Hadrian’s Wall Walk 5 – Birdoswald to Walltown

On Thursday 28 April I drove over to Birdoswald Fort (NY616664) and parked there about 0930. My aim was to walk to the Roman Army Museum. There are buses back from there at 1142 and 1522 – I doubted I would make the first. It had been sunny in Hexham and was dry at Birdoswald – but it was cold. Gloves and hat on today.


On my last walk I commented how nice it was to see the proper Wall – today there is lots of it. If I had read Collingwood Bruce I might have looked harder for various inscriptions (sorry), but I have worked out that these holes are some sort of drain. Breeze comments that the drains are more regular and organised here, where the Wall is later (this bit was built to replace the Turf Wall) – perhaps they had realised that a Wall changes the drainage patterns.


Milecastle 49 (Harrow’s Scar) is the first milecastle you get a good look at when you come from the west. It is crossed by a track and contains the remains of a modern cottage. The turf wall and turf defences lie under the stone, and evidence was found for the timber gates. Originally the Turf Wall climbed up the slope from the River Irthing – although the bank was probably gentler in Roman times, it must still have been a steep climb. No attempt was made to take the Vallum down the cliff. Now the Wall ends rather suddenly.


The path zig zags down to river level, and we cross the river on a nice modern bridge, Willowford Bridge. The Roman bridge abutment is some distance from the river. Breeze says that there are three main periods in the history of this Bridge. The earliest remains include a short stretch of the Broad Wall erected on substantial foundations, and this terminated on the west side of the river. The bridge was only wide enough to carry a footpath. This bridge was damaged by flood action and later strengthened by construction of a southern wing wall placed diagonally to the bridge. Further flooding in the late C2 or early C3 damaged the repaired and strengthened bridge. It was extended westwards at the same width as the Broad Wall, and there were a couple of sluices built too. Finally, a new pier was constructed, the eastern sluice blocked and a ramp to carry a road across the river erected to the south side of the bridge.


I climbed out of the valley alongside the Wall – watched by a lamb who had not read the “do not walk on the Wall” sign.


In a building at the top is a centurial stone of Gellus Philippus.


You can see where the Narrow Wall stands on the foundations of a Broad Wall, and Willowford East turret is recessed into the Wall rather further than is usual.


You come into Gilslands, and there is a diversion here because a footbridge has collapsed, so you walk down through the village. It is a funny place – a derelict house, with derelict cars and an uncared for Wall, is balanced with a welcoming café (The House of Meg Tea Room – facebook). I felt guilty stopping after less than two miles, but I felt it only right to support local industry (and the other two walkers there were having the full English (so I felt less gulty)). The bus to Carlisle went past, with three passengers.


Old road signs are much more elegant that new ones. The yellow fleet are in a Cumbrian Highways depot. Cumbria Bus department cannot spell. I crossed into Northumberland, walked through the playground – what a marvellous slide – and under the railway. I took this photo and thought, perhaps I should have waited for a train. As I walked under the railway, I heard a train go over the top!


This is John Wilson Carmichael’s illustration in his Views on the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway (1836). In that book there was the note “From the salubrity of the air, the much esteemed medicinal properties of its waters, and the great picturesque beauty of its position, combined with the rapidity and ease afforded by the Railway, of communicating with distant places, Gilsland is becoming one of the most favourite inland resorts in the northern counties” (page 38).

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I walked up to Poltross Burn Milecastle – one of my favourites, next to the railway line. It is a nice railway bridge too. The milecastle was excavated in 1909 – I’m not sure whether it was discovered when they built the line in 1836, I don’t think it was. The milecastle lies at an angle in the Wall. 32 soldiers were probably accommodated, and projection upwards of the steps suggest that the wall was 12 feet above the ground. Owing to the fall of the ground the height on the north side was 4 metres. An oven occupied the north-west corner.


This picture is of Gilsland station in 1880. It comes from the website of  a campaign to reopen the station. When the bus only has three people on as it runs through the village, one does wonder if the station is really viable. I wonder what sort of loco the pub thinks runs through Gilsland. They have an interesting loco on their website.

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There is a large ditch as you leave the village, this is quite an engineering work. Nice views north, and lovely daffodils. Sorry about the daffodil photos, but they have been glorious (sorry Harry) this year.


Were Roman soldiers really sad enough to play golf? The heron was lovely, and I have a wonderful zoom on my camera.DSC00994


I crossed the railway line and walked up to Thirlwall Castle.  According to this website it is a C14 castle founded by John Thirlwall. It might surprise you to know where the stone came from … apparently there was a nearby Wall which was a useful quarry. Today it was a bit breezy.


It is then only a short hop to The Roman Army Museum and Walltown Quarry and car park. I got there at 1133, so just before the 685 bus arrived for Birdoswald. I felt guilty jumping on a bus after only 5 miles, but it needed an extra passenger (it made three of us), and it was cold. I had done enough – but it had been good.





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