Driving Hadrian’s Wall: the Main Car Parks VII (Chesters)

Chesters (EH)

Coordinates: N55.028771, W2.138364 Facilities: none

Chesters is well-signposted on the B6318 Military Road travelling from both the east and west. The English Heritage car park immediately east of Chesters 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 (£3 in 2015 according to the EH website) reimbursed when you visit the fort. However, you can also use it as the starting point for for a short walk to explore the bridge abutment over the river (although there is another, closer, alternative).

Advice

As ever, be aware that there are car thieves operating, as there are at all of the car parks along the Wall. To get to the bridge abutment, leave the car park and walk back to the main road. Cross over (taking care of course) and, turning right, follow the pavement to the roundabout at Chollerford. Go across the bridge over the North Tyne and then turn right into the small pedestrian gate immediately east of the bridge. Go down the steps and then follow the footpath to the pair of kissing gates, and then down to the riverside where the bridge abutment is situated. Stout footwear is not necessary but is advisable.

Chesters car parkZone 1 (100m)

Chesters fort

Zone 4 (2km)

Chesters Bridge Abutment

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Driving Hadrian’s Wall: the Main Car Parks VI (Carrawburgh)

Carrawburgh (NNP)

Coordinates: N55.035646, W2.220416 Facilities: none

Carrawburgh car park is immediately next to the B6318 (the Military Road) so is pretty much impossible to miss, whether travelling from the east or west. It 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 Carrawburgh. Stout footwear is advisable. Access to the fort and museum is by a paved path.

Carrawburgh car parkZone 1 (100m)

1. Carrawburgh fort

Zone 2 (500m)

2. The Temple of Mithras or mithraeum

Zone 4 (2 km)

3. Wall ditch Wall Mile 30

4. Limestone Corner

5. Vallum Wall Mile 30

Zone 5 (3km)

6. Curtain wall (between Limestone Corner and Black Carts)

7. Black Carts Turret

8. Milecastle 29

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

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 80

We shall make our way through Bowness to the bus turning area and small car park at the west end of the village. From here we can survey the vast estuary that is the Solway Firth and think on our journey.

Bowness and the remains of the railway bridge embankment

Bowness and the remains of the railway bridge embankment

To the west are the remains of the bridge that used to carry the Solway Junction Railway across the water to Scotland (and, before it was dismantled, the occasional drunken reveller – seeking to bypass national drinking laws – to their watery doom). According to Bishop Nicholson, writing in 1707, the terminus of the Wall lay a quarter of a mile west of the village and other writers confirm his observation. To the north, across the estuary, lies what is now Scotland but was in Roman times Caledonia: no Picts were harmed in the making of this mural barrier, they were almost certainly not around until long after it was constructed; the Picts’ Wall was a local term that came to be used to describe the Wall in the post-Roman period. To the east is the low drumlinoid we have just left that provides the slightly elevated platform for the fort of Bowness-on-Solway.

This is as good a place as any to reflect one last time how the emperor Hadrian’s visit to Britain in AD 122 (now immortalised as the route number of the Hadrian’s Wall bus) led to the construction of this massive monument, unique in form in the Roman world. Why did he do it? In the Historia Augusta, his biographer offers a simple explanation: ‘he was the first to construct a wall, eighty miles in length, which was to separate the barbarians from the Romans’ (HA Hadrian, 11).

Bowness and the west end of Hadrian's Wall

Bowness and the west end of Hadrian’s Wall

Epilogue [haiku]

There you have it: Hadrian’s Wall. I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey. Except… that is not necessarily the end. In fact, there is much more to come!

Wall Mile 79

Wall Mile 79 [HB 366]

Our last mile of the Wall to the south-east of Bowness fort is a field boundary, some way to the south of the Trail, which wends its way along the shore road. Carry on walking and, as the road curves to the right and signs warn that the road can flood in high tides, we can look across a field gate, some 335m west of Milecastle 79 (NY 233 624), you can look south across the field to the hedge line that represents the course of the wall, where there is even a trace of the ditch (not that you can tell it from your vantage point).

Wall Mile 79 from the air

Wall Mile 79 from the air

Part of the curtain wall was still standing up to 6ft high here when first William Hutton, then John Skinner only a few weeks later, walked past in 1801, but it is now long gone.

Approaching Bowness

Approaching Bowness

Arriving at Bowness, if you are desperate to get your ‘passport’ stamped at the incongruous little shed that lurks off the main street (or just want a view over the estuary and some appreciation of the drumlinoid upon which the fort and village sit), follow the brown signs down the path to the right just after entering the village. Having admired the wildlife mosaics (and fighting off the feeling of anti-climax that greets our monumental effort of having got this far), we may carry on. Return to the main street and turn right towards the centre of the settlement. Some 90m on, to our left, we pass a red-sandstone byre with a blocked door, over which is a weathered Roman altar. The stone of the buildings, unsurprisingly, derives from the fort and the curtain wall.

Byre in Bowness with a Roman altar

Byre in Bowness with a Roman altar

Bowness-on-Solway fort (MAIA) [HB 367–70]

The fort of Maia lies beneath the village of Bowness. The significance of its location, apart from the conveniently raised ground of the drumlinoid, is that it is (or was) the lowest fording point of the Solway Firth. As William Camden observed, ‘at every ebbe the water is so low that the borderers and beast-stealers may easily wade over.’ The remains of the fort were evident when Camden visited in 1599 (‘tracts of streetes, ruinous walles, and an haven now stopped up with mud’), but there is now nothing to be seen of its fabric.

Part of the northern side of the fort has been lost to erosion, but it has been estimated that it occupied 2.8ha (7 acres) and identification of the site of the south gate has shown that the fort faced south-west. Excavation on the eastern defences in 1988 revealed that the primary grey clay rampart was cut back to allow the insertion of a sandstone defensive wall on a cobblestone foundation. The V-shaped ditch was found to be 4.5m wide and 2m deep. The fort housed a milliary unit (around 800 infantrymen), a fact betrayed not only by its size but also from the now-illegible inscription on that altar just mentioned, set up by the tribunus Sulpicius Secundianus to the emperors Gallus and Volusianus (AD 251–3). Another inscription, now in Carlisle, but this time in verse on an altar, records an offering by a trader that implies the lettering was originally gilded. The Notitia Dignitatum does not record a commander or garrison for the fort. Excavations near the west gate have shown that the first phase was of turf and timber, contemporary with the Turf Wall, and it was subsequently reconstructed at least twice in stone.

A noticeboard on the side of the King’s Arms has a plan, together with some useful information. The notional site of Milecastle 80 lies just to the west of our position outside the pub.

Milecastle 80 [Not mentioned in the HB; haiku]

Bowness from the air

Bowness from the air

Milecastle 80 has not been found. It is assumed to have been demolished to make way for Bowness fort, so it will only ever have been made of turf and timber (since it would have been part of the initial Turf Wall system).

Wall Mile 76

Wall Mile 76 [HB 358]

We continue into the village of Drumburgh, leaving the marsh behind us.

Drumburgh fort (CONGABATA) [HB 359–61]

Drumburgh fort, like Bowness, was situated on a drumlinoid, giving it a slight height advantage over the surrounding area. Note that it is another of those burghs pronounced ‘bruff’. There is nothing of the fort to see, but Drumburgh Castle (in reality a fortified bastle-type house typical of the border region) contains large amounts of dressed red sandstone; the Revd John Leland visited in 1539 and had little doubt about its origin, commenting ‘the stones of the Pict wall wer pulled down to build Drumbuygh for the wal is very nere it’. From the road, we can clearly see what appears to be a plinth course behind an old water pump, almost identical to those found on the northern face of Turf Wall turrets like T52a (you will recall that I pointed it out to you. No? Oh well…).

The plinth course on Drumburgh Castle

The plinth course on Drumburgh Castle

Richard de Broyne was granted a licence to crenelate his property on August 24th 1307 by Edward II (Edward I had died of dysentery nearby on July 7th and this was one of three Cumbrian licences granted on the same day). Belonging to and evidently renovated by the Dacre family in the 16th century (the coat of arms of Thomas, Lord Dacre, is over the entrance), it has the defensible raised doorways found on such structures throughout the Border Marches, recalling how the livestock would be kept on the ground floor whilst the humans inhabited the storeys above. At this point, it is worth noting that another of the Dacres has an intriguing role to play in the later history of the Wall, suggesting rebuilding it to Elizabeth I in order to keep out the Scots. Outside the Castle are a number of Roman altars which, when Jessie Mothersole was here in 1921, were regularly coated in a strange mixture of buttermilk and ochre to help preserve them.

Altar at Drumburgh Castle

Altar at Drumburgh Castle

At only 0.8ha (2 acres), the fort was too small to have housed a complete quingenary cohort, although the Notitia Dignitatum identified its late garrison as cohors II Lingonum. Excavation in 1899 showed that the fort wall was bonded with the intermediate-width stone curtain of the Wall (and so built at the same time).

Shortly after the castle, we turn left down a narrow lane, immediately opposite a conveniently provided public convenience (rejoice: another one!). We are heading off on one of the largest diversions from the course of Hadrian’s Wall. Consequently, nothing much interesting happens between Drumburgh and Glasson if we stick to the Trail, although it is a pleasant enough walk, but patrolled by some mean horseflies. Some insect repellent is advisable (although I sometimes feel a 40mm Bofors gun might be more effective). The Wall, meanwhile, has realigned itself twice and is out of your reach, in the fields to the north.

Railway enthusiasts and industrial archaeologists may care to note that the Trail leaves Drmuburgh on the route of the dismantled Carlisle and Silloth Bay railway, leading south from a junction with the Port Carlisle line at the station just east of Drumburgh. In 1954, it apparently had the distinction of being the first line in Britain to replace steam trains with diesel multiple units; it shut ten years later. Far be it from me to draw any conclusions from that coincidence of facts.

If you (mischievous person that you are) wish to be slightly wayward and see the location of Milecastle 77, then once we reach Glasson (there are no remains so don’t get too excited), you will need to carry straight on down the road onto which we have turned, keeping the Highland Laddie Inn to our right and the village green to our left. You then follow the road for 0.4km to the T-junction (crossing over the line of the dismantled railway as you go), where the Wall is directly under the road; the milecastle lies 40m to the east, under the verge. Appreciate the lie of the land; note that you appear to be on another low drumlinoid and, if it is a fine day, to the east you can just about make out the higher ground of the Central Sector as the Wall climbs up towards Carvoran. Feeling nostalgic for the lumpy bits already?

Milecastle 77 (Raven Bank) [HB 362; haiku]

The site of Milecastle 77

The site of Milecastle 77

This milecastle was excavated in 1973 and (according to which version of the Handbook you read) either found or not found. This is why archaeologists are so fond of the words ‘probably’, ‘perhaps’, and ‘might’.

Anyway, you have now seen the site of the milecastle and can rejoin us in Glasson on the comparative safety of the National Trail and its idiosyncratic wanderings across the Cumbrian countryside.