Wall Mile 7 [HB 158–62]
We have been enduring limited amounts of Wall for some distance now, but at last our patience is to be rewarded. Carrying on down the hill, with West Road Cemetery to the left, we arrive at the roundabout at the junction with Denton Road. All the time the road is on the line of the ditch and the curtain wall approximates to the property boundaries fronting onto the pavement (which is roughly the line of the berm). We are carrying straight on here, sticking to the southern pavement.
Crossing the road with all due care, we head towards the northern side of the service station at the corner where, nestling up against the Indian restaurant, there are a few stones of the north face of the curtain wall. This is the smallest consolidated piece of Hadrian’s Wall you will see (it is part of the north face).
A short distance further on, and before we reach the library, we find a small piece of curtain wall which, when Hutton saw it, had an apple tree growing out of it, although by the time that Collingwood Bruce had woodcuts prepared for his Handbook, it had died and was little more than a stump. Denton Burn itself (now underground) was carried through the wall by means of a culvert, long vanished.
Carrying on westwards, we must use the pedestrian crossing to negotiate Broadwood Road, pass under the footbridge, to find that the houses to our left soon open out to reveal a rectangle of grass containing a substantial length of curtain wall and Turret 7b.
Turret 7b (Denton) [HB 160–1]
Finally, after nearly eight Roman miles of Wall, we come upon our first turret, Turret 7b, embattled and proud, its site graphics care-worn and battered, sitting incongruously next to a bus shelter. A fine piece of curtain wall survives to either side, but it is worth noting that this stretch was not excavated until 1929.
The turret itself, with its door on the eastern side, has what may be a ladder base in the south-west corner, designed to afford access to its upper levels. Next to it was a hearth to provide some warmth and cooking facilities for those posted to it. Note how the interior of the turret is indented into the fabric of the curtain wall.
It is this turret that has long formed the basis for calculating milecastle positions to east and west, knowing there were two turrets between each milecastle.
When the housing estate was built to the south, just before the Second World War, examination of the Vallum produced building stones recording construction work by cohors I Dacorum. Although legionaries were the principal builders of the Wall, the Vallum appears to have been at least partially constructed by auxiliary soldiers.
It is often said that legionaries, the citizen heavy infantry of the Roman army – the archetypal engineering force – did all the building. However, our evidence clearly shows that non-citizen auxiliary troops, both infantry and cavalry, were perfectly capable of construction by the time Hadrian’s Wall came to be built.
Continuing westwards, our next task is to negotiate the A69/A1 interchange by means of a subway that cunningly turns into a footbridge over the A1 (and this is probably the loudest experience you will have on your journey along the Wall). When this, the Western Bypass, was constructed, the curtain wall and Vallum were excavated and it was at this point that discussion of whether or not the Wall was plastered or not was once again raised, since some evidence of what may have been rendering (or perhaps over-generous pointing) was recovered. It was this discussion that informed the patch of colour on that reconstructed section of curtain wall we saw at Wallsend.
To the west of this traffic-filled trench, we find a short length of curtain wall, perched up on an embankment immediately south of the roaring A69, thereby reminding us that the road is still on the line of the ditch.
The adventurous can now take a brief detour down into the housing estate by turning left along Southway to examine a stretch of Vallum that is preserved as open grassland around 150m south of the curtain wall. Although the ditch and mounds have been worn down, they are very clear from the air and worth seeing at ground level.
Return to the road, if you took a peek at the Vallum, and rejoin us to head westwards again, passing under two footbridges. Just before the Alan Shearer Activity Centre, we reach the likely site of Milecastle 8.
Milecastle 8 (West Denton) [HB 162; haiku]
This milecastle has never been located but should be somewhere in the region of the Sugley Burn (which passed through a culvert, located during the 19th century but long gone).