Day 4 - Wall to Burnhead (Haltwhistle)

Monday 16th June - 17.5 miles, 10 hours

We left the hotel at 9:00, returning to the route just outside the village of Wall. It was a lovely day, warm and sunny, just what we needed on this longer section. We had been looking forward to this day as it also provided the opportunity to visit the forts of Chesters and Housesteads.

As Chesters fort didn’t open until 10:00 we had plenty of time to take a short detour to Brunton Turret. This is one of the best preserved turrets along the wall, with a good section of wall adjoining it.

We crossed the River North Tyne at Chollerford bridge and headed to Chesters fort.

Chesters was well worth the visit. We spent about an hour looking round the site and museum. The museum houses many excavated finds and carved stonework from the length of the wall collected by John Clayton. It was he who initiated the excavation and preservation of the wall by purchasing much of the land between Brunton and Cawfield Crags, and so protecting the wall stones from being reused by farmers for building.

At Chesters fort much of the layout can be clearly seen. The bathhouse near to the river is especially well preserved. Having seen the reconstruction at Segedunum it was easier to picture how this would have once appeared.

It has such a peaceful location by the river it is hard to imagine quite how busy it would have been when the fort was fully active. The line of the wall can be seen stretching away on the far side of the river. A bridge would have stood here, and some remains of the abutments are visible on the banks.

From Chesters the path followed the road uphill to Walwick, climbing out of the valley. We kept to the north side, walking along the line of the wall ditch through a mixture of pastural and hay meadows.

As we reached the boundary of the Northumberland National Park a long stretch of the wall became visible, leading us onwards past Black Carts farm. The path rose and fell gently as the landscape began to change, leaving behind the flatter land.

At Limestone Corner the line of the wall changed direction. Here large chunks of rock which had been cut for building blocks lay abandoned. Across to the north the distant outline of the Cheviot hills could be seen.

We passed through a field with these friendly horses. They seemed to get a lot of exercise from escorting walkers through their section of the path.

A short way further on we skirted around the site of the Roman fort of Brocolitia to reach the Mithraeum, a small temple to the god Mithras. Inside were three reproduced statues, one of which had holes which would have been illuminated from within.

We finally left the road behind as we began to ascend toward Sewingshields Crags. The path started to feel more remote without the sound of traffic. Well preserved remains of a turret can be seen here.

We stopped for our packed lunch near the site of Milecastle 34. Here the wall ditch came to an end, now replaced by the natural defences of Sewingshields Crags.

The path continued upwards through a small wood to the top of Sewingshields Crags passing the clear outline of Milecastle 35. From the summit there were good views out across the moors and over Broomlee Lough . Several cows were stood at in the water enjoying a drink on the hot sunny afternoon.

Turning south the path dropped quickly from the trig point before rising again to Kings Hill and Clew Hill. Looking back along the line of the wall a short section of wall ditch could be seen as it crossed the lower lying land.

We dropped down again to cross knag burn and to reach the northern boundary of Housesteads (Vercovicium) Roman fort. Although it was already 4.30pm we couldn’t pass by without having a good look round. It is a large site with well defined building remains. North gate would have provided a commanding view across the wild open land beyond the wall.

The pillars to support the elevated floors of the granaries were all evident. Information boards are provided around the site explaining the archaeology. The engineering was very advanced one particularly notable building is the communal latrines where a system of water ducts were supplied by a large water tank.

Leaving the fort behind we rejoined the wall where it is possible to follow a short section on top of the wall itself. Housesteads Crag dropped steeply down to our right.

At Milecastle 37, the north gate uniquely retains the lower arch stones on either side.

The next section of path across Hotbanks Crags involved a few more steep rises and falls. This was a particularly enjoyable section with great views all the way back to Sewingshields Crags and Broomlee Lough. As we began to descend once more the view ahead was dominated by Crag Lough and the wooded Highshield crag.

Highshield crag rises high above Crag Lough which appeared very blue in the late afternoon sun.

The path then has one of its steeper descents to reach Sycamore Gap. This famous lone tree stands proud on this exposed section of wall.

The path continues its pattern of steep rises and falls Milecastle 39 “Castle Nick” is situated in one of these drops of the hillside. Peel crags provide a great view of the mile castle and back to Crag lough beyond.

The views along the wall from Peel crags were some of the best along the whole route. The path dropped down at the end of Peel crags to reach the road at Steel Rigg.

The path climbed gently to reach the highest point of the path at Windshield Crags at 345m. From here the gradual descent across Cawfields Crags to the disused quarry was interrupted by several smaller ups and downs.

We arrived at Burnhead bed and breakfast at 7pm after a fantastic days walk. After a quick freshen up we headed the short distance up the road to the Milecastle Inn for a well earned meal and drink!

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