Wall Mile 30

Wall Mile 30 [HB 214–15]

If we move a little further on from the site of the milecastle, we can stop by a large rock protruding from the base of the ditch. Finally, we reach the most famous part of Limestone Corner. Wedge holes can still be seen in the top of the pinnacle where the attempts to split the whinstone were given up (whin naturally contains vertical cracks or joints, along which it will split); it must have been a bad day for the dtich-diggers.

Rock-cut ditch with wedge marks at Limestone Corner

Rock-cut ditch with wedge marks at Limestone Corner

To the south of us, large chunks of whin have been discarded down the slope, the largest of which (subsequently split into two by frost action) has been estimated as weighing around twelve tonnes (naturally, there is no record of anybody having actually weighed it; this is a guesstimate). Such pieces probably had to be removed with sheer legs, a technology with which the Roman army were not unfamiliar.

The scatter of whin boulders at Limestone Corner

The scatter of whin boulders at Limestone Corner

We must now plod on, crossing the ditch and then over a stile, taking us to the north of it and onto the upcast mound. Now we can admire those roadside drystone walls (they are easier to see from either side than from the road, due to the changes in level since the road was built). As we saw earlier, the larger blocks, curiously familiar from our perambulations next to the curtain wall, are interrupted by regular lines of throughstones.

The need for an all-weather east–west road across the isthmus became apparent after the Newcastle-based Marshall George Wade failed to intercept the Jacobite rebels in 1745 (who, ironically, exploited his new roads in Scotland to effect a swift passage into England at Carlisle). Wade got bogged down at Hexham during a horrendous blizzard and gave up. He died in 1748 and had nothing to do with the construction of the road, but sadly you will still find it called ‘Wade’s Military Road’ in less-well-informed sources than this, dear reader.

Construction of the Military Road began in 1749 with a survey from west to east, undertaken by two military engineers, Dugal Campbell and Hugh Debbeig (the latter serving later at Wolfe’s side at Quebec), detached from William Roy’s Military Survey of Scotland. Their drawing of the survey was subsequently published, unattributed, by John Warburton. The actual work of building the road and walls was contracted out to civilian companies (unlike the other military roads in the Highlands, which the Hanoverian army built) and did not always stick to Campbell and Debbeig’s recommended route. The road had a macadamised surface (compacted gravel on a stone foundation) and its original form can be seen in one of J.P. Gibson’s photographs, taken near Carrawburgh. The model lounges on the road in a way that would be suicidal nowadays and it will be apparent that successive metallings have now raised the road considerably.

J.P. Gibson's photo of the Military Road at Carrawburgh

J.P. Gibson’s photo of the Military Road at Carrawburgh

Continuing west along the field, we finally reach a stile and then another crossing of the Military Road. As usual, you will need to exercise care here. On the south side, we encounter the Vallum (the constructors of which merrily ploughed straight through the whin outcrop at Limestone Corner without batting an eyelid). The Military Way (the Roman road that ran along behind the curtain wall) is now perched on the north mound of the earthwork. We press on westwards, past some recent quarrying next to the Military Road. The car park at Carrawburgh is now in sight and just before we reach it, we arrive at the location of Milecastle 31.

Milecastle 31 (Carrawburgh) [HB 215; haiku]

Looking towards the site of Milecastle 31 and Carrawburgh fort

Looking towards the site of Milecastle 31 and Carrawburgh fort

Milecastle 31 lay just east of the car park, part of one of the robbed walls having been found during the construction of the modern facility. Needless to say, there is nothing to be seen now.

Wall Mile 29

Wall Mile 29 [HB 211–14]

We must now set off down the gently sloping field, the ditch visible to our right, although the curtain wall is still hidden. Crossing a small lane and entering the next field, this time sloping gently upwards, we find a splendid stretch of consolidated curtain wall and ditch at Black Carts. One-third of the way up are the remains of Turret 29a.

The curtain wall at Black Carts

The curtain wall at Black Carts

Turret 29a (Black Carts) [HB 211–12]

This turret, famously depicted in one of the woodcuts in Collingwood Bruce’s Handbook, survives to eleven courses within its recess, and has the familiar wing walls of a broad-gauge turret wed to the narrow-gauge curtain wall. It was first excavated by John Clayton in 1873 and subsequently re-examined in 1971. The threshold block in the doorway is of particular interest, since it retains the settings for the monolithic uprights that formed the door jambs, and the socket on the eastern side shows which way the door opened (remembering defensive doorways and gateways always opened inwards).

Turret 29a

Turret 29a

If you are feeling adventurous, you can nip round to the north side of the wall and hunt for a building inscription. One lies 55m from the west end (or 90m from the east) of this stretch of wall and records construction work under a centurion from the first cohort of a legion by the name of Nas(…) Ba(ssus). It has been suggested that legio XX was responsible for the initial construction of this section of wall. Bassus crops up elsewhere and an almost identical stone can be seen in Chesters museum which, although unprovenanced, may well be the pair to this stone. It has long been thought that building inscriptions were only placed on the south face of the curtain wall and that those on the north side were a result of rebuilding work. The fact that this stone is in the second course may give pause to question this argument for their placing, but it may equally hint at a very thorough rebuilding of this bit of the curtain wall (and such major reconstruction work is known elsewhere). Incidentally, since being uncovered, this section of wall has turned from a honey-coloured sandstone to a sooty black, thanks to a rather pervasive black slime. Whilst everybody obsesses about a whitewashed Hadrian’s Wall, I prefer to think of one covered in lichen, slime, and perhaps the odd bit of graffiti.

We cross another lane and continue upwards, along the berm between the curtain wall and ditch. The Military Road is still on the line of the wall, here, and sits on the north mound of the Vallum (where it stays until just after Limestone Corner).

South of the wall, near the site of Turret 29b

South of the wall, near the site of Turret 29b

Soon we cross the wall and head west on the south side of it, before crossing back to the north near the trig point (the crossing point varies according to the needs of wear and tear, so keep your eyes peeled for signs). We now follow the line of the ditch, although the actual route of the Trail is not always readily apparent, some walking in the ditch, some not. The wall itself is a low mound to our left near the field wall (which, unusually, does not sit on top of it). Here, the ditch is very shallow, evidently having been little more than marked out, rather than fully excavated. Near the highest point of this section, we reach Milestone 30.

The shallow ditch to the left and the moundy wall to the right

The shallow ditch to the left and the moundy wall to the right

From the air, it is apparent how the wall and ditch change course to take advantage of the slight promontory of Limestone Corner (the Vallum huffily ignores it completely, of course; possibly because it knows there is no limestone here, just whin stone). Why? Because the ditch is then at the edge of the scarp, once again using the lie of the land for tactical advantage.

Milecastle 30 (Limestone Corner) [HB 214–15; haiku]

Limestone Corner and Milecastle 30

Limestone Corner and Milecastle 30

This milecastle survives as an earthwork to the south of the field wall (which is set back slightly from the line of the curtain wall), excavation showing that the Narrow Wall butted against broad wing walls.

CGHad

Wall Mile 28

Wall Mile 28 [HB 210–11]

We now come up against a major diversion which sends us first to the north and along a minor lane. As we pass through Walwick, we can admire the rather aggressive notices warning walkers against using the farm buildings as lavatories (and of course begging the question of why appropriate facilities have still not been provided if there is a demonstrable demand). The Trail then lurches westwards and starts to climb gently up the side of a farm (the reason for the detour), encountering as we go one of the boggiest bits of the whole Trail, a result of heavy poaching of the soil by livestock. The path then heads south-westwards, before turning onto a more westerly course along the northern rim of the ditch for a while. Finally, we get back to the line of the Wall near a recent quarry, which has ironically removed both wall and ditch. We cross the ditch and head first south then west up the field, with the Military Road to our left.

The ditch east of Tower Tye

The ditch east of Tower Tye

We are in fact now closer to the Military Road than the wall and ditch, but no matter. The very fact that we are walking between the 18th-century road and Hadrian’s Wall reminds us that not all of the wall was destroyed by the road being placed on top of it. In fact, the original survey conducted for the Military Road by Campbell and Debbeig proposed using the Vallum far more than was actually the case when the time came to construct the road (perhaps a result of their evident antiquarian interest in the curtain wall itself and its associated monuments; the construction companies had no such qualms).

Continuing to climb gradually, we arrive at a side road which we must cross with the usual care. The Wall was recently crossed by a major underground electricity cable here, but directional drilling meant it went right under the whole monument without causing any damage. Isn’t technology wonderful? Once we are beyond the wall, we have to circumnavigate a small plantation, cross the ditch by means of a stile and steps, and find ourselves presented with the glories of Milecastle 29.

Crossing the ditch near Milecastle 29

Crossing the ditch near Milecastle 29

Milecastle 29 (Tower Tye) [HB 211; haiku]

Milecastle 29

Milecastle 29

This is a milecastle which exists now solely as an earthwork, but is nevertheless an extremely interesting example. Excavated by John Clayton, the trenches dug by stone robbers, eager to get at its walls, are still sharply defined. However, there is an additional detail that the keen-of-eye may be able to make out and that is the fact that the milecastle is one of the few known to have had a ditch around it. It shows up now as a shallow depression around the west, south, and east sides.

Wall Mile 27

Wall Mile 27 [HB 191–210]

Just before we reach the bridge at Chollerford, there is a small, ingeniously counterbalanced gate to our left and that leads to a path that takes us along the side of the old railway line to the Roman bridge abutment, a distance of about 800m if you must know.

Chesters bridge abutment [HB 191–4]

The bridge abutment at Chesters

The bridge abutment at Chesters

The bridge abutment nestles in a copse of trees on the southern riverbank and is still an impressive monument. The curtain wall is terminated in a large square tower, thought to have housed a waterwheel (since it has a leat leading into it, although it isn’t clear where the water went afterwards). The abutment itself is a large apron constructed of opus quadratum blocks, each layer originally held together with cast lead strips (you can still see the channels for these in the surface of the stones) rather than with cramps between blocks.The surfaces of most of the blocks contain central lewis holes. A lewis was used on large blocks of stone to enable them to be lifted with sheer legs. A three-part wedge with a central removable shackle (known as a three-legged lewis or St Peter’s Keys) was inserted into a splayed rectangular hole in the stone which, when the middle component was inserted, would lock in place to be lifted. It is a characteristic Roman technique, not seen before and seldom afterwards in Britain.

The lewis

The lewis

Embedded within the apron, thought to have been constructed as part of a 2nd/3rd-century makeover of the bridge, we can still see the outline of one of the piers of the original Hadrianic bridge. Looking down on the abutment from the riverbank side, move towards the northern (upstream) end and look at the basal courses. On the second row up, and assuming the abutment is not flooded (it often is), careful examination will reveal yet another truly outstanding example of a phallic symbol. Again, good luck was obviously as important as a lead lattice in holding together a Roman bridge. Finally, in the stone park beneath the trees, are the remains of a crane, probably used in the construction of the structure, whilst lying down on the apron opposite it is a decorative column that originally adorned the bridge parapet.

Apron with lead lattice channels and decorative column

Apron with lead lattice channels and decorative column

Now we must retrace our steps along the path back to the road, then turn left over the modern bridge. This had a medieval predecessor just downstream, but it is the Roman prototype even further away to which we now turn our attention. It is best to cross to the northern pavement for safety’s sake to actually cross the bridge. At the roundabout, we follow the signs across two roads until we finally get to the Military Road again (it is the third round anti-clockwise, the way we are forced to progress). We make our way along the road for some 640m before we find the entrance to Chesters, the first of the English Heritage forts on the Wall. Be careful walking into the site since, bizarrely, there is no pavement for pedestrian visitors (I always march long the white cross-hatched area in the centre of the driveway, but that’s just me).

Chesters fort (CILVRNVM) [HB 195–209]

Plan of Chesters

Plan of Chesters

Chesters is important for many reasons, not least as the house (The Chesters) was the home of John Clayton. In the 19th century, he was one of the leading lights in the conservation of the central sector of the Wall. The happy coincidence of the Military Road choosing to avoid the crags between Wall Miles 34 and 45 and Clayton owning the estate that included that stretch, combined with his passion for archaeology, meant that this part of the Wall at least received more care and attention than it had since Roman times. Elsewhere, at that time, landowners and tenants were still merrily grubbing it up and even dynamiting it in some extreme cases. Any suggestion that the curtain wall might have survived in any substantial form had the Military Road not been built is, at best, debatable.

The fort itself is 5.6km (3.5 miles) from Carrawburgh and is 2.3ha (5.75 acres) in area. It sits astride the Wall and needed two extra gateways (instead of the usual four) to accommodate this inconvenience. Within the fort, the remains of the commanding officer’s house and the headquarters building (including its subterranean strongroom) are on display, as is part of a pair of cavalry barracks. Down by the river North Tyne are the remains of the fort bath-house, preserved to an impressive height by hillwash. Naturally, John Clayton set about excavating parts of the fort. Set in formal parkland, it can now look rather lush and incongruous in comparison with some of the bleak upland (or even urban) sites.

The best strategy for a visit to Chesters is to see the site first and then do the museum, but you do what you feel most comfortable with, and you may find the weather dictates your course of action. For our purposes, it is the fort first.

Unlike any of the other forts we have seen to the west, Chesters does not cower meekly behind the line of the curtain wall but in fact boldly protrudes to the north. This provided an unusual challenge to its constructors since, if they used the usual pattern of four gateways, one side (either north or south) would end up with three gateways, the other only one. They opted to give it an extra two ‘minor’ single-portalled gates to the south of the wall and have three twin-portalled ones to the north of it.

The north gate and aqueduct channel

The north gate and aqueduct channel

Any tour of the fort will begin at the north gate, to which the path from the museum leads you. This is the porta praetoria, the main gate facing northwards and, importantly (and unlike Housesteads), facing the enemy. A twin-portalled gateway (the normal configuration for Wall forts) this was the main one facing into Barbaricum. There is a very obvious stone-lined channel under the western carriageway – drains and aqueducts nearly always left and entered forts at the gates. This example, however, is the aqueduct bringing water into the site (the main sewer carrying it out passed out through the slightly lower east gate, as we shall see). The aqueduct channel seems to have followed the contours round Lincoln Hill to get to the fort, with its source reported to be further up the valley of the North Tyne (although this has not been tested by excavation). An inscription of either AD 181–5 or c.AD217 records the construction of an aqueduct, although we have to presume the garrison didn’t spend the best part of half a century without water, so it may have been an additional one or a replacement.

Hadrian's Wall at the junction with Chesters fort west wall

Hadrian’s Wall at the junction with Chesters fort west wall

Having admired the north gate (the usual two portals, one later blocked, with flanking guardrooms) we can head off across the fort (there is usually a mown strip to guide us) towards the west gate, noting as we pass it a short length of the western curtain wall of the fort before we reach our goal. The northern guard chamber has very obviously been re-used as accommodation at a later date, since it has had a hypocaust inserted to keep its inhabitants cosy (and a fragment of it remains in the north-west corner). Adjacent to the south tower we can see the junction of Hadrian’s Wall with the fort, confirming that this west gate lay north of the wall. The curtain wall was in fact constructed before the fort and had to be dismantled to insert the fort. The usual features are present (threshold blocks with door stops, pivot holes, large opus quadratum blocks in the spina and inserted into the guard chamber walls) so we may note those and move on.

The path next takes us to the south-western interval tower (the western minor gate and the south-western corner tower have not been uncovered for display) where we can see that, unlike the turrets we have so far seen on Hadrian’s Wall, this fort tower has a central doorway at its base. We may briefly admire the eavesdrip channel along the base of the tower before trotting on towards our next gate (there are six, don’t forget, only one of which is not on display). We can move on to the south gate, another twin-portalled structure, but this one still retaining traces of its blocking. This may be the point at which we should note for future reference that the construction of twin-portalled gateways and the subsequent blocking of one of those portals is a common theme at Roman forts; quite why is a matter for some thought. Propped up against this one is a large monolithic slab with a central lewis hole and two pivot holes, one of them intact. This is an example of an upper pivot stone, designed to sit above the spina and receive the upper pivots of the gate leaf on either side of it.

The south-east angle tower

The south-east angle tower

Moving on, we pass another interval tower before reaching the corner tower, located in the centre of the rounded south-east corner of the fort wall. Unlike interval and gate towers, corner towers tended to be wedge-shaped, so that their side walls met the curtain wall at a tangent in either case. It is less noteworthy that this too has a central doorway.

Now we head north along the east defences and reach the only minor gate that is displayed. This, as mentioned above, was a single-portal gateway which gave access to the area south of the Wall and specifically to the civil settlement and the baths. Note that in its surviving form, there are two gate leaves (one pivot hole on either side) with a central stop block.

Minor east gate

Minor east gate

And so to the last gateway, the main east gate. Here we can see a main drain passing out through the southern portal, but it is of course north of the wall, so not destined for the bath-house. The northern gate tower has been constructed over the backfilled (with rubble) ditch of the original version of Hadrian’s Wall. Both portals ended up being blocked and the lack of wear on the threshold blocks suggests neither were very heavily used. So much for all that effort to add extra gates.

Main east gate and drain

Main east gate and drain

After this heady tour of the defences and an orgy of towers and gates, it is time to turn our attention to the internal buildings that are there to be inspected. The first will be the commanding officer’s house (praetorium), the nearest and most perplexing of the structures, given the welter of inserted hypocausts, varying floor levels, and different styles of construction. If we enter it through the little gate next to the tree, we are immediately able to admire the finely moulded decorated plinth course on the north-east corner of the structure. Just to the south are some brick pilae from one of the many heating systems, but if you are willing to take a few paces even further south you will find an excellent example of a brick-arched flue through the east wall. Don’t worry, we’ll wait. We will next move a little to the west to see another heated room with a raised threshold, showing the level the commanding officer actually lived at, with all this heating technology at his disposal. Note how the threshold block is worn smooth in the middle and that there are two rectangular recesses on either side to receive the upright stone jambs, now missing. Doubtless you will already have spotted the channel leading to the socket for the door pivot. We will carry on moving westwards and make a left turn towards where the courtyard ought to be. The floor levels are still raised to either side of us and it becomes apparent that the standard courtyard-style praetorium has here been subverted in the later period, with additional rooms being added in the courtyard space. If we turn right we can now head west again, across where the courtyard would have been, and make for the headquarters building (principia).

Cross-hall and part of the courtyard in the HQ

Cross-hall and part of the courtyard in the HQ

The HQ has entrances on either side of the cross-hall, as well as its main northern one, these side entrances apparently serving more than one purpose. The one nearest the praetorium would certainly provide a useful short cut for the commanding officer, but the threshold of this eastern doorway shows clear evidence of wheel ruts, implying that carts were driven into the building on a regular basis. You may well wonder why this might have been. Let us enter the structure through the door and examine the cross-hall, noting the dais (the tribunal) ahead of us (this one clearly had a hatch underneath it; what were they storing there? And was it brought in with carts?). To our left, in the range of offices, is a magnificent, vaulted underground strong room, where the unit savings would be kept (perhaps the carts were moving money around!). Mileage may vary as to whether we may enter it (sometimes it is flooded), but note how small the steps are (best to go down with your feet sideways) and the large monolithic stone jambs used here.Remember those sockets for jambs at Brunton Turret? These are of the same kind.

When we are done here, we can head across the cross-hall again and enter the courtyard. As ever, we find a peristyled rectangular yard with an eavesdrip running round it, indicative of a pent roof, and over in the north-west corner is a well (which still often contains water) which is worth inspecting. A few moments may be devoted to pondering the well and its sacred significance before turning to face the south and the rear range of offices, where the standards would be kept. Look down at the paving on the western side of the courtyard. There, on a large circular boss, is one of the largest phallic symbols we have yet witnessed. This seems like a formidable apotropaic insurance policy. Before leaving, it is worth noting that the newly built Hadrian’s Wall was quickly demolished here in order to construct the fort and excavation on the northern edge of the HQ building found the remains of Turret 27A, removed soon after construction.

Now we can turn and head northwards, across the courtyard and out of the main entrance of the HQ, and towards the barrack buildings ahead of us.

The barracks at the time of excavation

The barracks shortly after excavation

Before entering the barracks enclosure, we should pause and note that not all of the barrack buildings are on display. Only five of the contubernia, the rooms in which the men were accommodated, are now uncovered, at least three more remaining buried beneath our feet. In front of us are two symmetrically arranged buildings, each with officers’ quarters at the far end and a verandah (continuing the roofline) in front of the men’s rooms. A central drain (originally covered) runs along the centre and fragments of columns can be seen (although Gibson’s photographs of the first excavations suggests things have moved around a bit since the 19th century). The barrack rooms housed the men, possibly with a central timber partition separating a front storage area from the rear sleeping area, whilst the end rooms would house the decurio who commanded each turma of cavalry (nominally 32 men) and his NCOs, including his deputy (the duplicarius, on double pay), the standard bearer (signifer), and the sesquiplicarius (on one-and-a-half times pay!). Before we leave the barracks, we need to do a quick calculation. Remember that there are eight men to a room and 32 to a turma? If we have at least eight rooms to a barrack, then it is likely that each building housed two turmae and that the officer’s quarters at the east end were duplicated at the unexcavated west end, making a double-ended barrack (we know of such structures from other cavalry forts elsewhere in the empire). After all that maths, we may well feel that we could do with relaxing in the fort bath-house. Fortunately, Chesters has one of the best preserved.

We shall leave the barracks the same way we came in and head east past the east gate and down the hill, pausing on the way to examine a short length of Hadrian’s Wall that is exposed. Excavation a little further to the east, between here and the river, found that the first clay-bonded wall collapsed spectacularly and had to be rebuilt with mortar.

Let’s carry on down the hill to the enclosure containing the baths. Before entering, we can appreciate how the hill-wash, the soil moved downhill with time, has helped protect the building, since the tops of the standing walls reflect the profile of the hillside leading down to the riverbank. This is also a good time to recall the reconstructed baths building at Wallsend which, as I pointed out at the time, is a mirror image of the one you are now looking at.

The apodyterium of the baths

The apodyterium of the baths

Down the steps, we enter through the porch to the changing room, the apodyterium, with its niches which may have held the bathers’ clothes (although there is a view that these were niches for statues of divinities). In a small delve next to the niches you can see the original floor level, revealing that the low ledge there was in fact originally a bench, perhaps lending credence to the clothes storage hypothesis. We can now move southwards and immediately turn right and right again to look at the sudatorium, the Ridiculously Hot Room (it had its own heating system under it, separate from the main baths). This is particularly interesting as it has more surviving examples of monolithic stone door jambs, as well as a fine example of a worn threshold similar to the ones we saw in the CO’s house, complete with pivot hole and location slot. Back out of this balneal cul-de-sac and turn right into the main bathing area, with the warm room (tepidarium) and then the caldarium (hot room). We are actually standing at the level of the base of the hypocausts, the floor level being betrayed by a threshold block to our left. Before we go any further, turn round and look at the step we just came down to get here: it a curiously shaped stone. This in fact a voussoir made of tufa (light and fire-resistant), just one remaining component of a series of arches that ran along the length of the baths, slotted to hold thin bricks between these ribs and thus provide hollow tubes through which warm air (which was carried up the walls from the heating below) could also heat the roof space. All clever stuff. Now we can move towards the south end, noting the hot plunge bath to our right and, behind it, the remains of a window through the wall. The south end contained the area where the fire actually burnt, beneath a large bronze water tank (now long gone), to provide the hot water for the plunge.

The bath-house

The bath-house

We may sneakily pass out of here through the flue, noting as we go that there was a second bathing suite immediately to the east, and then we can turn left and left again to take us along the eastern side of the exterior of the building, buttressed for extra strength, to the latrines at the far end. This area has been heavily damaged by the river in the past, before it was ever excavated, but we can make out the sewer channel running around the seating area, whilst down to the right, nearer the riverbank, are examples of opus quadratum with their increasingly familiar lewis holes. We can finish with the baths by heading back along the path, around the exterior of the building, and back up the stairs. Now it is time to leave the fort, but if you haven’t already inspected it, this is your cue to visit the museum.

The museum at Chesters

The museum at Chesters

John Clayton’s son Nathaniel formed a small museum at Chesters (still lovingly tended in as near its original condition as possible) just before the First World War, housing the family collection of artefacts and inscriptions garnered not just from Chesters but from all the sites within the original Clayton estate, including Housesteads, Vindolanda, Great Chesters, and Carrawburgh. Its lapidarium is truly impressive, with rows of altars, milestones, and sculpture, and shelves of lesser stonework, including building stones from the Wall. It is worth devoting some time to and there is a treat awaiting in the back room, where some of Ronald Embleton’s original reconstruction paintings, undertaken for H. Russell Robinson’s book What the Soldiers Wore on Hadrian’s Wall, are hanging. The museum has only recently been refurbished and relit (a process that required the careful rehousing of a colony of bats) and is a splendid example of what can be achieved, and a far cry from the days when one of the past curators complained about birds flying around the main gallery and leaving their calling cards on the cases.

The garrisons of Chesters included the cohors I Delmatarum in the 2nd century and the ala II Asturum from the early 3rd onwards. The latter, a cavalry regiment, originated in Asturia, in what is now Spain. It has been pointed out that the name Cilurnum may owe something to a people called the Cilurnigi from that same area of Spain. You could say that this is a little bit of Northumberland that is forever Spain.

If peckish, we might choose to visit the cakey heaven of Lucullus’s Larder before departure and then take advantage of the English Heritage shopportunity on the way out (just remember that what you buy you have to carry), and most especially the lavatories (they are scarce beasts along the Wall).

Leaving Chesters, we turn left and cross over (carefully, naturally) to the pavement on the other side of the road. The site of Turret 27B is inaccessible to us, in the grounds of Chesters House. At the bottom of the hill the Military Road soon swings westwards, back onto the line of the Wall, to begin the climb out of the valley of the North Tyne.

As we look uphill, the curtain wall is underneath the southern carriageway of the road, with the ditch immediately north of the road, in the field to our right, and the Vallum off to the left.

The curtain wall showing through the Military Road

The curtain wall showing through the Military Road

In the 18th century, the Military Road was of course originally constructed without a tarmac surface and a famous woodcut shows one of the lower courses of the curtain wall peeping through the southern carriageway at Walwick, just to the east of Milecastle 28. It was still visible in 1907, when Maria A. Hoyer wrote ‘at this point, part of the foundation becomes visible. It gave one a thrill to look at those venerable stones; surely they merited a salute, a genuflection! The road here mounts up steeply, and the rush of the rainwater probably keeps the stones bare.’ By the time Jessie Mothersole passed here less than two decades later, the road had been tarmacked and the curtain wall was no longer visible. As we reach the point where the Trail turns right (for a rather major detour), we are opposite the site of Milecastle 28.

Milecastle 28 (Walwick) [HB 210; haiku]

This was a long-axis milecastle on the other side of the road, but there is now nothing to see.

The PLV ebooks

Wall Mile 26

Wall Mile 26 [HB 188–91]

We now cross the Military Road (what again?! Exercise all due caution) and trot down the field towards the length of curtain wall we now spy, seemingly floating in the middle of a sea of grass.

Planetrees curtain wall [HB 188–9]

This short stretch of Hadrian’s Wall has achieved fame of sorts by virtue of the fact that it owes its continued existence to intervention by William Hutton whilst he was walking the Roman Wall in 1801. Arriving here, he found the local tenant in the process of demolishing it. Ironically, the Military Road had preserved it by veering off its course some way to the east, as we have just seen. Hutton protested and managed to halt its destruction.

This is the eastern end of a stretch of Narrow Wall we shall soon see again at the bottom of the hill, at Brunton Turret. When construction of the Wall began, the curtain wall was initially built to a broad gauge of 10 Roman feet (about 2.96m) but this was soon reduced to a narrow gauge of 8Rft (about 2.37m), thereby saving lots of stone from being quarried and presumably annoying the troops who had already built some 20 miles of it to the thicker standard.

The reduction from broad to narrow gauge at Planetrees

The reduction from broad to narrow gauge at Planetrees

The junction between the broad and narrow gauges here at Planetrees is abrupt, Broad Wall on a broad foundation suddenly changing to Narrow Wall on that same broad foundation. The gang building the foundation had included a drain running the full width which protrudes incongruously, a memorial to changed plans. This is, in fact, the first time we can clearly see that the foundations were built separately from the curtain wall above.

We now carry on down the field, after crossing a drystone wall via a ladder stile, find ourselves walking down a slope, with the ditch becoming apparent to our right and, to the left, first a natural gulley and then the earthworks of the Vallum. We enter a plantation, the path winding between the berm and ditch, the course of the curtain wall lying on the southern edge of the woodland.

The ditch just west of Planetrees

The ditch just west of Planetrees

Now we must confront the fact that we cannot follow the wall through the grounds of Brunton Hall but must make a huge detour to get back onto its course. We have to turn left down the lane, which we share with the occasional vehicle (traffic uses it as a rat-run between the Military Road and the road we are heading for), until we reach a T-junction with the A6079, where we need to cross over towards the lay-by (this is another road where traffic races along with scant caution, so we must be wary). If by now you are thinking all this crossing of roads is dangerous, then you are right, and it is one of the main criticisms one can level at the Hadrian’s Wall National Trail Path.

We turn right and head northwards, noting that the pavement is very narrow, and the vegetation usually aggressively overhanging it, placing us worryingly close to the speeding traffic. After a while we see another lay-by to the right and a stile leading into a field. Yes, we must cross the road again, but the rewards are ample, as we are about to see Brunton Turret. We make our way up the field towards the trees (we are now on the other side of Brunton Hall) to find a length of curtain wall and a turret.

Turret 26b (Brunton) [HB 189–90]

Turret 29b at Brunton

Turret 29b at Brunton

In some respects, this is just another turret. However, it lies at an important junction, between the Narrow Wall (on its east side, marked by what is known as a ‘wing wall’) and by the Broad Wall to the west, marked by the turret being bonded seamlessly with it. It is clear, then, that the decision to change from the broad to narrow gauge occurred at around the time the curtain wall gang reached this turret from the west (or did they start from here and work westwards, the next gang starting further east and heading towards Brunton?). Hadrian’s Wall is all about change, modification, and adaptation, and here this flexibility is plain to see. The threshold to the doorway reveals slots for monolithic stone jambs and a pivot hole (with a respectable channel) on the eastern side. We shall soon see what such stone jambs looked like, once we get to Chesters. Pivot holes will also become familiar during the course of our journey.

Along Hadrian’s Wall, Roman doors and gates were not hinged, but rather pivoted, which made them much stronger: whilst a hinge would have had to be nailed to a wooden gate leaf, pivots were integral to its fabric. These pivots were then inserted into socket stones, one at the top and one at the bottom, the lower of the two usually having a channel to enable the pivot to be slid into place. The pivot was fixed by means of an iron ring placed around it which was then cemented to the pivot stone by means of molten lead. Remember that pivot stone retaining its iron ring we saw by the Vallum crossing at Benwell?

Our return to the main road requires us to cross the road once more and then head north towards the crossroads where we rejoin the Military Road. We turn left down the hill, making for Chollerford Bridge. The Wall, meanwhile, is inaccessible, heading across the fields towards the Roman North Tyne crossing but, before it reaches it, it encounters Milecastle 27.

Milecastle 27 (Low Brunton) [HB 191; haiku]

The sites of Brunton Turret, Milecastle 27, and Chesters from the air

The sites of Brunton Turret, Milecastle 27, and Chesters from the air

Isolated in the middle of agricultural land, but occasionally peeping out on aerial photographs, Milecastle 27 was excavated in 1930 and 1952 and found to be of the long axis type. The finds were paltry: just one piece of undatable pottery.

Wall Mile 25

Wall Mile 25 [HB 187–8]

We continue along the upcast mound north of the ditch until the Trail takes us across the line of the ditch and onto the berm. Before long, after a few more gates, some steps, and industrial quantities of gorse bushes, we are deposited by the side of the Military Road and then it is only a short stagger to the St Oswald’s tearoom which (when it’s open) provides a welcome haven for the tea-crazed lolloping murophile. To our left, we catch sight of the Vallum, still a healthy earthwork until now, being adopted by the Military Road as it leaves the all-too-direct course of the curtain wall plunging into the valley of the North Tyne.

Approaching St Oswald's

Approaching St Oswald’s

Leaving the hamlet of St Oswald’s, we pass through a gate and then head westwards along the edge of the field. At the point where we are level with the giant cross next to the entrance, the Trail heads north-westwards.

All signs of the Wall have disappeared, but to the north of us is the 18th-century Heavenfield Chapel, for this is the traditional site of the Battle of Heavenfield in AD 633/4 (or Hefenfelth, as Bede called it). ‘Traditional’ of course means there is no actual evidence of a battle being fought here, just a tradition that one was. It is complicated by a reference in the text to Deniseburna, an unknown stream which seems to have featured in the battle and has been suggested as being located (on place-name evidence) to the south of Hexham, some way away. Luckily, this is not our problem, so we can pass on, safe in the knowledge that we may, or may not, have seen the site of a battle that was fought a long time ago somewhere in the vicinity.

Dixon's Plantation with the ditch to the right

Dixon’s Plantation with the ditch to the right

We dutifully follow the Trail and make for the trees of Dixon’s Plantation to our west, with the ditch to our right, enjoying the protection from ploughing afforded by the plantation.  Passing through the trees, we reach a field wall and find ourselves at the edge of the plantation and near the top of a field, with a fine view across the valley of the North Tyne, and with Limestone Corner in the far distance on the horizon. Descending towards the site of Milecastle 26 (near the field gate opposite the farm), the ditch is a gentle ripple to our right.

Milecastle 26 (Planetrees) [HB 188; haiku]

Looking towards the site of Milecastle 26

Looking towards the site of Milecastle 26

This was a long-axis milecastle, excavated in 1930. Nothing remains to be seen now.

Seditiod

Wall Mile 24

Wall Mile 24 [HB 186–7]

It is time to leave the south side of the Military Road and the gently undulating remains of the Vallum. We climb up to a stile and have to cross the Military Road. Once more, care is essential, given the breakneck speed at which motorists hurtle along here; there are signs warning them of pedestrians crossing, but you will not see many decelerate as a result.

We are now on the north lip of the ditch, following the upcast mound or counterscarp. Archaeologists, bless ’em, get confused over these terms (they tend to be used interchangeably), but suffice it to say that the counterscarp is a part of the upcast mound, but they are not synonymous (the former is that part of the latter facing the ditch; clear? I may test you later).

To our left, beyond the ditch, the characteristic form of the roadside walls along the Military Road, built at the same time by the contractors, also using Wall stone, has two rows of through-stones, but this detail is not usually copied in subsequent repairs to the walls. These walls are interesting in their own right (as indeed is the Military Road, about which we shall say more in due course). Before the road was built, the remnants of Hadrian’s Wall itself was the major land division, so destroying it and laying a road required that walls be built on either side of it, to placate the landowners. Therefore, the road-laying gangs also had to undertake wall construction, and there are still some fine examples of the drystone-wallers’ art to be seen as we progress towards our destination.

Further to the south, unseen by us, the Vallum switches between an earthwork in pasture and cropmarks in standing crops and then, after a while, back again, just in time for a change of course. As we reach the realignment, a field wall swoops across the ditch, highlighting its profile.

The ditch after the realignment

The ditch at the realignment

That change in the alignment of the course of the Wall (it has been on a slightly more northerly heading from the point where the Dere Street crosses it at the Portgate roundabout) sees it shift to almost due east to west until we reach Heavenfield. At this slight angle, the ditch ploughs through an outcrop (almost as if it had been deliberately aimed at it), exploiting a little trick used by the ditch-diggers with which we shall become familiar: it is dug into the foreslope. Doing this forced an enemy to run uphill to reach the obstacle (a task made more difficult by the upcast mound), whilst the use of the foreslope enhanced the south face of the ditch, which confronted an attacker trying to get across it.

the foreslope trick

the foreslope trick

Next to us, the ditch often shows signs of moisture, with damp-loving plant species like Juncus and even standing water within it in places. The land along here continues to slope gently from south to north, enhancing the effect of the ditch and counterscarp.

Milecastle 25 (Codlawhill) [HB 187; haiku]

Although it survives as an earthwork, there is nothing for us to see as it is on the far side of the Military Road and well out of our reach or sight. Like its neighbours on either side, it is a long-axis milecastle and was excavated in 1930.