Wall Mile 35 [HB 228–31]
The curtain wall, beneath the by-now-familiar field wall, descends into Busy Gap and is breached by a modern gateway called the King’s Wicket which seems to have a history. Busy Gap was a traditional route through the wall in the medieval and post-medieval period, ne’er-do-wells who used it for their nefarious activities earning the nickname Busy Gap Rogues (a term of abuse that remained in use into the 19th century). It has an even older significance, however, as an earthwork dyke that may date as far back as the Bronze Age runs through the gap and on towards what is now Scotland. Once again, the Roman Wall merrily slices across a traditional landscape. The angle between the wall and the dyke is adapted into a triangular enclosure by the earthwork known as Black Dyke, here thought to be used as a post-medieval stock enclosure associated with the passage through the wall. The Wall ditch reappears across Busy Gap, recognising its tactical vulnerability but terminates again once it begins to ascend Sewingshields Crags.
We follow the wall up, passing the site of Turret 35b and, once we achieve the summit, can pause to look back to the west, where we can see Broomlee Lough, Greenlee Lough beyond it, and Housesteads Crags, with Crag Lough and Peel Crags in the distance. At the top, a short length of curtain wall emerges from underneath its guardian field wall, just to remind you of its existence.
Before long we stumble unexpectedly on Turret 35a (Sewingshields). Constructed on a broad gauge foundation but with a narrow gauge curtain wall, this turret, with its entrance at the eastern end of the south wall, was only briefly occupied before being demolished and its recess filled in.
The next stretch of curtain wall we find has a rather nicely consolidated expansion near its eastern end, confirming that these were not just a product of the imagination of Clayton’s workman but were a genuine feature of the south face of the curtain wall, along the Central Sector at least.
Moving on we encounter further spasmodic sections of curtain wall bursting out of the turf and before too long we reach another trig point, which is a good place to consider King Arthur. Who? Why? Well, remember King Arthur’s Well in Wall Mile 44? Tradition (although not a very old one, truth be told) has it that he and his sleeping knights lie nearby, waiting for the call to defend Britain once again. Having dozed through sundry national threats (the Armada, Napoleon, for example) he was supposedly disturbed from his slumbers by a Northumbrian shepherd in pursuit of a ball of twine (string-related mishaps being common among northern stocksmen). This has little relevance to Hadrian’s Wall, other than to show how it has acted as a focus for myth formation as much as any other human activity (but most notably stone robbing), and Arthur is both ubiquitous and ‘sticky’, as well as beloved of tourist authorities the length and breadth of the land.
More stretches of curtain wall lead us to the site of Milecastle 35, clinging on to the edge of Sewingshields Crags by its fingertips.
Milecastle 35 (Sewingshields) [HB 228–30; haiku]
Milecastle 35 (Sewingshields) was excavated in 1978–82 and the first thing the visitor notes is that this long-axis milecastle has no north gate. This is one of those few instances where it would be truly superfluous. The interior of the fortification is occupied by several phases of Roman building on either side of the central roadway, culminating in its re-use as a medieval farmstead. The later Roman phases included evidence of metalworking on the site.