Hadrian’s Wall Walk 8 – Housesteads to Chesters

Tuesday 10 May – let’s have another few hours walking. I drove to Housesteads – NY794684 – and parked by 0845. I walked up to the Fort and turned right. Am I the only one who wonders whether men and women toiling up and down the hill to get to the Fort and the Vicus wondered why they built it there? I’m told that one suggested translation of Vercovicium is “hilly place”.


This is the Wall as it leaves the fort, and it heads down hill to Knag Burn Gateway. This gateway is rare – one of only a few through the Wall not at a milecastle or a fort. So many people living round the fort that they needed access through? Some sort of customs post here?


The Knag Burn passes under the Wall in a culvert. A nice new sign too.


It is funny how the proper solid Roman Wall disappears and then we follow a field wall. Obviously some of the stone is Roman, but a huge amount of stone has been removed. How did they remove it all? Did Robert the Builder send his men up with a cart – and how do you get a cart up here? Was there a Del Trotter with his own cart? If you go to Chollerford church you can see a whole line of Roman pillars taken from Corbridge. Did Christopher the church builder have contacts who would take the Roman fort apart? How do you move that much stone? Taking it down must have been as much work as building it up and, with the exception of the soldiers working on the Military Road, no team of army personnel to do the work.


Busy Gap was where a drove road ran north in later times, and there is a bit of proper wall left.


DSC01384DSC01385This trig point is Sewingshields Crag, 325 metres, with a lovely view of Broomlee Lough.

DSC01386This is Sewingshields Turret, 35A. Then we have various other pieces of Wall. It is quite a high crag – there are various circular walks which take you on the north side, and it would be worth looking up.


The next milecastle is MC35 Sewingshields. As Breeze says, it has been “comprehensively robbed” – so Robert the Builder was a robber? It is a long axis milecastle (which means the shortest wall is the Wall). The Wall has a broad foundation but is narrow above that. There is no evidence of a gate through the Wall, but it could be a later rebuilding. In the fourth century the eastern half of the milecastle was used for the smelting and casting of copper alloys, and the smithing of iron. In the Middle Ages a farm was built on the site.


What is this stone built thing?


It is a nice part through the wood and round the back of the farmhouse (which sits over Turret 34b), and then we pass Grindon Turret (34a). Grindon milecastle is under these trees.


This is Coesike Turret (T35b).


Now we come down off the heights and come to the fields, along beside the Military Road. The sheep have horns!


By this point I have reached my last finishing point. I started walking the Wall in 2008 from the east, and ended up round about here on Boxing Day 2011 (I think that’s the right year). I remember that was a very wet and muddy day. I had started to walk from Carrawburgh to Housesteads, and given up roughly where the trail leaves the road. Julie had dropped me off at Carrawburgh and was waiting at Housesteads. I asked her to come back and pick me up … and she drove straight passed me. It was, of course, my fault.


Now the Wall is done, I could give up and go home now – it is finished. Instead I crossed the road and continued east. It was not at all muddy today, and the little brook looked lovely. Carrawburgh is the site of the Mithraic Temple, and it is easy to forget that there is more to it than that. The stream rises at Covetina’s Well. Here is a picture of it in 1876. When the basin and structure were excavated in 1876 there was a mass of coins, stones, altars, more coins, jars, incense-burners, pearls, brooches and other votive objects. Clayton retrieved 13,487 coins, four of gold, 184 of silver and the rest of bronze, ranging from Mark Anthony (died 31 BC) to the Emperor Gratian (367-83). Other coins had been stolen away before the excavation was finished. Coventina is a water goddess and this shrine was in use for several hundred years. When abandoned it looks as if it was not just “left”, rather the stones were removed, broken and left to block it – was it a deliberate destruction of a pagan site as Christianity took hold? The subsequent flooding of the area has helped preserve everything.

DSC01427coventina well 1876

There is a large fort here, measuring 460 by 366 feet, but it is under the mound between the Temple and road, and you don’t necessarily realise it is a fort – at least, not enough realisation to make you go and see what is visible (a couple of tower bases and the buttresses of the granaries, apparently). Clayton also excavated a bath house, but the records are lost and no one is quite sure where it was. The Roman name was Brocolitia, which may have a connection with badgers (brocks). Inscriptions found refer to the First Cohort of Aquitanians, probably dating to the governorship of Sextus Julius Severus (130-73), another records building by the First Cohort of Tungrians. The First Cohort of Batavians were here in 237. The fort was a later addition, being built over the Vallum. Archaeologists also found plough marks under the stones, which suggest that this area was under cultivation before the military zone was constructed.

Mithraism was introduced into the Roman world from Asia in the C1 BC. Mithras, god of light, was the intermediary between men and eternity. In a cave, Mithras killed the bull from whose body sprang all goodness. The mithraeum imitates the cave. These altars are replicas, but you can imagine a light being placed in this recess and shining through the picture into the darkness. I remember, as a child, being taken to the reconstruction at the Hancock Museum and the effect of the darkness and the light. We will visit what is now the Great North Museum on an exploration at some point.DSC01430DSC01435DSC01434


DSC01431Breeze says “The fort was presumably added to break the long gap between Chesters and Housesteads”. What broke the gap up for me today was The Corbridge Coffee Company who have a van parked in the car park. They are on facebook and they posted this photo of me! The other chap is walking east west. I had a tea and a Jamaican chicken sandwich to celebrate the multi-cultural nature of the Wall. Much appreciated! Their first three visitors today had come from Alaska – they are keeping a world atlas with stickers. My sticker was a little closer!

me at broc

Reinvigorated I headed east. Some lovely blossom beside the road, and lovely views.


At Limestone Corner the ditch is cut through very hard dolerite all the way up the hill. There are some lumps of rock with cutting holes and even the remains of iron wedges. It always looks to me as if some of these stones were left in place when a centurion said “sod it lads, leave the bloody thing there.”


This trig point is at 250 metres.


There is a stretch of Wall leading down through Black Carts Turret (T29a) where coins of Vespasian, Trajan, Hadrian and Constantine have been found.


Onwards, ever onwards.  Black Carts and Walwick.



I love this wonderful stable block. It has been derelict as long as I’ve been here, but there is now an application to make it into holiday lets. They would be superb (and probably outside my price range!). It is a Grade II* building, described as “Stables, 1891 by Norman Shaw. Tooled snecked stone with ashlar dressings; red tile roofs, with lead-domed wooden cupola on gatehouse. Ranges around square yard with central gatehouse on south and open passage at north end of west range to smaller walled yard with coach house to south-west. Modified Baroque style.” You can read the whole description here.


Just across the road is the entrance to Chesters House. You can’t see the house, but topiaried entrance is rather spectacular.


Chesters fort is next door – website – and the AD122 bus stop is outside. I arrived two minutes before the 1225 bus, and rode back to Housesteads in triumph. 9.6 miles walked.










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