Wall Mile 60 [HB 336]
Crossing the field, we keep immediately south of the hedgerow, noting how the line of the ditch to our right is now used by a green lane, which has sidled in unnoticed from the northern lip and the upcast mound, which it used to avoid a boggy section. We are, of course, walking along the berm, although the curtain wall is completely invisible beneath the grass.
To our left, next to Bleatarn Farm, you will find one of the few portaloos provided along the line of the trail. If the National Trail has failings (it actually has several), one of the most serious is the lack of provision of facilities for walkers. You may recall those grumpy notices at Walwick asking us to refrain from using farm buildings as lavatories, but what we seldom find are such thoughtfully provided toilets as this one at Bleatarn. This subject is by and large avoided in most discussion of the Trail and why this should be is mystifying.
The Trail now crosses a lane by means of two gates (through the first you need to look slightly to your left to find the second), passing an honesty box (take the snack of your choice and contribute your money) and then we are in the fields again.
We are now on a causeway constructed on top of the curtain wall. It will become apparent that some substantial earthworks, possibly associated with hollow ways and quarries, have enhanced and in part removed the line of the ditch to the north, whilst next to the farmhouse itself, on our left, the rather pleasant rush-bedecked tarn which gives it its name is probably also a result of such delvings.
Aerial photography has revealed extensive pre-Roman field systems in this area, the alignments of which the Wall blithely ignores (later agriculture always tends to respect the monument, which is why its course is so obvious across most of the countryside). This is the moment when you begin to understand that the Wall was not dumped willy-nilly in the middle of a wilderness, but rather blasted through an intensively farmed landscape which had been developing since the Bronze Age, precisely because this course was the most advantageous and economical in terms of effort for the Roman army. Environmental evidence (some taken from peat cores, some from archaeological sites) has suggested that cereal farming immediately north of the Wall in some places ceased after it was constructed. Did the Wall have an effect on the locals? You bet!
We exit the field and join a concrete-surfaced farm track which soon turns into a tarmacked lane and it is not long before we reach the site of Milecastle 61.
Congratulations – together we have now completed sixty Roman miles of the length of Hadrian’s Wall, or exactly three-quarters of its original length (but not, please note, three-quarters of the length of the National Trail – they are two very different things).
Milecastle 61 (Wall Head) [HB 336; haiku]
For some curious reason, the position of Milecastle 61 is not marked on the 2010 edition of the English Heritage map of the Wall, but we can be reasonably certain it lies slightly east of Wall Head farm and, indeed, geophysical survey has identified its likely position.