William Hutton Walks the Wall: Day Four

Rising the hill to Walwick, the village is delightful, and the prospect most charming. At the corner of a garden-wall, I saw a beautiful pedestal, pannelled, moulded, and fluted, in perfection, two feet by eighteen inches; no doubt a Roman relick, degraded to a shabby prop, as a thing of no value.

We pass the seat of Henry Tulip, Esq.

The works of Agricola and Hadrian still continue on my left; but Severus crosses the turnpike road in the village, and appears on my right, a Wall three feet high, but in a rude state, and without facing-stones; for we can easily conceive a wall, levelled with the ground, and seven or eight feet thick, will bear its own rubbish a yard high.

The Emperor and General on my left, in striking characters, are cut through the rock; and, the great military way fills up the space between Severus and them.

I am now at the twenty-third-mile stone; the morning delightful, and the parallel lines before me magnificent.

At the twenty-fourth-mile stone, I still have Severus’s trench, and what remains of the Wall, on my right, and Hadrian’s works on my left, with the military way on which I tread, only twelve yards wide, between, which fills up the space. Thus am I hemmed in by dignity, upon the best of roads, upon elevated ground, with extensive prospects, in a country thinly inhabited, surrounded with commons, or with inclosures of fifty or a hundred acres each, but without trees or hedges, and where the face of the earth seems shaved to the quick. Yet in this solitary place, where foot seldom treads, I enjoy the company of three valuable friends, Agricola, Hadrian, and Severus.

At Towertay, Severus’s Wall appears in more dignity, with two or three courses of facing-stones; but generally, in this part of my rout, with only the rude stones lying upon the foundation.


Procolitia; now Carrawburgh.

This seventh City upon the Wall lies upon an open and elevated spot. A farm-house stands exactly upon the works of Hadrian and Agricola.

The Station joins the house, is six or seven acres, in grass, exceedingly hilly, declaring the former actions of busy life, and is yet secured by its original ramparts.

The Wall here makes a bend, as if with design, to inclose this spot. It seems, by the roughness of the ground, to have had a suburb to the west, where a well, or rather a Roman Bath, has been found seven feet square, quoined with stone.

I was treated here with great civility when they found I was neither Exciseman, Spy, nor Methodist Preacher.

A Roman stone, which graced the old Castle, graces the internal wall of the present house; a man’s chubby face, ten inches square, without inscription, but is ornamented with drapery. Here the bold ruins of all the works appear.

At the twenty-fifth mile stone, Hadrian is forty yards on my left, and Severus close to my right, not very conspicuous.

Upon the hill rising to Carrow, the foundation of Severus’s Wall is fresh, with a boundary hedge growing upon it; and in one place three or four courses of facing-stones appear for about fifteen, yards. The other two thirty yards on my left.

Pass by Carrow, a single house, on the summit of an eminence, where must have been a Mile castle; it lies between Hadrian and Severus’s works.

At the twenty-sixth mile stone, the General and the Emperor are seen in formidable beauty; while Severus is rather sinking, yet noble. Upon the hill, twenty-six miles and a half, all the mounds and trenches appear in strong lines.

At the twenty-seventh mile stone, the two appear in bold and noble characters. But now I must quit this beautiful road, and the more beautiful scenes of cultivation, and enter upon the rude of Nature, and the wreck of Antiquity; for this grand military way bears to the left, and the Wall to the right.

I am now thirty miles and a half from the Wall’s end, and twenty-seven from Newcastle; have been, close to the Wall all the way, except at passing the Tyne; and, for about twenty miles of the above space, have trod upon the very Wall,, as constituting part of the great military way, though unobserved by the common passenger, with Severus’s trench at my right elbow, generally in a bold style. The works of Agricola and Hadrian mostly visible on my left; but always carried through inclosures.

The two works now must separate, and be a mile, or near it, asunder for the next ten miles; for Agricola and Hadrian humbly pursue the lower grounds, while Severus climbs the rocky mountains.

I follow the Wall, it now appears six feet high; but divested of facing-stones and in a rude heap. Here I find the platform of a Castle, whose wall is six courses high, and about four feet long.

Travelling three hundred yards, I come to the foundation of another building joining the Wall; but levelled, in the form of a bow, the Wall supposed the string. It could not be a Mile castle; perhaps a place of arms.

Half a mile before I come to Shewenshields are the remains of a Castle, twenty-two yards by thirty; an entrance on the East, South, and West with a foss on three sides, remarkably bold, and on the fourth the Wall. It has had four Turrets one at each corner. Here I observe Agricola and Hadrian creeping modestly along the valley below.

Severus runs along, from one to three feet high, all confusion, mounting every craggy precipice it can find, and, from the prodigious declivity on the North, needs no ditch; while Agricola and Hadrian beautifully proceed over a small eminence below, five hundred yards South, where their works, or rather Agricola’s joins a large fort sixty yards square, once a Castle.

Here Severus’s Wall runs crooked, and catches the precipices wherever it can. About a mile after we quit the great road, we arrive at a gap in the mountain, an inlet to the famous Moss Troopers; who here broke through the Wall in bodies, for plunder and blood. The Mosses are the meadows on the North below; which, though rather in an uncultivated slate, are passable.

A small Castle stood in the meadow, near the foot of the hill, to prevent the Picts, and afterwards the Moss Troopers, by guarding the pass, the remains of which appear. Tradition says, it was built by King Ethel which must be an abridgment of Ethelrick, Ethelfrid, or Ethelred, for they were all Saxon. Kings of Northumberland. It was not likely to be the first or last, for they reigned but four years each. It must then have been Ethelfrid, who reigned twenty-three years, was a spirited prince, and fought with the North Britons. We may date the erection of this Castle between the year 593 and 617. But, whoever was the architect, he knew but little of Castle-building. It ought to have been placed upon one of the limbs of the pass.

I am now upon a place called Shewenshields, about twenty-eight miles from Newcastle, once a Mile castle, now a dreary farm of 2070 acres, occupied by Mr. Matthew Magnay, who paid me every attention. It includes the Mosses on the North of the Wall, and the rocks on the South, and is better adapted to the teeth than the plough.

Mr. Magnay took me to a small gutter in the rock upon his farm, which bears the name Cats Cover (as small as would admit a cat). Here the Scots bored under the Wall so as to admit the body of a man; for, if one could get through, a thousand might follow; for there was nobody either to watch, or oppose them. The Britons must have been very supine; for two days labour of three men would have made this narrow pass so secure, that the more they bored, the deeper they would have penetrated into the rocky mountain.

The elevation, of Shewenshields house is remarkable; it commands an amazing view, part of which is the Chiviot Hills. Mr. Magnay asked me, “if I would sit in King Ethel’s chair?” to which I assented. He took me to the top of a precipice fifty feet high, close behind the Wall; from the bottom of which rose a perpendicular rock, rather in the form of a chimney, much higher than we stood, and six feet from the precipice; it had a set-off, which resembled the seat and back of a chair; but neither Ethel, nor any one else ever sat in it.

The Wall is here six or seven feet high, but in confusion; keeps a zig-zag line merely to follow the precipice. I requested my friend Magnay to conduct me to the famous Busy Gap, about twenty-nine miles from Newcastle; so called from the frequency of the Picts and Scots breaking through this gap, and surprizing the Romans and Britons, and afterwards of the Moss Troopers. This I also found to be a break in the mountain over which the Wall ran, now filled up by a common-field gate, two yards and a half wide. It lies one mile beyond Shewenshields.

The human mind is apt to rise into the wonderful. Most tales are stretched a little beyond what they ought to bear. How often have we “never seen such a thing in our lives!” “Every thing in the world” often rings in our ears. Something like this is the case of the Moss Troopers. “They could pass over bogs which nobody else could. They burrowed into rocks and holes which none could find out, and places where none durst approach.”

The simple truth is, they had no rocks or holes to burrow in, or bogs to pass, which another could not. No doubt they Were able-bodied men, as all thieves ought to be, or they would not be fit for their calling. Their manner was, to assemble in a body, break the Wall in the weakest, or most convenient place, fight, run, burn your house, or drive away your cattle, as occasion offered. The advantage would always lie on the strong side.

As I passed through Penrith, I paid my respects to John Hutton, Esq. (perhaps my relation). In our discourse he remarked, “That one of his ancestors, a stout man, returning from Carlisle, met six Scots men driving twenty head of cattle, which they had stolen. Being armed himself, and they having only bludgeons, he drew his sword, fell furiously upon them, wounded some, made the whole body disperse, and recovered the prey, which he drove back to the owners.”

A more dreary country than this in which I now am, can scarcely be conceived. I do not wonder it shocked Camden. The country itself would frighten him, without the Troopers.

As the evening was approaching, and nature called loudly for support and rest, neither of which could be found among- the rocks; I was obliged to retreat into the military road, to the only public house, at three miles distance, known by no other name than that of Twice Brewed.

“Can you favour me with a bed?”

“I cannot tell till the company comes.”

“What, is it club-night?”

“Yes, a club of carriers.”

A pudding was then turned out, about as big as a peck measure; and a piece of beef out of the copper, perhaps equal to half a calf.

“You must be so kind as to indulge me with a bed. I will be satisfied with any thing.”

“I cannot, except you will sleep with this man” (pointing to a poor sick traveller who had fallen ill upon the road).

“That will be inconvenient.”

“Will you consent to sleep with this boy?” (about ten,) ” Yes.”

Having compleated our bargain, and supped, fifteen earners approached, each with a one-horse cart, and sat down to the pudding and beef, which I soon perceived were not too large. I was the only one admitted; and watched them with attention, being highly diverted. Every piece went down as if there was no barricade in the throat. One of those pieces was more than I have seen eaten at a meal by a moderate person. They convinced me that eating was the “chief end of man.” The tankard too, like a bowl lading water out of the well, was often emptied, often filled.

My landlady, however, swerved from her agreement; for me found me a whole bed to my wish.