Wall Mile 67 [HB 347]
We follow the tree-lined path for a while, but after about 250m we burst into the open. We are actually perched on a cliff above the River Eden and it presented enough of an obstacle for the Romans to have abandoned the ditch in front of the curtain wall once more. In front and to our left, the Vallum becomes apparent running under some electricity pylons.
Now might be an opportune moment to raise the subject of what the Romans called Hadrian’s Wall, if only in order to confront the inevitable confusion that arises over that term Vallum. In the biographies of Hadrian and Severus in the Historia Augusta, the curtain wall is called a murus and that is what Bede calls it (distinguishing it from the earthwork he – and modern scholars – terms the Vallum). However, elsewhere in the biography of Severus, it seems to be mentioned again in connection with a curious incident involving North African troops with the phrase ‘apud vallum’ or ‘near the Wall’. The Notitia Dignitatum supplies a list of units and their commanding officers ‘per lineam valli’, or ‘along the line of the Wall’. An inscription from Kirksteads, south-east of Burgh-by-Sands, uses the phrase ‘trans vallum’. The Latin word vallum can mean wall or rampart (Latin can be annoyingly vague at times) but it may be significant that one of a range of what appear to be souvenir copper-alloy pans, the so-called Staffordshire Moorlands Pan, includes before its list of forts the phrase ‘rigore Vali Aeli Draconis’. This could mean ‘along the Wall, (belonging to) Aelius Draco’ or ‘along the Aelian Wall, (belonging to) Draco’. The second interpretation is rather interesting, since Hadrian’s full name was Publius Aelius Hadrianus, in which case the Roman equivalent of our Hadrian’s Wall would have been Val(l)um Aelium (or the Aelian Wall). This is strangely reminiscent of the Roman name for Newcastle and its bridge, Pons Aelii, the Aelian Bridge.
Enough of this mural contemplation; it is time to move on. We cross Knockupworth Gill (another cleft with a stream running into the river) and are then confronted with a brand new road, the A689, which soars across the river, punches through the Wall, and heads off boldly south-westwards. Every time a piece of infrastructure removes a piece of the Wall a calculation has to be made; the thing is a finite resource, after all, and a lost section can never be recovered. However, our knowledge of this particular sector of the Wall was very limited and this offered an opportunity to learn more in a modern excavation. So, in exchange for the loss of a few metres, we gained an understanding of the stone wall, the Turf Wall preceding it, and (best of all, arguably), the land divisions that pre-dated that. Heritage is seldom as cut-and-dried as some might think.
Beyond the new road, which is crossed by means of an underpass, we come to Boomby Gill, the likely site of Milecastle 68.
Milecastle 68 (Boomby Gill) [HB 347; haiku]
This milecastle probably lay on one side or the other of this gill, although it too has not yet been identified.