Wall Mile 50 [HB 309–16]
It might justifiably be argued that this is one of the most interesting of the Wall Miles. Not by me, I hasten to add, but I can see why it could be. Immediately after Milecastle 51, the Turf and Stone Walls separate, the most obvious manifestation of this being the fact that, whilst the Stone Wall ditch continues to the north of the road, the Turf Wall ditch now strides away from it across the field: two ditches for the price of one! Why do they separate here? Better scholars than I have debated this, but it may well be because it was felt that more room was needed north of the Vallum so when the time came to replace the Turf Wall, the new Stone Wall line was moved north and downhill from its predecessor.
The Trail takes us across the field, next to the Turf Wall (a low mound north of its ditch) and then across it on a nice new bridge and onto a lane. At this point, those who dislike livestock (there are people who like walking in the country but dislike livestock?!) are offered an alternative animal-free route along the road and this will be of use if we wish to follow the Stone Wall. The main Trail will take us along the Turf Wall, so make your choice.
The Stone Wall
Apart from the ditch to the north of the road and the comforting knowledge that the curtain wall lies beneath the road, there is not much to see if we go this way, although it does provide continuing assurance of the way in which the Romans used the terrain to enhance the effect of the Wall. Climbing up a gentle rise we arrive at a high point which marks the location of Milecastle 50 SW.
Milecastle 50 SW (High House) [HB 314–15; haiku]
Milecastle 50 SW (High House), a long-axis stone milecastle, was excavated in 1911 and produced three building inscriptions, two of them by legio VI Victrix and one by legio II Augusta. The fortlet platform can just about be discerned by peeking over the southern roadside wall at the right point.
The Turf Wall
Those opting for the Turf Wall route will find themselves walking along the northern lip of the Turf Wall ditch, with the mound of the rampart itself to the south of it and beyond that the earthworks of the Vallum, crammed into the limited space between the Turf Wall and the edge of the scarp north of the Irthing. It was along this stretch that the existence of the Turf Wall was first proved conclusively by Frances Haverfield and his co-workers when they cut a trench across it (they were less than impressed by his excavation methodology, it seems) and that section is reopened and cleaned up every ten years when the Pilgrimage wanders this way.
After a reasonably level stretch we start to climb up towards the site of Milecastle 50 TW and this affords a good opportunity to look back at the separated Walls west of us.
Milecastle 50 TW (High House) [HB 309–12; haiku]
To say that there is not much to see of Milecastle 50 TW (High House) is probably something of an understatement but no less true for all that. It has the distinction of being the only Turf Wall milecastle without a Stone Wall successor on top of it. Excavated in 1934, it was found to have an undug causeway across the ditch, a rampart of turf and gateways of timber (which, it is suggested, had towers, since there were thought to be too many timbers just for revetting the gateway). The Vallum ditch swerved south to avoid the milecastle, but more interestingly the excavations found a timber inscription, restored as recording its construction under A. Platorius Nepos. It is customary to think of Roman inscriptions as being carved in stone, but (as we shall see later, in Wall Mile 43) they could be painted on stone or carved (or painted) on wood. These are amongst the Rumsfeldian ‘known unknowns’ of Roman archaeology.