Wall Mile 35 [HB 228–31]
We leave Milecastle 35 and follow the spasmodically consolidated curtain wall westwards along the edge of Sewingshields Crags. One of these stretches of wall we find has a rather nicely consolidated expansion near its eastern end.
Expansions are probably the ‘nip-and-tuck’ the Roman walling gangs used to join the slightly varying widths of their stints, but they only occur on the south face of the wall. This is an important detail when we come to examine the Clayton Wall later on, confirming that these were not just a product of the imagination of Clayton’s workman but were a genuine feature, along the Central Sector at least.
Turret 35a (Sewingshields)
Constructed on a broad gauge foundation but with a narrow gauge curtain wall, this turret, with its entrance at the eastern end of the south wall, was (like its neighbours to the east) only briefly occupied before being demolished and its recess filled in.
Moving on, we encounter a trig point, which is a good place to consider King Arthur. Who? Why? Well, tradition (although not a very old one, truth be told) has it that he and his sleeping knights lie nearby, waiting for the call to defend Britain once again. Having dozed through sundry national threats (1066, the Armada, Napoleon, for example) he was supposedly disturbed from his slumbers by a Northumbrian shepherd in pursuit of a ball of twine (string-related mishaps being common among northern stocksmen). This has little relevance to Hadrian’s Wall, other than to show how it has acted as a focus for myth formation as much as any other human activity (but most notably stone robbing), and that Arthur is both ubiquitous and ‘sticky’, as well as beloved of tourist authorities the length and breadth of the land.
After one last section of consolidated curtain wall, Hadrian’s Wall descends into Busy Gap beneath a field wall which, on the far side of the gap, is breached by a modern gateway called the King’s Wicket (although the original was slightly further down the hill). This has something of a history. Busy Gap was a traditional route through the wall in the medieval and post-medieval period, ne’er-do-wells who used it for their nefarious activities earning the nickname Busy Gap Rogues (a local term of abuse that remained in use into the 19th century). It has an even older significance, however, as an earthwork dyke that may date as far back as the Bronze Age runs through the gap and on towards what is now Scotland. Once again, the Roman Wall merrily slices across a traditional landscape. The angle between the wall and the dyke is adapted into a triangular enclosure by the earthwork known as Black Dyke, here thought to be used as a post-medieval stock enclosure associated with the passage through the wall. The Wall ditch also reappears across Busy Gap, recognising its tactical vulnerability, but terminates again once it begins a zoom climb up King’s Hill.
Before we follow it down into the gap, we can pause to take in the view before us, where we can see Broomlee Lough, Greenlee Lough beyond it, and Housesteads Crags, with Crag Lough and Peel Crags in the distance. On the far side, we climb up to the crest of that next hill and reach the location of Milecastle 36.
Milecastle 36 (King’s Hill) [HB 231–2; haiku]
This was a long-axis milecastle perched on King’s Hill, conveniently overlooking Busy Gap. The identity of the king in question should by now be obvious (although there may be an argument that the legend comes from the name, rather than vice versa!).