15 Jun 2008 - Hadrians Wall (Bleartarn to Cawfields Quarry 16.5 miles), England
Breakfast of pasta and pesto and it was time to march again. An early morning shower soon gave way to clear sunny weather and being out in the country was a joy again. Adam left for home at about 11AM, near Brampton.
In remote countryside, the scenery varied from fields, country lanes, woods then the rolling hills leading up to the first visible sections of the wall. At this point the wall is only reconstructed as a marker, one rock thick but what gives it away that this is actually the site of Hadrian's Wall is the ditch which is still visible.
The Wall was part of a military zone and the first line of defence was this 3m deep and 9m wide ditch, dug several meters in front. After walking for several miles next to this, the enormity of this whole construction and feat of engineering hits home and you have to wonder how this would have been perceived back in AD122.
The first true section of the wall can be see at Hare Hill and at this point I felt that the hours of trek had finally got me to where I wanted to be. Countryside is fine but what I wanted to see was the wall and the other monuments which represented the defences at the limits of the Roman Empire.
Many hours and monuments later, and with raw feet, I started searching for somewhere to pitch up for the night. By about 20:30 I found some woods just off the trail and set about pitching camp. Bad choice. I was quickly swarmed by midges and even when I got into my gortex bag leaving a small gap to allow air in, the midges still swarmed about and found their way in. After 10 minutes of this I decided to make a run for it, packed up and escaped the woods! I walked on hoping to find a Bed and Breakfast, not willing to be insect food.
By 21:45 there was no room at the inn but one of the girls who worked there was finishing her shift and offered me a lift into nearby Haltwhistle where luckily I found accommodation. In retrospect, I should have found a windy place on the wall as that would have been swarm free. Still, szechwan chicken and rice was a better alternative to pasta. I wasn't going to complain about a shower, warm bed and hearty breakfast either.
So, today's mileage was: about 4 miles from Newtown - Walton, 14 miles from Walton - Cawfields Quarry (near the Milecastle Inn, where I got a lift into Haltwhistle and including wandering around sites) - 18 miles. Strangely enough, my shoulders had adapted very quickly and did not hurt anywhere near as much as yesterday. And so far, all I have seen is people carrying either a light day sack or nothing more than a stick. Unlike my 25kg!
Hadrian's Wall Path - Time for some surgeryAfter a number of hours of morning tabbing, my feet were hurting in a number of places and several blisters had formed. This was one of the most painful and required immediate relief. I sterilised the knife in the flame of my lighter and then popped the blister at the base on the side going away from the direction of movement and friction. This prevents the now weaked skin from tearing and takes away the pressure of the blister which causes the pain.
Hadrian's Wall Path - First evidence of Hadrian's WallI had come across some formations which looked like they could have been man made and a sign of the wall but there was never enough evidence around for me to say for certain that I was looking at part of the Roman fortification. Now, some way past Brampton and through rolling countryside I began to see more signs and this ditch made it seem pretty conclusive that I was entering 'wall country'. At this point I am on the northern side of the defences (the wall does not exist) in 'barbarian lands'.
Hadrian's Wall - Hare HillFinally, my first view of Hadrian's Wall. This was once thought to be the highest surviving section but it fact was largely rebuilt in the 19th century. A building stone on the north face bears the inscription PP, recording that this stretch of wall was build by Roman legionaries under the Primus Pilus (literally 'first spear') - the first centurion of a legion.
Hadrian's Wall - Turret 52aThe western 30 miles of Hadrian's Wall was first built of turf, with stone turrets. The section stretched from Bowness on Solway, on the west coast, to the River Irthing, near Harrow's Scar, Milecastle 49. Within about ten years, the wall was rebuilt in stone. Turrets were often incorporated into the stone wall.
Hadrian's Wall - Inside Turret 52aConstruction was carried out by Roman legionaries. Their ranks contained engineers, surveyors, masons, carpenters and smiths - all the skills needed for the largest building task. The wall was patrolled by second line troops called auxiliaries who were also well trained. Auxililiaries often came from an area away from where they were recruited to maintain their loyalty.
Hadrian's Wall - Pike Hill Signal TowerBefore Hadrian's Wall was built, there were a number of Roman forts along the Stanegate, the Roman road between Corbridge and Carlisle. Watchtowers were built on high ground and used for signalling to the forts and other towers. Here at Pike Hill was one of those early signal towers. Because of its important position, it was incorporated into the Wall and used until the later 4th century AD. Now, only a small section of it can be seen. In the distance, Turret 52a can be seen.
Hadrian's Wall - Piper Sike Turret 51aIt is noticeable that the low level remains of the turrets are very similar. Typically there was a doorway, a hearth for warmth and cooking, and a stone platform where soldiers placed a ladder to gain access to the upper level and wall walk. The rest is a matter for speculation. Here at Piper Sike, the remains of the stone platform for a ladder to the upper floor can be seen against the north wall. In the centre of the floor was a sunken hearth.
Birdoswald - Aerial view of Birdoswald fortThe original Roman name is open to intense debate and may be called 'Banna' or 'Camboglanna'. Excavations between 1987 and 1992 showed an unbroken sequence of occupation on the site of the fort granaries, running from the late Roman period until possibly 500AD and as of 2008, is the only site on Hadrian's Wall at which significant occupation in the post-Roman period has been proven. The Wall is at the top and forms the north wall of the fort.
Birdoswald - West Gateway (Porta Principalis Sinistra)This photo is taken from the Military Way, the main road which connected all the forts along Hadrian's Wall and passed through the west and east gateways. The gate originally had two high portals flanked by towers but around 230AD the south portal was blocked up. Note the exceptionally fine masonry at the base of the south tower of the gateway. The stone was used to repair the fort in the early third century.
Birdoswald - West Gateway, view of the blocked doorwayThis view shows the extra room made by blocking the southern gateway.
Birdoswald - South Gateway cookhousesLike all the main gates in all the forts, guard chambers flanked the entrances. During the 3rd century the guard chambers to this gate were converted into cookhouses. This, the east guard chamber has two excellent examples of Roman ovens. Each oven would have been covered by a clay domw. Wood was set alight in the ovens to heat the stucture, the embers scraped out and then bread put in to bake.
Birdoswald - South-east corner of the fortThis photo shows the signature shape of a Roman fort; the rounded corners of a rectangle, forming the shape of a playing card.
Birdoswald - Eastgate entranceThis gateway is one of the best preserved of the forts on Hadrian's Wall. This shows the double doorway with arch support.
Birdoswald - Eastgate entrance looking outThe east gateway again from within the fort with guard chambers visible on both sides.
Hadrian's Wall - Milecastle 49, Harrow's ScarFrom Birdoswald Fort going west comes milecastle 49. It's fairly hard to photograph as all that remains is its basic rectangular shape, like much along the Wall, and there is no raised ground from which to get a good overview of it. Immediately east is a sheer drop to the River Irthing and to its south is a very steep slope which is the route of the Hadrian's Wall Path. The path takes you down to a bridge crossing the river.
Hadrian's Wall - Willowford BridgeThe river has drifted west since Roman times and the remains of the original Roman bridge is now high and dry. The remains of the bridge are part of the abutment which supported the east end of the bridge and protected the river bank from erosion. Looking further east, the Wall can be seen ascending to the modern Willowford farm which provides accomodation.
Hadrian's Wall - Turret 48b, Willowford WestFrom this turret can be seen an excellent example of the north defensive ditch which is well preserved thanks to the road which runs at the bottom of it.
Hadrian's Wall - Turret 48a, Willowford EastTurrets were simple watchtowers providing access to the wall walk and built when the foundations of Hadrian's Wall were laid out if they weren't already built from an earlier time. They were built to a standard plan with a short spur wall on either side, ready to be linked to the Wall. However, not all of the wall was built to the same width, perhaps to save time and resources. At this turret, a narrow 2m wall can be seen standing on 3m wide foundations.
Hadrian's Wall - Milecastle 48, Poltross BurnThis is one of the best milecastles and was built by the 6th legion. This was occupied until the 4th century. At some point both gateways were partially blocked to restrict access. Remains of ovens can be seen as are stairways and barrack blocks. Originally there were two barrack blocks containing four rooms with a verandah each facing onto a central throughfare.