Wall Mile 50

Wall Mile 50 [HB 309–16]

It might justifiably be argued that this is one of the most interesting of the Wall Miles. Not by me, I hasten to add, but I can see why it could be thought to be.

The Turf Wall and ditch (foreground) with the Vallum (beyond)

The Turf Wall and ditch (foreground) with the Vallum (beyond)

The Trail takes us gently downhill, next to the Turf Wall (a low mound north of its ditch) and then across a couple fields, keeping the earthwork to our left. The Vallum is immediately behind the Turf Wall and that proximity may have been one reason for moving the Stone Wall slightly to the north (the Vallum is in places perched on the edge of the Irthing gorge so has nowhere else to go). We can clearly see the road, following the line of the Stone Wall, off to our right. At the end of this long straight stretch we exit the field, turn right up a track, and then left and over a small pedestrian bridge.

Turf Wall and ditch

Turf Wall and ditch

The Stone Wall

After leaving the site of Milecastle 50, apart from the ditch to the north of the road and the comforting knowledge that the curtain wall lies beneath the road, there is not much to see if we go this way, although it does provide continuing assurance of the way in which the Romans used the terrain to enhance the effect of the Wall. To get back onto the Trail proper, those following the Stone Wall route need to turn left onto the track to Lanerton Farm and then immediately right and over the pedestrian bridge.

Crossing the Turf Wall and its ditch

Crossing the Turf Wall and its ditch

After that bridge, the Trail passes through a line of trees and climbs the slight slope ahead of us, ultimately crossing the Turf Wall ditch just before we reach Milecastle 50, where the Turf and Stone Walls reunite.

Milecastle 51 (Wall Bowers) [HB 316; haiku]

Milecastle 51

Milecastle 51

Located at the north end of the field, next to a field gate, Milecastle 51 is rather interesting, since (like Milecastle 29) it is one of the few to display traces of a ditch (on its eastern side). It was excavated in 1927, 1934, and 1936 and the robber trenches for its east and west walls are still very clear.

Advertisements

Wall Mile 50

Wall Mile 50 [HB 309–16]

It might justifiably be argued that this is one of the most interesting of the Wall Miles. Not by me, I hasten to add, but I can see why it could be. Immediately after Milecastle 51, the Turf and Stone Walls separate, the most obvious manifestation of this being the fact that, whilst the Stone Wall ditch continues to the north of the road, the Turf Wall ditch now strides away from it across the field: two ditches for the price of one! Why do they separate here? Better scholars than I have debated this, but it may well be because it was felt that more room was needed north of the Vallum so when the time came to replace the Turf Wall, the new Stone Wall line was moved north and downhill from its predecessor.

Wall Mile 50 from the air

Wall Mile 50 from the air

The Trail takes us across the field, next to the Turf Wall (a low mound north of its ditch) and then across it on a nice new bridge and onto a lane. At this point, those who dislike livestock (there are people who like walking in the country but dislike livestock?!) are offered an alternative animal-free route along the road and this will be of use if we wish to follow the Stone Wall. The main Trail will take us along the Turf Wall, so make your choice.

The Stone Wall

Apart from the ditch to the north of the road and the comforting knowledge that the curtain wall lies beneath the road, there is not much to see if we go this way, although it does provide continuing assurance of the way in which the Romans used the terrain to enhance the effect of the Wall. Climbing up a gentle rise we arrive at a high point which marks the location of Milecastle 50 SW.

The Stone Wall ditch

The Stone Wall ditch

Milecastle 50 SW (High House) [HB 314–15; haiku]

Milecastle 50 SW (High House), a long-axis stone milecastle, was excavated in 1911 and produced three building inscriptions, two of them by legio VI Victrix and one by legio II Augusta. The fortlet platform can just about be discerned by peeking over the southern roadside wall at the right point.

Site of Milecastle 50 SW

Site of Milecastle 50 SW

The Turf Wall

Those opting for the Turf Wall route will find themselves walking along the northern lip of the Turf Wall ditch, with the mound of the rampart itself to the south of it and beyond that the earthworks of the Vallum, crammed into the limited space between the Turf Wall and the edge of the scarp north of the Irthing. It was along this stretch that the existence of the Turf Wall was first proved conclusively by Frances Haverfield and his co-workers when they cut a trench across it (they were less than impressed by his excavation methodology, it seems) and that section is reopened and cleaned up every ten years when the Pilgrimage wanders this way.

After a reasonably level stretch we start to climb up towards the site of Milecastle 50 TW and this affords a good opportunity to look back at the separated Walls west of us.

The Turf Wall and ditch near Milecastle 50 TW

The Turf Wall and ditch near Milecastle 50 TW

Milecastle 50 TW (High House) [HB 309–12; haiku]

To say that there is not much to see of Milecastle 50 TW (High House) is probably something of an understatement but no less true for all that. It has the distinction of being the only Turf Wall milecastle without a Stone Wall successor on top of it. Excavated in 1934, it was found to have an undug causeway across the ditch, a rampart of turf and gateways of timber (which, it is suggested, had towers, since there were thought to be too many timbers just for revetting the gateway). The Vallum ditch swerved south to avoid the milecastle, but more interestingly the excavations found a timber inscription, restored as recording its construction under A. Platorius Nepos. It is customary to think of Roman inscriptions as being carved in stone, but (as we shall see later, in Wall Mile 43) they could be painted on stone or carved (or painted) on wood. These are amongst the Rumsfeldian ‘known unknowns’ of Roman archaeology.

Wall Mile 73

Wall Mile 73 [HB 357–8]

The Turf Wall was eventually replaced by the Stone Wall. It is thought the stretch between Milecastle 54 and Bowness was not constructed in stone until after the abandonment of the Antonine Wall in the AD 160s. This stone curtain wall was built to an average width of 2.45m (and has come to be known as the Intermediate Gauge wall, since it was partway between the two predominant widths of curtain wall in the east, the Broad and Narrow Gauges). It was furnished with new stone milecastles, whilst retaining the old free-standing stone turrets, against which the curtain wall butted.

Although most of Wall Mile 73 crossed Burgh Marsh, a short length of the Wall before Milecastle 73 has been identified where the ground begins to slope up from the marshes.

Dykesfield

The edge of Burgh Marsh at Dykesfield

Meanwhile, back on the road, we leave the marsh and begin to climb gently at Dykesfield, after crossing a cattle grid; it is another drumlinoid, this one including the fort at Burgh-by-Sands. Away to the north-east, on the edge of the marsh, there is a Victorian reconstruction of a 17th-century monument commemorating the death of Edward I, just in case we had forgotten that it was feasible for an army to ford the Solway here. Less distant, but still remote from our present course, the line of the Wall runs to the north of the road and, as you might expect by now, there is little to see.

Milecastle 73 (Dykesfield) [HB 356–7; haiku]

The position of Milecastle 73 (Dykesfield) has been tested through geophysical survey and located on the ground sloping up from Burgh Marsh near Watch Hill, where Horsley thought there was ‘a castellum, for at this place they have dug up a larger quantity of stones than the bare thickness of the Wall could well have afforded’.

CGHad