Hadrian's Wall, part 4 - Port Gate to Brocolitia
Mon 18th April 2011
A chilly wind on an otherwise bright sunny day greeted us as we assembled on the car park at Brocolitia. We completely filled Brian’s minibus, no seats spare, for the short transfer to Port Gate (aka the Stagshaw Roundabout) so much so that it required first gear to get up the hill after crossing the bridge at Chollerford and climbing from Brunton crossroads.
Having briefly discussed the importance of the Port Gate on Dere Street and how it fitted into the Roman road infrastructure we turned into the keen wind alongside the vallum to make our way to Stanley Plantation for “elevenses” right on time, enjoying the sun but protected from the wind in the lee of the trees.
By now the banter had started and Jim, as ever, was in fine form. On through the plantation for a brief stop at the now redundant trig point to talk about how the maps are made and how skilled the Roman engineers were at surveying 1800 years previously. Crossing the road to walk alongside the Roman ditch north of the Wall soon afterwards allowed us to appreciate the transition from arable to pastoral land as we gained height. We could easily see distinctive outline of Simonside above Rothbury 31 km away and further round to the north both Cheviot and Hedgehope were prominent on the far skyline at 51 km and 52 km distant respectively.
The Heavenfield memorial proved to be a delightful spot, the sun had warmed the air and the wind had begun to lose its sharp edge. The contrast between the brilliant white of the blackthorn blossom and the very dark bark positively shone in the sunlight and the location of St Oswald’s church was idyllic - if you ignore the reason it was constructed in the first place! The St Oswald’s Tea Rooms a little further on did cause a short pause in our progress but the consensus was to carry on towards a lunch stop somewhere around Chollerford. Reaching Planetrees it was easy to see the transition from broad to narrow wall construction in the first real exposure of the wall since passing through Heddon. So far we have had to be content with observing the vallum to the south of the wall and the ditch to its north and the odd footprint of a milecastle – but it does get your eye-in for spotting the archaeology. The zigzag route downhill to visit Brunton Turret (26B) provided us with a very pleasant lunch location, in the sun but out of the wind in an open parkland landscape.
Following a brief comfort break and the opportunity to purchase a hot drink at the garage cafe in Chollerford we made our way past Chesters, the stud farm and uphill towards Walwick desperately on the look-out for something to stop and comment on, the hill was steep and it was just after lunch. Opting for looking at how you can use suitably exposed trees to find south due the “tick effect” of the way in which the branches grow differently on north and south sides of a tree. I’m not sure that anyone really wanted to know that but it gave everyone a chance to get their breath back without loss of face! Turning off the Military Road in Walwick was significant because it marked the last time we actually walk on the road, apart from crossing it, for some time. It doesn’t however mean that we won’t be walking parallel to, and in sight off, the good old B 6318 for several days yet!
The deviation around Walwick Hall was slightly different to my previous trip as the footpath had been diverted and realigned. Black Carts provided the next substantial exposure to the wall and from the top of one of the ladder stiles it was easy to appreciate the configuration of the vallum, wall and ditch. For the first time all three appeared alongside each other in the landscape, even if General Wade’s Military Road was built on top of the Roman Wall itself. At Limestone Corner we arrived at literally the most northerly point on the Wall with excellent views in all directions. We sat near the trig point (250 m) chatted about what we could see and identifying Chipchase Castle, Barrasford and Swinburne Quarries. The good visibility enabled us to see the radar station on top of Great Dun Fell in the Pennines east of Penrith 43 km away to the south west. Our field of view from Cheviot in the north to Great Dun Fell in the south west was just less than 100 km!
A little further on the change in surface geology to an outcrop of the Whin Sill had a visible effect on Roman efforts to excavate the northern ditch. You could plainly see where attempts had been made, and failed, to split the hard dolerite rock. Shortly afterwards we arrived back at Brocolitia and our cars, this was all the more civilised for being able to purchase a fresh cup of coffee there on arrival. An interesting walk with a great group of people on a bright and clear spring day, thank you all for making it so enjoyable.
Monday, 18 April 2011