Wall Mile 51 [HB 316–19]
The Trail now takes us south from the site of Milecastle 51 and across the Vallum ditch, then right onto the south side of the south mound of the earthwork and back onto a westerly heading. This is a very special treat, so make the most of it.
Before long we are plunged into an atmospheric plantation, often incredibly boggy in damp weather, before emerging on the far side to find ourselves confronted by a track. Turning left would take us down to Coombe (or Comb – the various signs seem uncertain) Crag, one of the inscribed quarries of the Wall (which includes the plaintive RIB 1952g where Daminius’ reluctance – presumably to quarry stone – is preserved for all eternity). We, however, are going to turn right to head up to the road, but before we do so we shall admire the Vallum striding confidently westwards across the fields.
At the road we turn left (taking the usual evasive action to avoid what little traffic uses this road, although this does include the AD122 bus). After 225m we see the consolidated remains of Turret 51a to our right.
Turret 51a (Piper Syke) [HB 316–18]
Piper Syke is a re-used Turf Wall turret. It has a stone platform against its northern wall, a central hearth, and an entrance at the eastern end of its south side. This turret now sits just to the north of the road, which has wiggled slightly southwards to leave the line of the curtain wall. This is our Turf Wall turret incorporated into the stone wall, so there are butt joints on either side to confirm this. In fact, the curtain wall is missing on the eastern side, so the facing stones on that side of the turret are visible). When the Turf Wall was constructed, its stone towers were built free-standing so differ from those (like 49bSW and those east of it) that were bonded with the curtain wall.
Resuming our trudge westwards, we are soon sent off into a field south of the road. After 210m we see a small gate ahead of us and another one to the right. That right-hand one leads us to a brief diversion back onto the road and the next turret.
Turret 51b (Lea Hill) [HB 318–19]
Closely resembling its twin to the east (insofar as it is not only similar in form but also lacks the curtain wall to the east), there was a stone platform against the north wall and a hearth in the centre of the ground-floor room. The ground-floor entrance was at the eastern end of the southern side. Look over the fence and, sure enough, you can see the ditch.
Recrossing the road, we go back through the small gate and rejoin the Trail, and pass through that small gate to our right. Heading west, we carry on across the fields for 400m before we are hurled back onto the road again (issues of access to property, doubtless). We now have Bankshead Farm to the south of us and this squats upon Milecastle 52.
Milecastle 52 (Bankshead) [HB 319–20; haiku]
This is the site of a milecastle which was excavated in 1934 and found to be a short-axis example. Two altars to Cocidius were found here at the beginning of the 19th century (we shall encounter more from milecastles as we go). No trace can now be seen but once again it illustrates a milecastle site being used as a later farming settlement.