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!

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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 78

Wall Mile 78 [HB 363–4]

The path meanders amongst some woodland, and we can occasionally glimpse remnants of the canal surviving as a reed-bedecked ditch just to our left. The course of the Wall lies beneath the road beyond those soggy bits. A prostrate oak forest was found some way beneath the curtain wall when the canal was being dug in 1823, a remnant of inundation during a Holocene sea-level change. Soon, we pass through a kissing gate and reach the point where we part company with the course of the Wall ditch and the route of the Port Carlisle Railway.

The Trail on the old railway line

The Trail on the old railway line

We weave around the back of some houses and discover the sea-lock of the former Carlisle Canal. We cross this and carry on down the lane, admiring the red sandstone quay of Port Carlisle (or Fisher’s Cross as it used to be called). The Wall now makes an abrupt 68° turn almost due west, near the location of Turret 78B. Off to our left, beyond the playground, the bowling green car park sits on the site of the old railway station, a line of stone flags betraying the edge of the platform.

The site of Turret 78b

The site of Turret 78b

Exiting the lane onto the coast road, we head off to the west (or right, as we call it in the trade), remembering to stay on the same side as the oncoming traffic and exercising ridiculous amounts of care as we go. Over to our left, just past the terrace of houses, note how the land slopes down to the road. The Wall is running upon that slightly higher ground. As ever, an attacker would be disadvantaged, for – having crossed the estuary – they would have to run uphill to the Wall. The road bends gently round to the right and we arrive unceremoniously at the site of  our penultimate milecastle, number 79. It is located off in the distance, the line of the Wall now being marked by a hedgerow in the shimmering heat-haze we almost certainly won’t be contending with.

In many ways, we are about to embark upon the least satisfactory of all the Wall miles, with no Wall and stuck on an unsympathetic, if vaguely picturesque, road. This is just one of the disadvantages of walking east to west, as we shall find in that, our final Wall mile (although we are probably going to have to admit that it’s a bit late now to turn back).

Milecastle 79 (Solway House) [HB 364–6; haiku]

Milecastle 79, somewhere up there, in the distance, honest!

Milecastle 79, somewhere up there, in the distance, honest!

Milecastle 79 was excavated in 1949 (by Ukrainians from the Lockerbie POW camp) and in 1999, when both the Turf Wall milecastle and its stone successor were examined. Unusually, this was a square milecastle, since (your will recall) most are either ‘short axis’ (broader east–west) or ‘long axis’ longer north–south.

Wall Mile 77

Wall Mile 77 [HB 363]

The National Trail now takes us onto the Vallum, turning left down the lane opposite the Highland Laddie Inn, keeping the village green to our left. We leave Glasson and head westwards down this track, finally reaching a sign for the Cottage & Glendale Holiday Park after the best part of a Roman mile. The line of the Wall itself is way off to our right and largely inaccessible.

Track on the line of the Vallum

Track on the line of the Vallum

At the Holiday Park, we turn right and follow the access lane down to the main road, noting the position of Milecastle 78 in the field to our left. Finally, we cross the road carefully and pass through the kissing gate and onto the line of the abandoned railway.

Milecastle 78 (Kirkland) [HB 363; haiku]

Site of Milecastle 78

Site of Milecastle 78

MC78 was first noted by Horsley and excavated in 1934 and 2000, when it was found to be a long-axis variant. There is nothing to see, certainly not from our vantage point, but you have the satisfaction of knowing it is there, which is more than can be said for some milecastles.

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.

Wall Mile 75

Wall Mile 75 [HB 358]

We may now continue a pleasant walk along the side of the road towards Drumburgh. Alternatively, you may choose to enjoy a slightly more elevated vantage point by walking on top of the levee (thereby avoiding the traffic on the road which ranges from the sedate to the lunatic), although rumour has it that ‘birders’ (as they like to be known) fear that that can disturb the local bird population, and you do have to dodge the odd low-hanging branch on the attendant hawthorn trees, but it is up to you.

Wall Mile 75 and Drumburgh from the air

Wall Mile 75 and Drumburgh from the air

Approaching Drumburgh, the old railway is to our left (the site of the station hardstanding can still be made out beyond the levee) and off in the marshes to the right is a giant concrete arrow, a hint for confused pilots from the days when the Solway Firth was a military range. Finally, the land begins to rise as we approach the drumlinoid containing Drumburgh fort and, closer, the site of Milecastle 76.

Milecastle 76 (Drumburgh) [HB 358; haiku]

The possible location of Milecastle 76

The possible location of Milecastle 76

The position of the milecastle has been tentatively located, perched on the eastern edge of the drumlinoid, between the fort and the line of the old railway, but there is – of course – nothing to see now.

Wall Mile 74

Wall Mile 74 [HB 358]

As with Wall Mile 73, nothing is known about Wall Mile 74. We may note the settlement of Boustead Hill, off to our left beyond the abandoned railway line. This is perched on a drumlinoid, a glacial feature in the form of a low mound amidst the mosses and marshes along this stretch of the estuarine coast. As we shall see, the Romans made good use of drumlinoids further on. In the absence of anything else of interest, now might be a good time to consider that railway line and its unusual predecessor.

Burgh Marsh near the possible site of Milecastle 74

Burgh Marsh near the possible site of Milecastle 74

To our left, behind the levee (designed to stop the farmland behind flooding with seawater) lies the route of the former Carlisle Canal, which was opened in 1823 and then closed only 30 years later. Designed to give Carlisle a link to the sea and, therefore, coastal trade, it was soon rendered superfluous by the arrival of the railways. Indeed, the canal was filled in and the Port Carlisle Railway replaced it in 1854. This stretch was shut in 1964, whilst that from Drumburgh to Port Carlisle closed even earlier, in 1932. From the air, the canal-cum-railway is the most prominent linear feature around here now (and is in fact occasionally mistaken for the Vallum).

Milecastle 75 (Easton) [HB 358; haiku]

Burgh Marsh looking towards the possible site of Milecastle 75

Burgh Marsh looking towards the possible site of Milecastle 75

Not found; see Wall Mile 74.