Wall Mile 41

Wall Mile 41 [HB 263–4]

Carrying on, we are soon descending into Bogle Hole, then back up, and then down again, this time into Caw Gap. The curtain wall to our right is under a modern drystone wall. Here, a minor road passes through the Wall.

The Vallum immediately south of Caw Gap

The Vallum immediately south of Caw Gap

The adventurous Vallumophile can now take a brief detour down the road to say ‘hello’ to their hero, which is in fine earthwork form along here and only some 150m south of the curtain wall at this point. Having scratched that itch, return back up the hill to where the rest of us are patiently waiting for you, having handed round the emergency chocolate in your absence.

The curtain wall and ditch in Caw Gap

The curtain wall and ditch in Caw Gap

We now cross the road, noting that we are joined by the consolidated curtain wall to our left, accompanied by a length of ditch beyond it, and after only a short jaunt (and a change onto a more north-westerly course) reach the remains of Turret 41a.

Turret 41a

Turret 41a

Turret 41a

Turret 41a, like many others we have seen, was demolished almost to ground level when the Wall was briefly abandoned in favour of the Antonine Wall. The recess within the curtain wall was filled in and the turret never reconstructed.

Soon we reach a small re-entrant at a slight nick, with a gate through the curtain wall. This is Thorny Doors, and the curtain wall plummets down it and it is here that the highest surviving piece of curtain wall is to be found. When consolidated, it is said that putlog holes for wooden scaffolding were found in the outer face of the wall and that it was eroded in an unusual manner, perhaps because of the way in which the wind is funnelled through the nick. We can only admire the horizontal coursing of the curtain wall as it seems to descend the crags effortlessly.

Thorny Doors and Cawfields Crags

Thorny Doors and Cawfields Crags

The going is now much easier and we pass the site of Turret 41b (nothing to see) and we trudge downhill towards Milecastle 42, with the Claytonized curtain wall to our right, perched on the edge of Cawfields Crags. On our way, we cross The Great Googlegurgleblend, the point where something goes horribly wrong with the alignment of their air photos, making Hadrian’s Wall ‘jump’ a couple of metres to the north (most likely a parallax effect caused by combining images taken from slightly different positions). Fortunately, ‘ground proofing’ shows that the effect is not manifested in reality and the Claytonized Wall is seamless here.

The Great Googlegurgleblend

It has been mentioned several times, but what is the Claytonized Wall? John Clayton, who owned this stretch of land during the 19th century, had his workmen consolidate the curtain wall by excavating the tumbled facing stones that lay to either side of it and reconstructing them as coursed drystone walling on top of the surviving in-situ courses. This remained the National Trust style for the Wall, but differed markedly from the preferred Ministry of Works method of ‘as found’ consolidation in later years. A compromise was reached whereby the newer was combined with the older to preserve the unusual character of the National Trust-owned stretches on top of the more accurate modern approach. So, strictly speaking, Clayton Wall is reconstructed, Ministry Wall consolidated as found.

Having safely crossed that aerial photographic paradox, we arrive at Milecastle 42, seemingly draped across the dip slope.

Milecastle 42 (Cawfields) [HB 264–6; haiku]

Milecastle 42

Milecastle 42

Milecastle 42 was first excavated by John Clayton in 1848, re-excavated in 1935, and finally consolidated in the 1960s. The outline of this somewhat drastically sloping short-axis milecastle is clear but no internal structures were identified (or survived). The gateways are rather noteworthy, the south for the height of its masonry, the north for its marking-out lines (used to align its now-missing masonry) and for the remaining sockets for its gates. A fragment of tombstone and a Hadrianic building inscription come from here.

Wall Mile 29

Wall Mile 29 [HB 211–14]

Heading eastwards from the dramatic and slightly forlorn pinnacle of rock, we find that the ditch gets ever shallower, evidently having been little more than marked out, rather than fully excavated. The Trail currently passes to the south of the wall next to the trig point, then heads south until a break in the newly emerged consolidated curtain wall, where we cross the barrier again onto the berm and make our way down to the end of the field. Note that the Military Road is not on the line of the wall, here, but rather sits on the north mound of the Vallum (where it stays for nearly four Wall miles).

Ditch, berm, and curtain wall

Ditch, berm, and curtain wall

Crossing a small lane and entering the next gently sloping field, we find a splendid stretch of curtain wall and ditch at Black Carts. Two-thirds of the way down are the remains of Turret 29a.

Black Carts curtain wall and Turret 29a

Black Carts curtain wall and Turret 29a

Turret 29a (Black Carts), famously depicted in one of the woodcuts in Collingwood Bruce’s Handbook, survives to eleven courses within its recess, and has the familiar wing walls of a broad-gauge turret wed to the narrow-gauge curtain wall. It was first excavated by John Clayton in 1873 and subsequently re-examined in 1971. The threshold block in the doorway is of particular interest, since it retains the settings for the monolithic uprights that formed the door jambs, and the socket on the eastern side shows which way the door opened (remembering defensive doorways and gateways always opened inwards).

Turret 29a

Turret 29a

If you are feeling adventurous, you can nip round to the north side of the wall and hunt for a building inscription. One lies 55m from the west end (or 90m from the east) of this stretch of wall and records construction work under a centurion from the first cohort of a legion by the name of Nas(…) Ba(ssus). It has been suggested that legio XX was responsible for the initial construction of this section of wall. Bassus crops up elsewhere and an almost identical stone can be seen in Chesters museum which, although unprovenanced, may well be the pair to this stone. It has long been thought that building inscriptions were only placed on the south face of the curtain wall and that those on the north side were a result of rebuilding work. The fact that this stone is in the second course may give pause to question this argument for their placing, but it may equally hint at a very thorough rebuilding of this bit of the curtain wall (and such major reconstruction work is known elsewhere).

Centurial inscription

Centurial inscription

Leaving Black Carts behind us, we cross a lane and then head up a gently sloping field towards a plantation near the top, the ditch still visible to our left, but the curtain wall now hidden. Near the top of the field is the site of Milecastle 29.

Milecastle 29 (Tower Tye) [HB 211; haiku]

Milecastle 29 from the air

Milecastle 29 from the air

Milecastle 29 (Tower Tye), like Milecastle 38 (remember those bankers?), exists now solely as an earthwork, but is nevertheless an extremely interesting example. Excavated by John Clayton, the robber trenches for its walls are still sharply defined. However, there is an additional detail that the keen-of-eye may be able to make out and that is the fact that the milecastle is one of the few known to have had a ditch around it. It shows up now as a shallow depression around the west, south, and east sides.

Seditio3ad

Wall Mile 41

Wall Mile 41 [HB 263–4]

It is worth pointing out now that, for those who want an easier life, suffer from vertigo, or just love Roman roads to the point where they are beyond all reason and help, the Military Way can be followed almost continuously eastwards from here to Housesteads and provides a useful (and less demanding) alternative footpath. It normally shows up as a grassy strip to the south of the curtain wall, usually closer when the going is easy, further away along the craggy bits, and it is clearly marked on the Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer maps (another good reason to have them with you).

Cawfields Crags

Cawfields Crags

Heading east once more, and leaving Milecastle 42 in our wake, we climb gradually, with Claytonized curtain wall to our left, perched on the edge of Cawfields Crags. John Clayton, who owned this stretch of land during the 19th century, had his workmen consolidate the wall by excavating the tumbled facing stones that lay to either side of it and reconstructing them as coursed drystone walling on top of the surviving in-situ courses. This differed from the preferred Ministry of Works method of ‘as found’ consolidation in later years, but a compromise was reached whereby the newer was combined with the older to preserve the unusual character of the National Trust-owned stretches on top of the more accurate modern approach.

Curtain wall at Thorny Doors

Curtain wall at Thorny Doors

Before long we pass the site of Turret 41b before encountering a small re-entrant at a slight nick, with a gate through the curtain wall. This is Thorny Doors. Immediately afterwards the wall makes an assault on a particularly steep section of the Whin Sill and it is here that the highest surviving piece of curtain wall (as opposed to reconstructed, like the facing at Hare Hill) is to be found. When consolidated, it is said that putlog holes for wooden scaffolding were found in the outer face of the wall and that it was eroded in an unusual manner, perhaps because of the way in which the wind is funnelled through the nick. We can only admire the horizontal coursing of the curtain wall as it seems to ascend the crags effortlessly.

Turret 41a

Turret 41a

The next undulating stretch soon presents us with the remains of Turret 41a, demolished almost to ground level when the Wall was briefly abandoned when the Antonine Wall was built. The recess within the curtain wall was filled in and the turret never reconstructed. There is another slight turn to a more southerly course and we are soon approaching the site of the old Shield-on-the-Wall farm house, which sat directly on the curtain wall but was later moved slightly to the south (where it still stands, amongst a clump of trees). This is the shallow re-entrant at Caw Gap and a length of ditch duly appears to the north to cover it.

Eastern side of Caw Gap with field wall on Roman Wall

Eastern side of Caw Gap with field wall on Roman Wall

A minor road passes through the gap and, after we cross it, we have a stiff climb ahead of us. The curtain wall to our left has now been replaced by a modern drystone wall on top of it. The climb is fairly relentless and continues all the way to Milecastle 41, but eases off in the latter part.

Milecastle 41 (Melkridge) [HB 263; haiku]

Milecastle 41

Milecastle 41

Milecastle 41 (Melkridge) is a short-axis milecastle that survives as humps and bumps. By now, you are probably counting off your walk in milecastles and beginning to feel a creeping indifference towards them. Be patient: there are still a few treats in store.

CGHad

Wall Mile 42

Wall Mile 42 [HB 264–8]

The Trail leaves the eastern site of the fort across a field with prominent remnants of post-medieval ridge-and-furrow ploughing. Once again, a modern field wall runs on top of the curtain wall to our left. Beyond it, the ditch keeps company with us as we cross a stile and enter the next field. When we reach a rather unusual wiggle in the modern wall, we are at the site of Turret 42b. Beyond us, immediately to the north-east, there is a large temporary camp, known as Burnhead camp (3.5ha or 8.6 acres if you prefer), probably dating to the construction of the Wall. The Wall is now running downhill towards Cawfields Quarry, its distinctive triangular quarry face prominent at the western end of the next section of the Whin Sill crags.

Passing Burnhead B & B we nip over a stile, turn right to go over the small bridge, then left at the junction to take us to Cawfields Quarry on our right, now a picnic spot which has the important bonus of public conveniences (as well as its very own webcam). The Trail next takes along the south side of the quarry, now filled with water, and we bear left to a kissing gate which actually takes us through the curtain wall once more.

We can now take a brief diversion to the left to go up the steps to the point where the wall was unceremoniously chopped off by that quarry, whereby hangs a tale. Here, at this high point, let us consider a low point.

The end of the line for the curtain wall at Cawfields Quarry

The end of the line for the curtain wall at Cawfields Quarry

When the central sector of the Wall was sold off in 1929, at the breakup of the Clayton estate, the National Trust bought part but did not realise at the time that they did not own the mineral rights. Those were leased off to one John Wake of Darlington, who planned to expand his quarry at Cawfields all the way along the southern part of the dip slope between the Vallum to within ten feet of the curtain wall. This, as all who remembered Turret 45b marooned at Walltown Quarry, would probably have been structurally disastrous, as well as totally ruining the setting. At the time, the Ancient Monuments legislation was not sufficiently beefy to protect the monument from this indirect, but nevertheless very real, threat. Celebrities of the day rallied around, including Rudyard Kipling and John Buchan, letters were written to The Times, and the government was forced to act, compensating Wake and limiting the spread of his quarry, so that it grew no more than what we saw as we walked past, finishing working in 1952. Ugly truths had had to be confronted, particularly those touching upon employment (at a time of depression) set against ‘heritage’ (as we now insipidly term it), as well as the duty of the state in preserving monuments for current and future generations to enjoy. Every time a mountebank pops up and says planning legislation is too complex and too biased towards ancient monuments, whip yourself with the stingyest of nettles to remind yourself of this salutary tale.

Milecastle 42 from the neighbouring truncated peak

Milecastle 42 from the neighbouring truncated peak

At the top of the steps, we can turn back and admire Milecastle 42, laid out before us in a way it is difficult to better once you are down next to it. You may also glance to the south and see the confident earthwork of the Vallum striding across the countryside, dead straight, enjoying its freedom from the crags. Between them can be made out the grassy strip of the Military Way, dogging the footsteps of the curtain wall like a faithful servant.

Back down the steps, we cross the last few metres (or, if you remain unmetricated, yards; you still have to walk the same distance) to reach Milecastle 42, which we have already admired from atop the truncated hillock.

Milecastle 42 (Cawfields) [HB 264–6; haiku]

West pier of the north gate of Milecastle 42

West pier of the north gate of Milecastle 42

Milecastle 42 (Cawfields) was first excavated by John Clayton in 1848, re-excavated in 1935, and finally consolidated in the 1960s. The outline of this somewhat drastically sloping short-axis milecastle is clear but no internal structures were identified (or survived). The gateways are rather noteworthy, the south for the height of its masonry, the north for its marking-out lines (used to align its now-missing masonry) and for the remaining sockets for its gates. A fragment of tombstone and a Hadrianic building inscription come from here.