Wall Mile 0

Wall Mile 0 [HB 371]

Just when everybody has been telling you Hadrian’s Wall is 80 Roman miles long, you discover that in fact it was 81! Due to an accounting error (or perhaps somebody simply got out of bed on the wrong side one wall-numbering day), the first Wall Mile is Wall Mile 0, not Wall Mile 1 as you might expect. To be fair, nobody has ever actually found MC1 or even MC0, nor are they completely sure where they might be, since it all depends where the start is measured from. Of course, this is (all too literally) a measure of our lack of understanding of the problem, rather than any obfuscation on the part of the Romans who, so far as we know, never even bothered numbering it.

If we continue eastwards along Fossway it eventually turns into Maurice Road and then, striking north-eastwards, becomes Neptune Road and then Buddle Street. At this point, the Segedunum museum at Wallsend fort becomes evident to our right and, to our left, a reconstructed length of the curtain wall.

Wallsend and Wall Mile 1

Wallsend and Wall Mile 1

Closer inspection reveals that the replica is in fact built slightly to the south of the excavated curtain wall, a series of short stubby posts marking the position of yet more berm obstacles. The excavated length is actually considerably more than that consolidated, but much still lies under plastic, awaiting the time when funds permit its consolidation too. When examined, it was found that the wall along here collapsed due to proximity to s stream.

The reconstructed curtain wall next to the original

The reconstructed curtain wall next to the original

Now we can turn our attention to the reconstructed curtain wall. Although building regulations demanded that it be built to modern standards and with a completely inaccurate handrail at the back, it gives a good impression of the state of our knowledge of what the curtain wall actually looked like. Go towards the back, noting as you pass the sever weathering that the modern building inscription has already suffered. We shall briefly resist the temptation to mount the steps, but instead direct our attention to the base of those stairs, at the west end of the south face of the wall. Here, several different interpretations of the plastered/whitewashed/pointed debate have been realised and it will be readily apparent that the whitewash option is already nearly completely vanished.

The reconstructed curtain wall

The reconstructed curtain wall

Now we may proceed up the stairs. Here it is possible to appreciate just how much room the narrower curtain wall of this sector provides for a walkway, even allowing for a parapet. Note too the efficacy of the merlons at providing protection for defenders (although some might argue for broader merlons these are details to which we have no definitive answers at the moment). This, together with the Vindolanda reconstructions, is a splendid example of the value of physical reconstruction; sometimes CGI just will not do.

Experiments in whitening the Wall

Experiments in whitening the Wall

Once we have finished inspecting this, and perhaps taken a look at the remains of the old colliery that used to sit atop the fort, we may cross over and head for the entrance of the museum.

The order in which we proceed is a matter of taste, but for our purposes we will visit the site first and then look at the museum.

The reconstructed parapet and walkway on the curtain wall

The reconstructed parapet and walkway on the curtain wall

Wallsend fort (SEGEDVNVM)

It was once thought that Wallsend fort was an afterthought, constructed when the course of the Wall was extended in the Hadrianic period, although this has recently been questioned. Occupying 1.6ha (4.1 acres), it was only some 6.4km (4 miles) from Newcastle. The garrison was cohors II Nerviorum in the 2nd century and cohors I Lingonum in the 3rd and 4th centuries and both of these were part-mounted.

Wallsend from the air

Wallsend from the air

Before the campaign of excavations in the 1970s, the fort was covered by housing and just its outline was marked out in the streets. Now a large portion of the fort has been cleared for display, with fine views of it and the surrounding shipyards from the viewing tower that is part of the recent site museum.

We may examine the remains of the commanding officer’s house, headquarters building (with its forehall, a feature found in many continental forts and possibly used for training under cover), granaries, and hospital (another of those extra courtyard buildings).

Granaries at Wallsend

Granaries at Wallsend

One of the most interesting aspects of Wallsend is its cavalry barracks, split between men and animals. The pits set into the ground, designed to catch the less pleasant by-products of a reliance upon horses, have been identified at an increasing number of Roman military sites. These are invariably accompanied by very high phosphate readings when tested.

The reconstructed bath-house

The reconstructed bath-house

In the south-western part of the site, there is a splendid (albeit mirror image) reconstruction (capable of working) of the Chesters bath-house (not, please note, on the site of the Wallsend bath-house). This will bring home just how inadequate ruins can sometimes be at giving a true impression of the magnificence of a building. The baths are periodically opened for inspection and nearby is a small herb garden, showing the range of culinary and medicinal plants that might be found in Roman times.

The Branch Wall

The Branch Wall

Now it is time to return to the museum, but before we do, note the fragment of the Branch Wall running down towards the Tyne from the south-east corner of the fort. This was found when the slipway for the RMS Mauretania was being constructed at Swan Hunter’s, moved to a nearby park and re-erected, then moved back here once the Segedunum project was under way. Part of the Branch Wall, however, was put aboard the RMS Carpathia, which was fitting out at the time, and appears to have been present when that ship went to the aid of the Titanic, and may even have been the only piece of Hadrian’s Wall to have been sunk by a U-boat in 1918! There is a model of the Carpathia in the industrial section of the museum. On our way past, we can have a look at the monument recording the names of every single Roman whose name has survived from the Wall (with space so new discoveries can be added).

Once in the museum, there is much to do and see, including a rather dramatic representation of stratigraphy, the accumulation of archaeological layers over time. Once you have seen everything, pressed all the buttons, and been lectured by the Geordie centurion, find your way to the observation tower (there are both lifts and stairs to get you to the top). Once up there, a video demonstration dramatically illustrates how the site has changed over time.

Leaving the museum, if you want a closer look at the Branch Wall, turn right onto the main road, then immediately right again, and head up onto the bridge that takes the cycle path round the back of the fort. Heading west, you will soon see the last bit of the Branch Wall, unencumbered now by railings.

The mobile Branch Wall from the slipway

The mobile Branch Wall from the slipway

Milecastle 0 [Not mentioned in the HB; haiku]

It has been speculated that the curtain wall may have terminated in a final milecastle, but there is absolutely no evidence for this, although redevelopment of the old Swan Hunter yard may well ultimately reveal the truth.

Sunset over Wallsend

Sunset over Wallsend

This, then, is where we shall finish our journey, next to the remains of the Swan Hunter shipyard, where the Wall trundles merrily off towards the Tyne. Once, Geordie kids paddled and splashed around the remains of the Wall as it disappeared into the water, but that time has long gone. For us, Wallsend assumes its true role, as the end of our Echtmauerwanderung along the Wall.

The PLV ebooks

Wall Mile 1

Wall Mile 1 [HB 141]

The Fossway continues to follow the line of the Wall for some 650m after the proposed site of Milecastle 2 until we reach a roundabout at the junction with Coutts Road and West Farm Road. At this point, the modern road veers off slightly to the south, whilst the curtain wall and ditch carried straight on. We walk for another 475m and then, on our left, we see a sports field changing room at Miller’s Dene, which is located just east of the probable location of Milecastle 1 (which Maclauchlan said was 6 furlongs west of Wallsend fort). The amount by which it is set back from the road shows how much the course of the latter has diverged from that of the Wall.

The Fossway on the line of the Wall ditch

The Fossway on the line of the Wall ditch

Milecastle 1 (Stott’s Pow) [HB 141; haiku]

Milecastle 1 (Stott’s Pow) has, unsurprisingly, never been confirmed, although occupation material has been found. Indeed, like Milecastle 2, it used to be placed further to the east on Ordnance Survey maps. Nevertheless, both Horsley and Maclauchlan reported seeing it here.

The site of Milecastle 1

The site of Milecastle 1

BandC2ad

Wall Mile 2

Wall Mile 2 [HB 141–2]

It is now time to cross the main road, so follow the railings along until you reach the gap near the car repair shop and the pedestrian crossing, which takes you under the Metro bridge. Follow the pavement to the east, past the garage, and cross again to near the car park outside the fast food outlet. Now turn towards the small roundabout outside Morrison’s and then follow the pavement round to the right and you are on Shields Road and that is directly on the line of the Wall. As before, the road itself follows the ditch and the curtain wall is just behind the shop frontages. After about 500m, on the right-hand side, the shop frontages give way to an open plaza and there, for your delight, are the foundations of the curtain wall and small metal studs marking the location of yet more berm pits.

The curtain wall foundation next to Shields Road

The curtain wall foundation next to Shields Road

Return to the line of Shields Road and head towards the bicycle shop at the eastern end and there turn round and look back towards Milecastle 3. The view originally looked like the etching included by Stukeley, with the ditch and remains of the curtain wall clear to see back then, along with the earthwork of the milecastle perched on the eastern rim of the Ouseburn valley.

Wall Mile 2 from the air

Wall Mile 2 from the air

Now we must cross over several roads, working our way past the Shell garage, until we are on the A187, the Fossway (which the perky will deduce is the road – ‘way’ – in the ditch – ‘foss’). The pavement on the south side is as near as we can get to the line of the curtain wall, of which there is nothing to see until we reach the putative location of Milecastle 2, near the entrance to Brough Park or Newcastle Stadium.

Milecastle 2 (Walker) [HB 141; haiku]

Milecastle 2 (Walker) has never been found. Indeed, on the older Ordnance Survey maps, it was marked as being further to the east, near The Fosse pub.

Wall Mile 3

Wall Mile 3 [HB 142–50]

The line of the Wall is continued along Westgate Road, across the triangular traffic island, where it ran under the statue of Stephenson, then across Neville Street (which runs in front of the railway station), to be found again on the same line outside the Mining Institute building, where its course is marked in rather faded pink concrete, accompanied by a plaque giving details.

The line of the curtain wall outside the Mining Institute

The line of the curtain wall outside the Mining Institute

Now it is time for a couple of detours before we continue following the line of the curtain wall as best we can. Before we depart the line, however, we must bid farewell to the Vallum, of which there is nothing to see here, but which once very clearly terminated at Newcastle. First we will head up to the Great North Museum – Hancock (it is worth it, trust me) and then come back and have a brief look at the remains of Newcastle fort.

Great North Museum – Hancock

Inscription from Milecastle 38 in the Great North Museum

Inscription from Milecastle 38 in the Great North Museum

For many years, some of the best finds from the Wall were held in the Museum of Antiquities in Newcastle University (to which you will still find references in guide books), but the building has now gone and the contents have been transferred to the new Great North Museum just over the road. The easiest way to get to the GNM is to take the Metro (entrances both inside and outwith the railway station) up to the Haymarket station (second stop when proceeding northwards from Central Station) and then following pedestrian signs for the Great North Museum. The enthusiastic walker, or those who dislike underground travel, may choose to walk, but allow 20 minutes from Central Station to get there (via Grainger Street, Newgate Street, and Percy Street).

Entrance to the museum is free, photography is allowed, and the Hadrian’s Wall gallery is straight through the main entrance, on through a brief natural history interlude, before passing a couple of trees with loitering stuffed wolves (no, I don’t know what they’re doing there either). We are confronted by a huge video presentation that allows you to insert your initials on a stone block and a rather disinterested Roman soldier maunders around through a variety of weathers. Great for the kids but perhaps overkill for the rest of us. All around you will find artefacts, inscriptions, and models to explain the story of the Wall. Dive in, press some buttons, and enjoy.

Altar to Mithras in the Great North Museum

Altar to Mithras in the Great North Museum

When you are finished, retrace your steps (with or without the Metro) to the Central Station. Go on past the Mining Institute down towards the High Level Bridge, and you will see the Black Gate (part of the castle) opposite a pedestrian crossing at a set of traffic lights. Cross over and head towards the viaduct arches and, on the other side, the pavement outside the west side of the keep (you can’t miss it; it looks like… a castle keep!).

Newcastle fort (PONS AELII)

Newcastle was the original eastern terminus of the Wall and yet no fort was built here until the Antonine period, which was probably when the bridge across the Tyne was constructed. The fort is mostly situated underneath the castle but it was originally 0.64ha (1.53 acres) in area. The garrison included the cohors I Ulpia Traiana Cugernorum in the 3rd century and cohors I Cornoviorum in the 4th. A stone recording the cohors I Thracum may refer to another garrison from Newcastle, or possibly from an as-yet-undiscovered fort in Gateshead. The fort does not seem to have been attached to the curtain wall (there seem to have been buildings to the north of it) and it was, rather unusually, polygonal in form.

HQ & CO's house of Newcastle fort marked out

HQ & CO’s house of Newcastle fort marked out

Marked out on that piece of pavement are parts of the headquarters building (principia) and the commanding officer’s house (praetorium). The orientation of these fragments begins to allow an understanding of how the fort sat above the river. There is more to see, however. Head round to the north side of the keep, next to the railway arches, and you’ll see parts of two granaries marked out, one of them partly under the viaduct itself.

Granary marked out next to castle keep

Granary marked out next to castle keep

The eponymous bridge at Pons Aelii has yet to be located (dendro-chronological dating of timbers supposed to have come from it proved to be medieval) but it must have been situated close to where the Swing Bridge is now located. Recent work in Gateshead has suggested that there may have been a military base there, too (elsewhere in the empire, many bridges over major rivers had military bases at either end).

The likely site of the Roman bridge from the air

The likely site of the Roman bridge from the air

When we return to tracing the course of the wall, we enter into a realm of uncertainty and speculation between the Mining Institute and Melbourne Street, where it has recently been recorded by excavation. We must now head up to the cathedral to get our bearings. Some antiquaries claimed the curtain wall passed through the cathedral, whilst others others advocated that its course took it nearby, but we shall turn right into the churchyard, through Amen Corner, just to its south, and down the steps at the eastern end of it, which bring us down to Dean Street. This street lies on the line of the now subterranean Lort Burn, originally crossed by Nether Dean Bridge, leading from the churchyard to Pilgrim Street, and it is generally held that the Wall must have bridged the burn in this vicinity. We cross the road and up the steps (now called Low Bridge), through the pedestrian precinct, and end up confronting the monstrous Swan House roundabout. The Roman road up from the Pons Aelii must have passed through the Wall near here, so another gateway like those at Stanwix and Portgate is to be anticipated.

Use the subway to get across the roundabout, aiming for the 17th century Holy Jesus Hospital. Arriving on Melbourne Street, with the Hospital to our left, we are close to the line of the wall, which runs slightly to the south of us. Further along Melbourne Street, near the point where it is crossed by Gibson Street, excavation identified the curtain wall with the by-now-familiar pits on the berm. Carry on to Howard Street (the Wall is now to our north) and turn left at the junction with Crawhall Road and head north. At the junction with Coquet Street, we have a choice: follow the approximate course of the Wall across the Ouseburn, or get an aerial perspective from Byker Bridge.

Byker Bridge, the Ouseburn, and the site of Milecastle 3

Byker Bridge, the Ouseburn, and the site of Milecastle 3

If you decide to follow the Wall, turn right down Coquet Street, which almost coincides with the line of the Wall, and head east. Follow the road round (we cross the likely line of the Wall again on the way) until it meets Stepney Bank and turn right down the hill. When we reach Ouseburn Farm (again on the posited line of the Wall) we can take the footpath to the right of it to get down to Foundry Lane. At its junction with Leighton Street, we take the steps to our left and head up the east bank of the burn. This takes us up to Back Stephen Street and ultimately up to the main road next to the buildings located close to the position of Milecastle 3.

If on the other hand you want to get the aerial perspective, carry on up Crawhall Road and then turn right at the junction with the main road (A193, New Bridge Street) to walk along the southern pavement of Byker Bridge. From here you can look down and see how the Wall had to cross this small valley, probably passing under Ouseburn Farm, to reach the location of Milecastle 3 at its eastern end.

Milecastle 3 (Ouseburn) [HB 142; haiku]

Etching from Stukeley showing the location of Milecastle 3

Etching from Stukeley showing the location of Milecastle 3

Some confusion arises over the precise position of Milecastle 3 (Ouseburn), but it is very clearly shown on the near (east) side of the valley on an etching published by Stukeley, so quibbles of this nature need not detain us for too long. Although the physical remains of the milecastle have never been seen, an altar set up by a priest (sacerdos) called Iulius Maximus almost certainly comes from it (we have several times noted the association of altars with milecastles, so this may well be the nearest thing to a smoking gun we are going to get).

PLVad2

Wall Mile 4

Wall Mile 4 [HB 150–1]

We cross the road patiently (the little green men on the crossing seldom synchronise) and plunge down Westgate Road, past the bike shops and ‘greasy spoons’ before we arrive at the ceremonial way known as St James’ Boulevard leading to the magisterial heart of Newcastle (which was briefly no longer called St James, changed to something dully commercial, but is now thankfully back to its proper name), a temple to sport that has been allowed to break all planning good taste and sit on the horizon in exactly the way ugly sports stadia shouldn’t. Ignore it and press on.

Westgate Road, on the line of the Wall ditch

Westgate Road, on the line of the Wall ditch

When this road was punched through and the old porn cinema demolished they found traces of the medieval city ditch but also of the Wall itself, which the property frontages have dutifully been following. Finally, and rather unexpectedly (you’ll see why in a moment), we reach the site of Milecastle 4 (Westgate Road), although the astute will note a slight adjustment in line just before we do.

Milecastle 4 (Westgate Road) [HB 150; haiku]

The site of Milecastle 4

The site of Milecastle 4

Scholarly calculations had long been baffled by the location of this (as it turns out) long-axis milecastle, not least because of the uncertainties we are about to encounter over the course of Wall Mile 3. In 1985, its discovery in the backyard of the Newcastle Arts Centre during the digging of a drain led to Milecastles 5 and 6 being shuffled along a bit from their old hypothetical locations to new hypothetical locations, and all was better. Its position is marked in the Black Swan Yard behind the Arts Centre.

Wall Mile 5

Wall Mile 5 [HB 151]

This section of our walk is hardly likely to set any murophiliac’s heart racing and, in fact, the only evidence we are going to see of the Wall is the unrelenting course of the road (which is still in the ditch) and the property frontages, which respect the course of the curtain wall itself. Once past the site of Milecastle 6, we continue along a plateau before finally beginning our descent to the Tyne after passing the large, red brick Westgate Hill Primary School to our left. As we descend Westgate Road, we pass a small cemetery to our right and, at its eastern extremity, by the junction of Westgate Road with Elswick Road and Corporation Street, Horsley ‘thought there were some visible remains of a Castellum [milecastle], just behind the quarry house’, but modern scholars are sceptical, yet less helpful.

Milecastle 5 (Quarry House) [HB 151; haiku]

The alleged site of Milecastle 5

The alleged site of Milecastle 5

It will come as no surprise, then, to discover that the site of Milecastle 5 (Quarry House) has yet to be found.

Seditio3ad

Wall Mile 6

Wall Mile 6 [HB 151–8]

Continuing up the hill, we reach a roundabout and cross carefully. Here there is absolutely nothing of the Wall to see, other than its influence on the course of West Road (along which we are travelling), but in many ways that is the whole point of this suburban and urban odyssey of ours. Until now, we have been noting how the line taken by the Wall was dictated by the landscape and that has not changed (although it is difficult to see such influences in built-up areas they are, nevertheless, still there). The added factor now is that the Wall has, in turn, exerted a major influence on the layout of Newcastle and its suburbs.

Benwell from the air

Benwell from the air

The road continues to climb, but very gently now, until it reaches the summit in Benwell, where the next fort was located.

Benwell fort (CONDERCUM)

Benwell was built after the Wall and its ditch and before the Vallum, which made a detour to the south to avoid it, and it is another of those that straddles the line of the curtain wall. The fort is 10.9km (6.75 miles) from Rudchester and covers 2.2ha (5.6 acres). The portion projecting north of the wall has been destroyed by a modern reservoir, whilst that to the south is wholly built over. It was garrisoned in the 2nd century by the cohors I Vangionum, then in the 3rd and 4th centuries by the ala I Asturum. The fact that the fort was not big enough to have contained the Vangiones, a double-strength mixed infantry and cavalry force, together with an inscription recording their presence at Chesters, has led to the suggestion that they may have been split across the two sites.

There is nothing to see of the fort itself but there are two rather intriguing sites associated with the civil settlement: the Vallum Crossing and the Temple of Antenociticus.

The Vallum Crossing

The Vallum crossing

The Vallum crossing

Just before the Job Centre (the Plus seems slightly redundant these days), turn right down Denhill Park. Immediately the road forks, but we can go either left or right as it is a crescent. Soon, in this urban environment, we stumble across one of English Heritage’s forgotten gems, the only surviving crossing of the Vallum (which has dodged southwards to avoid the fort) that is on display. We can either peep over the railings or, should you wish to inspect it more closely, get the key from No.26 (the bungalow in front and to the right as we look northwards from the end of the crescent); you choose.

The gateway of the Vallum crossing

The gateway of the Vallum crossing

Here we can see how a causeway has been left across the Vallum ditch (which is only about half its original depth). A culvert had been inserted, presumably to prevent (or rather reduce) ponding on the eastern side. The road across the ditch had a monumental stone-founded gateway, the base of which can still be seen, as can the sockets for the gates themselves. Behind the gateway, the road has been stepped to convey the impression of several succeeding surfaces. As we leave the enclosure, inspect the large piece of stone near the iron gate, which is a socket block that retains its original iron socket lining.

After returning the key, we head back out of Denhill Park, turning right back onto West Road and then take the next right onto Weidner Road, right again onto Westholme Gardens, then left onto Broomridge Avenue, and there, on our left-hand side, is the second of the gems that slaves to the National Trail miss: the Temple of Antenociticus. This is the only part of the substantial civil settlement that is still available for us to see, but a large bath-house was excavated by the local landowner, Robert Shafto in 1751 (whether he was the Bobby Shafto of the famous Tyneside song is a matter of debate, as several of his relatives shared the name).

The Temple of Antenociticus

The Temple of Antenociticus

The Temple of Antenociticus

A small apsidal building, it contains concrete replicas of the original altars, which are now in the Great North Museum. Antenociticus was a local god (inscriptions recording him only occur at Benwell) and a stone head found here has been identified as representing the deity. The temple is comparable in size to the mithraeum at Carrawburgh and the fact that the inscriptions were set up by unit commanders may indicate he was an acquired taste amongst the social elite, rather than a popular figure. Enjoy the incongruity of the setting for a while (it can be surprisingly peaceful) and then we can return to the main road.

Back on the main road, we plod on down the pavement until we reach the junction with Benwell Grove, where Milecastle 6 is calculated to have been. The line of the curtain wall is marked by the shop frontages, the ditch by the road.

Milecastle 6 (Benwell Grove) [HB 151; haiku]

The approximate location of Milecastle 6

Milecastle 6 (Benwell Grove) has never been found, but was once easier to at least locate* approximately as Elswick windmill stood nearby, now long since vanished.

*If you get uppity about split infinitives, my advice is to go and read what Fowler has to say on the subject.