Alderney has the best-preserved small Roman fort in Britain, known as either the Roman Fort or the Nunnery.
The Roman fort, known locally as the ‘Nunnery’, is found at the bottom of Bluestone Hill. This site epitomises the way that strategically important positions on Alderney have been adopted and reused during each wave of fortifications the island.
Located at the western end of Longis beach the small fort, once known as Les Murs de Bas, or Lower Fort, and known today as the Nunnery, is, after recent archaeological investigations, now considered to be almost certainly Roman in origin. Its shape has striking resemblances to the five Roman so-called signal-station forts on the Yorkshire coast. This fort is the first evidence of military construction in Alderney. In addition the fort was used during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, as a hospital and married quarters in Victorian times and was converted to a German strong point in the Second World War.
The Gallery below includes a view of the Nunnery, known in the 16th century as Les Murs de Bas, looking south from Longis Common and showing the gate in the north wall. On the hill above is Fort Essex, which was originally built in Tudor times and was known variously as Les Murs de Haut, Upper Fort, and Essex Castle; during the Victorian era in the 1850s much of this was rebuilt and added to and it became Essex Barracks and Hospital. It too like the Nunnery was fortified during the Second World War by the Germans and called by them Burg Essex.
Plans of three so-called Roman ‘Signal Stations’ and a plan of the Nunnery showing its existing layout and the probable location of the Roman central tower are also show in the Gallery, below. All of the small forts have a similar outline with apparently purposeless half-rounded bastions at the four corners of the partially curved curtain walls. The position of the section of wall which collapsed is marked on the Nunnery plan.
The Alderney fort was to defend the anchorage and harbour at Longis Bay, and the nearby Roman settlement.
In the Gallery of photos below, you can see the Roman walkway on the southern wall of the ‘Nunnery’ with a Napoleonic carriage store beyond.
There is no official public access to the interior of the Nunnery as it is still occupied. However, much of the site can be seen from the exterior and the beach so there is plenty to explore. If you meet one of the inhabitants of this incredible site, they won’t be surprised if you ask them to show you the hidden treasures within the walls.
Alderney Wildlife Trust in co-operation with the Alderney Society organises town walks, history and heritage tours. The schedule for these is dependent upon demand so please call 01481 822935 for details.