William Hutton Walks the Wall: Day Three

At the eleventh mile stone is the village of Wall-houses: there are five. Severus, distinct as before; and Hadrian, thirty yards on the left, but faint. Here must have been a Mile castle. Now a young grove, fills Severus’s ditch, which will tend to preserve it.

At the twelve mile stone, Agricola is bold, and Severus perfect.

At the thirteenth, High-wall house.

And at the fourteenth stone, we pass by Sir Edward Blackens, who is the proprietor of all the works of the General and the two Emperors; and who has converted a *little* farmhouse into a *little* castle; so that our favourite banks and ditches have not lost their warlike appearance.

Hadrian, fifty yards on my left, is very conspicuous; I, upon Severus’s Wall, and his ditch on my right.

At the fifteenth mile stone, we pass Halton Shields, a village of twelve houses. I rapped at some doors, tried the latch at others, and hollowed at all; but I believe not a soul was left within, the fine hay-day had emptied the village.

I now enter a common, where the two partners appear in bold, and broken lines.

Severus, through the long line of the Wall, seems to chuse the high ground, perhaps the better to observe the approach of an enemy; and Agricola the low, for the benefit of water to supply his ditches; but I was surprized, at the close of this Station, to observe this rule was reversed; for Agricola passes over a steep on my left, and the other seems obliged to take the low ground on which I tread. Perhaps Agricola durst not attempt the swamp; which Severus was obliged to do, as the other had left him no alternative.


Hunnum; now Halton Chesters.



From whence Halton Hall derives its name, the antient seat of the Carnabys.

I am eighteen miles from the Wall’s end, fifteen and a half from Newcastle, and seven from the last Station. I passed through the centre of this Station without knowing it, till an intelligent gentleman set me right. It is near the foot of the hill I just now mentioned; is flat, which is uncommon for a Station; seems less rough than some other Stations, owing perhaps to its being more cultivated, for it was now covered with standing corn. Severus’s Wall passes through the centre of this Station.

The moment I saw it, Severus appeared to have been cramped in his design, that he was obliged to take the low ground, because his predecessor had before taken the high; and, as he could not go behind him, was obliged to proceed over the verge of the swamp.

Rising a long and gentle hill, I was shewn what was once a Mile castle, now a piece of wheat in the open field.

One hundred yards, more bring us to Port Gate; that is, two roads cross each other at right angles, both Roman. One is the Watling Street, which, I have no doubt, was made first; the other, the line of the Wall upon which I tread. This being formed after the other, a kind of gate-way, or thoroughfare, was left in the Wall, to facilitate a passage: hence the name.

See in the annexed Plate, a profile of the Roman Wall and Vallum near this Gate, as it appeared in Warburton’s time, 1722.

Cross-section of Hadrian's Wall

Cross-section of Hadrian’s Wall

I now travel over a large common, still upon the Wall, with its trench nearly complete. But what was my surprize when I beheld, thirty yards on my left, the united works of Agricola and Hadrian, almost perfect! I climbed over a stone wall to examine the wonder; measured the whole in every direction; surveyed them with surprize, with delight, was fascinated, and unable to proceed; forgot I was upon a wild common, a stranger, and the evening approaching. I had the grandest works under my eye, of the greatest men of the age in which they lived, and of the most eminent nation then existing; all which had suffered but little during the long course of sixteen hundred years. Even hunger and fatigue were lost in the grandeur before me. If a man writes a book upon a turnpike road, he cannot be expected to move quick; but, lost in astonishment, I was not able to move at all.

Upon this common, which is very high ground, I more than once observed some of the facing stones of Severus’s Wall under my feet, just as the Romans placed them, which proves, that the road is raised so high, as to bury some part of the Wall; this simple sight I could not observe without surprize and pleasure.

At St. Oswald’s the road turns a little to the left, for a few yards; and leaves the Wall to the right; but very soon crosses it again.

Had I been some months sooner, I should have been favoured with a noble treat; but now that treat was miserably soured.

At the twentieth-mile stone, I should have seen a piece of Severus’s Wall seven feet and a half high, and two hundred and twenty-four yards long: a sight not to be found in the whole line. But the proprietor, Henry Tulip, Esq. is now taking it down, to erect a farm-house with the materials. Ninety-five yards are already destroyed, and the stones, sit for building removed. Then we come to thirteen yards which are standing, and overgrown on the top with brambles.

A piece of the Wall, as it still appears at this place, is shewn in the annexed Plate.*

Wall elevation at St Oswald's

Wall elevation at St Oswald’s

The next forty yards were just demolished; and the stones, of all sizes, from one pound to two hundred weight, lying in one continued heap, none removed.

The next forty yards are standing, seven feet high.

Then follows the last division, consisting of thirty-six yards, which is sacrificed by the mattock, the largest stones selected, and the small left. The facing-stones remain on both sides. This grand exhibition must be seen no more. How little we value what is daily under the eye!

Here was a fine opportunity for measuring. The foundation was one foot below the surface of the ground, and consisted of two courses of stone, each six inches thick, extending to the width of six feet and a half. The second course set off three inches on each side, which reduced the foundation to six feet, and the third, three inches of a side more, reducing the Wall to five feet and a half, its real thickness here.

The Plate here subjoined gives a profile of the remains of the Wall as it now appears at this place. The foundation of which is laid in the native earth, the rest is cemented with mortar.

The soil being afterwards thrown up on each side of the Wall two feet high, caused the foundation to be three feet deep.

I desired the servant with whom I conversed, “to give my compliments to Mr. Tulip, and request him to desist, or he would wound the whole body of Antiquaries. As he was putting an end to the most noble monument of Antiquity in the whole Island, they would feel every stroke.

If the Wall was of no estimation, he must have a mean opinion of me, who would travel six hundred miles to see it; and if it was, he could never merit my thanks for destroying it.”

“Should he reply, ‘The property is mine, and I have a right to direct it as I please;’ it is an argument I can regret, but not refute.”

I am now descending a hill of some magnitude, called “Wall Fell*, and am within half a mile of the river of North Tyne. Could I follow the line of the Wall, it would lead me to what was once the Roman Bridge over that river; the foundation of which, I was given to understand, I might see, if I would wade; but as I could not do one, nor wished to do the other, I submitted to the turnpike road, and the present bridge, which perhaps is half a mile above that of the Romans, and which obliged me to quit the line of the Wall for two miles.

And here I must be allowed to call in question the wisdom of the moderns, who have erected a bridge at twice the expence; for the water is here twice as wide, two hundred and fifty feet; and, by quitting the Roman line, caused the traveller to march two miles instead of one. But private interest is known to prevent public good.

The eye can easily carry the works of the three great men over the water, across the valley; and up one inclosure of perhaps two hundred yards, five or six acres; and in the next close, we see it terminates in our Fifth Station, full of hills and hollows, from which it has acquired the modern name of Chester Holes.

Wall cross-section

Wall cross-section


Cilurnum; now Walwick Chesters.

I am not far from the twenty-second-mile stone, between Newcastle and Carlisle. The inclosure where this City stood seems, like the other Stations, to be five or fix acres; but is in reality an oblong of 400 feet by 570, nearly eight acres. It is in grass, very uneven, owing to former use, and rather elevated, though near the bottom of high ground. But the Romans were obliged to six here, or they could not guard the river.

The annexed plan of this Station, with part of the plan, of Severus’s Wall and Hadrian’s Vallum, shews how they were connected at the Stations; and, their mutual relation to one another must have been one entire united defence or fortification.

Chesters and the attached works

Chesters and the attached works

The Banks, Wall, and Trenches, having crossed the water of North Tyne, and passed this Station, keep together, and proceed by the spacious seat of Nathaniel Clayton, Esq. who holds the honour of being proprietor of the works of two Emperors, and the Bonaparte of the day.

*Amusingly, Hutton appears to have modified the elevation of the Wall from Wall Mile 16 that Campbell and Debbeig included in their survey, subsequently copied by Warburton’s engraver, Hill.

Campbell and Debbeig's piece of curtain wall

Campbell and Debbeig’s piece of curtain wall

William Hutton Walks the Wall: Day Two

The Wall passes near the West gate, and proceeds on our right towards the turnpike. Not many yards before we reach the gate, it crosses the road, and passes through an inclosure, twenty yards on our left; and not through the Quarry-house which is close to the turnpike road on our right.

The West Gate (Newcastle Libraries)

The West Gate (Newcastle Libraries)

The works of Agricola and Hadrian, forty yards more to the left, make their appearance for the first time; but in a faint degree. These works run twenty yards South of Elswick windmill, a little short of the first mile-stone; and Severus’s Wall is the very turnpike road on which we tread; it is the great beautiful and the famous Roman military way, first formed, I believe, by Agricola, improved by Severus, and brought into its present state by George the Second; and though it does not attend the whole line of the Wall, it communicates between Newcastle and Carlisle. I shall continue to walk for many miles upon the Wall as part of the turnpike road, with small variations, and Severus’s Ditch at the right elbow.

We leave, on the right, Fenham Lodge, the seat of William Orde, Esq.; and on the left, that of Robinson Bowes, Esq.

All our Historians have failed in two points: they have not given us the dimensions of the mile-castles, which always joined the Wall, and were from twenty-two to twenty-four yards square; nor distinguished the works of Agricola from those of Hadrian; but have confused both, under the name of the latter.

There were four different works in this grand barrier, performed by three personages, and at different periods. I will measure them from South to North, describe them distinctly, and appropriate each part to its proprietor; for, although every part is dreadfully mutilated, yet, by selecting the best of each, we easily form a whole; from what is we can nearly tell what was. We must take our dimensions from the original surface of the ground.

Let us suppose a ditch, like that at the foot of a quickset hedge, three or four feet deep, and as wide. A bank rising from it, ten feet high and thirty wide in the base. This, with the ditch, will give us a rise of thirteen feet at least. The other side of this bank sinks into a ditch ten feet deep, and fifteen wide, which gives the North side of this bank a declivity of twenty feet. A small part of the soil thrown out on the North side of this fifteen feet ditch, forms a bank three feet high, and six wide, which gives an elevation from the bottom of the ditch, of thirteen feet. Thus our two ditches, and two mounds, sufficient to keep out every rogue, but he, who was determined not to be kept out, were the work, of Agricola.

The works of Hadrian invariably join those of Agricola. They always correspond together, as beautiful parallel lines. Close to the North side of the little bank I last described, Hadrian sunk a ditch twenty-four feet wide, and twelve below the surface of the ground; which, added to Agricola’s three feet bank, forms a declivity of fifteen feet on the South, and on the North, twelve. Then follows a plain of level ground, twenty-four yards over, and a bank exactly the same as Agricola’s, ten feet high, and thirty in the base; and then he finishes, as his predecessor began, with a small ditch of three or four feet.

Thus the two works exactly coincide; and must, when complete, have been most grand and beautiful. Agricola’s works cover about fifty-two feet, and Hadrian’s about eighty-one; but this will admit of some variation.

Plate 2

Plate 2

The annexed Plate shews,

1. Agricola’s Work, with the number of feet.
2. Agricola’s and Severus’s united.
3. Severus’s Wall and Ditch, in profile.

Severus’s works run nearly parallel; the other two lie on the North, never far distant; but may be said always to keep them in view, running a course that best suited the judgment of the maker. The nearest distance is about twenty yards, and greatest near a mile, the medium forty or fifty yards.

They consist of a stone wall eight feet thick, twelve high, and four, the battlements; with a ditch to the North, as near as convenient, thirty-six feet wide and fifteen deep. To the Wall were added, at unequal distances, a number of Stations, or Cities, said to be eighteen, which is not perfectly true; eighty-one castles, and three hundred and thirty castelets, or turrets, which I believe is true; all joining the Wall.

Exclusive of this Wall and ditch, these Stations, castles, and turrets, Severus constituted a variety of roads yet called Roman Roads, twenty-four feet wide, and eighteen inches high in the centre, which led from turret to turret, from one castle to another, and still larger, and more distant roads from the Wall, which led from one Station to another; besides the grand military way before mentioned, which covered all the works, and no doubt was first formed by Agricola, improved by Hadrian, and, after lying dormant fifteen hundred years, was made complete in 1752.

I saw many of these smaller roads, all overgrown with turf; and, when on the side of a hill, they are supported on the lower side with edging stones.

Thus Agricola formed a small ditch, then a bank and ditch, both large, and then finished with a small bank.

Hadrian joined to this small bank a large ditch, then a plain, a large mound, and then finished with a small ditch.

Severus followed nearly in the same line, with a wall, a variety of stations, castles, turrets, a large ditch, and many roads. By much the most laborious task. This forms the whole works of our three renowned Chiefs.


Condercum; now Benwell Hill.

I have now travelled five miles and a half from the Wall’s end; two from Newcastle; and arrived by the military way upon a very considerable eminence, suitable for a Roman Station. Severus’s ditch is close on my right, and I upon the foundation of the Wall, as part of the turnpike road; its bare stones under my feet are frequently distinguishable from those used for mending the road.

But the Station totally disappears, except a roughness on the ground, which shews what has been; while Agricola and Hadrian’s work lie on my left, between me and the village, which contains two hundred and one houses, and nine hundred and fifty-one people.

The Station was very large. The corners, rather canted off, had four entrances answering to the four Cardinal Points. The country and prospects are delightful, and the land good.

I now pass, on my left, another house of Mr. Orde’s.

At Denton Dean, situated at the bottom of Benwell Hill, the great road veers a few yards to the right, that is, into Severus’s ditch, and gives us for the first time a sight of that most venerable piece of antiquity, The Wall, which is six yards South of the road, and twenty short of the brook I am going to pass. The fragment is thirty-six feet long, has three course of facing stones on one side, and four on the other, and is exactly nine feet thick. An apple-tree grows upon the top, as shewn in the Plate annexed.

Plate 3

Plate 3

The eye can easily trace the line over the water, and unite it to the opposite bank.

Before we leave this village of twenty houses, the Wall again becomes the road, and the ditch is at my right elbow.

At the three-mile stone from Newcastle, I leave on my right the seat of Matthew Montague, Esq.

Hadrian’s work is now fifty yards on my left.

At the fourth-mile stone, I arrive at Chapel-house, then to Castle Steads, where there has no doubt been a mile castle; the situation, as well as the name, corroborates the remark. Fifty yards on my left, down a green pasture, run, in bold figures, the united works of Agricola and Hadrian, dressed in about half their antient grandeur; and, having this due, we can trace them over the inclosures for many miles.

A little short of the fifth mile stone is Wallbottle.

At the stone, Hadrian is thirty yards on my left, I upon the Wall.

Newburn Dean is nearly at the sixth-mile stone. Here, climbing a bank, to gain a better view of my valuable companions, I stumbled, and, to save myself, caught at a hawthorn hedge, when, like a Knight of Ulster, I bore the bloody hand,

Pass Throcklow. My two friends Agricola and Hadrian are forty yards on my left.

At the seventh-mile stone is Hadden-on-the-Wall. The road here, as is usual at a village, takes a small turn to the right; it goes up the bank, and leaves Severus’s ditch close to my left, and his Wall a yard-high; but in a confused heap. There must have been here a mile castle. One hundred yards passed; and I again tread the Wall, with the ditch on my right.

Near the eighth-mile stone is the seat of Calverley Bewick, Esq. Here Hadrian assumes a little more consequence; and now we finish our third Station.


Vindobala; now Rutchester.

Severus’s Wall seems to pass through this Station. What remains is a close, joining the road, of five acres, now in grass, and eminently situated; carries the strong marks of former buildings, and still stronger of its ramparts. The platform of this grand Station is complete.

I have all along inquired for turrets; but might as well have inquired among the stars. I was given to understand, that part of one was remaining here. The master told me, “I might find it at the back of his buildings.”

Upon examining something like a cow-house, I perceived a small part was Roman work, which might have been part of the hutment of the castle, but could not be a turret, for they always stood in front.

I saw old Sir at dinner sit,
Who ne’er said, “Stranger, take a bit,”
Yet might, although a Poet said it,
Have sav’d his beef, and raised his credit.

This old City and suburbs were extensive, and lie in the junction of four roads.

Down in the valley, at the ninth-mile stone, I come to a cottage worth twenty shillings a year. — “Pray what is the name of your place?” “High Seats.” “What, because of its low situation? You have found a place in history, only from a dignified name.”

Here the General, and the Emperor, wear so strong a feature, that all their works may be traced sixty yards on my left.

I am arrived at Harlow Hill, ten miles and a half from Newcastle, remarkably high. I again bear to the right, and tread, through the town-street on Severus’s ditch, the Wall passing through the houses on my left.

On the highest part stood a mile castle, now a garden, surrounded by its own rampart, very plain, I was shewn a large ash tree, which grew upon the very Wall, recently blown up by the root, and now rears up like a round pancake, eight feet high, and has drawn after it a ton of stones from the Wall, still clinging and interwoven with the root. A brother tree stands near it, waiting for another blast.

The road is charming. The traveller views it two miles each way. It appears like a white ribbon upon a green ground.

Soliciting a bed, I was ushered into a parlour, where sat three gentlemen. I did not conceive I had a right to intrude, so took my place at the greatest distance. A suspicious silence immediately surrounded their little table. As I never made a secret of myself, or the plan I was pursuing, I endeavoured to introduce a communication, for truth makes a wonderful impression upon the mind; when, after an hour or two’s chat, one of them remarked, “You are the most agreeable companion I have met with; but, I do assure you, when you first entered, I took you for a spy employed by Government.”

They cordially gave me an invitation to their houses; but time would not allow.

It does not appear that dishonesty is totally expunged from the Wall; for though my gloves were deposited where they ought to have been safe, yet I found that some person had made free with them.

The inhabitants remarked, “that their elevated station exposed them to violent storms of wind and rain; and that if any snow was left upon the earth, it might be found there.”

Source: William Hutton (1801), A History of the Roman Wall, #–#

William Hutton Walks the Wall: Day One


or the Wall’s End.

When part of a building remains, we can sometimes comprehend the whole; but where nothing is left, conjecture is hazardous. This is our present case. No buildings are left in this Station, or any other, to guide the judgment. The spot, now a green pasture, about four acres, three miles and a half below Newcastle, gently declines to the river Tyne; is uneven, as having been covered with buildings. At the top of this green pasture, and parallel with the water, runs Severus’s Ditch; so that the Station lies between both.

From the beginning of Severus’s Ditch, to the water, the Wall, now gone, must have made a right angle, perhaps eighty yards or more, to the Tyne, so that this cross Wall, would also make a right angle with the river. Here stood the Castle. The North corner of the Wall must have been where now stands a cottage, and have entered the water at what they call a trunk, or high timber bridge.

Wallsend c.1850 (Newcastle Libraries)

Wallsend c.1850 (Newcastle Libraries)

I could not learn from tradition, that time had made any alteration in the tides. As securing this end of the Wall must have been a point of some magnitude, I have no doubt but the Romans took the advantage of low water to form their butment as deep as circumstances would allow.

Here we see a town full of streets and houses, immured in stone walls; where every man, though a soldier, might, when not upon duty, follow his occupation.

The Bank and Ditch are nearly complete; the last is ten yards wide. Proceeding two hundred yards, it passes a house, late Cousens’, now belonging to John Baddle Esq. Then Slate’s house, to a stile in the valley. Now we rise a hill, with the Wall under the very path we tread. The Ditch twelve yards wide. Along a close called Old Walker’s Hill. Byker’s Hill. A hedge now runs in the Ditch, a part of which, this year, for the first time, is levelled, and converted into a bed of potatoes, which the proprietors will allow gratis, during three years, to any one who will level, and improve the ground. This is the taste of the neighbourhood for the grandest piece of antiquity in the whole Island.

Byker Hill, some 70 years before Hutton’s visit

The Ditch now leaves a windmill close on the right, crosses the road from Newcastle to Shields, about thirty yards North of the toll gate. Goes down the steep hill called Ewsburn, and up to another windmill. Over Shieldfield, where, by the name, I suppose a mile-castle has stood, and where the whole is invisible.

Ouseburn c.1840 (Newcastle Libraries)

Ouseburn c.1840 (Newcastle Libraries)

We now enter Newcastle, leaving a small part of the town on the right, or North side; but inclosing the principal, and perhaps the whole, when the works were erected. Its passage through these premises is unseen; but it must have been up and down steep hills, till we arrive at Pandon Gate.

During this space of three miles and a half, Severus’s Ditch is plainer, nearly all the way, than could he expected in so populous a country. Not the least remains of the Wall, Castles, or Turrets, are to be seen.

At the Wall’s end the first cohort had their station.


now Newcastle

Here I must follow my predecessors, who all through this populous town groped their way in the dark. Busy life ruins antiquity. The faithful Warburton will lead me along this crowded place, where nothing of the Roman is seen; after which I shall be able to walk alone, and perhaps correct my leader.

Though we are arrived at Pandongate, I apprehend we are not arrived at the Station, but a gate in the town wall, where a turret of the Roman Wall once stood. Pandon, in the time of the Romans, and for ages after, was a distinct village, and given to Newcastle by Edward the First.

Warburton proves that Severus’s Wall lies a little to the North of St. Nicholas’s church; that the Wall, which passes through the church porch, was the Eastern wall of the Station itself, and that of Severus was the Northern; thus having found two walls of this great square, the other two will follow. He justly allows the medium of a station to be an area of one hundred and thirty-six yards square; which, in this case, will reach near the present castle. This points out the Station.

“There are,” says my hostess, where I applied for a dinner, “some gentlemen to dine here: should you have any objection to dine with them?”

“Not the least, Madam. I am open to all kinds of company.”

My landlord afterwards applied: “Perhaps, Sir, you would chuse to dine in this room alone, upon a dish of fish, and a beef steak?”

“No. I have agreed with my landlady to dine with some gentlemen.”

I waited longer than the promise; saw dinner taken in; but no notice taken of me. Disappointment is irksome. “Why am I not,” said I to the waite, “summoned to dinner?” “I will inform you.” — The notice came.

I found seven gentlemen fully employed, and a niche left for an eighth.

I was treated with a distant respect; and a small degree of awe governed the whole board.

Dinner over; they requested me to return thanks. Which done; — “You seem, gentlemen, to take me for a clergyman; but, I assure you, I am in a far preferable state; for I am a freeman, which a great part of the Clergy are not. I have nothing to expect from any man but common civility, which I wish to return with interest; but he who is under promises, expectations, or even wishes, his sentiments perhaps may not be his own, and he cannot be deemed free.”

Their countenances brightened.

“I have,” says one of the gentlemen, “seven relations in the Church.”

“Then, Sir, if you are an independant [sic] man, are not you the happiest of eight?”

It seemed, their apprehensions of my black dress, from which they were glad to be freed, had nearly deprived me of a dinner.

One of the gentlemen gave, “The King’s friends!” To this, though I am no votary for healths, I made no objection; for a friend will not lead a man wrong. But afterwards entering upon indelicate healths, which neither suited the prayer they had requested, nor my pursuits, I withdrew.

William Hutton Walks the Wall: Prologue

In 1801, the 78-year-old William Hutton set out from his home in Birmingham to fulfil an ambition and walk Hadrian’s Wall. He was, it should be said, not unaccustomed to walking. Fifty years earlier, when he worked as a bookseller in Southwell, he would walk five miles to work every morning from Nottingham and (of course) five miles back home again in the evening. All that on a vegetarian diet.

I determined to spend a month, and fifty guineas, in minutely examining the relicks of this first of wonders.

His anxious daughter accompanied him on his expedition to the North, riding on a horse behind her servant, but Hutton refused any such luxury and strode out. It took him fourteen days to get up to Carlisle (having covered 252 miles by that point), whereupon he headed west to Bowness-on-Solway, then eastwards along the Wall to Wallsend, then back west again to Bowness, before returning to Carlisle and heading south once more.

As a guide book, he took Warburton’s Vallum Romanum, a mischievous work of pseudo-scholarship which re-hashed the 1732 text relating to the Wall from Horsley’s Britannia Romana, and appropriated the 1749 survey of the proposed line of the Military Road undertaken by Dugal Cambell and Hugh Debbeig in a (barely modified) engraving by Nathaniel Hill.

I was dressed in black, a kind of religious travelling warrant, but divested of assuming airs; and had a budget of the fame colour and materials, much like a dragoon’s cartridge-box, or post-man’s letter pouch, in which were deposited the map of Cumberland, Northumberland, and the Wall, with its appendages; all three taken out of Gough’s edition of the Britannia; also Warburton’s map of the Wall, with my own remarks, &c.

Nathaniel Hill's engraved map for Warburton's Vallum Romanum

Nathaniel Hill’s engraved map for Warburton’s Vallum Romanum

To this little pocket I fastened with a strap, an umbrella in a green case, for I was not likely to have a six weeks tour without wet, and slung it over that shoulder which was the least tired.

By the time he had finished, Hutton’s journey to the Wall and back had seen him cover 601 miles. Once home, he wrote up his remarkable walk in a small volume which he entitled A History of The Roman Wall, most of which was an amateur’s take on the current attempts to understand Hadrian’s Wall. Hence Hutton, following the scholars of his time, thought the stone wall was built by Severus, part of the Vallum by Hadrian, whilst the remaining part of that earthwork was constructed by the Roman general Agricola in the 1st century AD! The first half of the book is concerned with the history but when his account of his walk begins, Hutton quite deliberately combined his two walks (west to east then east to west) into one from east to west, thereby setting the tradition for most subsequent walkers (despite the fact that, in practical terms, walking west to east is preferable, given the nature of the terrain and the prevailing weather conditions).

William Hutton

William Hutton

We shall follow Hutton, one day at a time, as he progresses from Wallsend to Bowness. This was a man who, at 78, slept under bushes and waded rivers in order to follow Hadrian’s Wall. If you think it is hard walking the Wall these days, William Hutton can help provide you with a clear and unassailable sense of proportion.*

I envied the people in the neighbourhood of the Wall, though I knew they valued it no more than the soil on which it stood. I wished to converse with an intelligent resident, but never saw one.

Tomorrow: Day One, From Wallsend to Newcastle

* It is worth pointing out that children nowadays first encounter William Hutton in history lessons as an exemplar of child labour, having been set to work in the silk mills of Derby at the ripe old age of seven.

Wall Mile 80

We shall make our way through Bowness to the bus turning area and small car park at the west end of the village. From here we can survey the vast estuary that is the Solway Firth and think on our journey.

Bowness and the remains of the railway bridge embankment

Bowness and the remains of the railway bridge embankment

To the west are the remains of the bridge that used to carry the Solway Junction Railway across the water to Scotland (and, before it was dismantled, the occasional drunken reveller – seeking to bypass national drinking laws – to their watery doom). According to Bishop Nicholson, writing in 1707, the terminus of the Wall lay a quarter of a mile west of the village and other writers confirm his observation. To the north, across the estuary, lies what is now Scotland but was in Roman times Caledonia: no Picts were harmed in the making of this mural barrier, they were almost certainly not around until long after it was constructed; the Picts’ Wall was a local term that came to be used to describe the Wall in the post-Roman period. To the east is the low drumlinoid we have just left that provides the slightly elevated platform for the fort of Bowness-on-Solway.

This is as good a place as any to reflect one last time how the emperor Hadrian’s visit to Britain in AD 122 (now immortalised as the route number of the Hadrian’s Wall bus) led to the construction of this massive monument, unique in form in the Roman world. Why did he do it? In the Historia Augusta, his biographer offers a simple explanation: ‘he was the first to construct a wall, eighty miles in length, which was to separate the barbarians from the Romans’ (HA Hadrian, 11).

Bowness and the west end of Hadrian's Wall

Bowness and the west end of Hadrian’s Wall

Epilogue [haiku]

There you have it: Hadrian’s Wall. I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey. Except… that is not necessarily the end. In fact, there is much more to come!

Wall Mile 79

Wall Mile 79 [HB 366]

Our last mile of the Wall to the south-east of Bowness fort is a field boundary, some way to the south of the Trail, which wends its way along the shore road. Carry on walking and, as the road curves to the right and signs warn that the road can flood in high tides, we can look across a field gate, some 335m west of Milecastle 79 (NY 233 624), you can look south across the field to the hedge line that represents the course of the wall, where there is even a trace of the ditch (not that you can tell it from your vantage point).

Wall Mile 79 from the air

Wall Mile 79 from the air

Part of the curtain wall was still standing up to 6ft high here when first William Hutton, then John Skinner only a few weeks later, walked past in 1801, but it is now long gone.

Approaching Bowness

Approaching Bowness

Arriving at Bowness, if you are desperate to get your ‘passport’ stamped at the incongruous little shed that lurks off the main street (or just want a view over the estuary and some appreciation of the drumlinoid upon which the fort and village sit), follow the brown signs down the path to the right just after entering the village. Having admired the wildlife mosaics (and fighting off the feeling of anti-climax that greets our monumental effort of having got this far), we may carry on. Return to the main street and turn right towards the centre of the settlement. Some 90m on, to our left, we pass a red-sandstone byre with a blocked door, over which is a weathered Roman altar. The stone of the buildings, unsurprisingly, derives from the fort and the curtain wall.

Byre in Bowness with a Roman altar

Byre in Bowness with a Roman altar

Bowness-on-Solway fort (MAIA) [HB 367–70]

The fort of Maia lies beneath the village of Bowness. The significance of its location, apart from the conveniently raised ground of the drumlinoid, is that it is (or was) the lowest fording point of the Solway Firth. As William Camden observed, ‘at every ebbe the water is so low that the borderers and beast-stealers may easily wade over.’ The remains of the fort were evident when Camden visited in 1599 (‘tracts of streetes, ruinous walles, and an haven now stopped up with mud’), but there is now nothing to be seen of its fabric.

Part of the northern side of the fort has been lost to erosion, but it has been estimated that it occupied 2.8ha (7 acres) and identification of the site of the south gate has shown that the fort faced south-west. Excavation on the eastern defences in 1988 revealed that the primary grey clay rampart was cut back to allow the insertion of a sandstone defensive wall on a cobblestone foundation. The V-shaped ditch was found to be 4.5m wide and 2m deep. The fort housed a milliary unit (around 800 infantrymen), a fact betrayed not only by its size but also from the now-illegible inscription on that altar just mentioned, set up by the tribunus Sulpicius Secundianus to the emperors Gallus and Volusianus (AD 251–3). Another inscription, now in Carlisle, but this time in verse on an altar, records an offering by a trader that implies the lettering was originally gilded. The Notitia Dignitatum does not record a commander or garrison for the fort. Excavations near the west gate have shown that the first phase was of turf and timber, contemporary with the Turf Wall, and it was subsequently reconstructed at least twice in stone.

A noticeboard on the side of the King’s Arms has a plan, together with some useful information. The notional site of Milecastle 80 lies just to the west of our position outside the pub.

Milecastle 80 [Not mentioned in the HB; haiku]

Bowness from the air

Bowness from the air

Milecastle 80 has not been found. It is assumed to have been demolished to make way for Bowness fort, so it will only ever have been made of turf and timber (since it would have been part of the initial Turf Wall system).

Wall Mile 78

Wall Mile 78 [HB 363–4]

The path meanders amongst some woodland, and we can occasionally glimpse remnants of the canal surviving as a reed-bedecked ditch just to our left. The course of the Wall lies beneath the road beyond those soggy bits. A prostrate oak forest was found some way beneath the curtain wall when the canal was being dug in 1823, a remnant of inundation during a Holocene sea-level change. Soon, we pass through a kissing gate and reach the point where we part company with the course of the Wall ditch and the route of the Port Carlisle Railway.

The Trail on the old railway line

The Trail on the old railway line

We weave around the back of some houses and discover the sea-lock of the former Carlisle Canal. We cross this and carry on down the lane, admiring the red sandstone quay of Port Carlisle (or Fisher’s Cross as it used to be called). The Wall now makes an abrupt 68° turn almost due west, near the location of Turret 78B. Off to our left, beyond the playground, the bowling green car park sits on the site of the old railway station, a line of stone flags betraying the edge of the platform.

The site of Turret 78b

The site of Turret 78b

Exiting the lane onto the coast road, we head off to the west (or right, as we call it in the trade), remembering to stay on the same side as the oncoming traffic and exercising ridiculous amounts of care as we go. Over to our left, just past the terrace of houses, note how the land slopes down to the road. The Wall is running upon that slightly higher ground. As ever, an attacker would be disadvantaged, for – having crossed the estuary – they would have to run uphill to the Wall. The road bends gently round to the right and we arrive unceremoniously at the site of  our penultimate milecastle, number 79. It is located off in the distance, the line of the Wall now being marked by a hedgerow in the shimmering heat-haze we almost certainly won’t be contending with.

In many ways, we are about to embark upon the least satisfactory of all the Wall miles, with no Wall and stuck on an unsympathetic, if vaguely picturesque, road. This is just one of the disadvantages of walking east to west, as we shall find in that, our final Wall mile (although we are probably going to have to admit that it’s a bit late now to turn back).

Milecastle 79 (Solway House) [HB 364–6; haiku]

Milecastle 79, somewhere up there, in the distance, honest!

Milecastle 79, somewhere up there, in the distance, honest!

Milecastle 79 was excavated in 1949 (by Ukrainians from the Lockerbie POW camp) and in 1999, when both the Turf Wall milecastle and its stone successor were examined. Unusually, this was a square milecastle, since (your will recall) most are either ‘short axis’ (broader east–west) or ‘long axis’ longer north–south.