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.

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Wall Mile 52

Wall Mile 52 [HB 320–2]

After the farm, we hop over the wall by means of a stile and are back in a field south of the road. We now head west along the National Trail next to the field wall that divides us from the road. The Vallum is just to our left but has been almost completely ploughed out. After a while we come to a kissing gate, where we turn right and immediately see Pike Hill signal tower, perched precariously next to the road.

Pike Hill Signal Tower [HB 320–1]

Pike Hill signal tower

Pike Hill signal tower

This square stone tower was set at an angle to the line of the Wall. Positioned on the crest and cut by the same road that overlay the neighbouring turret, only parts of two sides and one corner remain to be inspected. Fortunately, the south-eastern side contains the entrance at its southern end. This additional tower between Milecastle 52 and Turret 52a has been interpreted as a pre-Wall signal tower, probably associated with the Stanegate ‘frontier’, which was later incorporated into the Wall, due to its advantageous position for signalling. In this it closely matches Turret 45a on Walltown Crags and the two sites may well have been intervisible in good weather (the two are just under 10km apart). Note the door (and the fact that most of the tower was removed by the later road) before we retrace our steps and head down the path in front of us towards a proper turret.

Turret 52a (Banks East) [HB 320–2]

Turret 52a

Turret 52a

Banks East Turret lies just 205m to the west of Pike Hill and was first excavated in 1933. It was, you will be amazed to learn, the first piece of Wall in Cumbria to be placed into the guardianship of the Ministry of Works (in 1934). The road, which used to follow the line of the curtain wall closely, originally ran over the top of it, but has subsequently been moved onto the berm (the ditch is very plain to the north of the road). The curtain wall to either side of the turret is, once again, the narrow gauge form that predates the move to the Antonine Wall and is pierced at ground level by several drains, designed to stop water ponding against it.

The turret itself, being originally constructed free-standing and with the turf wall butted against it, is very clearly of a different build to the curtain wall. The butt joints between wall and turret are obvious and the turret protrudes to the north of the line of the curtain wall. On its north face is a fine plinth course which you will need to fix in your memory for later. Why is the plinth course there? Nobody knows. Perhaps it marked a feature of the Turf Wall itself, such as the top of a vertical front section (although turf ramparts were usually battered inwards so that they were narrower at the top than at the base, the lowest portion was sometimes vertical).

The plinth course on Banks Turret

The plinth course on Banks Turret

The chief distinguishing features of the turret are that it is square with an entrance at ground level (in this case at the eastern end of the southern side) and that it is recessed into the thickness of the curtain wall. A hearth lay against the west wall. As with all archaeological reconstruction, the higher up we look, the less certain we are about details. It is assumed it had entrances on either side at the level of the top of the Turf (and later Stone) Walls, although there are those who do not believe Hadrian’s Wall had a walkway or parapet on top (more of that later). As part of the Turf Wall, the front and back of this stone turret coincided with the front and back of the turf rampart, but when the stone curtain wall was provided, the turret was left to project slightly to the north (turrets to the east, built at the the same time as the curtain wall, did not do this), so some scholars have suggested this means the curtain wall was lined up on those side entrances to the (presumed) walkway. Turrets and towers in the ancient world were generally intended to give a height advantage, so we can be fairly safe in assuming its top was higher than the Wall, although by how much is uncertain; part of the tumbled superstructure lies immediately outside the west wall. Equally, we do not know if it had a flat roof with a parapet and fighting platform or whether it was conventionally roofed. As you can readily see, what we know about turrets is far outweighed by what we have to guess.

After a short stretch squeezed between a fence and the field wall we are thrown brutally back onto the road to march through Banks itself. On our way we can admire a fine example of purpresture (the attempt to acquire public property as private, in this case the verge) in action (or should that be inaction?).

Purpresture in operation

Purpresture in operation

We still have the ditch to our right, but when we fork right down a lane to follow the Trail we cross it and the Wall continues more directly down the hillside. Consideration was once given to consolidating a length of wall east of Milecastle 53, but nothing ever came of this and there is nothing to see. We turn left (watching out for traffic as this road can be busier than the one we have just left) and then right up the driveway towards Hare Hill.

Milecastle 53 (Banks Burn) [HB 322–3; haiku]

Milecastle 53 lay beneath the present house to our left, and was examined in 1932. Largely destroyed, it was an example of a long-axis milecastle. There is, predictably perhaps, nothing to see.

Wall Mile 52

Wall Mile 52 [HB 320–2]

Consideration was once given to consolidating a length of wall east of Milecastle 53, but nothing ever came of this and there is nothing to see. The lane next takes us down to cross the road close to Banks Burn and the Trail then leads us first left then right along the road and up the hill, whilst the Wall continues more directly up the hillside towards the hamlet of Banks. Soon we rejoin the course of the Wall and the line of the ditch is apparent to the left of the road. The Trail sticks to the road (watch out for traffic) until we are past Banks itself, when a right turn takes us onto a path running south of a wall separating us from the road. This soon takes us to the next major section of curtain wall at Banks East Turret.

Turret 52a at Banks East

Turret 52a at Banks East

Turret 52a (Banks East) was excavated in 1933 and was the first piece of Wall in Cumbria to be placed into the guardianship of the Ministry of Works (in 1934). The road, which used to follow the line of the curtain wall closely, originally ran over the top of it, but has subsequently been moved onto the berm (the ditch is very plain to the north of the road). The curtain wall to either side of the turret is, once again, the Narrow Gauge form that pre-dates the move to the Antonine Wall and is pierced at ground level by several drains, designed to stop water ponding against it.

Turret 52a

Turret 52a

The turret itself, being originally constructed free-standing and with the turf wall butted against it, is very clearly of a different build to the curtain wall. The butt joints between wall and turret are obvious and the turret protrudes to the north of the line of the curtain wall. On its north face is a fine plinth course that is reminiscent of that we noted at Drumburgh Castle some while ago and there are hints that it existed on the south side too. Why is the plinth course there? Nobody knows. Perhaps it marked a feature of the Turf Wall itself, such as the top of a vertical front ‘cheek’ (although turf ramparts were usually battered inwards so that they were narrower at the top than at the base, the lowest portion was sometimes vertical).

The plinth course and projecting front of Turret 52a

The plinth course and projecting front of Turret 52a

The chief distinguishing features of the turret are that it is square with an entrance at ground level (in this case at the eastern end of the southern side) and that it is recessed into the thickness of the curtain wall. A hearth lay against the west wall. As with all archaeological reconstruction, the higher up we look, the less certain we are about details. It is assumed it had entrances on either side at the level of the top of the Turf (and later Stone) Walls, although there are those who do not believe Hadrian’s Wall had a walkway or parapet on top (more of that later). As part of the Turf Wall, the front and back of this stone turret coincided with the front and back of the turf rampart, but when the stone curtain wall was provided, the turret was left to project slightly to the north (turrets to the east, built at the same time as the curtain wall, did not do this), so some scholars have suggested this means the curtain wall was lined up on those side entrances to the (presumed) walkway. Turrets and towers in the ancient world were generally intended to give a height advantage, so we can be fairly safe in assuming its top was higher than the Wall, although by how much is uncertain; part of the tumbled superstructure lies immediately outside the west wall. Equally, we do not know if it had a flat roof with a parapet and fighting platform or whether it was conventionally roofed. As you can readily see, what we know about turrets is far outweighed by what we have to guess.

Drainage channel through the lowest course of the Wall

Drainage channel through the lowest course of the Wall

Just 205m to the east of Banks East turret there is another square stone tower, this time set at an angle to the line of the Wall. This is Pike Hill Signal Tower, positioned on the crest and cut by the same road that overlay the neighbouring turret, although only parts of two sides and one corner remain to be inspected. Fortunately, the south-eastern side contains the entrance at its southern end. The tower has been interpreted as a pre-Wall signal tower, probably associated with the Stanegate ‘system’, which was subsequently incorporated into the Wall, due to its advantageous position for signalling.

Pike Hill signal tower

Pike Hill signal tower

After all that excitement, it is time to retrace our steps for a few paces, pass through a kissing gate, and head east along the National Trail next to the field wall that divides us from the road. The Vallum is just to our right but has been almost completely ploughed out. Finally, we hop over the wall by means of a stile and are back on the road in order that the Trail can pass Bankshead House, where the next milecastle was situated.

Milecastle 52 (Bankshead) [HB 319–20; haiku]

Milecastle 52 (Bankshead) was excavated in 1934 and found to be a short-axis example. It will come as no surprise to learn that two more altars to Cocidius were found here at the beginning of the 19th century. No trace can now be seen but once again it illustrates a milecastle site being used as a later farming settlement.