Wall Mile 42

Wall Mile 42 [HB 264–8]

The Trail leaves the eastern site of the fort across a field with prominent remnants of post-medieval ridge-and-furrow ploughing. Once again, a modern field wall runs on top of the curtain wall to our left. Beyond it, the ditch keeps company with us as we cross a stile and enter the next field. When we reach a rather unusual wiggle in the modern wall, we are at the site of Turret 42b. Beyond us, immediately to the north-east, there is a large temporary camp, known as Burnhead camp (3.5ha or 8.6 acres if you prefer), probably dating to the construction of the Wall. The Wall is now running downhill towards Cawfields Quarry, its distinctive triangular quarry face prominent at the western end of the next section of the Whin Sill crags.

Passing Burnhead B & B we nip over a stile, turn right to go over the small bridge, then left at the junction to take us to Cawfields Quarry on our right, now a picnic spot which has the important bonus of public conveniences (as well as its very own webcam). The Trail next takes along the south side of the quarry, now filled with water, and we bear left to a kissing gate which actually takes us through the curtain wall once more.

We can now take a brief diversion to the left to go up the steps to the point where the wall was unceremoniously chopped off by that quarry, whereby hangs a tale. Here, at this high point, let us consider a low point.

The end of the line for the curtain wall at Cawfields Quarry

The end of the line for the curtain wall at Cawfields Quarry

When the central sector of the Wall was sold off in 1929, at the breakup of the Clayton estate, the National Trust bought part but did not realise at the time that they did not own the mineral rights. Those were leased off to one John Wake of Darlington, who planned to expand his quarry at Cawfields all the way along the southern part of the dip slope between the Vallum to within ten feet of the curtain wall. This, as all who remembered Turret 45b marooned at Walltown Quarry, would probably have been structurally disastrous, as well as totally ruining the setting. At the time, the Ancient Monuments legislation was not sufficiently beefy to protect the monument from this indirect, but nevertheless very real, threat. Celebrities of the day rallied around, including Rudyard Kipling and John Buchan, letters were written to The Times, and the government was forced to act, compensating Wake and limiting the spread of his quarry, so that it grew no more than what we saw as we walked past, finishing working in 1952. Ugly truths had had to be confronted, particularly those touching upon employment (at a time of depression) set against ‘heritage’ (as we now insipidly term it), as well as the duty of the state in preserving monuments for current and future generations to enjoy. Every time a mountebank pops up and says planning legislation is too complex and too biased towards ancient monuments, whip yourself with the stingyest of nettles to remind yourself of this salutary tale.

Milecastle 42 from the neighbouring truncated peak

Milecastle 42 from the neighbouring truncated peak

At the top of the steps, we can turn back and admire Milecastle 42, laid out before us in a way it is difficult to better once you are down next to it. You may also glance to the south and see the confident earthwork of the Vallum striding across the countryside, dead straight, enjoying its freedom from the crags. Between them can be made out the grassy strip of the Military Way, dogging the footsteps of the curtain wall like a faithful servant.

Back down the steps, we cross the last few metres (or, if you remain unmetricated, yards; you still have to walk the same distance) to reach Milecastle 42, which we have already admired from atop the truncated hillock.

Milecastle 42 (Cawfields) [HB 264–6; haiku]

West pier of the north gate of Milecastle 42

West pier of the north gate of Milecastle 42

Milecastle 42 (Cawfields) was first excavated by John Clayton in 1848, re-excavated in 1935, and finally consolidated in the 1960s. The outline of this somewhat drastically sloping short-axis milecastle is clear but no internal structures were identified (or survived). The gateways are rather noteworthy, the south for the height of its masonry, the north for its marking-out lines (used to align its now-missing masonry) and for the remaining sockets for its gates. A fragment of tombstone and a Hadrianic building inscription come from here.

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