Hadrians Wall - Day 5 - Chollerford to Heddon-on-the-Wall

The Baths Located Outside The Fort Considered As The Best Preserved Roman Military Building In Britain Chesters Roman Fort
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Carole Raddato

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A brief cross over with St Oswalds Way will see you heading Eastward away from Heaven Fields and following closely the line of the wall. The wall was only one part of the infrastructure of Hadrian’s Wall with a defensive ditch also being dug. The Vallum appears throughout the trail but this section has some prominent sections leading to Milecastle 18 and Vallum Farm, a nice spot for some refreshments.

Tracking the Military Road alongside the trail makes for a leisurely day through fields and villages until the aptly named Heddon on the Wall is reached. In the village there is a section of wall which is the best preserved original section, dating back to AD122 when the wall was first started.


Chesters Roman Fort Barracks
Public Domain / Steven Fruitsmaak

Walking through Chollerford we double back on ourselves to find the wall, after crossing the modern bridge there is a small gate on the south side of the road, with an English Heritage sign.

This leads to a path that takes us along the side of the old railway line to the impressive Roman bridge abutment. The abutment sits in a copse of trees on the southern riverbank. The curtain wall is terminated in a large square tower, which was thought to have housed a waterwheel.

On the eastern river bank you can see evidence of two successive bridges: an early one that just carried Hadrian’s Wall, and a second, much larger one, that carried the Military Way – the road that serviced the Wall. 

The abutment itself is constructed of opus quadratum blocks, – is an Roman construction technique, in which squared blocks of stone of the same height were set in parallel courses, with each layer originally held together with cast lead strips rather than with cramps between blocks. Looking down on the abutment from the riverbank side, move towards the northern (upstream) end and look on the second row up for another phallic symbol.

Milecastle 27 (Low Brunton) lies in the middle of a field with no access, so head back to the main road and towards the crossroads, at which you turn right. (If you managed to see Turret 26b the day before then you can walk straight across at the crossroads and head for High Brunton – although there is no pavement.)  Turn right at the crossroads and at the bottom of the long lay-by on the left-hand side of the road there is a stile which takes us into a field and a short walk up to a consolidated stretch of the Wall and Turret 26b (Brunton).

 Turret 26b (Brunton) lies at an important junction,  from its western side the Wall runs built to the original specification, 10 Roman feet thick and on the east side, a much narrower wall, 6 feet thick, rides up over the turret’s wing wall. The turret stands nearly 8.5 feet high.

To continue we must make a detour around the grounds of Brunton Hall.  Exiting the field the same way we came in and turn left, heading south along the road towards the village of Wall.You turn the next left, opposite another lay-by signposted for High Brunton. Cross over and proceed down this lane. As you near the end of the road a path leads off through the trees to our right, bringing us gratefully back onto the line of the Wall. The path is along both the berm and ditch, with the curtain wall lying on the southern edge of the trees.

Emerging into the open we have the ditch to our right, and the earthworks of the Vallum coming out of a gully. We carry on up the hill and ultimately, after crossing a drystone wall we see a 15-metre length of at Planetrees. It is narrow Wall on broad foundations, reflecting a change of policy concerning the thickness of the Wall during construction. It is clear that the soldiers laying the Wall’s foundations we working ahead of the builders of the superstructure as the foundations continue on past the point of reduction. The foundation builders also appear to have laid the drain, most of which is incorporated into the narrow wall. This short stretch of curtain wall was saved by the intervention by William Hutton, who while walking the wall stopped a local tenant in the process of demolishing.

Continue up the field and before you cross the Military Road is the site of Milecastle 26 (Planetrees), was found and excavated in 1930 although its mainly under the road and nothing remains to be seen now.

After crossing the road  you climb the hill, with the ditch is a gentle dip on our left. As we head into the trees, the ditch becomes more pronounced.

Leaving the trees we approach the 18th-century Heavenfield, St Oswald’s Church.  This was the site of the Battle of Heavenfield in AD 635 between Oswald King of Northumbria and the British King Cadwalla,  although the battle site may have been located to the south of Hexham. Roman altar found nearby and brought into the church. This is the start of the St Oswald’s Way Pilgrimage Trail to Lindisfarne, which joins Hadrians trail for a while. Turret 25B (St Oswald’s) is located to the south west of St Oswald’s Church.

Head towards the gate and eastwards along the edge of the field until you reach the hamlet of St Oswald’s, Hill Head Farm, where you walk along the road until you pass the farm. Turret 25A (Hill Head) is probably located slightly to the east of Hill Head Farm. Although located in 1930 by T Hepple it could not be found in 1965.

The Trail passes over the line of the ditch and up onto the counterscarp, keeping us to the North of the road. We pass the low platform that is Milecastle 25 (Codlawhill), which lies to the  south of the Military Road. Turret 24B (Tithe Barn) and Turret 24A (Green Field) were both excavated in 1930 and lie below the Military Road.

After crossing the Military Road we are can see the remains of the Vallum not far away and, up against the southern wall of the road, before you get to the trees, Milecastle 24 (Wall Fell) was excavated in 1930 and found to be a long-axis milecastle, now surviving as an earthwork.

We will stay to the south of the road and curtain wall for a couple of miles. After crossing a lane we enter Stanley Plantation, and walk along its northern edge.  We pass Turret 23B (Wall Fell) which was never located, its position only estimated, and probably under the road. Although the position of Turret 23A (Stanley Plantation) had been established in 1920, it also is under the road.  Through the trees we  can still see the Vallum to the south, and the ditch unseen beyond the road also continues.

As we leave Stanley Plantation we come across the earthworks of Milecastle 23 (Stanley) – another long-axis milecastle examined in 1930.

after crossing a couple of field, and approach a lane, we will pass Turret 22B (Stanley), again mainly under the road. The dogleg of the lane means we are walking closer to the Vallum. As we contiinue we pass to the south of Turret 22A (Portgate), again under the road.

You will approach a main road with a nice looking coffee house / pub, the Errington Arms. Just to the north of the pub would have been the Portgate.  The old Roman Road Dere Street, from York to Scotland, was built 50 years prior to the Wall, passed through here. The Portgate was constructed from very large masonry blocks and  projected between about 3 metres north of the wall, sitting astride it. Excavation showed that the Port Gate gateway had projecting flanking towers. The name Portgate deriving from medieval times, when the old Roman road was used to carry or port goods (and especially livestock) along the road or gate to Stagshaw Fair, just to the south. Gate occurs in both Norse (gata) and Anglo-Saxon (geat) and, means ‘road’ or ‘street’.

Crossover the road you initially approached and skirt the road about, until you see a sign. After crossing another lane you reach Milecastle 22 (Portgate).  This was a long-axis milecastle when it was examined in 1930, but  soon after construction of the milecastle the gateway was completely blocked, probably as a result of its proximity to the Port Gate gateway.

As you approach a small plantation of trees you will pass the probably location of Turret 21B (Fence Burn) this is based on the presence of a small mound along with dark soil and pottery discovered in 1930.

Just beyond the trees lies Halton Chesters fort,  with its unusual western extension south of the curtain wall, giving it an L-shaped plan. Its initial garrison is unknown but it may have been a mixed cohort. The increase in size may be because it later held the ala I Pannoniorum Sabiniana. Th fort is placed astride the Wall, and like Chesters had six gates. A large internal bathhouse was excavated near the western defences, north of the modern road, in the 19th century, with barracks to the east of it.

Unfortunately there is nothing to see of the site today beyond the fort platform and a few bumps to the south of the Military Road.

We leave walking along the road and soon pass the site of Turret 21A (Red House). We walk past Halton Red House, which lies to the north of the road,  before moving away from the road dodging quarried areas and the site of Milecastle 21, although noting survives.

As we pass the plantation on Down Hill, there is a good view of the Vallum as it passes over the ridge. You can easily identify the central ditch with its mounds to north and south, as well as the mound on the southern lip of that ditch.

We pass Turret 20B (Downhill East), which is under the road before cross over to the north of the military way.  Similarly we pass Turret 20A (Carr Hill), whose location was indicated by pottery finds in 1935.

At the end of the hamlet of Halton Shields, before we cross back to walk alongside the southern side of the road we pass the site of Milecastle 20 (Halton Shields). It was located in 1930, in the  garden of the last cottage, with the south wall and gate being covered by a house to the immediate west. We continue and pass over a style to walk in a field by the road, passing Turret 19B (West Clarewood) and Turret 19A (East Clarewood) which lie under the road. By this time to vallum has almost disappeared.

Milecastle 19 (Matfen Piers), was examined in 1932 and an altar to the Matres was found, dedicated by cohors I Vardullorum, who we know were at Corbridge during the mid-2nd century AD.

We cross the road here by the elaborate pillared entrance to Mafton Hall, called Piers Gate, and its village (2 miles away) where we walk on the north lip of the ditch for some 300m. Then we have a wide detour around Wall Houses farm causing us to miss the Turret 18B (Wallhouses West) which lies beneath the grass verge of the Military Road. Turret 18A (Wallhouses East) is located at the junction of Moorhouse Road and the Military Road. Its position can be seen by a rise in the hedgeline.  When excavated in 1931 it was found to be well preserved with the ladder platform still standing at full height and with six stone steps. A ballista ball was also discovered during the excavation.

Carrying on we briefly have to walk alongside the road to skirt some houses, before being safely protected by a fence which actually takes us along the bottom of the ditch. While at the bottom of the ditch we pass the site of Milecastle 18 (East Wallhouses), which is on the other side of the road. It was excavation in 1931 showed it to be of the long axis type.

Past the Robin Hood, immediately after the Old Repeater house you get off the road and back to the ditch. You pass by Turret 17B (Horsley)  and Turret 17A (Welton East), both located in 1931, on the other side or beneath the road.

The road and wall turn slightly as you go down the gentle slope towards the Whittledene reservoirs. At this point the vallum starts to veer away from us. At this point there is a distinct change in the way the wall was constructed, they may have been built by different legions.

A little further on we pass Milecastle 17 (Welton/Whittledean), the existence of the milecastle has been known since at least 1732 and excavations have produced numerous finds and evidence of post-Roman occupation.

A milestone used to stand to the east of the milecastle, erected in AD 213. Although this stone is now missing but amounts to the only written record of the name of Gaius Julius Marcus, a governor of Roman Britain. Marcus made a large number of inscriptions declaring his loyalty to the paranoid emperor Caracalla. However in every other case apart from the milestone his name has been erased. It has been suggested that he was subsequently arrested, convicted of treason and executed on Caracalla’s orders as happened to the governor of Gallia Narbonensis the same year.

We walk past the reservoirs which have destroyed all signs of the wall. We pass by Turret 16B and Turret 16A , which were allegedly found in 1930 by Thomas Hepple.

We start to climb towards Harlow Hill we are on the line of the ditch and there is indeed a slight dip. Once we reach the top, a short diversion through the edge of some woodland we come to Harlow Hill.  Passing the crest of the hill, we may note a junction opposite and immediately to the east of it is the measured position of Milecastle 16 (Harlow Hill).

Our journey continues downhill from Harlow Hill, at the edge of a field and we blindly pass Turret 15B,  ignore the road leading to Albemarle Barracks, the former Ouston airfield, and also pass by Turret 15A, before climbing uphill and coming to the site of Milecastle 15 (Whitchester), whose remains exist on the  southern side  of the road as a bold platform, although robbed of walls.

We cross the road at the estimated location of Turret 14B and at the crest of the hill is the position of Turret 14A (Eppies Hill). Similarly to Harlow Hill, the crest of Eppies Hill was the chosen point to realign the course of the Wall.
We walk along side the road for a while before having to take a detour to the south to walk around Iron Sign Farm just to return to the road 250 metres further on. We soon arrive at the location of Milecastle 14 (March Burn), which was examined in 1946 and 2000 and found to be probably a short-axis type. We cross over the March Burn on a small bridge and gently climb. Just before the path turns south at the fort you pass the estimated position of Turret 13B (Rudchester West). 

Location: Chesters Roman Fort and Museum - Hadrian's Wall B6318 Chollerford Hexham NE46 4EU United Kingdom | Hours: 10.00 - 17.00
Read more about Chester Roman Fort and Museum

Rudchester Fort To Heddon

Hadrians Wall – Day 5 –  Chollerford To Heddon-on-the-Wall
Vindobala fort at Rudchester like Chesters and Haltonchesters, straddles the Wall. It was the fourth fort on Hadrian’s Wall, after Segedunum (Wallsend), Pons Aelius (Newcastle) and Condercum (Benwell). The name Vindobala means “White Strength”.  There is nothing to see now of the fort other than its platform with bumps in the grass, with the trail leading us around its southern perimeter. To the north of the road any signs of the fort have been ploughed away. The Notitia tells us was in garrison in the 3rd and 4th century, was the cohors I Frisiavonum, was but the earliest occupants are unknown. The civil settlement to the south included a Mithraeum.  The site is actually owned by Northumberland County Council.

We depart Rudchester and continue to the south of the road and we pass the site of Turret 13A (Rudchester East) which are covered by the B6318 Military Road. Just before we make a sharp turn to avoid the A69 lies the site of Milecastle 13 (Rudchester Burn), which is just a low platform south of the B6318 Military Road. A pot of 516 gold and silver coins was found here – the latest coin dated to 168.

We walk along the road for a while, cross the bridge and soon back on the path of the wall, which is where Turret 12B (North Lodge) lies. There is a straight run now past Turret 12A (Heddon West) to Heddon on the Wall.

When you get to the end of the road, cross over to the petrol station, and turn right and right again, to join the path behind the war memorial. Follow the path in order to pass close to the site of  Milecastle 12 (Heddon), which covered by modern farm buildings.

Prior to being a war memorial the area was the village pond. 

At the east end of the village there is a narrow gate and walk along the line of the ditch, with the wall immediately to our left. In the distance we can see the Military Road and curtain wall reuniting. This section of Broad Wall is some 215m in length and up to seven courses high. Near the west end, a circular kiln has been inserted into the ruins of the wall, possibly during the post-medieval period. The Vallum survives as a earthwork in the field to the south.

Returning the way we came, and then walk down “The Town Gate”, past the Swan Inn is the entrance to St Andrew’s Church, some parts of which are Saxon and date back to 680AD. The original stone structure was built using recycled stone from Hadrian’s Wall.

If you need to catch a bus back to Hexham or Newcastle then, there are three stops close to the War memorial and the main road.

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