Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wall Mile 47 | Per Lineam Valli

Wall Mile 47 | Per Lineam Valli

After the excitement of the last couple of miles, we are now back to a slightly less thrilling section, allowing us to recover in time for the approaching crags, although it does still have a couple of surprises in store. Gilsland is a rather attractive village but the National Trail manages to weave its way round the back of it, but it is the Wall that must concern us, not villages. Crossing the Poltross Burn next to the lofty viaduct, we climb up a footpath then turn right through a kissing gate and emerge on top of a hill. Looking downhill, to the west, we can clearly see the course of the ditch and, to the south of it, the line of the curtain wall indicated by the property boundary at the end of the terrace gardens. Here is another good place to study how the Roman army used the terrain to their advantage when laying out the ditch, for here it is set back to the south of a prominent natural north–south slope, thus forcing an attacker to run uphill before attempting to cross it.

The ditch east of Gilsland

The Trail takes us through a gate and across a field before we cross a minor road and into another field where we get to walk along one of the finest – possibly even breathtaking (if you are inclined to having your breath taken) – sections of Wall ditch. As you survey it, remember that we are not standing at the original base, since sedimentation ensured that, however often it was cleared out, material would rapidly accumulate at the bottom. Once again, the ditch is cut into a foreslope, with the northern lip – enhanced by the ditch upcast – making it even more pronounced and a substantial obstacle to the would-be attacker. The line of the curtain wall is, naturally, indicated by a property boundary wall. We soon find ourselves weaving our way through the front gardens of a couple of houses before proceeding once more towards another road crossing.

Wall Mile 47 from the air

Turning right up the road, we then follow the Trail left through another gate and embark upon a long stretch with the line of the curtain wall to our right marked by a field boundary, the ditch to our left much less pronounced. We soon join a track that takes us to Green Croft, where the Trail turns off onto a footpath, across a stream that is, if you look carefully, running in the Wall ditch. We carry on, still with the line of the curtain wall to our right, with its field wall perched on top of it. The ditch becomes more pronounced, recalling that fine stretch on the eastern edge of Gilsland and we approach the position of Milecastle 47 at the point where we cross a field wall by means of a ladder stile.

There is nothing to see of Milecastle 47 (Chapel House). It lies to the north of the field wall we are following and was in fact blown up with gunpowder in the 19th century in order to recover the building materials. An inscription from nearby records work by the legio XX Valeria Victrix under Hadrian so this long axis milecastle may have been one of their products.