Wall Mile 51 [HB 316–19]
Our short diversion onto the road (which actually sits atop the curtain wall at this point) gives us a chance to look over the roadside wall to the north at the ditch, which is a very clear, broad depression here. The Trail soon takes us back into the fields just south of the road, with the ploughed-out Vallum immediately south of us. Once we are past Leahill Farm north of the road, a small gate gives access to the highway and, beyond it, we can see Turret 51b.
Turret 51b (Lea Hill) now lies just to the north of the road, which has wiggled slightly southwards to leave the line of the curtain wall since we were last on it. This is another Turf Wall turret incorporated into the stone wall, so there are butt joints on either side to confirm this. In fact, the curtain wall is missing on the eastern side, so the facing stones on that side of the turret are visible. Inside, there was a stone platform against the north wall and a hearth in the centre of the ground-floor room. The ground-floor entrance was at the eastern end of the southern side. Look over the fence and, sure enough, you can see the ditch.
Recrossing the road, we go back through the small gate and rejoin the Trail, which eventually unceremoniously dumps us back onto the road to avoid another house. Heading east, we may note how the southern verge has an informal trampled path, a sure sign of the use of the road by traffic (including the AD122 Hadrian’s Wall bus, which sweeps along here every so often, taking up most of the width of the road) and walkers’ communal (and forgiveable) desire not to be run over. Soon we encounter our next turret.
Closely resembling its twin to the west (insofar as it is not only similar in form but also lacks the curtain wall to the east), Turret 51a (Piper Syke) is another re-used Turf Wall turret. It too has a stone platform against its northern wall, a central hearth, and an entrance at the eastern end of its south side.
Some 220m east of the turret, the National Trail takes us off the road again but this time plunges us southwards and downhill along a narrow lane. Continuing down this path would take us to Coombe (or Comb) Crag, one of the inscribed quarries of the Wall (which includes the plaintive RIB 1952g where Daminius’ reluctance – presumably to quarry stone – is preserved for all eternity). We, however, are going to turn left into an atmospheric plantation, often incredibly boggy in damp weather, before emerging on the far side to find ourselves confronted by the Vallum, in all its magnificence. Given that we have so far only briefly flirted with it, this is a very special treat, as we find ourselves south of the south mound. However, it is not to last very long, now, for the Trail has recently been diverted north again, taking us up to the site of Milecastle 51.
Milecastle 51 (Wall Bowers) [HB 316; haiku]
Located at the north end of the field, next to a field gate, Milecastle 51 (Wall Bowers) is rather interesting, since it is one of the few to display traces of a ditch (on its eastern side). It was excavated in 1927, 1934, and 1936 and the robber trenches for its east and west walls are still very clear.