Posted by: Rachel | May 26, 2014

Day 8 – Gilsland to Banks, with a visit to Lanercost Priory

Gilsland

Setting off from Gilsland, standing in the Roman ditch

 

Railway viaduct over Poltross Burn

Railway viaduct over Poltross Burn

We began the day’s expedition from Gilsland, an attractive town which was once famous as a spa. The  trail crosses the peat-brown waters of the Poltross Burn underneath the railway viaduct, and immediately climbs steeply to Milecastle 48, known as ‘King Arthur’s Stables’. Within the square perimeter walls it is still possible to see the steps that led up to a walkway, the barrack rooms for the 30 men stationed there, and other features such as ovens.

Poltross Burn milecastle

Poltross Burn milecastle

After the milecastle, the trail crosses the main line of the railway and then heads on to Willowford, where there is an excellent section of Wall leading down to the River Irthing.  Walking directly beside the Wall with the farm road in the bottom of the ditch,  this is a very substantial and impressive stretch, up to 8 courses high.

Approaching Willowford, looking back up hill

Approaching Willowford, looking back up hill

Set into the farmhouse wall is a centurial stone which gives a clue as to the builders of this section of the Wall.  The inscription reads:  ‘From the fifth cohort the century of Gellivs Philippus (built this)’ – real link to the men who built the Wall.

Centurial stone preserved in farm building wall, Willowford Farm

Second bridge abbutment, Willowford

The second bridge abutment at Willowford

The Roman engineers working on the Wall had three major river crossings to accomplish, and there are the remains of three bridges at Willowford, demonstrating the evolution of this crossing-point.  The river has moved over the past 2,000 years, so it is possible to walk to the end of the wall and examine the abutments of the bridge and the huge stones without getting wet at all!  However there is no sign of any stones on the other side, suggesting that they have been eroded as the river created the gorge.  A modern bridge built for the Millennium provides a crossing and the path climbs up the side of the gorge to Harrow Scar milecastle (Milecastle 49).

Leaving Harrow Scar milecastle

Leaving Harrow Scar milecastle

This marked the beginning of a very popular section of the wall before Birdoswald Roman Fort, where we intended to break for lunch.  A surprising amount of the fort survived because the site was occupied, and after being entertained by watching a Roman Centurion drilling some very raw recruits in the visitors’ centre we wandered around the fort which has been excavated from the lawns of the 18th century house.  The gateways to the fort are very impressive, although at first sight it is surprising that the wall does not lead into them but links into the north wall of the fort.

East Gate, Banna Roman fort

East Gate, Banna Roman fort

The turf wall bank. Originally there would have been a wooden pallisade on the top.

The turf wall bank. Originally there would have been a wooden pallisade on the top.

The answer, we discovered, is that the wall was moved, possibly for signalling reasons, and this means that at this point you can see the line of the old turf wall for a distance, running alongside the stone wall that was built to replace it.  The trail follows the wall through the woods near Wall Burn to Pike Hill Signal Station, which has been cut up by the 19th century road.  It lies at an odd angle to the wall being part of an earlier signalling network.

Pike Hill Signal Station

Pike Hill Signal Station

Banks Turret 52A with chunk of masonry where it fell

Banks Turret 52A with chunk of masonry where it fell

Marching on with the prospect of afternoon tea at Lanercost Priory to encourage us, we followed the Wall through Banks and on to Hare Hill, where there is an impressive section of Wall standing.  Although mostly a 19th century reconstruction, it saved the stones and gives an impression of what it must have been like.  Approaching Hayton Gate, the views over the valley gave us the welcome sight of Lanercost Priory lying below us.  Built almost entirely of Wall stone, the Abbey church now serves as a Parish church, surrounded by the graceful ruins of the Priory.  We found ourselves a shady spot for a well-earned toasted teacake.

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