Wall Mile 23 [HB 185–6]
Now we enter Stanley Plantation and, with a deft wiggle, the Trail leads us along a forest path with the Military Road immediately to our right. The micro-climate in the plantation is always calm and cool, the trackway sometimes boggy and occasionally sloppy, and you must make a conscious effort not to examine every stone of the roadside wall for an inscription that everybody else who trots past may have missed (or is that just me?).
Soon we encounter a track through the plantation, from the Military Road to the south. Many years ago, a proposal was mooted to test drill for oil here, summarily dismissed after a public enquiry, since it would of course ruin one’s appreciation of the ancient monument (which, at that time, had just become a World Heritage Site, the defined limits of which were, shall we say, a bit wobbly then). This ensured some wry smiles, as traffic roared past on the 18th-century Military Road, the terrain-following Tornadoes, Harriers, and Jaguars of the RAF thundered over at 250ft, and the 148m-high BBC Stagshaw radio mast (which is actually at Beukley!) towered serenely over its ‘ancient’ setting. Landscape is always in the eye of the beholder.
Occasionally, through the lofty softwood trees, we can glimpse the Vallum keeping pace with us just to the south, but it is as well to concentrate on one’s footing around here, since some of the bits can be quite boggy (the worst being reinforced with stone paving slabs and plastic mesh). Although we can’t see it from our course, the ditch continues to the north of the road.
Eventually, we emerge from the plantation to cross a side road and the Vallum has now sprung to life as a well-defined earthwork to our right as we move through the open scrub east of Milecastle 24. There is considerable disturbance from small-scale post-medieval quarrying around here, but before long we reach the site of that next milecastle, huddled up against the wall south of the Military Road.
Milecastle 24 (Wall Fell) [HB 186; haiku]
Excavated in 1930, this was a long-axis milecastle, now surviving as an earthwork. Here the southern wall of the road has been very haphazardly patched and lacks the quality with which we shall later become familiar.