Posted by: Rachel | January 3, 2014

Day 7 – Reaching the highest point on the Wall

The Wallwalkers team on day 7 Steel Rigg to Cawfields Quarry

The Wallwalkers team on Day 7 – braving the rain at Steel Rigg

View from trig point on Whinshields Crags

View from trig point on Whinshields Crags

The heavy rain during the night had blown over and with just a light drizzle falling we set off from Steel Rigg, gradually climbing upwards towards Whinshields Crags.  Depsite the poor visibility, the views from the top (1132 feet) were breath-taking.  From this vantage point, it was clear to see the farms in the shelter of the valleys, and the wild untamed grassland of the hills.  The trail continued with  several steep descents at Bogle Hole, Caw Gap and Thorny Doors, before finally reaching Cawfields Quarry with its sheltered pool and picnic site, where we watched the water birds on the mirrored surface of the water.

Cawfields Quarry

Cawfields Quarry

During this section of the walk, the Wall was sometimes rebuilt, sometimes missing altogether, as on the top of Whinshields Crags, and sometimes on the slopes downhill, still to be seen 14 courses high.  There are also Milecastles, the best of which is Milecastle 42 just before Cawfields Quarry picnic site.  This was once the site of a Roman corn mill powered by the fast-flowing Haltwhistle Burn, which the path crosses before continuing up to Burnhead and then on to the site of Aesica Roman fort at Great Chesters Farm.  The trail passes through the farm where the buildings are almost constructed on top of the fort site and tantalising features can be seen including an arch which was once part of the fort’s strong-room and the south gateway.  We were not brave enough to stay to look for very long, however, as there were some very large cows also in this area of the farm!  We hurried on to the next section of the trail, beginning with Walltown Gap.  Characterised by a series of nine crests and dips, this length of Wall is known as the Nine Nicks of Thirlwall, with a more gentle slope to the south and a steep cliff to the north with magnificent views towards Scotland. The most dramatic and surprising views come at Mucklebank Crag, the highest point of this section of the trail, followed by a steep descent where Turret 44b is perched on the edge overlooking Walltown Gap.  Below lies Walltown Quarry with a circular lake like a mirror, now a nature reserve but until 1978 an active quarry.  We stopped here for lunch, quite a popular spot being so close to the Magna Roman Fort and the Roman Army Museum close by.  With the weather still uncertain we decided to press on for Gilsland and the promise of afternoon tea there.

Unfortunately the quarry has also eaten away a section of the Wall and much of the stone of the next few miles was taken away in the middle ages to be used in the building of Thirlwall Castle which can be seen dominating the path as it passes Holmehead.  There are impressive remains of the ditches at Gilsland and it was here that we stopped for a well-earned rest.

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