Wall Mile 79

Wall Mile 79 [HB 366]

Our last 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. Carry on walking and, as the road curves to the right and signs warn that the road can flood in high tides, we can look across a field gate, some 335m west of Milecastle 79 (NY 233 624), you can look south across the field to the hedge line that represents the course of the wall, where there is even a trace of the ditch (not that you can tell it from your vantage point).

Wall Mile 79 from the air

Wall Mile 79 from the air

Part of the curtain wall was still standing up to 6ft high here when first William Hutton, then John Skinner only a few weeks later, walked past in 1801, but it is now long gone.

Approaching Bowness

Approaching Bowness

Arriving at Bowness, if you are desperate to get your ‘passport’ stamped at the incongruous little shed that lurks off the main street (or just want a view over the estuary and some appreciation of the drumlinoid upon which the fort and village sit), follow the brown signs down the path to the right just after entering the village. Having admired the wildlife mosaics (and fighting off the feeling of anti-climax that greets our monumental effort of having got this far), we may carry on. Return to the main street and turn right towards the centre of the settlement. Some 90m on, to our left, we pass a red-sandstone byre with a blocked door, over which is a weathered Roman altar. The stone of the buildings, unsurprisingly, derives from the fort and the curtain wall.

Byre in Bowness with a Roman altar

Byre in Bowness with a Roman altar

Bowness-on-Solway fort (MAIA) [HB 367–70]

The fort of Maia lies beneath the village of Bowness. The significance of its location, apart from the conveniently raised ground of the drumlinoid, is that it is (or was) the lowest fording point of the Solway Firth. As William Camden observed, ‘at every ebbe the water is so low that the borderers and beast-stealers may easily wade over.’ The remains of the fort were evident when Camden visited in 1599 (‘tracts of streetes, ruinous walles, and an haven now stopped up with mud’), but there is now nothing to be seen of its fabric.

Part of the northern side of the fort has been lost to erosion, but it has been estimated that it occupied 2.8ha (7 acres) and identification of the site of the south gate has shown that the fort faced south-west. Excavation on the eastern defences in 1988 revealed that the primary grey clay rampart was cut back to allow the insertion of a sandstone defensive wall on a cobblestone foundation. The V-shaped ditch was found to be 4.5m wide and 2m deep. The fort housed a milliary unit (around 800 infantrymen), a fact betrayed not only by its size but also from the now-illegible inscription on that altar just mentioned, set up by the tribunus Sulpicius Secundianus to the emperors Gallus and Volusianus (AD 251–3). Another inscription, now in Carlisle, but this time in verse on an altar, records an offering by a trader that implies the lettering was originally gilded. The Notitia Dignitatum does not record a commander or garrison for the fort. Excavations near the west gate have shown that the first phase was of turf and timber, contemporary with the Turf Wall, and it was subsequently reconstructed at least twice in stone.

A noticeboard on the side of the King’s Arms has a plan, together with some useful information. The notional site of Milecastle 80 lies just to the west of our position outside the pub.

Milecastle 80 [Not mentioned in the HB; haiku]

Bowness from the air

Bowness from the air

Milecastle 80 has not been found. It is assumed to have been demolished to make way for Bowness fort, so it will only ever have been made of turf and timber (since it would have been part of the initial Turf Wall system).

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The Milecastle Haiku (Week 12)

Milecastle 77

Raven Bank at the
T-junction. A glimpse of hills,
Catch Solway’s salt scent.

Milecastle 78

Kirkland in a field.
Holiday campers ignore
The mighty frontier.

Milecastle 79

Solway House on a
Low rise, safe against raiders,
Watches haaf netters.

Milecastle 80

Bowness, last of all.
Stacked beneath a mighty fort,
Under the village.

Epilogue

Milecastle haiku
Are done, but the Wall lives on;
Speaking the landscape.

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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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