Wall Mile 56

Wall Mile 56 [HB 328–9]

We follow the road for a short distance through the western outskirts of Walton before following the Trail off down a track to the right and through a gate. Emerging into an field, uncharacteristically, the line of the Wall is to the north of us, crossing open ground, and the field boundary immediately to our south has nothing to do with it.

We dive into woodland and emerge to At the bottom of the field we cross a small burn, another tributary of the Irthing, and enter some woodland, climbing now as we go. Turning right at the top, we follow the track to the farm at Swainsteads and then head left past it, travelling along two sides of a triangle, the third side of which is the wall. Yes, it’s another detour of indeterminate purpose. Passing through the gate, reunited with the line of the wall, we head down the hill. noting how the fence line to our left is in the ditch, rather than on the mound covering the curtain wall.

The fence line in the ditch W of Swainsteads

The fence line in the ditch W of Swainsteads

We plunge into more woodland and find a small wooded gorge that almost certainly had to be crossed by the Wall, just as the Trail now crosses it, by means of a bridge. One enterprising independent archaeologist claims to have found remains of the Roman bridge, but these have yet to be verified by excavation. Remember, all water courses that passed through the Wall had to use culverts, small bridges, or major bridges (the last being the North Tyne, Irthing, and Eden.

Castlesteads and the line of the Wall

Castlesteads and the line of the Wall

Up the other side and we are back out into the open, and it is time to pause and look up to our left at the wooded slopes above the Irthing, for here lies Castlesteads fort.

Castlesteads fort (CAMBOGLANNA) [HB 330–3]

To your south, amongst the trees on the high ground beyond the Cam Beck (a tributary of the Irthing), lies the site of Castlesteads, one of the detached forts immediately south of the Wall (the others being Carvoran, Vindolanda, and – probably – Newcastle). Neither Carvoran nor Vindolanda were within the Vallum, but it makes a very deliberate detour in order to include Castlesteads. The fort lies 12.8km (8.0 miles) east of Stanwix and occupies about 1.5ha (3.7 acres: an informed guess, since the western defences have been eroded by the river). The site is on private land and has effectively been razed by the formal garden of a late-18th-century listed building, Castlesteads House, constructed on the site of an earlier Walton House belonging to the Dacre family. No trace of the fort is visible from the air, although the civil settlement has been detected by geophysical survey and the fort itself was summarily trenched in 1934, allowing the extent of its defences to be defined and the fact that the stone fort was preceded by a turf-and-timber one to be determined. However, even if you could see it, there is little to see.

Inscriptions reveal that the units based here included the part-mounted cohors II Tungrorum and cohors IV Gallorum (who were also to be found at Vindolanda). The Notitia Dignitatum omits the garrison of Camboglanna whilst mentioning the fort, possibly a scribal error. Old Ordnance Survey maps equated Castlesteads with Uxelodunum, all part of the confusion caused by thinking the well-preserved Watch Cross camp (now under Carlisle Airport) was a fort (we shall come to that later).

W of the Cam Beck

W of the Cam Beck

Proceeding west towards Cambeckhill Farm, the ditch can just be distinguished as a slight depression with the modern fence still in it. Just before the farm, we reach the calculated site of Milecastle 57.

Milecastle 57 (Cambeckhill) [HB 334–5; haiku]

In common with so many of the western milecastles, nothing of this one has been found, but by distance it should be beneath the farm buildings.

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