Roman wall near Caw Gap, Hadrian’s Wall
Roman wall near Caw Gap, Hadrian’s Wall

Part two of our interview with Mark Corney

Last month, we shared part one of our interview with expert Guide Lecturer Mark Corney to commemorate the 1900th anniversary of Hadrian's Wall and now we're back with the second and final instalment. 

For this part, we discussed Mark's interest in the Romans as well as how he got started in the working world of archaeology. 

What sparked your fascination with the Romans?

When I was very small, we lived in Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire and a massive Roman villa was found in a place called Gadebridge Park and I remember riding a little bicycle down there, being fascinated watching these people excavate this villa and I thought, I want to play in the dirt when I grow up... and I got to do that!

What was your route into archaeology?

I’d started as a hobby in my very early teens, walking the ploughed fields around the Roman town of Silchester in northern Hampshire (pictured below). That turned into a systematic survey of collecting artefacts and then I applied to Reading University and did a degree there, got a first… I was going to go on and do a PhD, but a job came up – the kind that didn’t come up very often – so I applied and got one of those, and that was the whole route into the landscape archaeology field for the next 25 years.

What makes UK archaeology so special?

There’s a great wealth of Roman archaeology in Britain, ranging from military sites like Hadrian’s Wall and some of the sites in the hinterland like Ravenglass (pictured below), where you’ve got a bathhouse standing virtually up to roof height, to the south with the civil remains. Now, they’re not as spectacular as going to Provence or Italy, but I think it shows how wide-reaching the rule of Rome was and how they initially impose a Roman lifestyle on an area. But it’s also pragmatic and adapts itself to the local population and conditions, so you get very clear regional developments of Roman or Hellenistic classical culture. You see another side of Roman rule.

Do you have a favourite memory from Andante tours?

It’s more of a general memory – the joy of seeing people encountering these sites, many of them for the first time, and being able to explain things to people. We get a wonderful cross-section of people on these tours and one can spend many happy hours in the evening – if people want to know more, I’m happy to talk for Britain (or Britannia!). I like meeting people who want to see these sites and their landscape setting, and be able to take them there and talk about it. One of the great strengths of the Andante tours is the level of expertise of so many of the Guide Lecturers.

Are there any particular moments on either of Andante's Hadrian's Wall tours that are particularly exciting to you?

I always like taking people to Arbeia, the roman fort at South Shields. There, the Tyne and Wear Museum service have rebuilt one of the gates into the fort and they’ve rebuilt a couple of barrack blocks and a commanding officer’s house, and it’s watching people’s faces when they realise the scale of each of the forts that was built in northern Britain as permanent outposts of empire. When you realise that each one had these massive towers, twin arch gateways, it suddenly brings home to you the impact this would have had on the landscape.

Taking people to Vindolanda is always a joy because it’s such a dynamic site with the ongoing excavations. We’ll usually get Andy, Andy Burley – a friend of mine who’s the director of excavations, to say a few words. He has been known to come out of a trench, caked in mud, and say, Here’s another shoe! The largest collection of Roman leather shoes and leatherwork in the empire has come from Vindolanda, along with the rightly internationally famous writing tablets that give us such an insight.

I love going to the Temple of Mithras at Carrawburgh. It’s lovely to be able to talk about, Here we are, right up on the border of England and Scotland, and here’s a god from Persia that was widely venerated in the Roman army. It demonstrates how cosmopolitan the Roman world was.

Meet our expert Guide Lecturer Mark Corney

Mark Corney is an archaeologist, broadcaster and former Senior Landscape Investigator with the Royal Commission for Historic Monuments of England. He spent over 20 years recording the field archaeology of Wessex and was also a frequent contributor to Channel 4’s Time Team. Mark now works as a freelance archaeological consultant, specialising in landscape, later prehistoric and Roman archaeology.

Travel with Mark this year

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Part two of our interview with Mark Corney was published on 16 March 2022