Posted by: Rachel | July 18, 2014

Setting off for Snowdon

20140718_135511

Packing has taken a little longer because the weather forecast is rather uncertain. It’s 29 degrees and blazing sunshine here at home, but the forecast for Wales tomorrow is at least 10 degrees colder and heavy rain. We can assume temperatures at the top of Snowdon will be lower still, but we’ll be prepared!

Advertisements
Posted by: Rachel | July 15, 2014

Day 11 – The end of our expedition

St Mary's Church, Beaumont

St Mary’s Church, Beaumont

village green

The village green

Our final day’s walk began bright and sunny, and we set off from Kirkandrews only to discover that the path by the river had been closed because of a landslip some months previously, and we had to walk along the road to Beaumont.  This village had particular interest for our family, and we sat for a while on the village green, under the shade of a tree which had a commemorative seat surrounding it. Behind us on the crest of the hill was St Mary’s Church, a place of quiet and pleasing simplicity, surrounded by a beautiful, well-tended church yard which is the burial place of generations of family members.  The church itself had Norman origins and was constructed of Wall stone, as were the walls of the crossroads opposite, where we found a Roman Centurial stone.  It is thought that there was a Roman signal station on this hill, and certainly the views from this point are wonderful.

After a pleasant hour exploring the village we continued towards Burgh-by-Sands, leaving the village via a track that followed the line of the wall.  In the far distance we could just make out the grey-blue waters of the Solway – at last we felt we were nearing the end of our journey!

Eventually opening into a wide cart track, at length we reached the village and stopped for elevensies in a tea-room near St Michael’s Church.  This was the site of Aballava Roman Fort, and though there are some very interesting and attractive buildings, the most ancient building we saw was the church tower with arrow slits in the walls for defence.  Unfortunately we did not have time to take a detour to see the monument to King Edward I, who having ‘hammered’ the Scots died from dyssentry in 1307 on the marshes close by.  Instead we walked on, determined to cover a few more miles before lunch.

St Michael's Church Burgh-by-Sands

St Michael’s Church Burgh-by-Sands

After Longburgh the road becomes dead flat, with only salt marshes on the northern side.  The bank on the left is partly a flood defence and also is the bank on which the railway from Carlisle to Silloth ran, with a junction at Drumburgh where a line ran down to Port Carlisle following the route of the canal built in 1823.  Port Carlisle was built to provide a means of transporting goods (particularly grain) from the Solway into Carlisle, finishing in a basin behind Carr’s biscuit factory (now the McVitie’s behind which we walked).   There were eight locks along its 11.25 mile length, and barges took a day to sail into Carlisle from the sea.  It was never financially successful, however, being subject to the changing course of the Solway and shifting sands that constantly silted up the port entrance.  When the railway viaduct was built across the Solway (the remains of which we could still see) this moved the channels still further, and eventually in 1859 the port of Silloth was constructed further up the Solway at a point where the sands were less moveable.  This was conceived as both a port and as a tourist resort, with Carr’s flour mills being one of the major industries that sent goods into Carlisle along the railway.  As for Port Carlisle, the canal route was filled in to become a railway in 1854.  There are still some surviving features remaining apart from the bank, including the position of the old sea lock, the jetty, and a perfect canal bridge which we passed at Dykesfield.  Passenger transport continued long after all freight stopped in 1899, and in York Railway museum you can still see the Dandy, a horse-drawn railway carriage which carried passengers from Drumburgh down to the seaside until the First World War.  The branch line finally closed in 1932.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The ground rises at Drumburgh, and dominating this position is the castle, a fortified farmhouse with a splendid flight of stone steps to the front door added in more peaceful times.  It is known that there was a small Roman fort at this point (Congavata), the ruins of which must still have been visible long after the Romans left, as the name  ‘Drumburgh’ derives from Celtic and Old English meaning ‘flat ridge with fortifications’.  Not surprisingly, a good deal of Drumburgh Castle is built of Wall stone.

Drumburgh Castle

Drumburgh Castle

The trail from Drumburgh passes through Drumburgh Moss and Whiteholm Common, a place of special scientific interest being one of a very few remaining peat bogs.  Luckily for all the rare butterflies and mosses, one mention of adders thriving in such a habitat and walkers march swiftly on, and so we quickly reached the next village, Glasson.  We stopped for lunch in The Highland Laddie, a pub renowned locally not just for its food but as a place to try out the traditional form of fishing which has been carried out for over a thousand years.  The nets of the Haaf fishermen and photos of the men wading up to their armpits into the sea, carrying their nets on on a frame mounted on poles were around the walls of the bar.  There was also a story behind the name of the pub, as legend has it that Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped from England by rowing boat near here, never to return.

Haaf fisherman.  Photo from Cumberland News

Haaf fisherman

The Highland Laddie Inn Glasson

The Highland Laddie Inn Glasson

Reaching Port Carlisle at last, and pausing briefly to look at the ruins of the sea lock and the old jetty where it was once possible to catch ships to Liverpool and Ireland, a step in the journey for emigrants to the New World, we pressed on towards our final destination, Bowness-on-Solway.  The trail follows the road along the coast all the way into this charming town of stone buildings along a narrow main street.  At the post office we turned along a narrow way towards The Banks, a pavillion built on the Edwardian sea-promenade, and here we found the final stamping station for our passports.  Even though there was nothing to see of the Roman fort of Maia, the town follows the main street plan of the Roman fort. As we felt that a celebration was appropriate at the end of our memorable journey, we walked past the ancient church of St Michael’s (built with a great many stones from the fort) and into St Michael’s Rectory guest-house for a well-deserved afternoon tea.

Happy walkers reach Maia at last!

Happy walkers reach Maia at last!

Milestone at Crosby-on-Eden

Milestone at Crosby-on-Eden. Look how far we’ve walked!

 

The morning was misty and cool as we set off from Crosby-on-Eden, making our way from the milestone through the village and along a short lane before we reached the River Eden, with the occasional waterbird startled by our approach.  The path accompanies the river as it meanders towards the sea, over a brook, past the elegant gardens of Eden Grove, and over the flood defences into a lane.

First view of the River Eden at Eden Grove

First view of the River Eden at Eden Grove

Stopping briefly to admire the distant view of Linstock Tower, a peel tower that was the home of the Bishop of Carlisle until the middle of the 13th century, we walked through the village of Linstock, crossed the M6 and stopped for elevensies approximately where milecastle 64 was situated.  By now the mist had evaporated in the warmth of the sun, but although it was tempting to linger, we decided to press on towards Carlisle and the prospect of an afternoon exploring the castle.

Lodge to Rickerby Gardens

Lodge to Rickerby Gardens

The next section of the trail is easy walking, passing several interesting buildings.  Rickerby Gardens, the estate buildings and chapel for Rickerby House are followed by a lodge in the style of a Greek temple and a folly tower with arrow slits and crenelations on its eight sides.  Finally we passed through a kissing gate to enter Rickerby Park, a huge expanse of fine trees and grass, with an impressive war memorial.  It was at this point that the trail crossed the River Eden via a grey metal suspension bridge, preceded by beautiful wrought iron gates incorporating leaping fishes.

1922 suspension bridge Rickerby Park

1922 suspension bridge Rickerby Park

This was constructed in 1922 as a war memorial at the point where the River Peterill meets the Eden, and there were a few hopeful fishermen on the banks.

Following the River’s course we could now see that we had reached the outskirts of the city, with the distinctive chimney of Linton Tweeds on the skyline. Passing by a golf course we followed the river around a bend, and caught our first sight of the Eden Bridge.  This, we felt, marked our entrance into Carlisle!

The Eden Bridge, near the Sands Centre in Carlisle

The Eden Bridge, near the Sands Centre in Carlisle

A short distance further ahead was the Sands Centre, where we stamped our passports. Though there is a cafe in the modern civic centre, we preferred to walk on for a taste of the historic centre of the City, and walked through the underpass into Bitts Park, where a statue of Queen Victoria stands resplendant in the centre of a carpet of scarlet bedding plants.

Bitts Park monunment to Queen Victoria

What interested us, however, was the castle, still a formidable structure, built of dark red sandstone.  Not surprisingly, the Castle and the City walls were built of stone from the Wall, and date from the reign of William II in 1092.  It We chose to have our lunch there and then crossed over the main road to view the Roman artefacts in the Tullie House museum.  This was only to be a brief visit, however, because we had another section of the trail to walk before the end of the day.  Passing the McVitie’s Biscuit factory, home of the custard cream and many other favourites beside, we returned to Bitts Park and found our way through the long avenues of limes back to the river.

Carlisle Castle

Carlisle Castle

In the shade of the trees is a collection of large red stones, part of the Roman bridge across the Eden at this point which were dredged out of the river.  Carlisle marked the end of Stanegate, the road which ran from Corbridge, and was also the point at which there were two Roman forts.  Luguvalium lies partly under Carlisle Castle, but a second fort, Petriana, covered a huge area up on the nearby hill at Stanwix, accommodating the largest numbers of cavalry forces anywhere in Europe.  As with so much about the Wall and the Roman occupation of this area, the remaining fragments are tantalising.  St Michael’s Church is built directly on top and there was nothing to see that would have made us make a special expedition off the trail.  So we carried on, past the Sheepmount sports fields and the bridge across the River Caldew as it joins the Eden, and on through a more industrial area, with a disused power station and under two railway bridges.  Walking on, the landscape becomes greener, crossing the curiously named Knockupworth Gill and on out into the countryside, and on towards Grinsdale and Kirkandrews-on-Eden. The grazing land alongside the Eden is lush and peaceful, and in the summer sunshine it is hard to imagine that the river often floods in winter, submerging all this area.  Although only a few miles from the centre of Carlisle we were now walking through a landscape in complete contrast to the Victorian splendour of Bitts Park or the industrial riverside.  We found ourselves even more in admiration of the skill of the Roman engineers;  even today there are comparatively few points at which it is possible to cross the Eden.  Three rivers meet at Carlisle (the Eden, Caldew and Pettereril), which is why the floods of 2005 caused such widespread devastation.  Almost the whole distance that we had walked during our tenth day would have been impassable.

Crossing a stream tributary on the approach to Kirkandrews-on-Eden

Crossing a stream tributary on the approach to Kirkandrews-on-Eden

 

Near Kirkandrews-on-Eden

Near Kirkandrews-on-Eden

Posted by: Rachel | June 22, 2014

Day 9 – Haytongate to Crosby-on-Eden

Haytongate

Haytongate

We set off in the early morning sunshine from Haytongate, walking along the course of the wall, now only visible from the traces of the ditches.  Having seen the beautiful ruins at Lanercost yesterday, all constructed from wall stones, it’s hardly surprising that nothing remains except the rubble core in places, now part of field boundaries.  The trail follows the road past Low Wall, and at High Dovecote there is a wonderful view across the valley with Dovecote Bridge spanning the river, and St Mary’s Walton rising in the distance.

High Dovecote looking towards Dovecote Bridge and St Mary's Walton

High Dovecote looking towards Dovecote Bridge and St Mary’s Walton

Over the next few miles, there are no longer any Roman milecastles or turrets to be seen, and Camboglanna Fort at Castlesteads lies underneath the garden of an 18th century house.  With the ground much flatter we made good time, walking through Newtown, past the green and on to Whiteflatt,where we sat in the shade of the hedge to eat our lunch.

Signpost at Whiteflatt where we ate lunch

Signpost at Whiteflatt

At this point there is no wall to be seen, just pleasant walking through the farmer’s fields at Cumrenton.  Eventually becoming a hedge-lined footpath, the trail runs alongside Carlisle Airport, with several World War 2 buildings visible as a survival of a critical period in its history.  Passing through the gate at Oldwall, there is an old farm cottage reputedly built in the 17th century from wall rubble, and then modern housing before crossing the road and following the trail through various kissing gates approaching Bleatarn Park.  In the trees is a self-service refreshment box called ‘The Hamper on the Wall’, which proves what an honest bunch walkers tend to be!  Immediately afterwards follows a long stretch of easy walking on a causeway built on top of the wall, at first passing the reed filled Blea Tarn, site of a Roman quarry, and then extending across grazing land.

Blea Tarn Roman Quarry, taken from the causeway

Blea Tarn Roman Quarry, taken from the causeway

The trail follows a farm access road and then a lane at Wallhead, leading to Sandy Lane.  This was peak haymaking time, with farm machinery carrying loads from the fields back to the farms, raising clouds of dust.  We pressed on, hoping for afternoon tea somewhere, and after crossing the A689 we walked through High Crosby and then stopped for a break near the new flood defences at the church of St John the Evangelist.  This was a very pleasant spot, with the village school , the Stag and the old milestone at Low Crosby indicating a busier history before the bypass was constructed.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There is nothing like a cooked breakfast for fortification before beginning a day’s walking.  Setting off from the Youth Hostel after a leisurely breakfast, we eventually reached the visitors’ Centre at Housesteads and began to walk along the track from the car park up to the fort.  Dominating the hill top on the opposite side of the valley lies Vercovicium, once home to 1,000 infantry soldiers and surrounded by a civilian settlement and terraced fields.  These lay on the southern slope of the valley beneath the fort, and the north wall of the fort formed a section of the Wall as it continued along the crest of the escarpment.  This is one of the iconic views of the trail, and even today forms a commanding presence on the landscape.

After stamping our passports at the museum, we entered the fort through a gateway, enlarged by later occupiers of the fort, the Armstrong clan, one of the unruly Border Riever families who dominated all this territory in the 13th-16th centuries.  The fort itself follows the typical military layout, with barrack blocks, headquarters buildings, commandant’s house, hospital, stables (with a natural spring to feed a stone water trough) and communal latrine all enclosed within a square with four main gates.  We left some of our party behind for a longer examination of the fort, while we set off on the next stage of the trail, which would prove to be the most dramatic yet encountered.

Milecastle 37 arch

Milecastle 37 The almost complete arch of the north gateway.

Continuing left through a small gate near the north-west corner of the fort, the path runs through Housesteads wood.  It is possible to walk either through the trees or on a section of the Wall, restored by John Clayton, from which you can get an impression of what it might have been like to march along on guard duty, looking across from this vantage point on top of the crag.  This is the only section where walking on the wall is allowed, and unless you have a very good head for heights, during the next section of the trail the sheer drop would discourage most people from attempting this! We spent some time at each of these viewpoints, trying to photograph the dramatic scale of the landscape, as we did at the next dip in the path, Sycamore Gap.  This is the famous location used in ‘Robin Hood Prince of Thieves’, the Wall plunging down and ascending the opposite side of a U-shape gap in the underlying rock.  Climbing the steep rise of Mons Fabricius, we were rewarded with a view down onto Castle Nick, or milecastle 39.  Gathering strength for the next climb, we reached the top of Peel Crags, again finding a breathtaking view from the top, and after stopping briefly again to enjoy this viewpoint we carried on to Steel Rigg and a welcome break for lunch.

The weather had by this time changed and rain was beginning to fall, so we were glad to make our way to Vindolanda, the Roman fort and civilian settlement lying a mile to the south.  Here we met up again with the non-walkers in our party, and together we meandered through the vicus, the civilian settlement, towards the fort. I had visited this site before, over twenty years before, and I was immediately struck by the huge area which has been excavated since then.  What was particularly exciting was the wealth of archaeology still being discovered.  2013 is the 1800th anniversary of the building of the last Roman fort on this site, and to commemorate this, there had been a team of archaeologists working througout the summer.  There were foundations of timber round huts complete with the remnants of wattle and daub walls, preserved in the mud and being constantly inundated with water to prevent any deterioration from exposure to air, and there was a team of archaeologists working on what seemed to be a stone 3D jigsaw puzzle, sifting through the debris from collapsed buildings to discover the sequence of occupation with the fort area.

Main street through Vindolanda

Main street through the town to the fort – a real Roman road!

Beyond the fort the site dips down to the river and the museum which is considered to be one of the finest exhibitions of Roman treasures in the country, including the unique Vindolanda writing tablets.  Being able to read the very thoughts of the people that once lived here brings the other remarkable treasures into context and gives an added significance to the whole site.  The miraculous survival of these wafer thin wooden writing tablets discarded and then buried under layers of subsequent building on the site gives hope that there might be more discoveries in the future.

Milestone hug 2

Milestone hug! Replica of the only Roman milestone still in its original location, on Stanegate near Vindolanda

We stayed as long as possible in the museum before returning to the Once-Brewed Youth Hostel to prepare for a special event – a double birthday celebration at the excellent Centre of Britain Hotel at Haltwhistle.  The rain which had been threatening all day finally arrived, but the torrential downpour did not dampen our spirits and it was a very happy conclusion to a wonderful day.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

View from the stile, walking towards Tower Tye

View from the stile looking back down towards Walwick

As luck would have it, we woke to grey skies and steady rain for our fifth day of walking.  Setting off from The George at Chollerford, we passed the gates of Chesters Roman fort (Cilurnum) and stamped our passports, before braving the spray of passing vehicles as we climbed the hill towards the village of Walwick.  Climbing gradually up the hill, we turned right after the old smithy and then followed a footpath across the fields, pausing to look back across the valley to Warden Hill, with its iron-age fort on the top.

The rain had almost stopped by now, and we walked on, past the north ditch and crossing a road at Tower Tye.  Following the line of the wall, we walked around an enclosure protecting the turf covering Milecastle 29, and then saw in the next field and stretching up the hillside in front, a length of wall and a turret, which put a spring in our step!

the north ditch before Tower Tye

The north ditch before Tower Tye

view back down hill at Black Carts

Looking back down the hill at Black Carts

Wind-bent hawthorn tree at Black Carts

Wind-bent hawthorn tree at Black Carts

 By now the rain had stopped and leaving the Black Carts section of wall behind, we followed the wall up onto high moorland with delightful views across the valley to the north.  With gorse and sheep-nibbled turf to walk on beside the wall, the Roman ditch ran to our right, becoming increasingly rocky.

Limestone Corner, looking back east

Looking back east up the north ditch to Limestone Corner

At the summit we reached ‘Limestone Corner‘, the most northerly point on the wall, from which we could see out across the Tyne valley, and passing two remote farms at Carrawburgh and High Teppermore, we reached at last a small car park where we were joined by the non-walkers in our group, who took us back to Chesters Roman fort for a picnic lunch.

Barracks at Cilurnum

Barracks at Chesters (Cilurnum)

In the afternoon, the clouds had blown overhead and we were able to explore the excavations in sunshine.  Laid out with precisely-cut equal sized stones lie the foundations of Cilurnum; the barrack rooms, east gateway, headquarters building and commandant’s house are all that is visible of the major features of the fort, and further down the slope towards the river, the bath house.  The foundations of the walls, floors and hypocaust survive, and even the changing room alcoves for the clothes so that It’s possible to imagine returning from a day’s march to ease away the aches and pains of the journey with a plunge in the bath.  All this survived because of the efforts of the owner of the land in the early 19th century.  John Clayton, who inherited the estate in 1822 had received a classical education and knew the value of the remains in his own garden.  He gradually bought up the farms along the wall in an attempt to save what remained and the museum houses his impressive collection of Roman altars and other finds.

After Chesters, we started walking again from Carrawburgh, passing by Broccoilitia Roman fort which is marked by a square grassy enclosure surrounded by banks, and the Mithraeum temple close by.  This is the only temple we had been able to explore so far on the wall, with its three altar stones at one end.

The wall lay at first under the road, and then became a rubble bank with evidence of turrets and milecastles, the ditch to our right, and marsh in the valley floor below.  The trail follows the line of the wall up to Sewingshields Farm, where the dramatic crag is supposed to be the resting place of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.  There are glimpses through the trees of the valley floor at the bottom of the cliff, but only when emerging from the wood and following the wall up to the brow of the ridge can the real height and breathtaking scene be appreciated.  Only the occasional Rowan tree clings to the rocks on this sheer drop.CIMG1542

CIMG1540

Turret 35a at Sewingshields Crags

The wall follows the contours of the ridge, known as Whin Sill, plunging downwards for Busy Gap and up again, over King’s Hill, Clew Hill and Kennel Crags.

The sun was low in the sky with sunset not far off when we made our final descent, with Housesteads fort dominating the hill before us.  We made our way along the track away from the fort to the museum, now closed, and out to find the Once-Brewed Youth Hostel, our next stop for the night.  After sampling some Cumberland sausage at the Twice-Brewed Inn, close by, we decided to call it a day.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Granary building

Granary building

water cistern

water cistern

This morning began wet but by the time we reached the site of the Roman fort, Corstopitum, the sun had come out and though at times threatening, the rain never returned for the whole of our fourth day.  We spent the morning exploring the remains of which the most striking are the granary buildings, the water cistern and the foundations of streets and the barracks and other buildings within the fort,  and looking at the treasures in the museum including the famous Corbridge lion.

Ruth and Rachel at CorstopitumOur walking began after a delicious lunch of locally produced food at a grocers’ shop, the Corbridge Larder, with some of our relatives, two of whom joined us for the walk from The Portgate to Chollerford.  The trail follows the south side of the road as far as Well Fell, before crossing to the north as far as Heavenfield, the site of a battle in 635AD.  The Vallum banks are covered with sheep-nibbled turf and dotted with wild flowers such as Bird’s Foot Trefoil and Harebells, and there were regular stile ladders to cross over the dry-stone walls between fields.  The north ditch towards Heavenfield is very deep and dramatic here.  Storm clouds gathered but passed overhead.

20130821_152821

20130821_164943

View from the stile, looking down towards Planetrees

On reaching Heavenfield, we all stopped for afternoon tea at St Oswald’s Tea rooms, meeting up with our relatives again.  Just behind the tea rooms stands St Oswald’s Chapel, named after the 7th century King who was instrumental in re-establishing Christianity in Northumberland.  There is a tempting long-distance trail (97 miles!) from St Oswald’s Chapel across the moors and up the East Coast to Holy Isle, which maybe we will try one day!

The broad wall foundations are visible alongside the narrow wall from this point

Feeling revived, we set off down Hill Head towards Planetrees, and a section of surviving Wall.  This was particularly interesting because this was the point at which the Wall changed from being 10 feet wide (the Broad Wall) to 8 feet wide (the Narrow Wall), and it is clear that the foundations must have been laid first as they are mostly still 10 feet wide.  This was an attempt to speed up the wall building.

20130821_173331

Brunton Turret. There were 2 turrets like this between each Mile Castle along the length of the Wall

We carried on towards Chollerford, with a brief detour to inspect the section of surviving wall at Brunton Turret, and then just before reaching the bridge at Chollerford we took a detour to see the Roman bridge across the Tyne.  There is a significant section of Wall leading to a tower and bridge abuttment several feet away from the river, which has moved over time.  On the opposite bank are the remains of the bridge and the Bath House of Chesters fort.  Huge stones lie under the trees, dredged from the river and which once formed part of the pillars and arches of the bridge.  This must once have been a structure of considerable strength, capable of withstanding the river in flood, and far from being a peaceful spot for a bath, with the carts and troops marching over the bridge only a few feet away and the numbers of personnel in the fort, this must have been a bustling, noisy place.

Stones dredged from River Tyne at Chesters

Stones dredged from River Tyne at Chesters

20130821_180914

View across to the Bath House, Chesters

Retracing our steps back to the road, we then headed downhill, towards the modern bridge and a well-earned rest at The George.

Posted by: Rachel | August 30, 2013

Day 3 Harlow Hill to the Port Gate

Harlow Hill - starting out for the next stamping post

At Harlow Hill, ready to start on the next stage

By the time we began our walking today, the overnight rain had dried up but the sky was overcast and the breeze fresh.  We set off from Harlow Hill, making good progress towards The Robin Hood pub, the next point to stamp our Trail Passports.  Climbing over a stile, we continued our walk along the course of the Roman ditch to the north of the wall, the remains of which lie under the modern road.

Whittledene reservoirs showing waterfall between different lake levels

Whittle Dene reservoirs

At the bottom of the hill seven small lakes lay beneath us. The Whittle Dene reservoirs were constructed between 1845 and 1888 to supply water to Tyneside,  and are now a nature reserve owned by Northumbria Water.  We paused to watch the birds for which these reservoirs are famous, and were rewarded with the sight of a heron.

The Robin Hood, 2nd stamping point

The Robin Hood pub, the second passport stamping point

Having stopped briefly for refreshment and to stamp our passports at The Robin Hood, we followed the path through a kissing gate and into the Roman north ditch with gorse and brambles on either side of us.

Trail from The Robin Hood to Moorhouses Road-End

The trail follows the bottom of the north ditch at this point

After a brief walk on the road where modern building has obliterated the ditch, the signs of the Vallum double-banked ditch on the south side of the wall and the v-shaped north ditch became unmistakeable afer the aptly named Vallum Farm.  Even though there are young trees and undergrowth within the north ditch, as we crossed over a footbridge we could see that the sides are still impressively steep.

The north ditch before Moorhouses

The ‘V’ shaped ditch north of the Wall

The path continues on the north side of the road after the stile at Moorhouses Road end, passing around behind Wallhouses Farm through a series of nine kissing gates and crossing a little stream.  The path crosses to the south side at Kip Hill, with the field lower than the road level as it is built on the foundations of the Wall.  We looked hopefully for a sight of stones in the hedge bank but didn’t see anything very conclusive!

Passing through the little village of Halton Shields, we eventually reached Carr Hill.  Crossing over to the south side, we found ourselves walking in open grassland with the vallum mounds close by.  Now for the first time we really had an impression of the sheer scale of the engineering work involved to create these ditches, which still carve through the hill after the weathering of 2000 years.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There were lovely views across the valley here, and the trail then dipped down towards Halton Tower, an impressive country house with park gates.  Underneath the grass on which the cows were happily munching were the remains of Onnum Roman fort, just visible as gentle humps.  This was once a cavalry fort built by the VI Legion Augusta, only seven miles from nearby Corstopitum (Corbridge).

Onnum Roman fort

Onnum Roman fort

Happily our chosen place for lunch, The Errington Arms, was much closer, at the crossing of the A68 main road from Corbridge and the Military Road.  From the pub we could watch the traffic approaching the Port Gate roundabout which is on the site of one of the main gates on the Wall.  Dere Street ran north from York on the line now taken by the A68 crossing the Wall at this point;  after the Romans there was a large cattle market (Stagshaw Fair) here.  The modern road junction seems fairly quiet by comparison to former times.

The Errington Arms

The Errington Arms

Older Posts »

Categories