Wall Mile 46 [HB 283]
The ditch remains our companion as we press on, but ahead of us is a hint of what is to come, for the central sector looms in the shape of the Nine Nicks of Thirlwell, with both the Wall ditch and Vallum clearly visible running up the hillside. More of that later, however. To our right, the Vallum is running across an open field, but it is almost completely ploughed out, but we can make it out where it crosses rougher ground west of the golf course and survives as an upstanding earthwork.
In a while, the Trail leads us down from the berm and into the ditch and then across a rather boggy bit and ultimately across a burn. Once beyond the watercourse, the ditch has almost completely disappeared, ploughed out over the years. Soon we find ourselves descending, with no clue as to where the curtain wall and ditch have gone. In fact, the line of the wall is to our right and the drystone wall to our left is on the edge of the ditch. Who would have guessed?
As we reach the edge of the field we cross a stile and go down some steps to the road. We then turn right and as we pass the line of the curtain wall we can see an 8m length of it on a plinth next to the road at Long Byre. The story runs that when road improvements were being carried out here in 1957, Charlie Anderson, the Ministry of Works chief charge hand, noticed that the curtain wall was being exposed and was instrumental in making sure it was first excavated and then consolidated. We have to travel about 200m south-eastwards on the road, so take care as we need to cross it ultimately, near the terrace of houses opposite the golf course. A track leads us to the railway again, which we must once more cross very carefully. On the far side, we cross the cycleway and then follow the Tipalt Burn northwards to get us back to the line of the Wall near Thirlwall Castle.
The castle is a prominent landmark and important as yet another resting place for large amounts of reused Wall stone. Dating to the 1330s, it is more a fortified house than a proper castle, but in the Borders in the Middle Ages, even the outside lavatories were ‘hardened’, so dire were the circumstances. If you decide you want a quick look round it, we will wait, but not for too long. You will need to come back down afterwards, as the Trail now takes us across the Tipalt Burn on a narrow footbridge.
Once over the bridge, the house to the right (which sometimes sells teas) has an interesting building stone in its conservatory, recording construction work (probably 3rd-century reconstruction) by a levy from the tribe of the Dumnonii (from modern Devon and Cornwall, roughly). The Trail meanwhile starts to lead uphill, then doubles back on itself and then, suddenly, we are back on the line of the Wall, with the ditch prominent to our right, and a formidable hill in front of us. Set yourself a steady pace and do not halt until you reach the drystone wall and have crossed the stile.
Now you can look back at the view: there is the castle, in the foreground and, beyond it, the line of the ditch and wall running towards Gilsland. Beyond that the Irthing gorge and the site of Birdoswald. On a clear day, you can see as far as the Solway, providing you with a fine perspective on how far you have walked so far. You are also, incidentally, standing next to Milecastle 46.
Milecastle 46 (Carvoran) [HB 283; haiku]
Milecastle 46 (Carvoran) was first located in 1907 and excavated in 1946. All that can be seen now are some vague humps and bumps, although it looks clear enough from the air or on Google Earth. The most that can be said of it is that it affords a fine excuse to pause and take stock.