Wall Mile 58

Wall Mile 58 [HB 335–6]

We can now carry on along the road until signposts show us that the Trail is heading cross-country again. We must cross the road carefully and head down the field, keeping next to the hedgeline. Before long we come to a kissing gate into the next field where there is often a major issue with poaching. No, not illegal slaughter of game birds, nor even the alfresco cooking of eggs, but rather the breakdown of soil structure caused by animals (and humans) plodging through it when it is wet. The problem here is that livestock like to congregate in the corners of fields if the weather is bad and there is some measure of shelter. It is also, let’s face it, good fun (if you’re a cow) to spook that small proportion of the human population that don’t like cows; getting the revenge in early for the whole calves-milk-meat thing, if you like. Anyway, the long and the short of it is that poached soil is gunk heaven and this gate leads through to one such spot.

Once through the gate, we cross over the field boundary onto the berm (the ditch and the curtain wall are invisible here, both ploughed out, so you will have to take my word for it) and head south-westwards again. The ditch reappears once we pass into the next field and is conveniently marked by its resident hedgeline once more.

Looking back to Newtown, wall and ditch both ploughed out

Looking back to Newtown, wall and ditch both ploughed out

We progress like this for some 420m, and then the Wall suddenly makes a turn onto an almost due-westerly heading. We pass through a gate into a narrow track, which sits on the berm between a fence to the south and hawthorn trees to the north, marking the curtain wall to our left and the ditch to our right. After only 240m of this we reach the location of Milecastle 59, which sat near the crest of the low hill we are assailing.

Looking towards the site of Milecastle 59

Looking towards the site of Milecastle 59

Milecastle 59 (Old Wall) [HB 336; haiku]

Milecastle 59 is beyond the hedgerow to our left and was apparently excavated by Hodgson in 1894. He found fragmentary remains and pottery, and one wall has subsequently been located by geophysical survey in 1980/1.

Wall Mile 57

Wall Mile 57 [HB 335]

Through the farmyard we go and out the other side, heading south-westwards, and now the field boundary is still in the ditch, but this time it’s a hedge. We cross a small stream by means of a bridge and then we are in the next field. We pass to the north of The Beck’s farm buildings, not wondering for too long where all that red sandstone came from, and carry on across the floodplain towards the scarp ahead of us. Here, rather unusually, the hedge to our right is not on the line of the curtain wall, which is to our north.

The hedge in the ditch W of Cambeckhill

The hedge in the ditch looking back towards Cambeckhill

We scramble up the steps to get to the plateau by Heads Wood, where we will probably be greeted by at least one horse. Across the paddock and into the next field, where we are back to a familiar situation with the ditch to the north, the hedge- and fenceline on the curtain wall, and us to the south of that.

The line of the curtain wall W of Heads Wood

The line of the curtain wall W of Heads Wood

Through a gate, up a path, and then rather unexpectedly into somebody’s garden, through which the Trail passes. Veg looks good! We weave our way through the back of a farmyard and then out onto the green at Newtown, next to the main road from Brampton to Longtown. Exercising caution (it is an A road so can be busy), we cross and continue south-west along the road. When the houses to our left end, we have reached the site of Milecastle 58.

Milecastle 58 (Newtown) [HB 335; haiku]

The site of Milecastle 58

The site of Milecastle 58

The milecastle itself (like the curtain wall) are set back from the road and it has not been located; so not only is there nothing to see, we don’t even know where it is in order not to see it!

Wall Mile 56

Wall Mile 56 [HB 328–9]

We follow the road for a short distance through the western outskirts of Walton before following the Trail off down a track to the right and through a gate. Emerging into an field, uncharacteristically, the line of the Wall is to the north of us, crossing open ground, and the field boundary immediately to our south has nothing to do with it.

We dive into woodland and emerge to At the bottom of the field we cross a small burn, another tributary of the Irthing, and enter some woodland, climbing now as we go. Turning right at the top, we follow the track to the farm at Swainsteads and then head left past it, travelling along two sides of a triangle, the third side of which is the wall. Yes, it’s another detour of indeterminate purpose. Passing through the gate, reunited with the line of the wall, we head down the hill. noting how the fence line to our left is in the ditch, rather than on the mound covering the curtain wall.

The fence line in the ditch W of Swainsteads

The fence line in the ditch W of Swainsteads

We plunge into more woodland and find a small wooded gorge that almost certainly had to be crossed by the Wall, just as the Trail now crosses it, by means of a bridge. One enterprising independent archaeologist claims to have found remains of the Roman bridge, but these have yet to be verified by excavation. Remember, all water courses that passed through the Wall had to use culverts, small bridges, or major bridges (the last being the North Tyne, Irthing, and Eden.

Castlesteads and the line of the Wall

Castlesteads and the line of the Wall

Up the other side and we are back out into the open, and it is time to pause and look up to our left at the wooded slopes above the Irthing, for here lies Castlesteads fort.

Castlesteads fort (CAMBOGLANNA) [HB 330–3]

To your south, amongst the trees on the high ground beyond the Cam Beck (a tributary of the Irthing), lies the site of Castlesteads, one of the detached forts immediately south of the Wall (the others being Carvoran, Vindolanda, and – probably – Newcastle). Neither Carvoran nor Vindolanda were within the Vallum, but it makes a very deliberate detour in order to include Castlesteads. The fort lies 12.8km (8.0 miles) east of Stanwix and occupies about 1.5ha (3.7 acres: an informed guess, since the western defences have been eroded by the river). The site is on private land and has effectively been razed by the formal garden of a late-18th-century listed building, Castlesteads House, constructed on the site of an earlier Walton House belonging to the Dacre family. No trace of the fort is visible from the air, although the civil settlement has been detected by geophysical survey and the fort itself was summarily trenched in 1934, allowing the extent of its defences to be defined and the fact that the stone fort was preceded by a turf-and-timber one to be determined. However, even if you could see it, there is little to see.

Inscriptions reveal that the units based here included the part-mounted cohors II Tungrorum and cohors IV Gallorum (who were also to be found at Vindolanda). The Notitia Dignitatum omits the garrison of Camboglanna whilst mentioning the fort, possibly a scribal error. Old Ordnance Survey maps equated Castlesteads with Uxelodunum, all part of the confusion caused by thinking the well-preserved Watch Cross camp (now under Carlisle Airport) was a fort (we shall come to that later).

W of the Cam Beck

W of the Cam Beck

Proceeding west towards Cambeckhill Farm, the ditch can just be distinguished as a slight depression with the modern fence still in it. Just before the farm, we reach the calculated site of Milecastle 57.

Milecastle 57 (Cambeckhill) [HB 334–5; haiku]

In common with so many of the western milecastles, nothing of this one has been found, but by distance it should be beneath the farm buildings.

Wall Mile 55

Wall Mile 55 [HB 328]

We follow the hedge line and fence which mark the line of the wall until we reach the western end of the field. The wall ploughs straight on, but we must now turn left down the (alarmingly busy) lane. For several years now, there has been a diversion in place that forces the murophiliac to stick to the road and risk the traffic to get down to Dovecote Bridge. Descending into the valley, the road bends round to the right and, crossing the bridge, we rejoin the original line of the Trail.

The no-longer-exposed length of curtain wall

The no-longer-exposed length of curtain wall

Immediately after crossing the bridge, we may look through the gate to our right and see an English Heritage sign for a section of consolidated curtain wall that was formerly visible here during the summer months (being covered with straw and buried during the winter). Unfortunately, despite these precautions, the soft red sandstone weathered badly and the section had to be permanently buried. It would have been the westernmost portion of consolidated curtain wall, but now it is not. It is a reminder that exposure and consolidation is just the beginning of a long battle with the elements for the remains of Hadrian’s Wall.

The ditch east of Walton

The ditch east of Walton

Reflecting upon this sobering message, we march on uphill to Walton, the ditch being clearly visible to our right. We pass through the village until we reach the road junction where, to our left, is the building that used to be the Centurion Inn.

Milecastle 56 (Walton) [HB 328; haiku]

The possible site of Milecastle 56

The possible site of Milecastle 56

Milecastle 56 is assumed to lie beneath the now-defunct pub (which boasts an amusing cod-Latin date on its western gable end) but no trace has ever been found.

This used to be a good place for some map wrestling (the English Heritage Archaeological Map of Hadrian’s Wall is less sagely designed than its Ordnance Survey predecessor, being large and printed on two sides of the sheet, so always requires refolding near this point). Now, deprived of the pub, the gasping walker may find sustenance if they turn right into the village and visit the tearoom in the village hall, beyond the play area.

Wall Mile 54

Wall Mile 54 [HB 326–8]

Continuing downhill, we cross a small burn and a lane (which leads down to Lanercost) and then we soon encounter our last tangible fragments of curtain wall core embedded in white mortar. Visible to our right, it is restrained within a barbed-wire fence (the facing stones have all been robbed away, probably to build Lanercost Priory). At this point, we are near the eastern limit of the Intermediate Gauge wall, built after the retreat from the Antonine Wall. This bit has never been excavated or consolidated and it is possible that it is the only section of Antonine-period stone wall that can be seen on the line of the Turf Wall. Let’s hope that something can one day be done about its rather unloved condition.

Exposed, mortared wall core

Exposed, mortared wall core

We start to climb the hill and, before long, to our left and slightly behind us, the priory is visible in the distance, situated on the flood plain of the Irthing. As soon as we see it emerge from the trees, we are going to stop. Unsurprisingly, as has just been hinted, large amounts of Hadrian’s Wall (especially those now-red sandstone facing stones) were incorporated into the fabric of the priory, a fact betrayed by the inclusion of inscribed building stones within it.

Facing stones from the Wall reused at Lanercost Priory

Facing stones (with inscription) from the Wall, reused at Lanercost Priory

Why did we stop at this very precisely determined location? Well, we are now at a very interesting place: the site of Turret 54a – both of them! As elsewhere west of the River Irthing, the Wall was originally a turf rampart here, the turrets being of stone and later incorporated into the stone curtain wall. However, at some point after construction, Turret 54a collapsed northwards into the ditch and a free-standing replacement had to be provided immediately to the south of it. This meant that, when the time came to replace the turf rampart with a stone curtain wall, the new stone wall had to be aligned to butt against that secondary turret, which in turn meant that the berm between the ditch and that new stone wall was unusually wide.

Wall Mile 54 crossing the Howgill

Wall Mile 54 crossing the Howgill

Carrying on, we pass through a couple of stiles and find ourselves in a lane. Ahead of us, the ditch can be seen heading across the field as a shallow depression, but we are turning right, walking for about 90m, and then turning left when we find the Trail signs again. This is another of those three-sides-of-a-rectangle detours to get around access problems. After trudging along the edge of a field, we turn south again, and then finally westwards, before heading down a slope to cross the Howgill (a stretch that can often be more than a little muddy). Up the other side, through a kissing gate, and we arrive at the site of Milecastle 55.

Milecastle 55 (Low Wall) [HB 328; haiku]

The site of Milecastle 55

The site of Milecastle 55

The position of Milecastle 55 was confirmed by excavation in 1900. An altar to Cocidius (yes, him again) was found in nearby farm buildings in the 18th century, so may well have originated in the milecastle (as others have done).

Wall Mile 53

Wall Mile 53 [HB 323–5]

Opposite the location of Milecastle 53 is the entrance to an enclosure containing one of the highest portions of curtain wall.

Hare Hill curtain wall [HB 323]

The curtain wall core at Hare Hill

The curtain wall core at Hare Hill

At 2.3m in width, this is of course an example of narrow gauge wall. Long famed for being the tallest surviving section of the curtain wall (3m), the north face is in fact a late-19th-century reconstruction, undertaken at the behest of the Earl of Carlisle, although the core stands to its original height. However, all is not as it seems.

The reconstructed facing stones at Hare Hill

The reconstructed facing stones at Hare Hill

The keen-eyed will note that the face is not even aligned on the much-more-modest (and more recently) exposed section immediately to its east and do-it-yourselfers will doubtless tut-tut at this example of careful Victorian laxity. This stretch of curtain wall actually conveys a powerful message about the way in which attitudes to the consolidation of the monument have changed. Whilst replacing facing stones was once thought acceptable, the more recent approach has been to consolidate it as found. If you happen to prefer one over the other, good for you; neither is necessarily right or wrong. Before we depart, locate the centurial building stone on the north face (nine courses down from the top, two stones in from the left), reading ‘< P · P ·’ (centuria primi pili), or ‘the century of the senior centurion (of the legion)’. It (RIB 1958) was found some time before 1894, west of Turret 53a, and built into the reconstructed face of the curtain wall. Remember, with Hadrian’s Wall, all is not as it seems.

Leaving the curtain wall enclosure by means of either of the two gates (although the upper one makes more sense), we turn right up the narrow lane and then through the kissing gate to our left which leads us around the south side of the farm buildings at Hare Hill. We now follow a stretch with the curtain wall as hedgerow with the ditch concealed to the north of it.

As we approach the crest of Craggle Hill, the hedgerow gives way to a modern drystone wall that makes prominent use of the facing stones from its Roman predecessor. The ditch can be clearly seen to the north. We shall soon be leaving the buff sandstone of the central sector and become familiar with the red sandstone of the western sector. This ‘complex unconformity’ is often identified (incorrectly, it seems) with the so-called Red Rock Fault, although this is debated by geologists who doubt its continuation this far north. We can safely leave them to mutter over that and merely note that the bedrock is changing and that this change is manifested in the stone of the Wall itself.

Field wall and ditch on Craggle Hill

Field wall and ditch on Craggle Hill

The line of the Vallum is off to our left, passing through a recently clear-felled area of plantation. We follow the Trail and bound merrily down the slope towards a large, prominent oak tree with a perceptible platform. This is the site of Milecastle 54.

The site of Milecastle 54 from Craggle Hill

The site of Milecastle 54 from Craggle Hill

Milecastle 54 (Randylands) [HB 325–6; haiku]

Excavated in 1933/4, this splendidly named long-axis milecastle was situated on a west-facing slope and was the most westerly reconstructed in stone before the move to the Antonine Wall in the fifth decade of the 2nd century AD. Examination also revealed the Turf Wall period milecastle underneath its stone successor.

Wall Mile 52

Wall Mile 52 [HB 320–2]

After the farm, we hop over the wall by means of a stile and are back in a field south of the road. We now head west along the National Trail next to the field wall that divides us from the road. The Vallum is just to our left but has been almost completely ploughed out. After a while we come to a kissing gate, where we turn right and immediately see Pike Hill signal tower, perched precariously next to the road.

Pike Hill Signal Tower [HB 320–1]

Pike Hill signal tower

Pike Hill signal tower

This square stone tower was set at an angle to the line of the Wall. Positioned on the crest and cut by the same road that overlay the neighbouring turret, only parts of two sides and one corner remain to be inspected. Fortunately, the south-eastern side contains the entrance at its southern end. This additional tower between Milecastle 52 and Turret 52a has been interpreted as a pre-Wall signal tower, probably associated with the Stanegate ‘frontier’, which was later incorporated into the Wall, due to its advantageous position for signalling. In this it closely matches Turret 45a on Walltown Crags and the two sites may well have been intervisible in good weather (the two are just under 10km apart). Note the door (and the fact that most of the tower was removed by the later road) before we retrace our steps and head down the path in front of us towards a proper turret.

Turret 52a (Banks East) [HB 320–2]

Turret 52a

Turret 52a

Banks East Turret lies just 205m to the west of Pike Hill and was first excavated in 1933. It was, you will be amazed to learn, the first piece of Wall in Cumbria to be placed into the guardianship of the Ministry of Works (in 1934). The road, which used to follow the line of the curtain wall closely, originally ran over the top of it, but has subsequently been moved onto the berm (the ditch is very plain to the north of the road). The curtain wall to either side of the turret is, once again, the narrow gauge form that predates the move to the Antonine Wall and is pierced at ground level by several drains, designed to stop water ponding against it.

The turret itself, being originally constructed free-standing and with the turf wall butted against it, is very clearly of a different build to the curtain wall. The butt joints between wall and turret are obvious and the turret protrudes to the north of the line of the curtain wall. On its north face is a fine plinth course which you will need to fix in your memory for later. Why is the plinth course there? Nobody knows. Perhaps it marked a feature of the Turf Wall itself, such as the top of a vertical front section (although turf ramparts were usually battered inwards so that they were narrower at the top than at the base, the lowest portion was sometimes vertical).

The plinth course on Banks Turret

The plinth course on Banks Turret

The chief distinguishing features of the turret are that it is square with an entrance at ground level (in this case at the eastern end of the southern side) and that it is recessed into the thickness of the curtain wall. A hearth lay against the west wall. As with all archaeological reconstruction, the higher up we look, the less certain we are about details. It is assumed it had entrances on either side at the level of the top of the Turf (and later Stone) Walls, although there are those who do not believe Hadrian’s Wall had a walkway or parapet on top (more of that later). As part of the Turf Wall, the front and back of this stone turret coincided with the front and back of the turf rampart, but when the stone curtain wall was provided, the turret was left to project slightly to the north (turrets to the east, built at the the same time as the curtain wall, did not do this), so some scholars have suggested this means the curtain wall was lined up on those side entrances to the (presumed) walkway. Turrets and towers in the ancient world were generally intended to give a height advantage, so we can be fairly safe in assuming its top was higher than the Wall, although by how much is uncertain; part of the tumbled superstructure lies immediately outside the west wall. Equally, we do not know if it had a flat roof with a parapet and fighting platform or whether it was conventionally roofed. As you can readily see, what we know about turrets is far outweighed by what we have to guess.

After a short stretch squeezed between a fence and the field wall we are thrown brutally back onto the road to march through Banks itself. On our way we can admire a fine example of purpresture (the attempt to acquire public property as private, in this case the verge) in action (or should that be inaction?).

Purpresture in operation

Purpresture in operation

We still have the ditch to our right, but when we fork right down a lane to follow the Trail we cross it and the Wall continues more directly down the hillside. Consideration was once given to consolidating a length of wall east of Milecastle 53, but nothing ever came of this and there is nothing to see. We turn left (watching out for traffic as this road can be busier than the one we have just left) and then right up the driveway towards Hare Hill.

Milecastle 53 (Banks Burn) [HB 322–3; haiku]

Milecastle 53 lay beneath the present house to our left, and was examined in 1932. Largely destroyed, it was an example of a long-axis milecastle. There is, predictably perhaps, nothing to see.