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 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.
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]
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]
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.