Lion to take pride of place at Roman ruins

IT lay beneath the waters of the River Almond for 1500 years before being dragged from the mud and put on display in the Museum of Scotland.

But now the Cramond Lioness is set to be returned to its rightful home as part of a 2 million vision for an exhibition to showcase the Roman ruins near where it was found.

The statue is expected to form the centrepiece of the new attraction under plans unveiled by city leaders today.

The blueprint, which is expected to be approved by councillors on Tuesday, will also see the 1800-year-old Roman fort near Cramond Kirk and the nearby bath house restored.

But it is the prospect of the white sandstone lioness statue returning to Cramond which has caused the most excitement. The statue unearthed by ferryman Robert Graham in the mud of the River Almond in 1997 was one of the most important Roman finds for decades.

Mr Graham received a 50,000 reward for his efforts in recovering the artefact, which was painstakingly restored to its former glory by experts at the National Museums of Scotland.

The return of the lioness is the main feature in a conservation and management plan for Cramond which has been drawn up by a working party made up of heritage watchdogs and city officials.

City leaders have earmarked The Kennels ruins, Cramond House, The Maltings, a small museum and the bath house as possible sites for the planned interpretation centre.

Edinburgh City Council will inject up to 475,000 into the 2m project, with the remainder coming from lottery cash and groups such as Scottish Natural Heritage and Historic Scotland.

John Lawson, the city’s archaeologist, said: "The plan presents an important opportunity to better understand the history of the area.

"The earliest settlement in Scotland known to date, Cramond stands out as only one of three Scottish sites associated with Roman Emperor Severus, making the site hugely important in British Roman history."

Information and interpretation panels would provide visitors with an insight into life at the 1800-year-old fort near Cramond Kirk, which was designed to help protect the empire’s western flank.

Herbert Coutts, city director of culture and leisure, said the Cramond Lioness was jointly owned by Edinburgh City Council and the National Museums of Scotland.

He said: "Obviously there are still a lot of discussions to take place. Potentially, there is a possibility that artefacts relating to the Roman settlement will be displayed in an interpretation centre and that could include the Cramond Lioness.

"If the environmental conditions and security is right and our colleagues at the Museum of Scotland are happy, I think it would be desirable to display it in Cramond."

In a report to the council’s executive next week, Mr Coutts says the Roman ruins are of huge national importance.

"The reasons for this classification include the good preservation of the fort buildings and bath house and the fort’s group value in association with the Antonine Wall."

He said it was one of only three permanent sites known to be associated with the Severan conquest of Scotland.

The fort also played a crucial role in supplying provisions to other Roman garrisons, said Mr Coutts, while Mesolithic remains at the site were also significant. "The post-Roman and early medieval remains are scant, but are also of national importance and high significance, not least due to the gap in knowledge about the use of the fort site following the departure of the Romans."

Local councillor Kate MacKenzie said: "I am delighted and very excited something positive is happening. It is of national importance."

Councillor Ricky Henderson, the city’s sports, culture and leisure leader, said: "I very much welcome this plan as an important first step to improving interpretation and access on site.

"The remains at Cramond are of national significance and it is vital we explore its potential as a visitor attraction."