Wall Mile 20 [HB 176–7]
The plantation on Down Hill itself is eye-catching in its own way, but cannot match the silhouette of the Vallum as it soars over the crest of the ridge. Walking towards it, we can make out all of the features we know and love, but in the sort of detail we could only imagine before: the central ditch with its mounds to north and south, as well as an unmistakeable marginal mound on the southern lip of that ditch.
As we climb up past the earthwork (the Trail respectfully slips to the north of the north mound), we can look back and see how this magnificent feat of earthmoving is all but removed to the west of us, first viciously by quarrying, then insidiously by ploughing. The Trail leads up over towards the woods and we can now appreciate that the Vallum has in fact made a vast angular detour to avoid the limestone outcrop of Down Hill, just as the Military Road does to the north. The curtain wall, however, bounds on regardless through the trees, accompanied by the ever-faithful (and, at this point, rock-cut) ditch. For a few metres it is relieved of the burden of the road, but it will soon be back.
By now the spectacle of the Vallum to the east has come to our attention, striding over towards Carr Hill farm. There are finer stretches of Vallum, but none you will see up-close and in-the-flesh by walking the Trail, so take a moment to enjoy it.
The Trail heads up to Carr Hill where an ingenious system of stiles takes us over a field entrance like slow-motion hurdlers and then, after one more set of steps, unceremoniously onto the verge. You are beginning to sense that crossing the Military Road is about to be warned about and you are correct. Here we go again: all due caution exercised, we can venture over to the north side past a lay-by big enough to park a destroyer in it (well, a corvette, perhaps) and then the Military Road and, its inspiration, the curtain wall make a turn from just north of easterly to just south of it. Nowadays the road sweeps round in a grand curve but the original line, with its abrupt angle, is preserved by the northern marginal field wall. Although it looks like we are walking on the northern pavement of the road, we are of course on the berm between the curtain wall (under the road) and the ditch (a mere shadow of its former self, off to our left).
We now have to get used to walking by the road. There is going to be a lot of this until we reach the end, but fear not, there are pleasant interludes yet to come. To our right, as we walk slightly downhill, we can see some buildings and the second steading, just past some conifers, is Halton Shields, the site of Milecastle 20 and the end of the sixtieth Roman mile of our journey.
Milecastle 20 (Halton Shields) [HB 176; haiku]
Milecastle 20 (Halton Shields) lay at the eastern end of the buildings but there is, of course, nothing to see now, although it was examined in 1935 and found to have a type III northern gateway.