Wall Mile 34

Wall Mile 34 [HB 227–8]

To our north are the earthworks that are all that remains of Sewingshields Castle, still visible from the air, but our principal concern for the moment is that the ditch has now ceased, since we are now on the crags and it had become superfluous.

Before we get too carried away, we soon have another turret to inspect, lurking behind a stone field wall. This is Turret 34a.

Turret 34a (Grindon West) [HB 227]

Turret 34a

Turret 34a

Furnished with exceedingly small wing walls, this was another of those turrets which was only occupied in the 2nd century and, after abandonment, had its northern recess filled in. In the doorway, the curious will note the settings for the stone jambs of the door as well as the socket for the door pivot on the east side.

We resume our westerly tramp and approach the plantation that surrounds Sewing Shields farm. To the south of us, the Vallum suddenly opts for a more south-westerly course, in order to remain at the base of the dip slope leading up to the crags. Emerging on the far side of the woodland, we are treated to the spectacle of some splendid stretches of consolidated curtain wall.

Curtain wall with a post-Roman cist

Curtain wall with a post-Roman cist

The wall along here is very obviously narrow gauge on broad foundations (some of which were of whin) and we may take note of a narrow cleft which William Hutton thought was a tunnel dug by adventurous Picts in order to sneak under the curtain wall. About 50m east of Milecastle 35, there is a small stone box next to the south face of the curtain wall. This is the remains of a cist (the ‘c’ is hard) burial, presumed to date to the post-Roman period.

Milecastle 35 (Sewingshields) [HB 228–30; haiku]

Milecastle 35

Milecastle 35

Excavated in 1978–82, the first thing the visitor notes is that this long-axis milecastle has no north gate. This is one of those few instances where it would be truly superfluous. The interior of the fortification is occupied by several phases of Roman building on either side of the central roadway, culminating in its re-use as a medieval farmstead. The later Roman phases included evidence of metalworking on the site. For the curious, the milecastle (Sewingshields) and farm (Sewing Shields) names differ, presumably a quirk of the Ordnance Survey’s making.

The reason a north gate would be unnecessary at Milecastle 35

The reason a north gate would be unnecessary at Milecastle 35

Wall Mile 10

Wall Mile 10 [HB 164–5]

As we continue down the hill through Throckley, passing the old reservoir, the berm pits continue beneath the road. Our environment is still suburban but housing is beginning to crowd us in. Here the survival of Hadrian’s wall is always on a knife edge, the remains sparse and frequently heavily damaged when excavated. But it is still there and boldly continues to exert its influence on the landscape as we make for the terminus.

Looking east from the likely site of Milecastle 11

Looking east from the likely site of Milecastle 11

The Military Road is soon interrupted by a roundabout at the point where a major drove road from Scotland to England crossed it. Long used for taking stock south and across the Tyne by the ford at Newburn, in 1640 it saw a Scottish Covenanter army use it, leading to a skirmish by the river which became known as the Battle of Newburn (although it was less of a ‘battle’ and more of a ‘flight’ on the part of the English royalist forces). Was there another transhumance gateway through Hadrian’s Wall here? We don’t know, but such drove roads tend to be old.

Wall Miles 9 and 10

Wall Miles 9 and 10

All the time we have kept to the north pavement, but soon it will be best to change sides to the south. After the roundabout, the Wall plunges down into Walbottle Dene (known in Hutton’s day as Newburn Dene) before ascending again to the location of Milecastle 10, on its eastern rim. The bottom of the Dene is a good place to cross as the traffic is warned by signs and rumble strips that pedestrians will be doing just that; nevertheless, take care. Although the curtain wall usually seems to have been beneath the southern (westbound) carriageway of the 18th-century road, at this point the builders chose to swing slightly southwards and the road passes straight through the middle of Milecastle 10 (Walbottle Dene).

Milecastle 10 (Walbottle Dene) [HB 164; haiku]

The deviation in the course of the Military Road means the north gate of the milecastle survived and was duly excavated in 1928. The southern wall was examined in 1999–2001, revealing the milecastle to be of the long axis type. There is, as you might have guessed, nothing to see any more.

Wall Mile 26

Wall Mile 26 [HB 188–91]

Our return to the main road requires us to cross the road and then head up the hill towards the crossroads. The Wall, meanwhile, is inaccessible, still heading across the fields towards Brunton Turret, where we next encounter it. Turn right at the crossroads onto the A6079 and look out for the lay-by on the left-hand side of the road and the stile just after it. This takes us into a field and a short walk up to a consolidated stretch of the Wall and Turret 26b.

Turret 26b (Brunton)

Turret 26b with its wing wall

Turret 26b with its wing wall

In some respects, this is just another turret. However, it lies at an important junction, between the narrow wall (on its east side, marked by a short yet familiar wing wall) and by the narrow wall to the west, marked by the turret being bonded seamlessly with it. It is clear, then, that the decision to change from the broad to narrow gauge occurred at around the time the curtain wall gang reached this turret from the west (or did they start from here and work westwards, the next gang starting further east and heading towards Brunton?). Hadrian’s Wall is all about change, modification, and adaptation, and here this flexibility is plain to see. The threshold to the doorway reveals slots for monolithic stone jambs and a pivot hole (with a respectable channel) on the eastern side.

Brunton Turret

Brunton Turret

Now we must confront the fact that we cannot follow the wall through the grounds of Brunton Hall but must make a huge detour to get back onto its course. We exit the field the same way we came in, cross over the road and turn left, heading south along the road towards the appropriately named village of Wall (although we are going to turn off before we reach it). Soon, our journey along this narrow pavement, far too close to speeding traffic, comes to an end at a short rise when we see a turning over to the left, opposite another lay-by. Crossing over, we proceed down this lane, taking care to look out for traffic using it as a rat-run between the Military Road and the road we have just left. Finally, after a long (but not overly unpleasant) trudge along tarmac (the by-now-familiar indication of recalcitrant landowners), we near the end of the road and a path leads off through the trees to our right, bringing us gratefully back onto the line of the Wall. The path winds between the berm and ditch, the course of the curtain wall lying on the southern edge of the plantation we are passing through.

The line of the curtain wall heading up to Planetrees

The line of the curtain wall heading up to Planetrees

Suddenly we emerge into the open again and find a slope awaiting us, with the ditch becoming apparent and, to our right, first a natural gulley and then the earthworks of the Vallum. We carry on up the hill and ultimately, after crossing a drystone wall via a ladder stile and are presented with the stretch of wall at Planetrees.

Planetrees curtain wall

The curtain wall at Planetrees

The curtain wall at Planetrees

This short stretch of curtain wall has achieved by virtue of the fact that it owes its continued existence to intervention by William Hutton whilst he was walking the Roman Wall. Arriving here, he found the local tenant in the process of demolishing it. Ironically, the Military Road had preserved it by veering off its course some way to the east in order to descend into the valley of the north Tyne by a less bold route than that adopted by the Wall.

Junction of the broad and narrow gauge walls

Junction of the broad and narrow gauge walls

This is the eastern end of the stretch of narrow wall we saw at the bottom of the hill, meeting Brunton Turret. The junction here at Planetrees is equally abrupt, broad wall on a broad foundation suddenly changing to narrow wall on that same broad foundation. The gang building the foundation had included a drain running the full width which protrudes incongruously, a memorial to changed plans.

Milecastle 26 (Planetrees) [HB 188; haiku]

The site of Milecastle 26

The site of Milecastle 26

We now continue up the field to the point where we need to cross the Military Road again, with all the care due that is implied, to take us to the north of the road. Here, in this field, next to a gate opposite Planetrees Farm, we arrive at the site of Milecastle 26.

Milecastle 26 (Planetrees) was a long-axis example, excavated in 1930. Nothing remains to be seen now.

Wall Mile 34

Wall Mile 34 [HB 227–8]

About 50m east of Milecastle 35, there is a small stone box next to the south face of the curtain wall. This is the remains of a cist burial, presumed to date to the post-Roman period. The curtain wall along here is very obviously narrow gauge on broad foundations (some of which were of whin) and, noting a narrow cleft which William Hutton was told was a tunnel dug by adventurous Picts in order to sneak under the curtain wall, we follow it until we reach the plantation around Sewing Shields farm. Emerging on the far side, it is now clear that we are nearing the end of the crags. We have another turret to inspect before we get too carried away, Turret 34a (the site of 34b was in the plantation).

The curtain wall and cist

The curtain wall and cist

Turret 34a (Grindon West) was furnished with exceedingly small wing walls and this was another of those turrets which was only occupied in the 2nd century and, after abandonment, had its northern recess filled in. In the doorway, the curious will note the settings for the stone jambs of the door as well as the socket for the door pivot on the east side.

Turret 34a

Turret 34a

To our north are the earthworks that are all that remains of Sewingshields Castle, still visible from the air, but our principal concern is the proximity of the next milecastle, marked by a walled plantation on top of it. As we reach it, we note that the ditch has rejoined us to the north, since the crags are now behind us and a man-made obstacle is once more needed.

Milecastle 34 (Grindon) [HB 227; haiku]

Site of Milecastle 34

Site of Milecastle 34

Although the position of Milecastle 34 (Grindon) is conveniently marked by the plantation, there is nothing to see of the milecastle itself, beyond an information panel, but it makes a fine observation point from which to observe the ditch in either direction.

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.

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