Cawfields to Housesteads

Hi all

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. Image

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’.

Image In what seemed like moments but must have been hours we had passed several more mile castles, the Roman thresholds in the wall which were once garrisoned by detachments from forts such as Vindolanda.

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.Image

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.

4 thoughts on “Cawfields to Housesteads

  1. Glad to know your hiking boots are getting their fare share of sight seeing. Also wonderful that at the end of a long day your palate is satiated with a good long ale. Keep the pics coming, they’re wonderful.

  2. This was a particularly good blog entry. Thank you for lovely photos and useful information. You all are a hearty lot. I’m glad the “miley” was there for you.

  3. This post made me want to jump on a plane and join you all for these glorious hikes. Your photos show such a beautiful terrain and the history of it all is endlessly fascinating. It’s wonderful that you are sharing with the rest of us back in London.

  4. The iconic ‘Sycamore Gap’ – beloved by Hollywood and used in ‘Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves’ on his was from Dover to Nottingham…clearly Holywood did not consider English geography in their planning. Tremednous to ahve a day hiking in the Northumberland air – I envy you all!

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