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.

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