Wall Mile 9

Wall Mile 9 [HB 162–4]

Now that we are on the south side of the road, we can look across the wall at the fields. Nothing much to see, but the Vallum is there. In fact, if you look eastwards towards the terraces of houses in Walbottle, you can usually see a differentiation in the vegetation which marks its course (it is very clear from the air, as Google Earth or Maps confirm). The ditch has largely disappeared to the north of the road: this is indeed hostile territory in which to be a mural frontier, but it gets worse. Even so, as we shall see, the Wall nearly always wins through.

We descend to Walbottle, passing a primary school built over the Vallum, then begin to climb once again, always gently, but the terrain is still key to the line of the Wall. We are now on a 3km straight stretch, the last part of which is lost in a huge interchange when finally we reach the A69. Past the school, in the field on the left, the hints of the Vallum are more substantial, but the curtain wall lurks beneath the road, still, and the ditch is lost to us.

The line of the Vallum at ground level

The line of the Vallum at ground level

We cross over at a junction, the northern arm of which is a dead-end, cut off by the A69 (although the Google Street View car rather gamely goes down it anyway), the line of the Military Road still reflecting that of the curtain wall, with the Vallum to our right and the ditch to our left; the last shows up as lusher grass just beyond the roadside wall, reminding us it is still there.

A sign soon proclaims that we are entering Blucher Village, reflecting the name of the coal mine that once stood here, named after Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, the Prussian general who saved the day at the Battle of Waterloo. At the far end of the terrace of houses, as fields open out to the south of us again, we reach the site of Milecastle 9, shyly loitering behind a park bench and a flowerbed.

Milecastle 9 (Chapel House) [HB 162–4; haiku]

Blucher and the site of Milecastle 9 from the air

Blucher and the site of Milecastle 9 from the air

Milecastle 9 (Chapel House) is a special milecastle. ‘Why is that?’ you may justifiably ask. Well, this is the one Eric Birley was digging when Chesterholm (Vindolanda) was put up for auction and he decided to buy it. This long-axis milecastle was excavated in 1929, 1951, and 2000, when details of an internal building were noted, whilst outside the south wall, three skeletons (one of them headless) were found. They were thought to be Roman or post-Roman, but it is interesting to note that there was a curious trend in headless burials from the late 3rd century AD onwards which has caused much speculation amongst scholars (executions and barbarian beheadings being invoked). Some of the stones of the milecastle itself were marked with Roman numerals and it is thought this may relate to the way in which they were quarried.

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