On Tuesday 3 May I awoke early, so I drove from Hexham to Walltown NY568658 and parked by 0830. There is a car park here and a National Park visitors’ centre. There are short walks, a peace labyrinth and the remains of a quarry.
The history of the conservation of the Wall is told in a fascinating book by Stephen Leach and Alan Whitworth, Saving the Wall: the conservation of Hadrian’s Wall, 1746-1987, Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2011.
In 1746 General Wade started to build his Military Road between Newcastle and Carlisle – we will get to know this road very well. Stone from the Wall was extensively used in its foundations and the antiquarian William Stukeley called for legislaton to prevent its destruction – his calls were not heeded. When William Hutton walked the Wall in 1801 he found a portion of it being destroyed in order to build a farmhouse – he remonstrated with the owner. When we get to Chesters we will meet John Clayton (1792-1890). He purchased much of this middle section, including Housesteads, in 1838 and started a programme of archaeology and consolidation. Even then some of the Wall was under threat from quarrying – and Turret 45b here at Walltown, discovered in 1883, was soon destroyed. It had stood 11 courses high. The Clayton estate was broken up in 1929 when the land was sold to pay the gambling debts of Clayton junior. Fortunately much of the Wall went to the National Trust. The 1930s saw increased threats from quarrying, which led to the passing of the 1931 Ancient Monuments Act. It wasn’t until 1943 that a Preservation Scheme was finalise and quarrying finished. Now this old quarry is lovely peaceful place – especially at 0830. I should record that only two walkers passed me in my two hours on the Wall.
The Wall is an amazing piece of construction, almost threading its way between rocks and cliff. I wonder how many men disappeared over the edge while working with heavy, slippery, stones. It is hard enough to walk along, let alone build.
I walked and photoed, and wasn’t too careful to record which bit I was photographing – sorry I should have recorded where this Turret is (45a? Walltown).
I do find it odd how the Wall can be solid and quite for one bit, then totally gone for the next few hundred yards. The path is fine and easy to follow. Other bits of the Wall are not as clearly consolidated as others. Leach and Whitworth has a section which looks at how the Wall has been preserved, including some lovely photos taken by a Ministry employee called Charles Anderson – it is to him and his team in the 1950s and 60s that we owe a debt of gratitude.
Then we come through to the fort at Great Chesters – Aesica to the Romans. Breeze (Collingwood Bruce) gives the site 7 pages, but there isn’t a lot to see on the ground. It lies 6 miles west of Housesteads and is built entirely on the south of the Wall. As late as the mid C18 some of the walls were standing 12 feet high. Several regiments are recorded here, and there are some traces of civilian life – tombstones to two young girls, one to Pervica, the other set up by Aurelia “to her very dear sister Aurelia Caula who lived 1 year 4 months”. Interestingly the water supply for the fort comes from north of the Wall – a 6 mile aqueduct bring the water of the Caw Burn to the fort. The channel is three or four feet deep and the same wide, so well engineered that only once was it necessary to build a bridge or embankment. The course is clearly marked on the OS map – I ought to go and follow it sometime. This aerial photo gives a good view of the fort.
Next is Cawfields Quarry – this one lasted until 1952 and its image is recorded on an information board. I knew I had seen some images of the quarry at work, and then found John Parker, Cawfields Quarry and Railway, Washington: TUPS Books, . I also found this website. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if you could travel to the Wall by narrow gauge railway?
You walk up the hill and come to the remains of milecastle 42. One assumes that the ground was flatter in Roman times – otherwise how did they stop everything rolling downhill? You also wonder why they had gates on the north side when the drop down is extremely steep. An inscription was found here which records the building of the structure under governor Aulus Platorius Nepos. I googled him (what would he make of that?) and found this wonderful blog. I don’t know who has written it, but thank you! Aulus also gets a page on this website. Walk the Wall in the summer, and spend the winter following up all the links – hours of endless amusement!
Onwards … keep walking. Great views north, and south – look at the ditches running between us and the military road.
I reached the road at Shield on the Wall, and decided it was time to head for the bus on the Military Road. I could have pushed on to Steel Rigg but would have missed said bus, instead I had time to amble to the road and go west for half a mile to the Milecastle Inn (with a view (and a zoom lens) of the milecastle).
There are lots of interesting bumps in the landscape and markings on the map – there was even a Roman watermill on the Haltwhistle Burn. Sat in the middle of nowhere, I phoned the dentist to book an appointment, agreed to do a radio interview with Jo at Radio Newcastle on Sunday morning, and was the only passenger back to the car park on the 1048 bus. At a pre-Ascension Day service at Ponteland Manor in the afternoon I was able to talk from experience as to what it meant to climb a mountain and look out to the ends of the earth.