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.

Advertisements

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.

Wall Mile 76

Wall Mile 76 [HB 358]

Nothing much interesting happens between Glasson and Drumburgh if we stick to the Trail, although it is a pleasant enough walk, but patrolled by some mean horseflies. A measure of insect repellent may be advisable (although some may 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 of Drumburgh. Railway enthusiasts and industrial archaeologists alike may care to note that the Trail next turns onto the route of the dismantled Carlisle and Silloth Bay railway (at NY 259 592), which led up to a junction with the Port Carlisle line 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 unmural facts.

Drumburgh (CONGABATA)

Like Bowness, Drumburgh (one of those -burghs pronounced ‘-bruff’) was situated on a drumlinoid, giving it a slight height advantage over the surrounding area. There is nothing of the fort to see, although we know the first fort here was only 0.8ha in area (making it the smallest on the Wall), but Drumburgh Castle (in reality a fortified bastle-type house typical of the border region) contains large amounts of dressed red sandstone from the second, stone fort (and, presumably, the curtain wall); 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’.

Altar outside Drumburgh Castle

Altar outside Drumburgh Castle

From the road, we can clearly see what appears to be a plinth course behind an old water pump, similar to those found on the northern face of Turf Wall turrets like T52a (which we shall see later). 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, as are the initials TD), it is worth noting that another of the Dacres has an intriguing role to play in the later history of the Wall, as we shall soon see. 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. The late garrison here was an infantry unit, cohors II Lingonum.

Milecastle 76 (Drumburgh) [HB 358; haiku]

Site of Milecastle 76

Site of Milecastle 76

We can now continue out of the village to the point where the ground slopes down to the marsh. Over to our left, on the eastern extremity of the raised ground, is the likely site of Milecastle 76 (Drumburgh). Its position has been tentatively located, perched on the eastern edge of the Drumburgh drumlinoid, between the fort and the line of the old railway, but there is nothing to see now.

Wall Mile 78

Wall Mile 78 [HB 363–4]

Trail signage at Port Carlisle

Trail signage at Port Carlisle

Now we should proceed towards Port Carlisle, still on the road (but the verge can be quite useful for avoiding the more eager motorist). As we pass the second solitary house, and before we reach the terrace of houses aligned north to south (NY 238 623), if we look to our right we may note how the land slopes up from the road to the course of the Wall. It has lost its hedge line by this point, but its course takes it along that slightly higher ground. We shall return to the Wall’s tactical use of the landscape later, but for now just note that an attacker, having crossed the estuary would have to run (slightly) uphill to the Wall.

Port Carlisle altar

Altar built into the front of Hesket House

Once we are past that terrace of houses on the right, the road bends to the right and we need to cross over and take the path indicated by the wooden National Trail signpost (next to an old gas street lamp). However, it is worth making a slight detour some 30m along the main road into Port Carlisle and noting another altar built into the front of Hesket House guest house (the first house on the left, easy to spot by its green-painted quoins and window surrounds), just above the door lintel. This is still legible and the words ‘MATRIBVS SVIS‘ can be made out, although, for the next word ‘MILITES‘, just the tops of the letters survive (the whole thing reads ‘to their own mother goddesses, the solders…’). Now we should head back to the Trail.

As we walk along the path, the Wall has been heading obliquely on a due east–west course for a rendezvous at the point where we turn a corner and see the red sandstone quay of Port Carlisle (or Fisher’s Cross as it used to be called). The Wall now makes an abrupt 68 degree turn towards the south-east at the location of Turret 78b (NY 240 622). We cross the bridge over the sea-lock of the former Carlisle Canal (opened in 1823, closed in 1853: badly timed to coincide with the arrival of the railways) and follow the Trail signs that take us to the left of the bungalow. The path meanders amongst some scrub seemingly undecidedly for a while, before we pass through a gate and two things happen simultaneously (NY 242 619): first we join the course of the Wall ditch and, second, the route of the Port Carlisle Railway that all-too-ironically replaced the ill-fated canal in 1854, for the two coincide for a short distance. Some remnants of the canal survive as a reed-bedecked ditch just to our right and the course of the Wall lies beneath the road beyond it. A prostrate forest – possibly the result of a post-glacial inundation of the Solway plain – was found some way beneath the curtain wall when the canal was being dug in 1823. Near the position of Turret 78a, the Trail departs from the course of the ditch and we must continue to the point where the path crosses the road, just beyond the location of Milecastle 78 (NY 246 613).

Milecastle 78 (Kirkland) [HB 363; haiku]

Site of Milecastle 78

Site of Milecastle 78

Milecastle 78 (Kirkland) was first noted by Horsley in 1725 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 we have the satisfaction of knowing it is there, which is more than can be said for some milecastles.

Wall Mile 79

Wall Mile 79 [HB 366]

Our first 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. At a field gate, some 925m east of the village (NY 233 624), we can look south across the field to the hedge line that represents the course of the Wall near Turret 79a, where there is even a trace of the ditch (not that we can tell it from our vantage point). What we also cannot see is that we are looking towards two successive Hadrian’s Walls. First was a turf rampart, 6m wide and possibly nearly 4m high, known as the Turf Wall. This was the first form of the Wall between Bowness and the River Irthing, just east of Milecastle 49. This was subsequently replaced by a stone curtain wall, between 2.44m and 2.9m wide between Milecastle 54 and Bowness, whilst the original ditch continued in use. You will not be surprised to learn that this is often known as the Stone Wall (and occasionally as the Intermediate Wall, but we’ll untangle all of that later). Part of it was still standing up to 6ft high here when first William Hutton, then soon afterwards John Skinner, walked past in 1801, but it is now long gone.

Wall Mile 79 from the air

Wall Mile 79 from the air

Between each pair of milecastles were placed two square turrets (conventionally a and b) with an interval between them and their neighbouring milecastles of one third of a Roman mile. The Turf Wall turrets were built of stone and the rampart butted against them (so the turrets had to be built first). When that was replaced by a stone curtain wall, the turrets were retained and incorporated.

We can now carry on walking and, with Port Carlisle just coming into view, pause by a field gate just before we reach a pair of 30 speed limit signs (NY 236 623) and look to the south again. The Wall is still betrayed by that hedgeline, but we are now looking towards the site of Milecastle 79.

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

Site of Milecastle 79

Site of Milecastle 79

Milecastle 79 (Solway House) was excavated in 1949 (with Ukrainians from Hallmuir PoW camp, near Lockerbie, as labourers) and again in 1999, when both the Turf Wall milecastle and its stone successor were examined. Unusually, the stone replacement was a 17.5m-square milecastle, since most are either ‘short axis’ (broader east–west) or ‘long axis’ (longer north–south). Milecastles were fortlets, small garrison posts attached to the rear of the wall, but we shall be able to explore one in more detail once we get further inland. For now, it is sufficient to note that we have completed our first full Roman mile out of the 80 awaiting us.

The PLV ebooks