Wall Mile 70

Wall Mile 70 [HB 348–9]

The use of the line of the ditch by roads and tracks is a theme that will recur a number of times as we progress. The lane continues and, at a junction with a track to our left, lies the location of Turret 70b. You will doubtless be unsurprised to learn that there is nothing to see. The lane ultimately leads to the village of Beaumont and when we reach a three-way fork in the road (NY 346 593), we need to take the left-hand branch: it is not clearly signposted.

Beaumont church near location of Turret 70a

Beaumont church near location of Turret 70a

Emerging onto the road, we turn right into the heart of the village, noting the location of the church, which is where Turret 70a is thought to lie. The Trail takes the walker off the line of the Wall now and down to the riverside, whilst the frontier itself cuts across the village and the fields beyond, also making for the Eden and eventually the two join up again, although the precipitous nature of the river terrace here means the ditch is deemed unnecessary and stops at Monkhill Beck for a while. We have already seen the efficacy of the ditch being enhanced by the careful exploitation of terrain, but this is the first, but not the only, time that we can see the Wall course using a natural feature to render the ditch superfluous.

Milecastle 70 (Braelees) [HB 348; haiku]

The position of Milecastle 70 (Braelees) is perched on the edge of the cliff above the Eden and, since it has never been examined (or even found), it is not known whether the builders bothered with a north gate for it.

Wall Mile 71

Wall Mile 71 [HB 349]

Burgh-by-Sands fort (ABALLAVA)

Burgh church

Burgh church

As with the earlier fort sites, Roman Burgh is all around us, quite literally. Many of the buildings and much of the church are built out of the red sandstone blocks originally used for the curtain wall and fort. Otherwise, as at Bowness and Drumburgh, there is nothing to see of it now. A visit to the church will, however, reveal a stone in the chancel that is claimed (somewhat implausibly) to be a Roman or ‘Celtic’ moustachioed head. ‘Celtic’ heads tend to draw the strangest people out of the woodwork and this one did not make it into the definitive account of Roman sculpture, the Corpus Signorum Imperii Romani; make of that what you will.

There were three distinct sites at Burgh. Burgh I was a late-1st-century AD turf-and-timber fort, possibly belonging to the Stanegate series of sites. Burgh II was the Hadrianic Wall fort and covered an area of 2ha (4.9 acres). It was situated on top of Turret 71b, near Sandwath ford, one of the lowest crossing points of the Solway Firth. In the 3rd century, the garrison was a numerus of Mauri from North Africa – recalling an episode in the Historia Augusta  (Life of Severus 22) when Septimius Severus had an unpleasant encounter with a Moor near the Wall. Other units recorded include ala I Tungrorum, cohors I Germanorum Nerviana, part-mounted and milliary, and a cuneus Frisiorum (also found at Housesteads).

Herringbone construction exposed by erosion

Herringbone construction exposed by erosion

The course of the curtain wall leaves Burgh more or less on the line of the road but makes a sharp turn to the north-east about 150m east of the eastern end of the churchyard. The Trail, meanwhile, takes us off the road and down a field next to it (the wall crosses the path about half way down the field, although there is nothing to show it), before we rejoin the road and then turn north up a track, cross a small bridge, and rejoin the line of the curtain wall (at NY 333 591), heading north-east. A shallow, marshy depression resembles the ditch but is in fact later disturbance, although the hedgeline now follows the line of the barrier, which is marked by a series of gnarled old hawthorn trees. Amongst the roots you can occasionally glimpse pieces of stone from the fabric of the wall. The trail then takes us into a lane that approximates to the course of the Wall ditch and this is the site of Milecastle 71.

Milecastle 71 (Wormanby) [HB 349; haiku]

Milecastle 71 (Wormanby) has been examined by excavation in 1960 and again in 2000, although there is nothing to see, once more.

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Wall Mile 72

Wall Mile 72 [HB 355–6]

The line of the Wall leaves Milecastle 73, defined once more by a hedgeline, and continues to the north of the road, along which we shall continue, into Burgh by Sands. To the south of us, another site (known as Burgh III) was initially identified as an early fort but is now thought to be a construction camp.

Burgh by Sands

Burgh by Sands from the air

Between Bowness fort and Milecastle 54, the Turf Wall was not replaced in stone until after the abandonment of the Antonine Wall in the AD 160s. It was built on a foundation of flagstones, was around 2.45m wide, and has become known as the Intermediate Gauge (to distinguish it from the Broad and Narrow Gauges of the more easterly curtain wall, which were, you will be pleased to learn, broader and narrower than this newer section).

Milecastle 72 (Fauld Farm) [HB 355–6; haiku]

The site of Milecastle 72 (Fauld Farm) has been identified just to the north-east of the post office and examined in 1960 and 1989, when both the stone and underlying turf milecastles were located. Milecastle 72 also lies conveniently close to the the Greyhound Inn and, if one has started the morning walking from Bowness, this would be a good time for lunch and provide an opportunity to study the adjacent statue of Edward I, erected exactly 700 years after his death.

Wall Mile 73

Wall Mile 73 [HB 357–8]

The Turf Wall was eventually replaced by the Stone Wall. It is thought the stretch between Milecastle 54 and Bowness was not constructed in stone until after the abandonment of the Antonine Wall in the AD 160s. This stone curtain wall was built to an average width of 2.45m (and has come to be known as the Intermediate Gauge wall, since it was partway between the two predominant widths of curtain wall in the east, the Broad and Narrow Gauges). It was furnished with new stone milecastles, whilst retaining the old free-standing stone turrets, against which the curtain wall butted.

Although most of Wall Mile 73 crossed Burgh Marsh, a short length of the Wall before Milecastle 73 has been identified where the ground begins to slope up from the marshes.


The edge of Burgh Marsh at Dykesfield

Meanwhile, back on the road, we leave the marsh and begin to climb gently at Dykesfield, after crossing a cattle grid; it is another drumlinoid, this one including the fort at Burgh-by-Sands. Away to the north-east, on the edge of the marsh, there is a Victorian reconstruction of a 17th-century monument commemorating the death of Edward I, just in case we had forgotten that it was feasible for an army to ford the Solway here. Less distant, but still remote from our present course, the line of the Wall runs to the north of the road and, as you might expect by now, there is little to see.

Milecastle 73 (Dykesfield) [HB 356–7; haiku]

The position of Milecastle 73 (Dykesfield) has been tested through geophysical survey and located on the ground sloping up from Burgh Marsh near Watch Hill, where Horsley thought there was ‘a castellum, for at this place they have dug up a larger quantity of stones than the bare thickness of the Wall could well have afforded’.


Wall Mile 74

Wall Mile 74 [HB 358]

As with Wall Mile 75, nothing is known about Wall Mile 74. This might therefore be a good time to consider the Turf Wall.

Initially, Hadrian’s Wall consisted of a stone curtain wall between Newcastle and the River Irthing (Wall Miles 4 to 48) and then a turf rampart from the Irthing to Bowness (49 to 79). The rampart, nowadays called the Turf Wall, was built on a base about 6m (20 Roman feet) wide with no foundation trench; in some places just laid turves, in others cobbles, were used as a base, but it seems to have depended what materials were available. The rear face sloped at an angle of about 67° and the front was vertical near the base and then probably sloped above.

The Turf Wall was equipped with turf and timber milecastles but stone turrets. These turrets, built free-standing and with the turf rampart then butted against them, were retained when the stone curtain wall was built. The ditch that was dug for the Turf Wall was retained for the Stone Wall, although the berm increased in width from around 1.9–2.4m (6–8 Roman feet) to 6m (20 Roman feet).

Turf Wall reconstruction

Reconstruction of part of the Turf Wall and a Turf Wall milecastle tower

It is assumed there was some sort of wooden superstructure, such as a walkway and parapet, but almost no evidence has survived to support this. The one clue that there might have been a walkway comes from the fact that when the Turf Wall was replaced by a stone curtain, that stone wall was set back slightly from the front of the turrets. Some scholars have suggested this shows it was lined up with existing doorways on the turrets giving access to a walkway.

When forts were added, those in Wall Miles 49 to 79 started as turf-and-timber constructions (this has been shown by excavation at Bowness, Drumburgh, and Castlesteads, and presumed for Burgh, Stanwix, and Birdoswald).

Reconstructions of the Turf Wall can be seen at Vindolanda and in the Borders Gallery of Tullie House Museum in Carlisle.

Milecastle 74 (Burgh Marsh) [HB 358; haiku]

Naturally, Milecastle 74 (Burgh Marsh) has not been found.

Wall Mile 75

Wall Mile 75 [HB 358]

Wall Miles 75 to 73 are problematical.

The Wall probably crossed Burgh Marsh, more or less directly between Milecastles 76 and 73, but antiquarians and archaeologists alike have puzzled over this stretch. Nothing of the curtain wall or its associated components has ever been found and some writers have suggested it never existed in this area (an approach adopted by the English Heritage Archaeological Map of the Wall, with its unapologetic gap) but this makes no sense strategically or tactically and begs the question of why the Cumbrian Coast defences should have been constructed if the Roman military were happy to leave a big inviting hole in their frontier. After all, anybody who could cross an estuary could cross a marsh (as Edward I was intending to do before he met his timely – or untimely, according to your point of view – death). Moreover, the Romans were quite capable of building across marshy areas, as numerous ‘floating’ roads demonstrate (a fine example exists in Britain crossing the floodplain of the River Idle near Bawtry in Nottinghamshire). It may have been destroyed by the Solway, but it is equally possible it will one day be found.

Wall Mile 75We may now continue a pleasant walk along the side of the road towards Burgh-by-Sands (another ‘bruff’). Alternatively, you may choose to enjoy a slightly more elevated vantage point by walking on top of the levee (thereby avoiding the traffic on the road which ranges from the sedate to the lunatic), although rumour has it that that can disturb the local bird population, but it is up to you. Incidentally, the combination of the levee and the old railway course is one of the most striking landscape features from the air and at least one documentary film crew has mistaken it for the course of the Wall or Vallum.

As we leave Drumburgh, the old railway is to our right (the site of the station hardstanding can still be made out beyond the levee) and off in the marshes to the left is a giant concrete arrow, a hint for confused pilots from the days when the Solway Firth was a military range.

Milecastle 75 (Easton) [HB 358; haiku]

It need hardly be added that Milecastle 75 (Easton) has not been found.

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Wall Mile 76

Wall Mile 76 [HB 358]

Nothing much interesting happens between Glasson and Drumburgh if we stick to the Trail, although it is a pleasant enough walk, but patrolled by some mean horseflies. A measure of insect repellent may be advisable (although some may feel a 40mm Bofors gun might be more effective). The Wall, meanwhile, has realigned itself twice and is out of your reach, in the fields to the north of Drumburgh. Railway enthusiasts and industrial archaeologists alike may care to note that the Trail next turns onto the route of the dismantled Carlisle and Silloth Bay railway (at NY 259 592), which led up to a junction with the Port Carlisle line just east of Drumburgh. In 1954, it apparently had the distinction of being the first line in Britain to replace steam trains with diesel multiple units; it shut ten years later. Far be it from me to draw any conclusions from that coincidence of unmural facts.

Drumburgh (CONGABATA)

Like Bowness, Drumburgh (one of those -burghs pronounced ‘-bruff’) was situated on a drumlinoid, giving it a slight height advantage over the surrounding area. There is nothing of the fort to see, although we know the first fort here was only 0.8ha in area (making it the smallest on the Wall), but Drumburgh Castle (in reality a fortified bastle-type house typical of the border region) contains large amounts of dressed red sandstone from the second, stone fort (and, presumably, the curtain wall); the Revd John Leland visited in 1539 and had little doubt about its origin, commenting ‘the stones of the Pict wall wer pulled down to build Drumbuygh for the wal is very nere it’.

Altar outside Drumburgh Castle

Altar outside Drumburgh Castle

From the road, we can clearly see what appears to be a plinth course behind an old water pump, similar to those found on the northern face of Turf Wall turrets like T52a (which we shall see later). Belonging to, and evidently renovated by, the Dacre family in the 16th century (the coat of arms of Thomas, Lord Dacre, is over the entrance, as are the initials TD), it is worth noting that another of the Dacres has an intriguing role to play in the later history of the Wall, as we shall soon see. Outside the Castle are a number of Roman altars which, when Jessie Mothersole was here in 1921, were regularly coated in a strange mixture of buttermilk and ochre to help preserve them. The late garrison here was an infantry unit, cohors II Lingonum.

Milecastle 76 (Drumburgh) [HB 358; haiku]

Site of Milecastle 76

Site of Milecastle 76

We can now continue out of the village to the point where the ground slopes down to the marsh. Over to our left, on the eastern extremity of the raised ground, is the likely site of Milecastle 76 (Drumburgh). Its position has been tentatively located, perched on the eastern edge of the Drumburgh drumlinoid, between the fort and the line of the old railway, but there is nothing to see now.