Wall Mile 6 [HB 151–8]
Continuing up the hill, we reach a roundabout and cross carefully. Here there is absolutely nothing of the Wall to see, other than its influence on the course of West Road (along which we are travelling), but in many ways that is the whole point of this suburban and urban odyssey of ours. Until now, we have been noting how the line taken by the Wall was dictated by the landscape and that has not changed (although it is difficult to see such influences in built-up areas they are, nevertheless, still there). The added factor now is that the Wall has, in turn, exerted a major influence on the layout of Newcastle and its suburbs.
The road continues to climb, but very gently now, until it reaches the summit in Benwell, where the next fort was located.
Benwell fort (CONDERCUM)
Benwell was built after the Wall and its ditch and before the Vallum, which made a detour to the south to avoid it, and it is another of those that straddles the line of the curtain wall. The fort is 10.9km (6.75 miles) from Rudchester and covers 2.2ha (5.6 acres). The portion projecting north of the wall has been destroyed by a modern reservoir, whilst that to the south is wholly built over. It was garrisoned in the 2nd century by the cohors I Vangionum, then in the 3rd and 4th centuries by the ala I Asturum. The fact that the fort was not big enough to have contained the Vangiones, a double-strength mixed infantry and cavalry force, together with an inscription recording their presence at Chesters, has led to the suggestion that they may have been split across the two sites.
There is nothing to see of the fort itself but there are two rather intriguing sites associated with the civil settlement: the Vallum Crossing and the Temple of Antenociticus.
The Vallum Crossing
Just before the Job Centre (the Plus seems slightly redundant these days), turn right down Denhill Park. Immediately the road forks, but we can go either left or right as it is a crescent. Soon, in this urban environment, we stumble across one of English Heritage’s forgotten gems, the only surviving crossing of the Vallum (which has dodged southwards to avoid the fort) that is on display. We can either peep over the railings or, should you wish to inspect it more closely, get the key from No.26 (the bungalow in front and to the right as we look northwards from the end of the crescent); you choose.
Here we can see how a causeway has been left across the Vallum ditch (which is only about half its original depth). A culvert had been inserted, presumably to prevent (or rather reduce) ponding on the eastern side. The road across the ditch had a monumental stone-founded gateway, the base of which can still be seen, as can the sockets for the gates themselves. Behind the gateway, the road has been stepped to convey the impression of several succeeding surfaces. As we leave the enclosure, inspect the large piece of stone near the iron gate, which is a socket block that retains its original iron socket lining.
After returning the key, we head back out of Denhill Park, turning right back onto West Road and then take the next right onto Weidner Road, right again onto Westholme Gardens, then left onto Broomridge Avenue, and there, on our left-hand side, is the second of the gems that slaves to the National Trail miss: the Temple of Antenociticus. This is the only part of the substantial civil settlement that is still available for us to see, but a large bath-house was excavated by the local landowner, Robert Shafto in 1751 (whether he was the Bobby Shafto of the famous Tyneside song is a matter of debate, as several of his relatives shared the name).
The Temple of Antenociticus
A small apsidal building, it contains concrete replicas of the original altars, which are now in the Great North Museum. Antenociticus was a local god (inscriptions recording him only occur at Benwell) and a stone head found here has been identified as representing the deity. The temple is comparable in size to the mithraeum at Carrawburgh and the fact that the inscriptions were set up by unit commanders may indicate he was an acquired taste amongst the social elite, rather than a popular figure. Enjoy the incongruity of the setting for a while (it can be surprisingly peaceful) and then we can return to the main road.
Back on the main road, we plod on down the pavement until we reach the junction with Benwell Grove, where Milecastle 6 is calculated to have been. The line of the curtain wall is marked by the shop frontages, the ditch by the road.
Milecastle 6 (Benwell Grove) [HB 151; haiku]The approximate location of Milecastle 6
Milecastle 6 (Benwell Grove) has never been found, but was once easier to at least locate* approximately as Elswick windmill stood nearby, now long since vanished.
*If you get uppity about split infinitives, my advice is to go and read what Fowler has to say on the subject.