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.
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.
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.
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 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).