Thursday, December 15, 2011

Per Lineam Valli

Per Lineam Valli

Wall Mile 53

by Mike Bishop December 2, 2011

Drystone wall on the line of the curtain wall east of Milecastle 54

Now, after climbing the hill east of Milecastle 54, Wall Mile 53 runs along the crest of Craggle Hill. The ditch can be clearly seen to the north and the line of the curtain wall is marked by a modern drystone wall that makes prominent use of the facing stones from its Roman predecessor. The keen-eyed will note that red sandstone no longer predominates, for in this section is the complex unconformity between the softer red sandstone of the western sector and the buff sandstone of the central sector. This is often identified (incorrectly, it seems) with the so-called Red Rock Fault, although this is debated by geologists who doubt its continuation this far north. We can safely leave them to mutter over that and merely note that the bedrock has changed and that this change is manifested in the stone of the Wall itself.

Wall Mile 53 from the air

We now follow a stretch with the curtain wall as hedgerow once more and the ditch to the north of it before the Trail leads us around the farm buildings at Hare Hill and onto a narrow lane, sloping down to the east and there, of a sudden, is an enclosure containing one of the most impressive short stretches of curtain wall you will see.

Curtain wall with restored facing stones at Hare Hill

Here we may note the second of the dark green English Heritage information slabs. As inscrutable as the humming monoliths of 2001: A Space Odyssey, these relentlessly repeat the same information every time we visit a site which is in the care of that particular government agency; we shall learn to ignore them and make for the low-set information plaques which do at least attempt to convey some site-specific information.

The curtain wall core at Hare Hill

At 2.3m in width, this is an example of narrow gauge wall. Long famed for being the tallest surviving section of the curtain wall (3m), the north face is in fact a late-19th-century reconstruction, undertaken at the behest of the Earl of Carlisle, although the core stands to its original height. However, all is not as it seems. The keen-eyed will note that the face is not even aligned on the much-more-modest (and more recently) exposed section immediately to its east and do-it-yourselfers will doubtless tut-tut at this example of careful Victorian laxity. This length of curtain wall actually conveys a powerful message about the way in which attitudes to the consolidation of the monument have changed. Whilst replacing facing stones was once thought acceptable, the more recent approach has been to consolidate it as found. If you happen to prefer one over the other, good for you; neither is necessarily right or wrong. Before we depart, locate the centurial building stone on the north face (nine courses down from the top, two stones in from the left), reading '< P · P ·' (centuria primi pili), or 'the century of the senior centurion (of the legion)'. It (RIB 1958) was found some time before 1894, west of Turret 53a, and built into the reconstructed face of the curtain wall. Remember, with Hadrian's Wall, all is not as it seems.

Before departing, we can cast a glance over the fence to where the ditch is visible north of the wall.

Milecastle 53 (Banks Burn) lay just to the east of the Hare Hill stretch of curtain wall, beneath the present house, and was examined in 1932. Largely destroyed, it was an example of a long-axis milecastle.

showing page 1 of 7