This was the longest segment of our Wall Walk — 12 miles. And it had more ups and downs.
The good news was that because the landscape is more rugged, fewer stones were taken for other building projects, and the wall is in better shape. The bad news was that because this section also held the most interesting sites, we dawdled more than we should have.
The first challenge of the day was walking up the long gradual incline of the Whin Sill dolerite intrusion. In fact, the Whin Sill donated the word “sill” to geology, meaning “a horizontal igneous intrusion”.
The Wall up here is built of Whin Sill dolorite. Sandstone and limestone are layered above and below the sill. These provide all the building materials the Romans needed to build their wall.
Limestone Corner demonstrated just how hard the Whin Sill dolorite is — the Romans couldn’t break up a large chunk of the dolorite to get it out of the ditch here, and just gave up. They didn’t do that very often.
Dolorite rock at Limestone Corner. Grooves show where they tried to split it. One guide book said “…it must have been a very bad day” when the Romans tackled this rock.
The Roman Empire’s the most northern point happens to be at this problem spot. After about half an hour of looking at the rock and the scenery, and talking about the Roman’s northern frontier, we moved on.
Soon we came to a little temple to the god Mithras next to the outlines of a milecastle. The Mithraeum was built to mimic a cave. The entire temple could only hold 12 or so. Mithraism was an elitist, hierarchical cult. We spent about 45 minutes there, poking around and taking pictures.
By this point, we had gotten over our aversion to walking through pastures. We eventually realized that everybody has the right to walk through a field, as long as they don’t disturb the animals. And everybody does. And they don’t get shot.
The missing path was there too — as a brighter green trace through the pasture, where the dead tan and grey plants had been broken up and pushed away by people’s feet. In fact, along the Wall it is standard procedure to walk off the trail, because of erosion. They don’t want to wear the plants down to the soil, so when it’s muddy, (and it is muddy a lot) we are supposed to walk side by side. In fact, it’s okay to take off across the field, totally avoiding the path to prevent wearing it out. That means that the “path” tends to be a wandering line of brighter green through the field, if it’s there at all.
We talked to some ladies from Alberta, Canada, who agreed with us both walking through fields and finding the path, so it wasn’t just us.
After a long pull, we had climbed up onto the Whin Sill, taking a few minutes for pictures along the way.
The Whin Sill escarpment from Sewingshields Milecastle. The wall in the foreground is “field wall” built by farmers to mark their fields. It is on top of the remains of the Roman Wall.
Milepost 35 Sewingshields Milecastle had a nice view from top of crags.
Follow the ridge around to the distance. We had to go to the trees in the distance yet this day.
It was about here that we realized that, although were walking at about 3.4 miles per hour — a really good pace going up and down hills — when we were stopped to poke around and look at stuff, we were moving at 0 miles per hour. These stops meant that we were way behind schedule.
Housesteads Fort fits into the end of a dolorite ridge was built on a slope.
Housteads Fort, in the middle of the picture, is framed by trees.
But we couldn’t stop at Housesteads, because we had at least two more hours of walking to get to our pick-up point in time for the taxi to take us to our bed and breakfast.
Sycamore Gap is an iconic view of the wall. We took the picture and kept moving.
Another few miles saw us to the charmingly-named village of Once Brewed, and our pick-up point at a pub called Twice Brewed.
Although we had had beautiful weather to this point, we were having problems with the number of miles we needed to cover. In spite of missing the fabulous Housesteads Fort, we got to our pick-point with just a half hour to spare, both of us very sore and totally exhausted. And that meant we wouldn’t see Vindolanda Fort, 2 miles south of Once Brewed — one of my must-see spots — at all.
We needed to rethink our priorities.