Perthshire in the year 82AD

21 May 2024

Cycling along the old military road (known today as the a984) between Meikleour and Dunkeld, not far from a village called Spittalfield, there is an area known as Delvine, close to the banks of the river Tay, where almost 2,000 years ago now once stood the most northerly Roman Legion Garrison ever built.

Inchtuthil (from AD 82) here in Highland Perthshire overlooking the River Tay, was where the Roman general Julius Agricola (responsible for much of the Roman conquest of Britain) used this fortress as his main command centre while up in Scotland.. a garrison that housed around 5500 men, and included a hospital, drill hall, large workshop, and even officers’ houses.. it was occupied by Legion XX Valeria Victrix and covered a total area of 21.5 hectares (53 acres). This Garrison was operational for around 6 years, and then the Roman frontier suddenly fell back south leaving Inchtuthil many miles inside enemy territory; and the frontier never came back again. Inchtuthil is actually unique in that it is the only fortress site known which was occupied but then left untouched, with no further building on top or over it in the years and centuries that followed, unlike what had occurred in other British locations like Chester (Castra Deva) or York (Eboricum).

The first proper excavation of this site occurred between 1952 and 1965 (although the fortress had been known about since the 18th century) and it was during the summer of 1961 that they made an extraordinary find; a deep pit that had lay hidden for nearly 1900 years, containing threequarters of a million iron nails weighing 7 tons, most still in very good condition! – it seems that just prior to their withdrawal, the Romans had dug and then poured these nails into a 12 feet deep pit, and then after that had carefully demolished the building that had surrounded it to also remove all traces of the pit. One explanation as to why this occurred was that the Romans had been forced to withdraw due to troubles in another part of their Empire, had encountered transport issues, couldn’t move their valuable load in time, so were forced to hide the nails from the Caledonians who would have used the iron for making weapons, but then never returned as had been intended.. in fact, they never returned to that part of Scotland ever again.

The Roman historian Herodian wrote that the Caledonian tribes at that time valued iron more than they did silver and gold. Which would explain the lengths the Romans went to hide the nails/iron from their enemy.

Photo of River Tay, near to Inchtuthil


More to follow..

The Roman Empire in Scotland during the times of Agricola, Hadrian’s Wall, The Antonine Wall (built by the Romans across what is now the Central Belt of Scotland between the Firth of Clyde some twenty years after Hadrian's Wall to the south).. The land north of the Antonine Wall later became known as Albany after the settlement of the Gaels in the 6th century AD.. and then why a major excavation during the 1950/60’s here in Highland Perthshire became farm land with no traces anymore of Inchtuthil, and certainly no promotion by the local council..

tip; you can’t access it anymore by vehicle, but you can still cycle or walk across the land where this Roman Garrison once stood, just as long as you navigate a course through the ‘private land’, ‘no entry’ or ‘warning; bull in field’ signs that have been erected to keep visitors away?!


Photos by HBT: the banks of the River Tay near Inchtuthil, and then the private road sign on the A984 to discourage visitors (Inchtuthil lies just behind the treeline)

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We had a great time on a private tour. The bikes were excellent and Terry was able to customize the tour to what we wanted. Highly recommend booking this tour.

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Loved our day with Highland Bike Tours! Equipment was in great shape (helmets, vests, and bikes). I learned and saw things I would not have been able to see by car or if I had biked on my own.


Had a great tour around Perth. Great cycling and learned a lot about the landscape (and also whiskies). Of course, it is also an added bonus that you can do this tour in Dutch. Terry speaks perfect Dutch as a Scot and can also tell a nice story. Recommended!

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There are no cash payments at the premises, so all tours must be booked in advance, or paid by debit or credit card (at the shop/hub) prior to the tour. All our tours starting in Pitlochry can now be booked online.

Please note that there are only a maximum of 4 places on any given tour.

It is also worth mentioning that if the ‘private tour’ option has been booked in advance then there are no other places or bikes available on that day. For more info about the ‘private tour’ (from 1 up to a maximum of 3 people for the same fee) please see our Tours section, or simply contact us by email or via the website.

To reserve your place on one of our tours that start in Perth, you can either send us an email to [email protected], or simply complete the Contact Us section. As there are only 4 slots on any of our tours we operate on a first-come first-served basis with all our bookings. Please also include the height of each person - We will then supply you with the correct frame size.

Highland Bike Tours (HBT) make use of Hybrid E-Bikes with a classic Dutch design, so suitable to use while wearing casual clothing. You can view images of these e-bikes on the FAQs page (see above), or on our Instagram link (see below).

Guided E-Bike Tours also in the Dutch language. NL: Samen met een Nederlandssprekende tourgids ervaar je al het moois dat de Schotse Hooglanden te bieden heeft op een unieke manier. Vanaf 2023 zijn er tours die vertrekken vanuit Pitlochry! - Voor meer info zie ook: (our Dutch language website)

Atholl Road, Pitlochry PH16 5BL, Perthshire, Scotland

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