Wall Mile 53 [HB 323–5]
Opposite the location of Milecastle 53 is the entrance to an enclosure containing one of the highest portions of curtain wall.
Hare Hill curtain wall [HB 323]
At 2.3m in width, this is of course an example of narrow gauge wall. Long famed for being the tallest surviving section of the curtain wall (3m), the north face is in fact a late-19th-century reconstruction, undertaken at the behest of the Earl of Carlisle, although the core stands to its original height. However, all is not as it seems.
The keen-eyed will note that the face is not even aligned on the much-more-modest (and more recently) exposed section immediately to its east and do-it-yourselfers will doubtless tut-tut at this example of careful Victorian laxity. This stretch of curtain wall actually conveys a powerful message about the way in which attitudes to the consolidation of the monument have changed. Whilst replacing facing stones was once thought acceptable, the more recent approach has been to consolidate it as found. If you happen to prefer one over the other, good for you; neither is necessarily right or wrong. Before we depart, locate the centurial building stone on the north face (nine courses down from the top, two stones in from the left), reading ‘< P · P ·’ (centuria primi pili), or ‘the century of the senior centurion (of the legion)’. It (RIB 1958) was found some time before 1894, west of Turret 53a, and built into the reconstructed face of the curtain wall. Remember, with Hadrian’s Wall, all is not as it seems.
Leaving the curtain wall enclosure by means of either of the two gates (although the upper one makes more sense), we turn right up the narrow lane and then through the kissing gate to our left which leads us around the south side of the farm buildings at Hare Hill. We now follow a stretch with the curtain wall as hedgerow with the ditch concealed to the north of it.
As we approach the crest of Craggle Hill, the hedgerow gives way to a modern drystone wall that makes prominent use of the facing stones from its Roman predecessor. The ditch can be clearly seen to the north. We shall soon be leaving the buff sandstone of the central sector and become familiar with the red sandstone of the western sector. This ‘complex unconformity’ is often identified (incorrectly, it seems) with the so-called Red Rock Fault, although this is debated by geologists who doubt its continuation this far north. We can safely leave them to mutter over that and merely note that the bedrock is changing and that this change is manifested in the stone of the Wall itself.
The line of the Vallum is off to our left, passing through a recently clear-felled area of plantation. We follow the Trail and bound merrily down the slope towards a large, prominent oak tree with a perceptible platform. This is the site of Milecastle 54.
Milecastle 54 (Randylands) [HB 325–6; haiku]
Excavated in 1933/4, this splendidly named long-axis milecastle was situated on a west-facing slope and was the most westerly reconstructed in stone before the move to the Antonine Wall in the fifth decade of the 2nd century AD. Examination also revealed the Turf Wall period milecastle underneath its stone successor.