Wall Mile 13 [HB 167–72]
We stroll gently uphill, past a line a hawthorn bushes, with the Military Road raised up to our right (and the curtain wall under it), intimations of the Vallum to our left, and the trees around Rudchester ahead of us. At the top of the field, we arrive at a gate that confronts us with a manic rat-run, with a blind corner just metres away to the left, so extreme caution must be exercised in crossing this road. Once safely on the other side and through the next gate, we have reached the fort of Rudchester.
Rudchester fort (VINDOBALA) [HB 168–71]
As we enter the field containing the fort, which lies to our right, the first impression is of an unspoiled gem, and that is partly correct. Like Benwell, Rudchester straddles the Wall (and, of course, the Military Road here) and although the southern portion displays enough humps and bumps to delight the head of any major national heritage organization, the northern part has been under the plough for many years and is a very different story. The site is actually owned by Northumberland County Council and one senses it is their little nest-egg, put aside for the day when something exciting can be done with it.
Rudchester fort platform has been placed in a commanding position to look to both east and west, whilst keeping one eye to the south too. The views to the north are nothing to write home about, however, but in this the fort builders were constrained by the line of the Wall and its own particular tactical requirements. Rudchester is 10.9km (6.75 miles) from Benwell and 7.5 miles from its western neighbour, Haltonchesters. It is 1.8ha (4.5 acres) in size and excavation found that the fort was built over the Wall ditch. The unit which the Notitia Dignitatum tells us was in garrison in the 4th century, the cohors I Frisiavonum, was probably there in the 3rd century as well, but the earliest occupants are unknown.
The civil settlement to the south included a temple to Mithras, known as a mithraeum, excavated some years ago but not visible. There is nothing to see now of the fort other than its platform and the Trail carefully shepherds us around the southern and western of the fort’s defences, but in so doing rewards us with a site graphic explaining the fort at the south-west corner. Sadly, there is no plaque commemorating the fact that I once dug here in horizontal snow in a trench so narrow I could barely get my arm into it. Such are the joys of archaeology…
As we leave the fort in the north-west corner of the field, we head down to the March Burn, crossed with the aid of a dinky yet serviceable bridge, before a slight climb takes us up towards the site of Milecastle 14.
Milecastle 14 (March Burn) [HB 172; haiku]
There is nothing to see of the milecastle, which was examined in 1946 and 2000 and found to be probably a short-axis example of its kind, but there are impressive views south towards the Tyne valley and, since it is directly under the approach to Newcastle airport, upwards at the bellies of aircraft landing at or taking off from there. A bend in the Military Road here reflects a change in course of the Wall onto an almost-due-easterly heading.