Driving Hadrian’s Wall: the Main Car Parks V (Housesteads)

Housesteads (NNP)

Coordinates: N55.009974, W2.322925 Facilities: toilets, picnic spot, refreshments, visitor centre

Housesteads car park is not only well-signposted on the B6318 (the Military Road) travelling from both the east and west, it is right next to the road, although – situated on a bend and at a slight crest – it can appear suddenly. This is another of the Northumberland National Park car parks for which a season ticket can be acquired; an ordinary ticket bought from the machine here can be used on that day at any of the other National Park car parks along the Wall.

Advice

Always be aware of the possibility of thieves operating in the car park. Follow signs for the Hadrian’s Wall Path to access sites to either side of Housesteads. Stout footwear is advisable. Access to the fort and museum is by a paved path.

Housesteads car parkZone 3 (1km)

1. Housesteads museum and fort

2. Curtain wall Wall Mile 36

3. Knag Burn gateway

Zone 4 (2km)

4. Milecastle 37

5. Cuddy’s Crags classic viewpoint

6. Curtain wall Rapishaw Gap

7. Milecastle 36

8. Busy Gap ditch

Zone 5 (3km)

9. Curtain wall on Sewingshields Crags

10. Sewingshields Turret

11. Sewingshields Milecastle

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Driving Hadrian’s Wall: the Main Car Parks IV (Steel Rigg)

Steel Rigg (NNP)

Coordinates: N55.002899, W2.391337 Facilities: picnic spot

Steel Rigg is well-signposted on the B6318 (the Military Road) travelling from both the east and west (the turning is opposite the turning for Vindolanda). This is another of the Northumberland National Park car parks for which a season ticket can be acquired; an ordinary ticket bought from the machine here can be used on that day at any of the other National Park car parks along the Wall.

Advice

Always be aware of the possibility of thieves operating in the car park. Follow signs for the Hadrian’s Wall Path to access sites to either side of Steel Rigg. Stout footwear is advisable. South and east of the car park is one of the finest stretches of ‘Claytonised’ curtain wall; please do not climb on it. In the event of very windy weather, or if you suffer from vertigo, the Military Way (4) makes an acceptable alternative route for reaching the points of interest.

Steel Rigg car parkZone 2 (500m)

1. Curtain wall and ditch Wall Mile 39

2. Peel Gap turret

3. Curtain wall Peel Crags

4. Military Way

Zone 3 (1km)

5. Milecastle 40

Zone 4 (2km)

6. Milecastle 39

7. Mons Fabricius

8. Sycamore Gap

9. Curtain wall Sycamore Gap

Driving Hadrian’s Wall: the Main Car Parks III (Cawfields Quarry)

Cawfields Quarry (NNP)

Coordinates: N54.993100, W2.450701 Facilities: toilets, picnic spot

Cawfields Quarry is well-signposted on the B6318 (the Military Road) travelling from both the east and west (the turning is opposite the Milecastle Inn). This is another of the Northumberland National Park car parks for which a season ticket can be acquired; an ordinary ticket bought from the machine here can be used on that day at any of the other National Park car parks along the Wall.

Advice

Always be aware of the possibility of thieves operating in the car park. Follow signs for the Hadrian’s Wall Path to access sites to either side of Cawfields Quarry. Stout footwear is advisable.

Cawfields Quarry car park planZone 1 (100m)

1. Wall ditch Wall Mile 42

Zone 2 (500m)

2. Milecastle 42

3. Vallum

4. Military Way

5. Curtain wall Wall Mile 41 (either way)

Zone 3 (1km)

6. Curtain Wall at Thorny Doors

7. Great Chesters fort

Zone 4 (2km)

8. Turret 41a

9. Milecastle 41

10. Milestone

Driving Hadrian’s Wall: the Main Car Parks II (Walltown Quarry)

Walltown Quarry (NNP)

Coordinates: N54.986800, W2.520391 Facilities: toilets, refreshments, picnic spot

Walltown Quarry (and the neighbouring Roman Army Museum) is well-signposted on the B6318 (the Military Road) travelling from both the east and west (the turning is 800m east of Greenhead). This is one of the Northumberland National Park car parks for which a season ticket can be acquired, but an ordinary ticket bought from the machine here can be used on that day at any of the National Park car parks along the Wall. Note that the sites east of Walltown Quarry can also be accessed from the free car park at Walltown Crags.

Advice

Always be aware of the possibility of thieves operating in the car park. Follow signs for the Hadrian’s Wall Path to access sites to either side of Walltown Quarry. Stout footwear is advisable.

Walltown Quarry car parkZone 1 (100m)

1. Wall ditch Wall Mile 45

Zone 3 (1km)

2. Curtain wall Wall Mile 45

3. Turret 45a

Zone 4 (2km)

4. Curtain wall Wall Mile 45

5. Milecastle 45

6. Turret 44b

 

Driving Hadrian’s Wall: the Main Car Parks I (Birdoswald)

Birdoswald (EH)

Coordinates: N54.991552, W2.600871 Facilities: none

Birdoswald is well-signposted on the A69 travelling from both the east and west. The English Heritage car park immediately east of Birdoswald fort is primarily designed for visitors to that monument. That much is clear from the fact that you can get the cost of your parking (£4 in 2015) reimbursed when you visit the fort. However, you can also use it for exploring the surrounding bits of Hadrian’s Wall.

Advice

Do not park in and obstruct the bus turning area (you should hear what coach drivers call the idiots who do this!) and do not leave valuables in your car. There are posters warning about thieves for a good reason (last time I was there some cars were broken into only a couple of days later). Follow signs for the Hadrian’s Wall Path to access sites to either side of Birdoswald. Stout footwear is advisable.

Map of the area around Birdoswald car park

Zone 1 (100m)

1. Birdoswald fort

2. Curtain wall (Wall Mile 49) east of Birdoswald

Zone 2 (500m)

3. Milecastle 49

4. Curtain wall (Wall Mile 49) west of Birdoswald

5. Turret 49b

Zone 3 (1km)

6. Willowford Bridge Abutment

7. Turf wall (Wall Mile 49)

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 51

Wall Mile 51 [HB 316–19]

The Trail now takes us south from the site of Milecastle 51 and across the Vallum ditch, then right onto the south side of the south mound of the earthwork and back onto a westerly heading. This is a very special treat, so make the most of it.

Before long we are plunged into an atmospheric plantation, often incredibly boggy in damp weather, before emerging on the far side to find ourselves confronted by a track. Turning left would take us down to Coombe (or Comb – the various signs seem uncertain) Crag, one of the inscribed quarries of the Wall (which includes the plaintive RIB 1952g where Daminius’ reluctance – presumably to quarry stone – is preserved for all eternity). We, however, are going to turn right to head up to the road, but before we do so we shall admire the Vallum striding confidently westwards across the fields.

The Vallum west of the plantation

The Vallum west of the plantation

At the road we turn left (taking the usual evasive action to avoid what little traffic uses this road, although this does include the AD122 bus). After 225m we see the consolidated remains of Turret 51a to our right.

Turret 51a (Piper Syke) [HB 316–18]

Turret 51a

Turret 51a

Piper Syke is a re-used Turf Wall turret. It has a stone platform against its northern wall, a central hearth, and an entrance at the eastern end of its south side. This turret now sits just to the north of the road, which has wiggled slightly southwards to leave the line of the curtain wall. This is our Turf Wall turret incorporated into the stone wall, so there are butt joints on either side to confirm this. In fact, the curtain wall is missing on the eastern side, so the facing stones on that side of the turret are visible). When the Turf Wall was constructed, its stone towers were built free-standing so differ from those (like 49bSW and those east of it) that were bonded with the curtain wall.

Resuming our trudge westwards, we are soon sent off into a field south of the road. After 210m we see a small gate ahead of us and another one to the right. That right-hand one leads us to a brief diversion back onto the road and the next turret.

Turret 51b (Lea Hill) [HB 318–19]

Turret 51b

Turret 51b

Closely resembling its twin to the east (insofar as it is not only similar in form but also lacks the curtain wall to the east), there was a stone platform against the north wall and a hearth in the centre of the ground-floor room. The ground-floor entrance was at the eastern end of the southern side. Look over the fence and, sure enough, you can see the ditch.

Recrossing the road, we go back through the small gate and rejoin the Trail, and pass through that small gate to our right. Heading west, we carry on across the fields for 400m before we are hurled back onto the road again (issues of access to property, doubtless). We now have Bankshead Farm to the south of us and this squats upon Milecastle 52.

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

Bankshead Farm, site of Milecastle 52

Bankshead Farm, site of Milecastle 52

This is the site of a milecastle which was excavated in 1934 and found to be a short-axis example. Two altars to Cocidius were found here at the beginning of the 19th century (we shall encounter more from milecastles as we go). No trace can now be seen but once again it illustrates a milecastle site being used as a later farming settlement.