Saturday was an amazing hike from our cottages right up Shield Hill Road to Cawfields, or Mile Castle 42, along Hadrian’s Wall to an impressive wall fort named Housesteads. The weather was optimal with lots of sun and a welcome cool breeze.
Along the way there was much to see including many wall turrets and mile castles in various states of preservation. Despite the dominate Roman features the most astounding sights for me were certainly in the natural landscape. This portion of the wall’s path was ostentatiously placed along the Whin Sill, a natural feature of dramatic tectonically created hills and cliffs in a line for miles. Hiking these hills is a series of ascents and descents and these became the challenge of the day. From start to finish the whole crew was in high spirits and having good fun. This was no doubt helped by the fine weather.
Some time after reaching the highest altitude point of the wall we lunched at the iconic ‘sycamore gap’.
One was badly robbed and doubtlessly reused in the walls of a nearby farm house, another had been largely rebuilt by the 19th Century antiquarian, John Clayton, who had managed to preserve much of the gates original arched gateway.
Soon we rushed down a stretch of the wall which was preserved in a way to encourage travelers to walk on top of it. This path headed into the vicus, or attached civilian settlement, of our last stop, Housesteads. The fort had been built in the reign of Hadrian as part of an adjustment of the frontier structure, from forts at a distance of a mile from the wall, like Vindolanda, to forts actually placed on the wall. The fort is more difficult to walk through than the other six which we have toured because it is built right up a slope, but we were well warmed up after our hike so this was no problem. The fort contained a great latrine and one building type which we hadn’t seen yet, a valetudinarium, a small but impressive hospital with many small rooms.
The earliest dated Vindolanda writing tablet (154) is a strength report of the First Cohort of Tungrians, a unit with two separate garrison periods at Vindolanda who had also garrisoned Housesteads. This tablet remarkably demonstrates that within a garrison a number of soldiers could be absent, either as detachments to various outposts, on financial assignments, or even on sick leave. The strength report accounts for 31 of the Tungrians as unfit for duty either of illness, wounds, or the apparently common ailments of the eyes. It is likely that if needed these men were given treatment at a nearby valetudinarium such as the one which would come to be at Housesteads.
The great release after our lovely hike was to head back the way we came in the Hadrian’s wall bus, coded AD 122. It was thrilling to see all the peaks we had climbed over rush by us from a distance. Of course no hike could be complete without a stop at the local pub, my beloved Milecastle Inn, the Miley.