Wall Mile 11 [HB 166]
Ahead of us, we have a long, gentle climb along the pavement (passing Frenchmen’s Row on the right, home to refugee French royalists in the late 18th century) until we reach the crest of Great Hill, just east of Heddon-on-the-Wall.
On the way, we are passing more of those berm pits, explored during the water supply upgrade trenching. The berm pits are not universally accepted as evidence of an entanglement. One writer has suggested that they are no such thing and in fact represent an early timber predecessor to Hadrian’s Wall. An interesting idea, but the absence of a berm between this putative timber wall and the ditch would make it unlikely on the grounds of stability, if nothing else (and we shall encounter the results of inattention to this important point in Wall Mile 54).
Once past the houses to our right, we are suddenly greeted by the sight of the Wall ditch in their place. It is overgrown, but there nonetheless. The curtain wall, of course, still lies beneath the southern carriageway of the road, whilst the Vallum is in the fields to the south, often visible as a crop or parch mark.
As we reach the crest of the hill, it is time to consider the effect of the road upon the wall beneath it. In 1926, Northumberland County Council decided to improve the gradient on the road and, in so doing, grubbed up some 55m of the wall which lay beneath the original road surface. Remember, that’s a length of wall preserved by the Military Road, and destroyed by a county council! Luckily it was possible for Parker Brewis to excavate it before its destruction. It is wise to take with a pinch of salt all protestations of vandalism levelled against the original builders of the road; we shall come across plenty of sections of curtain wall destroyed in the medieval and post-medieval periods where there was no road to blame. The Military Road is just one of many scavengers that have nibbled at the corpse of Hadrian’s Wall.
Finally, we arrive at the sanctuary of the length of wall at Heddon, with its boot-welcoming turf, and we can cross over near the point where the curtain wall rejoins the Military Road at the crest of the hill, exercising all due caution as we do so. The existence of the village caused the Military Road to make a small diversion in order to avoid it, thereby preserving a rather splendid length of curtain wall and ditch for our delectation and pleasure.
The curtain wall at Heddon
This section of curtain wall is built to what is known as the broad gauge (10 Roman feet, or about 2.96m), is slightly less than 220m in length, and survives up to four courses high.
One third of the way along, it features a change of alignment onto a more northerly course of some 13 degrees. Note how, near the west end, a circular kiln has been inserted into the ruins of the wall itself, possibly during the post-medieval period. Reassuringly, the Vallum survives as a subdued earthwork in the field to the south.
As we prepare to leave this haven of grass and wall at its western extremity, we suddenly realise that we are briefly walking along the line of the ditch, before we slip through a narrow gate and emerge into the village itself.
Once in the village, National Trail adherents will stumble up to join us, wondering what they have missed. They will never know (unless they read this, of course). The price they paid for their abject act of cowardice is that they have had to walk further than us and have missed some rather good bits of Wall. Now, dear reader, we are going to share our journey until we reach the outskirts of Carlisle when, once again, they will misguidedly wander off in search of an easy, Wall-free life.
We now turn left and then, after 50m or so, cross the road to head up an unnamed lane towards the alleged site of Milecastle 12, until we see a junction and a new-looking house ahead of us.
Milecastle 12 (Heddon) [HB 166; haiku]
The lane leading towards the probable site of Milecastle 12
This milecastle has proved quite evasive. It should be located near the top of Chare Bank but attempts to find it have so far only produced what was thought to be a bit of the north gate in 1926. When the Military Road was being constructed here in 1752, a hoard of coins was found nearby, causing something of a furore; unfortunately nobody thought to record the contents, so we know nothing about it.