Driving Hadrian’s Wall: the Main Car Parks V (Housesteads)

Housesteads (NNP)

Coordinates: N55.009974, W2.322925 Facilities: toilets, picnic spot, refreshments, visitor centre

Housesteads car park is not only well-signposted on the B6318 (the Military Road) travelling from both the east and west, it is right next to the road, although – situated on a bend and at a slight crest – it can appear suddenly. This is another of the Northumberland National Park car parks for which a season ticket can be acquired; an ordinary ticket bought from the machine here can be used on that day at any of the other National Park car parks along the Wall.

Advice

Always be aware of the possibility of thieves operating in the car park. Follow signs for the Hadrian’s Wall Path to access sites to either side of Housesteads. Stout footwear is advisable. Access to the fort and museum is by a paved path.

Housesteads car parkZone 3 (1km)

1. Housesteads museum and fort

2. Curtain wall Wall Mile 36

3. Knag Burn gateway

Zone 4 (2km)

4. Milecastle 37

5. Cuddy’s Crags classic viewpoint

6. Curtain wall Rapishaw Gap

7. Milecastle 36

8. Busy Gap ditch

Zone 5 (3km)

9. Curtain wall on Sewingshields Crags

10. Sewingshields Turret

11. Sewingshields Milecastle

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Driving Hadrian’s Wall: the Main Car Parks IV (Steel Rigg)

Steel Rigg (NNP)

Coordinates: N55.002899, W2.391337 Facilities: picnic spot

Steel Rigg is well-signposted on the B6318 (the Military Road) travelling from both the east and west (the turning is opposite the turning for Vindolanda). This is another of the Northumberland National Park car parks for which a season ticket can be acquired; an ordinary ticket bought from the machine here can be used on that day at any of the other National Park car parks along the Wall.

Advice

Always be aware of the possibility of thieves operating in the car park. Follow signs for the Hadrian’s Wall Path to access sites to either side of Steel Rigg. Stout footwear is advisable. South and east of the car park is one of the finest stretches of ‘Claytonised’ curtain wall; please do not climb on it. In the event of very windy weather, or if you suffer from vertigo, the Military Way (4) makes an acceptable alternative route for reaching the points of interest.

Steel Rigg car parkZone 2 (500m)

1. Curtain wall and ditch Wall Mile 39

2. Peel Gap turret

3. Curtain wall Peel Crags

4. Military Way

Zone 3 (1km)

5. Milecastle 40

Zone 4 (2km)

6. Milecastle 39

7. Mons Fabricius

8. Sycamore Gap

9. Curtain wall Sycamore Gap

Driving Hadrian’s Wall: the Main Car Parks III (Cawfields Quarry)

Cawfields Quarry (NNP)

Coordinates: N54.993100, W2.450701 Facilities: toilets, picnic spot

Cawfields Quarry is well-signposted on the B6318 (the Military Road) travelling from both the east and west (the turning is opposite the Milecastle Inn). This is another of the Northumberland National Park car parks for which a season ticket can be acquired; an ordinary ticket bought from the machine here can be used on that day at any of the other National Park car parks along the Wall.

Advice

Always be aware of the possibility of thieves operating in the car park. Follow signs for the Hadrian’s Wall Path to access sites to either side of Cawfields Quarry. Stout footwear is advisable.

Cawfields Quarry car park planZone 1 (100m)

1. Wall ditch Wall Mile 42

Zone 2 (500m)

2. Milecastle 42

3. Vallum

4. Military Way

5. Curtain wall Wall Mile 41 (either way)

Zone 3 (1km)

6. Curtain Wall at Thorny Doors

7. Great Chesters fort

Zone 4 (2km)

8. Turret 41a

9. Milecastle 41

10. Milestone

Driving Hadrian’s Wall: the Main Car Parks II (Walltown Quarry)

Walltown Quarry (NNP)

Coordinates: N54.986800, W2.520391 Facilities: toilets, refreshments, picnic spot

Walltown Quarry (and the neighbouring Roman Army Museum) is well-signposted on the B6318 (the Military Road) travelling from both the east and west (the turning is 800m east of Greenhead). This is one of the Northumberland National Park car parks for which a season ticket can be acquired, but an ordinary ticket bought from the machine here can be used on that day at any of the National Park car parks along the Wall. Note that the sites east of Walltown Quarry can also be accessed from the free car park at Walltown Crags.

Advice

Always be aware of the possibility of thieves operating in the car park. Follow signs for the Hadrian’s Wall Path to access sites to either side of Walltown Quarry. Stout footwear is advisable.

Walltown Quarry car parkZone 1 (100m)

1. Wall ditch Wall Mile 45

Zone 3 (1km)

2. Curtain wall Wall Mile 45

3. Turret 45a

Zone 4 (2km)

4. Curtain wall Wall Mile 45

5. Milecastle 45

6. Turret 44b

 

Driving Hadrian’s Wall: the Main Car Parks I (Birdoswald)

Birdoswald (EH)

Coordinates: N54.991552, W2.600871 Facilities: none

Birdoswald is well-signposted on the A69 travelling from both the east and west. The English Heritage car park immediately east of Birdoswald fort is primarily designed for visitors to that monument. That much is clear from the fact that you can get the cost of your parking (£4 in 2015) reimbursed when you visit the fort. However, you can also use it for exploring the surrounding bits of Hadrian’s Wall.

Advice

Do not park in and obstruct the bus turning area (you should hear what coach drivers call the idiots who do this!) and do not leave valuables in your car. There are posters warning about thieves for a good reason (last time I was there some cars were broken into only a couple of days later). Follow signs for the Hadrian’s Wall Path to access sites to either side of Birdoswald. Stout footwear is advisable.

Map of the area around Birdoswald car park

Zone 1 (100m)

1. Birdoswald fort

2. Curtain wall (Wall Mile 49) east of Birdoswald

Zone 2 (500m)

3. Milecastle 49

4. Curtain wall (Wall Mile 49) west of Birdoswald

5. Turret 49b

Zone 3 (1km)

6. Willowford Bridge Abutment

7. Turf wall (Wall Mile 49)

Wall Mile 54

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.

Exposed, mortared wall core

Exposed, mortared wall core

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.

Facing stones from the Wall reused at Lanercost Priory

Facing stones (with inscription) from the Wall, reused at Lanercost Priory

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.

Wall Mile 54 crossing the Howgill

Wall Mile 54 crossing the Howgill

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 site of Milecastle 55

The site of Milecastle 55

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).

Wall Mile 53

Wall Mile 53 [HB 323–5]

Opposite the location of Milecastle 53 is the entrance to an enclosure containing one of the highest portions of curtain wall.

Hare Hill curtain wall [HB 323]

The curtain wall core at Hare Hill

The curtain wall core at Hare Hill

At 2.3m in width, this is of course an example of narrow gauge wall. Long famed for being the tallest surviving section of the curtain wall (3m), the north face is in fact a late-19th-century reconstruction, undertaken at the behest of the Earl of Carlisle, although the core stands to its original height. However, all is not as it seems.

The reconstructed facing stones at Hare Hill

The reconstructed facing stones at Hare Hill

The keen-eyed will note that the face is not even aligned on the much-more-modest (and more recently) exposed section immediately to its east and do-it-yourselfers will doubtless tut-tut at this example of careful Victorian laxity. This stretch of curtain wall actually conveys a powerful message about the way in which attitudes to the consolidation of the monument have changed. Whilst replacing facing stones was once thought acceptable, the more recent approach has been to consolidate it as found. If you happen to prefer one over the other, good for you; neither is necessarily right or wrong. Before we depart, locate the centurial building stone on the north face (nine courses down from the top, two stones in from the left), reading ‘< P · P ·’ (centuria primi pili), or ‘the century of the senior centurion (of the legion)’. It (RIB 1958) was found some time before 1894, west of Turret 53a, and built into the reconstructed face of the curtain wall. Remember, with Hadrian’s Wall, all is not as it seems.

Leaving the curtain wall enclosure by means of either of the two gates (although the upper one makes more sense), we turn right up the narrow lane and then through the kissing gate to our left which leads us around the south side of the farm buildings at Hare Hill. We now follow a stretch with the curtain wall as hedgerow with the ditch concealed to the north of it.

As we approach the crest of Craggle Hill, the hedgerow gives way to a modern drystone wall that makes prominent use of the facing stones from its Roman predecessor. The ditch can be clearly seen to the north. We shall soon be leaving the buff sandstone of the central sector and become familiar with the red sandstone of the western sector. This ‘complex unconformity’ is often identified (incorrectly, it seems) with the so-called Red Rock Fault, although this is debated by geologists who doubt its continuation this far north. We can safely leave them to mutter over that and merely note that the bedrock is changing and that this change is manifested in the stone of the Wall itself.

Field wall and ditch on Craggle Hill

Field wall and ditch on Craggle Hill

The line of the Vallum is off to our left, passing through a recently clear-felled area of plantation. We follow the Trail and bound merrily down the slope towards a large, prominent oak tree with a perceptible platform. This is the site of Milecastle 54.

The site of Milecastle 54 from Craggle Hill

The site of Milecastle 54 from Craggle Hill

Milecastle 54 (Randylands) [HB 325–6; haiku]

Excavated in 1933/4, this splendidly named long-axis milecastle was situated on a west-facing slope and was the most westerly reconstructed in stone before the move to the Antonine Wall in the fifth decade of the 2nd century AD. Examination also revealed the Turf Wall period milecastle underneath its stone successor.