Wall Mile 79 [HB 366]
Our first mile of the Wall to the south-east of Bowness fort is a field boundary, some way to the south of the Trail, which wends its way along the shore road. At a field gate, some 925m east of the village (NY 233 624), we can look south across the field to the hedge line that represents the course of the Wall near Turret 79a, where there is even a trace of the ditch (not that we can tell it from our vantage point). What we also cannot see is that we are looking towards two successive Hadrian’s Walls. First was a turf rampart, 6m wide and possibly nearly 4m high, known as the Turf Wall. This was the first form of the Wall between Bowness and the River Irthing, just east of Milecastle 49. This was subsequently replaced by a stone curtain wall, between 2.44m and 2.9m wide between Milecastle 54 and Bowness, whilst the original ditch continued in use. You will not be surprised to learn that this is often known as the Stone Wall (and occasionally as the Intermediate Wall, but we’ll untangle all of that later). Part of it was still standing up to 6ft high here when first William Hutton, then soon afterwards John Skinner, walked past in 1801, but it is now long gone.
Between each pair of milecastles were placed two square turrets (conventionally a and b) with an interval between them and their neighbouring milecastles of one third of a Roman mile. The Turf Wall turrets were built of stone and the rampart butted against them (so the turrets had to be built first). When that was replaced by a stone curtain wall, the turrets were retained and incorporated.
We can now carry on walking and, with Port Carlisle just coming into view, pause by a field gate just before we reach a pair of 30 speed limit signs (NY 236 623) and look to the south again. The Wall is still betrayed by that hedgeline, but we are now looking towards the site of Milecastle 79.
Milecastle 79 (Solway House) [HB 364–6; haiku]
Milecastle 79 (Solway House) was excavated in 1949 (with Ukrainians from Hallmuir PoW camp, near Lockerbie, as labourers) and again in 1999, when both the Turf Wall milecastle and its stone successor were examined. Unusually, the stone replacement was a 17.5m-square milecastle, since most are either ‘short axis’ (broader east–west) or ‘long axis’ (longer north–south). Milecastles were fortlets, small garrison posts attached to the rear of the wall, but we shall be able to explore one in more detail once we get further inland. For now, it is sufficient to note that we have completed our first full Roman mile out of the 80 awaiting us.