Wall Mile 23 [HB 185–6]
We are now south of the curtain wall, marked by the Military Road, of course, and are going to stay on this side for a couple of miles. The Vallum has now sprung to life as an earthwork to our right as we move through the open scrub east of Milecastle 24. There is considerable disturbance from small-scale post-medieval quarrying around here, but before long we reach a minor road. Crossing this we enter Stanley Plantation, although keeping to the northern edge of it. Occasionally, through the lofty softwood trees, we can glimpse the Vallum keeping pace with us just to the south, but it is as well to concentrate on one’s footing around here, since some of the bits can be quite boggy (the worst being reinforced with stone paving slabs and plastic mesh). Although we can’t see it from our course, the ditch continues to the north of the road.
Soon we encounter a track through the plantation. Many years ago, a proposal was mooted to test drill for oil in the plantation, summarily dismissed after a public enquiry, since it would of course ruin one’s appreciation of the ancient monument (which, at that time, had just become a World Heritage Site, the defined limits of which were, shall we say, a bit wobbly then). This ensured some wry smiles, as traffic roared past on the 18th-century Military Road, the terrain-following Tornadoes, Harriers, and Jaguars of the RAF thundered over at 250ft, and the 148m-high BBC Stagshaw radio mast (which is actually at Beukley!) towered serenely over its ‘ancient’ setting. Landscape is always in the eye of the beholder.
The micro-climate in the plantation is always calm and cool, the trackway sometimes boggy and occasionally sloppy, and you must make a conscious effort not to examine every stone of the roadside wall for an inscription that everybody else who trots past may have missed. Soon, however, we reach the end of the plantation and, with a deft wiggle, the Trail dumps us back into the broad open spaces again.
Milecastle 23 (Stanley) [HB 185–6; haiku]
As we emerge from Stanley Plantation we immediately encounter the earthworks that mark the location of Milecastle 23 (Stanley). Another long-axis milecastle, this was – like its neighbours we have just passed – examined in 1930.