Into The Light (the Where is Easy but the Who is Harder)

October 8th 2015 is National Poetry Day. This year the theme is light.

Into the Light (the Where is Easy but the Who is Harder)

And so we’re in,
Into the peat-dark temple of light.
The dull Mithraists have not been here
For aeons to see their god, so bright
In his dark cave.

We light our lamps
And begin our crafty destruction,
Swinging our axes, kicking with boots.
Cautes, godlet of sunrise, smitten:
Off with his head!

Gets it next; sun-down godlet, alas!
And now, in the flickering lamplight,
We fell the main altar of Mithras,
Broken in two.

Someone’s coming!
We pause and pant in the golden gloom.
‘Dowse the lights!’ I hiss; back to darkness.
They’ll think the Christians upset their room.
We know the truth.

Hear, goddess queen!
Old scores are settled, and so we leave;
Into the light, diffuse silver light,
Washing us clean of midnight mischief
In his dark cave.

Podcastellum 8: Milecastles

For years (well, at least since 2013) I have been promising to interview Dr Matt Symonds on the subject of milecastles. Not only is Matt the editor of Current Archaeology, but he is also a leading specialist on Roman fortlets and that special sub-type of those diminutive fortifications: Hadrian’s Wall milecastles.

Finally, whilst attending the 2015 Limes Congress in Bavaria, and sitting outside an extremely congenial reception held for us in the Kelten Römer Museum at Manching, we had a chance to chat about fortlets, milecastles, and Hadrian’s Wall.

Site of Milecastle 30

The site of Milecastle 30 at Limestone Corner

The podcast is available as an MP3 file. Right click to download. A bit torrent link is also available. Finally, if you prefer, you can stream it directly from the web page.

With a fair wind and a measure of good fortune, you can subscribe to the podcast series using this link.

Driving Hadrian’s Wall: Start Your Engines!


Over the years, I have cycled Hadrian’s Wall twice, walked it umpteen times, and lost count of the number of occasions I have driven along it. One particular project (recording the ambient sound at all the milecastles) required a combination of methods to reach all the sites in the time available. Every time I travel along it, however, I learn something new, whether it be from a book, the landscape, or something the Romans did that I notice for the first time. Exploring per lineam valli remains a delight.


There are now several serviceable guides to walking Hadrian’s Wall in either direction, but how should those who don’t share a fervour for rambling see this marvel of the Roman Empire? Of course, long before walking the Wall became fashionable, motorists were exploring it – ironically one of the reasons the whin stone quarries at Walltown and Cawfields flourished, since they provided a durable stone for surfacing roads – and visiting by car remains a popular way to see the monument, especially for families.

car on the Military RoadThere are few guides that meet the needs of the motorist, however, one of the best (the Hadrian’s Wall chapter of Roger Wilson’s Guide to the Roman Remains of Britain) being long out of print and now out-of-date. This seems an opportune moment to produce a new one, therefore, which will meet the needs of those visiting by car, but perhaps tempt them into a little bit of walking to see some of the more rarely explored gems of the Roman frontier.

Travelling to the Wall

The visitor may arrive in the region by train, boat, or plane and then choose to hire a car, in which case this guide will still be of use, but it must be anticipated that most motorists will drive from the north or south of Britain, in which case the Wall is supremely accessible and nowadays very well signposted.


The main route to the western end of Hadrian’s Wall is the M6 from the south or M74 from the north (the M6 in England turns into the M74 in Scotland). At junction 43 on the M6, drivers can choose to take the A69 eastwards towards the concentrated mural goodness that awaits them, or venture westwards into Carlisle (with, most notably, Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery) and beyond to the western extremity of the Wall at Bowness-on-Solway. They may even decide to throw all caution to the wind and follow the putative western extension of Hadrian’s Wall (in reality just a fortified Roman road, but speak it softly, for scholars are keen on promoting it up to a full frontier) down as far as Maryport. This particular account will not make so bold and will continue to view Bowness as the western end of the Wall; should you decide to explore further, then good for you.

To the east, the A1(M) and A1 western bypass provides a similar degree of access, although it is slightly closer to the concentration of remains in the central sector. Turning off at the junction with the A69 allows travel westwards towards that central region, whilst heading east into Newcastle will ultimately lead to Wallsend by following a line still dictated by the Roman frontier.

Denton Burn with the A69 on Hadrian's Wall (from the air)For those who eschew motorway driving and want more direct access to the central sector, there is the A68. Appropriately enough, both south and north of the Wall, this largely follows the course of the old Dere Street, the Roman road from York to Inveresk, and the route we must presume was favoured by the nearest legion, VI VIctrix, based in Eboracum. It is almost exclusively single carriageway, frequently hilly (so being stuck behind a truck wheezing its way up an incline is a familiar frustration), but a wonderfully scenic and leisurely way to arrive at Hadrian’s mural boundary.

Driving Along the Wall

The modern infrastructure along the Wall is dictated by geology, geography, and history. A key component is the so-called Military Road, a macadamised highway built in 1751–7 as a direct response to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s successful march to the south in 1745, which the government forces based in Newcastle failed to intercept. Now followed by the B6318 (in the east), A69 towards the centre, and A689 and B6264 in the west, it still links Newcastle and the northern suburbs of Carlisle at Stanwix.

Service stations with fuel along the Wall are few and far between, but a short journey to the south, especially along the A69, produces more locations where it is possible to refuel. These have been indicated on the accompanying maps.


First, it is important to stress that the Military Road between Heddon-on-the-Wall and Greenhead (the B6318) is a clearway and parking along it is strictly forbidden. This is not a problem for the Wall visitor as there are plenty of formal car parks available as well as a few informal parking locations known to the wise.

The principal car parks of use to the motorist visiting the Wall are those run by large organisations, particularly Northumberland National Park. These have ticket machines on site and a ticket bought at one is valid all day for any of their car parks (see their website for the current ticket price, £4 in 2015). An annual pass can be bought (again, see the website, but that was £20 in 2015). From west to east, these are Walltown Quarry (55 spaces), Cawfields Quarry (40 spaces), Steel Rigg (32 spaces), and Carrawburgh (40 spaces). Note that these sites are linked by the AD122 Hadrian’s Wall bus (when it is running) so can be used for a drive/walk/bus combination day out, if you’re feeling fit. The Park also runs several smaller, free, car parks, such as that near Thirlwall Castle and Crindledykes Lime Kiln and these too can be useful, as will become apparent.

English Heritage run car parks at Chesters and Birdoswald, again using machines, and these (particularly the latter) can help with Wall exploration beyond just the forts they serve. Note that the NNP and EH car parking tickets are not interchangeable, so separate tickets are needed for a visit to, say, Chesters and Carrawburgh. Nobody has yet had the wit to provide one overarching Hadrian’s Wall parking ticket, sadly (some heads need knocking together here, I fear).

There are a few local authority car parks that are conveniently located, and these include one next to Banks East Turret and one at Gilsland, both in Cumbria.

Finally, there are a few lay-bys that can be exploited by the visitor. Do not block farm gateways by using them for opportunistic parking and if for some reason tempted to stop on the narrow, unclassified road between Banks and Birdoswald, remember that it is used by the AD122 bus and agricultural machinery which you may very well obstruct. It should also be noted that what appears to be a lay-by at Limestone Corner is in fact a tractor pull-in* to enable them to turn; parking here can cause an obstruction. Always show due consideration for other road users as well as obeying the law.

More Information

AD122 bus


In what follows, each car park will be detailed individually, together with a gazetteer of sites that can be seen from it over a range of distances and for this I have chosen ranges of 100m, 500m, 1km, 2km, and occasionally 3km or even 4km. That allows virtually all of the Wall seen by those tackling the National Trail to be visited by the motorist who doesn’t mind a bit of a walk. The facilities (such as they are) for each car park are listed, together with a latitude and longitude to enable the visitor to find it with a satnav.

The Wall sites are then separately set out alphabetically in what I am calling The Best Bits so that each can be looked up when needed (all are naturally hyperlinked). Finally, a series of maps shows graphically how far the various sites are from the car parks. It is always advisable to have, at the very least, a copy of the English Heritage Archaeological Map of Hadrian’s Wall, but further reading will be found in the bibliography that concludes this series.

The Military Road at Twice Brewed

Of course, you can enjoy this account of the fixtures and fittings of Hadrian’s Wall from the proverbial comfort of your armchair, but it is intended as a practical guide, so any comments on its usability or reports of errors will be most welcome.

Coming soon: Driving Hadrian’s Wall: The Major Car Parks I

*This has been checked by me with Northumberland County Council who commented ‘The pull in / layby on B6318 at Limestone Corner at Hadrian’s Wall is for farmers [sic] access to the fields. It is there so they do not cause obstruction to the highway. It is not a parking bay that is why there no signs.’ [email 18.7.2013]

100. What is the best book on Hadrian’s Wall to read next?

Much depends upon your reading requirements and level of interest. The most authoritative overall account of Hadrian’s Wall is the book of the same name by David Breeze and Brian Dobson, now in its 4th edition, whilst the best detailed description of the monument is the 14th edition of Collingwood Bruce’s Handbook to the Roman Wall, edited by David Breeze. An accessible popular account is Alistair Moffat’s The Wall: Rome’s Greatest Frontier, but Hunter Davies’ A Walk Along The Wall should not be omitted just because it is more than thirty years old: good books endure.

Further reading: Breeze and Dobson 2000; Breeze 2006; Moffat 2008; Davies 1974

PLV2 cover

99. Why was the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall at Wallsend?

This is more difficult to answer than for Bowness, as the lowest bridging point of the Tyne has always been Newcastle, whilst the lowest ford has traditionally been thought to be Newburn, some way upstream. It is possible (but not very likely) that the Romans discovered the river could be forded below the lowest bridging point.

Further reading: Breeze and Dobson 2000; Breeze 2006

98. Why was the western end of Hadrian’s Wall at Bowness-on-Solway?

Bowness represents the westernmost point at which the Solway could be forded, so extending the Wall to this point obviously protected it from being outflanked by those daring enough to attempt to cross the estuary (which cattle drovers regularly did right up into the 20th century). Its western flank was further protected by a series of towers and fortlets southwards along the Cumbrian coast as far as Maryport.

Further reading: Breeze and Dobson 2000; Breeze 2006

97. Who devised the Wall Mile numbering system?

The philosopher and Wall scholar R. G. Collingwood began the scheme of numbering the milecastles from east to west, with MC1 some 1.15km (0.78 Roman miles) south-west of Wallsend fort (and thereby begging the question of whether there had been a MC0 south-east of the fort). Milecastles first gained their name in 1708, courtesy of Robert Smith, whilst turrets had to wait until 1726/7 for Alexander Gordon to coin the term.

Further reading: Birley 1961