Wall Mile 46 [HB 283]
Before we get under way again, take a look at the view ahead. We can see Thirlwell Castle in the foreground and, beyond it, the line of the ditch and wall running towards Gilsland. Beyond that the Irthing gorge and the site of Birdoswald fort. On a clear day, you can see the Solway, providing you with a fine perspective on how far we have yet to walk.
The Trail leads us downhill, keeping to the upcast mound, with the ditch to our left and the curtain wall under the field wall. The path bends to the left and then to the right and the line of the wall is now hidden from us. At the bottom of the hill, just before the bridge, the last house to the left (which sometimes sells teas) in Holmhead has an interesting building stone in its conservatory, recording construction work (probably 3rd-century reconstruction) by a levy from the tribe of the Dumnonii (from modern Devon and Cornwall, roughly).
Once over the bridge, Thirlwell Castle looms to our right. The castle is a prominent landmark and important as yet another resting place for large amounts of reused Wall stone. Dating to the 1330s, it is more a fortified house than a proper castle, but in the Borders in the Middle Ages, even the outside lavatories were ‘hardened’, so dire were the circumstances. If you decide you want a quick look round it, we will wait, but not for too long. You will need to come back down afterwards, as the Trail now takes us to the south and off the line of the Wall briefly.
The path leads us to a pedestrian crossing over the railway, which we must cross very carefully. On the far side, we pass the terrace of cottages then turn right onto the road. There is only road and verges here so be wary of traffic. After 170m, we spot an 8m length of the curtain wall on a plinth next to the road at Long Byre. The story runs that when road improvements were being carried out here in 1957, Charlie Anderson, the Ministry of Works chief charge hand, noticed that the curtain wall was being exposed and was instrumental in making sure it was first excavated and then consolidated. Just after that we need to cross over and climb the side of the road cutting to get back to the Trail. You can’t tell it, but we are now on the line of the ploughed-out ditch.
We cross two fields with little obvious sign of the Wall and then a stile takes us into a much wetter environment, crossing a stream by means of a bridge. In front of us, we can now see the dramatic V-shaped profile of the ditch. We climb up the ditch for a short distance and then up onto the berm. The field wall to our left is – you’ve guessed it – on top of the curtain wall.
The ditch, bold and confident, remains our companion immediately to the north as we press on. To our left, the Vallum is running across an open field, but it is almost completely ploughed away, although we can make it out behind us, where it crosses rougher ground west of the golf course and survives as an upstanding earthwork. We come to a stile over a field wall, with a solitary tree, and once over this, the site of Milecastle 47 is in the field to our left.
Milecastle 47 (Chapel House) [HB 283–4; haiku]
There is nothing to see of Milecastle 47. It was in fact blown up with gunpowder in the 19th century in order to recover the building materials. An inscription from nearby records work by the legio XX Valeria Victrix under Hadrian so this long-axis milecastle may have been one of their products.