Wall Mile 6 [HB 151–8]
We continue along West Road, cross Condercum Road using the pedestrian crossing, and then take the next left turn (Weidner Road), right again onto Westholme Gardens, then left onto Broomridge Avenue. There, on our left-hand side, is 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 [HB 155–7]
A small apsidal building, it contains concrete replicas of the original altars, which we saw in the Great North Museum. Antenociticus was a local god (inscriptions recording him only occur at Benwell) and a stone head (also in the GNM) 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 and turn left to find our next little treat.
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 one of those that straddles the line of the curtain wall. The fort is 3.5km (2.2 miles) from Newcastle 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.
To the south of the south gate of the fort lay the Vallum crossing and that is our next destination.
The Vallum Crossing [HB 154–5]
Just after the Job Centre (the Plus seems slightly redundant these days) on the left, we 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.
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. We will have more to say about socketed gates and doors later on.
The line of the Vallum has been shadowing us for a couple of miles but this is our first tangible evidence for it. The Vallum originally consisted of a broad flat-bottomed ditch 6m (20 Roman feet) wide and 3m (10 Roman feet) deep, flanked by mounds to its north and south formed from the upcast. Both mounds were separated from the ditch by a 9m (30 Roman feet) flat strip or berm. The name Vallum is modern, reflecting a name given to it by Bede (using the Latin word for rampart). Its function is unknown but it is assumed to have delineated the southern limit of the frontier zone, limiting access to the gates through the Wall. What it did do, effectively, was limit the number of access points to the Wall zone. It has exerted less influence on the layout of Newcastle and its suburbs than the ditch or curtain wall (none, if we are brutally honest), but once in open countryside we shall find it yet another influence on the landscape.
After returning the key, we head back out of Denhill Park, turning left onto West Road. Continuing down a gentle hill, we reach a roundabout and cross carefully. Here there is absolutely nothing of the Wall to see, other than its continued influence on the course of West Road, but in many ways that is, as you will by now have gathered, the whole point of this suburban and urban odyssey of ours. As will become clear once we reach more open country, the line taken by the Wall was dictated by the landscape and that does not change (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.
Next comes the likely site of Milecastle 7.
Milecastle 7 (Benwell Bank) [HB 158; haiku]
The view westwards from the putative site of Milecastle 7
The measured position of Milecastle 7, although it has never been located, lies near the crest of the slope we are about to descend into Denton. As such, it has a clear line of site to Milecastle 8.