Wall Mile 45 [HB 278–9]
Immediately west of Milecastle 45, the curtain wall is still just a mound with only a few tumbled stones poking through the turf but we are soon afforded an excellent opportunity to compare two contrasting states of the wall as we follow it to the right and find a lonely section of partially consolidated curtain wall. Most people don’t know this is here and walk straight past it, hidden as it is by an outcrop. This is a pity, as it is particularly evocative of how the consolidation process was undertaken (and, in this case, abandoned). Rubble still lies in a mound to the south, the core has not been mortared in place, and the northern face was never disengaged so it looks as if work was interrupted for some reason. The wall terminates abruptly at a quarry face (often with crows ridge-soaring above it). This is Greenhead Quarry which remains more or less as it was when abandoned: a mess.
We can follow the fence round the quarry and start to climb again and soon we see the next bit of consolidated wall and the remians of Turret 45a.
Turret 45a (Walltown) [HB 278–9]
This turret is rather interesting in a way that turrets usually aren’t. This was a pre-Wall signal tower incorporated into the Wall, as was evident when it was re-excavated in 1959 (it had previously been examined in 1883 and 1912). The curtain wall butts against it on either side and the tower-cum-turret has excellent views to the south and better views to the north than the neighbouring pre-Hadrianic fort at Carvoran. The entrance is on the eastern side of the southern face.
Wall Mile 45 is one of the most spectacular and oft-photographed sections of the Wall, and the adaptation of the curtain wall builders to this terrain is worthy of note. A short distance after the turret, the curtain wall swoops into another nick, the facing stone coursing being impressively levelled on footings that more casually follow the slope. At the bottom, we can see that this particular glacial spillway still drains water, but now from the boggy land to the south, so the wall has been provided with drainage slots at its base by its builders. On the way up the other side, some rather spectacular buttressing is undertaken to get over one particularly troublesome outcrop. Pause at the top and look back; this is the viewpoint for the famous Alan Sorrell reconstruction of the Wall at Walltown Crags.
Winding around some outcrops, the curtain wall maintains a comfortable distance from the edge of the cliff that matches the width of the berm elsewhere, where the ditch is present. Before long it turns a corner of about sixty degrees to the south, nicely rounded on the outside but angular on the south face (and so reminiscent of milecastle corners), and dives down to an unintentional terminus above the beetling cliff of Walltown Quarry. Although, as we have noted, dolerite was too hard to be worked easily by the Romans, who preferred the sandstone found just to the south, it makes excellent and durable road stone and the rise of popularity of the motor car in the early 20th century led to the demand for quarries like Walltown.
We now have to follow the field wall southwards, then turn right and right again to double back on ourselves and follow the path into the quarry itself. The former quarry, now a nature reserve, has a small shop with public conveniences next to the car park. We carry on along the path, gradually curving to the left, until we reach a bluff that has been left in situ. At this point, we are close to the site of Turret 45b, which – left on a pinnacle – collapsed into the quarry in the 19th century and which provided the object lesson in the danger of quarry proximity to monuments that was to become relevant again in the 1930s with objections to the Cawfields quarrying proposal.
We exit near the shop to find the road and it is time for a decision. Now is your chance to take a break from the Wall and explore the Roman Army Museum at Carvoran. Strictly speaking, Carvoran was a Stanegate fort (falling between the regular forts at Birdoswald and Greatchesters – the Vallum swerves to the north to avoid the fort, huffily excluding it from the Wall zone), but we need not be so picky that we will stride on past and ignore it, especially in the light of its recent refurbishment which definitely makes it worth a visit. Besides, it gives the Roman military context to the whole Wall by explaining army organisation and so on.
So, whether you choose to visit the museum or just carry on along the Wall, after joining the road we turn right (to the north) and follow the signs for the Trail which soon leads us westwards into a field, north of the ditch (a very obvious earthwork at this point). Before we depart the central sector, let us reflect upon the happy coincidence of the tactically favourable terrain, the presence nearby of necessary building materials, and the comparatively short distance between the coasts which meant that Hadrian’s Wall was placed in the Goldilocks Zone for northern frontiers.
The Trail ambles gently downhill until we reach a ladder stile over a field wall. Immediately to our left, beyond the ditch, lies the site of Milecastle 46.
Milecastle 46 (Carvoran) [HB 283; haiku]
Milecastle 46 was first located in 1907 and excavated in 1946. All that can be seen now are some vague humps and bumps, although it looks clear enough from the air or on Google Earth. The most that can be said of it is that it affords a fine excuse to pause and take stock.