Wall Mile 24

Wall Mile 24 [HB 186–7]

It is time to leave the south side of the Military Road and the gently undulating remains of the Vallum. We climb up to a stile and have to cross the Military Road. Once more, care is essential, given the breakneck speed at which motorists hurtle along here; there are signs warning them of pedestrians crossing, but you will not see many decelerate as a result.

We are now on the north lip of the ditch, following the upcast mound or counterscarp. Archaeologists, bless ’em, get confused over these terms (they tend to be used interchangeably), but suffice it to say that the counterscarp is a part of the upcast mound, but they are not synonymous (the former is that part of the latter facing the ditch; clear? I may test you later).

To our left, beyond the ditch, the characteristic form of the roadside walls along the Military Road, built at the same time by the contractors, also using Wall stone, has two rows of through-stones, but this detail is not usually copied in subsequent repairs to the walls. These walls are interesting in their own right (as indeed is the Military Road, about which we shall say more in due course). Before the road was built, the remnants of Hadrian’s Wall itself was the major land division, so destroying it and laying a road required that walls be built on either side of it, to placate the landowners. Therefore, the road-laying gangs also had to undertake wall construction, and there are still some fine examples of the drystone-wallers’ art to be seen as we progress towards our destination.

Further to the south, unseen by us, the Vallum switches between an earthwork in pasture and cropmarks in standing crops and then, after a while, back again, just in time for a change of course. As we reach the realignment, a field wall swoops across the ditch, highlighting its profile.

The ditch after the realignment

The ditch at the realignment

That change in the alignment of the course of the Wall (it has been on a slightly more northerly heading from the point where the Dere Street crosses it at the Portgate roundabout) sees it shift to almost due east to west until we reach Heavenfield. At this slight angle, the ditch ploughs through an outcrop (almost as if it had been deliberately aimed at it), exploiting a little trick used by the ditch-diggers with which we shall become familiar: it is dug into the foreslope. Doing this forced an enemy to run uphill to reach the obstacle (a task made more difficult by the upcast mound), whilst the use of the foreslope enhanced the south face of the ditch, which confronted an attacker trying to get across it.

the foreslope trick

the foreslope trick

Next to us, the ditch often shows signs of moisture, with damp-loving plant species like Juncus and even standing water within it in places. The land along here continues to slope gently from south to north, enhancing the effect of the ditch and counterscarp.

Milecastle 25 (Codlawhill) [HB 187; haiku]

Although it survives as an earthwork, there is nothing for us to see as it is on the far side of the Military Road and well out of our reach or sight. Like its neighbours on either side, it is a long-axis milecastle and was excavated in 1930.

Wall Mile 32

Wall Mile 32 [HB 224–5]

As we depart Milecastle 33, we are still on the approximate line of the curtain wall, but shortly we cross over the ditch and find ourselves firmly in Barbaricum for a while. This occurs at the point where the Military Road shuffles in and adopts a position on top of the curtain wall which it will retain, for the most part, until we reach the outskirts of Newcastle. Now we are walking along the line of the upcast mound and there is a little to see, beyond the ditch, hard up against the north wall of the Military Road.

The Trail crosses the ditch

The Trail crosses the ditch

These walls are interesting (as indeed is the Military Road, about which we shall say more in due course). Before the road was built, Hadrian’s Wall itself was the major land division, so destroying it and laying a road required that walls be built on either side of it, to placate the landowners. Therefore, the road-laying gangs also had to undertake wall construction, and there are still some fine examples of the drystone-wallers’ art to be seen as we progress towards our destination.

Looking towards Carraw Farm

Looking towards Carraw Farm

Milecastle 32 (Carraw) [HB 224; haiku]

After an interminable distance (or so it seems) we cross a drystone wall by means of a ladder stile and then it is only some 220m to the location of Milecastle 32 (Carraw). Don’t bother looking for it, as it is on the other side of the road (remember: the Military Road sits on top of the curtain wall, now, so the milecastle is south of that), but it survives as a low earthwork, was of the long-axis type, and was excavated in 1971.

The site of Milecastle 32 from the air

The site of Milecastle 32 from the air