard before! It was ethereal, Caleb was standing stock still, his whole being tensed, as though for action? As I watched, not feeling the biting cold now, I began to make out the figures on the wall, they seemed to be soldiers, but not modern, no, as I continued to gaze at them, I saw what wasn’t possible, not in this life!
Roman soldiers! Infantry! The wall was no longer one side! It was four sides, and Caleb and I were inside those four walls! There were tents, wagons, weapons of all types, I recognised Ballistas, Catapults, weapons I had only seen in historical drawings! But what was so frightening, so eerie about the whole incident, was that they couldn’t see Caleb and me! They, that is the soldiers, rushed about the encampment with an urgency that told of impending battle! Soldiers gathered spears, javelins, all the paraphernalia of war! I watched as the hundreds of men and camp followers carried out there tasks.
Caleb, sensing the urgency, snorted and clawed at the loose earth, for the snow was gone. I was dumbfounded at what we were seeing. Caleb was excited, but not stupid, he stayed still, but was impetuous to go!
How was this possible? My mind was racing, trying to reason, trying to make some sort of sense of this vision! There was a crunch, far to my right, just where the little arched door in the original wall had been. But what I saw was the opening of a large double wooden door. An entrance door, the entrance to, what had become a fortress. Troops were beginning to assemble, cavalry in two`s, at the back of the train, the camp followers, ladies who washed and cleaned for the army, for that is what I was looking at! An army of Roman soldiers!
At first I couldn’t see which army, the standard was hidden. I looked to the lead cohorts, nothing, just the shining shields of tense men, then from the side of the leading cohort, I saw it! The standard, marched in on the fanfare of horns and guarded by its own troop, the standard! The mighty Roman Eagle! So carefully guarded. But what was really amazing, and stunned me, was the name on the standard!
“Legio 1X Hispano” The Ninth Roman Legion! The missing legion, lost in history! Lost in the lowlands of Caledonia sometime in 83 AD. I was witnessing the last moments of the 9th Legion. I watched, as with standard fluttering in the night, the army began to move out, and into history. Through the gate, the banging of huge drums, the blowing of horns, the whinnying of the cavalry horses accompanied by the loud chatter of the unsuspecting followers.
Only months before, this army had defeated an army of Picts, some 5000 strong, at a place called Mons Grampius near Bennachie in what is now Aberdeenshire. Now it was on its way to oblivion, massacred in the Caledonian forests by an army of Scots, hell bent on revenge! At least that’s the legend.
But I was seeing the real thing! As the last ghosts of the past walked through the open gate, I had a mad urge to follow! Caleb needed no asking to gallop, I raced for the opening! But as I did so, I felt the wind picking up, and the roar of the wind was deafening! I bent my head as the snow hit me, Caleb was still at full gallop as we charged through the huge gate!
I could feel the surge of adrenaline course through my veins, Caleb was at full tilt! Then with one almighty thump, we were down! I tumbled all ways, I could feel the cold dry powder snow against my skin, it was freezing, jumping to my feet, I could see Caleb rearing magnificently up out of the snow, on his hind legs! Neighing for all he was worth! The scream of a horse left alone. They were gone! It was over, there was nothing to see, reaching for the reins, I settled Caleb down, and mounting, we turned for home. The wind had dropped, and the moon had crept into the nights sky, there wasn’t a cloud to be seen, anywhere!
The wall. It was still there, as it had been, a single length of stone wall, with an unclassified road running parallel to it. Gone was the huge double doors, in there place? The little arched wooden door, studded with iron. Just then, from the direction of the village, came the flashing blue and red lights of an emergency vehicle.
As I and Caleb stood and waited to see who or what it was, there came from the far south, a noise of drums and horns.
The Mountain Rescue chaps were awfully good, asked me if we were alright, wanted to know the ins and outs of why we were overdue. I started to tell them………then stopped.
It wouldn’t be any use. I just said I had gotten lost in the fog. No one replied. While everyone else was getting back into the Land Rovers,
the oldest member of the team stepped forward, and said, sotto voce,
“ The legion? Still there then?”