Wall Mile 22 [HB 184–5]
We are now accompanied by a fine stretch of the Vallum on our right-hand side, decorated with a welcome burst of gorse. The line of the curtain wall remains off to our left, under the Military Road, and the ditch beyond that. We cross a stile then, after crossing another field, come up to a lane that must be negotiated by means of a short dogleg. Now we are alongside the Vallum, immediately to our south, and making our way across this field, over another stile, and into the next, Dere Street now in sight. A fine section of ridge and furrow cultivation can be seen to our left, and then we find ourselves at the road and the opportunity for a break in the Errington Arms, where it is possible to sample the magnificent Port Gate pie.
The Port Gate
Dere Street passed through the Wall by means of a gateway. This tends to be known as the Port Gate, but in reality the name pre-dates the discovery of the gateway by several centuries, probably deriving from the fact that, in medieval times, the old Roman road was used to carry (‘port’) goods (and especially livestock) along the road (‘gate’) to Stagshaw Fair, just to the south. Gate is one of those words that occurs in both Norse (gata) and Anglo-Saxon (geat) and, having the same root, means ‘road’ or ‘street’ (as well as the more obvious ‘gate’): think Gateshead – which, pace Bede, has nothing to do with goats, but which was also on a (largely goat-free) Roman road.
Excavation showed that the Port Gate gateway (which lies buried to the south-west of the roundabout, next to the pub), had projecting flanking towers. Horsley first saw it but thought it was an extra milecastle; in reality we have yet to reach that.
The Trail now crosses Dere Street, more prosaically these days known as the A68, where we must needs be exercise extreme caution once more, and heads off along the remains of the old Military Road (the approaches to the roundabout have all been modernised and taken off their original lines). We soon cross the drystone wall to our right by means of a stile and land just after Milecastle 22 (Portgate).
Milecastle 22 (Portgate) [HB 184; haiku]
No surprise to learn that this was found to be a long-axis milecastle when it was examined in 1930, but intriguing to discover that the northern gateway was, later in its life, completely blocked (perhaps as a result of its proximity to the Port Gate gateway).