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Greenhead, Hardian's Wall, Thirlwall Castle, Popping Stone, Birdoswald, Gilsland, Northumberland.
[21.7 km] Tue 03 Nov 2015

OS Grid Ref: NY 65770 65882
Lat/Long: 54.986348, -02.536444

The drive along the M6 was a mix of fog and clear views. I reached a small car park on the B6318 just off the busy A69 trunk road. It was an odd shape and not good to get many cars in. At least it was free. I followed a path to cross the railway then along the bank of Tipalt Burn. In front of me was the impressive ruin of Thirlwall Castle.

First railway crossing.

It was built by John Thirlwall about 1333 using stones plundered from the nearby Roman Hadrian's Wall. Around 1738 the castle was no longer a residence of the Thirlwall family due marriage. Shortly after it fell into disrepair.



Thirlwall Castle

Ditch along the wall site

After the castle I returned down the lane and over the Tipalt Burn by a footbridge by a ford. Then up a hill I was walking by the ditch along the line of Hadrianís Wall. It was an impressive walk along the hill tip to the road by the Walltown car park and information centre. The current car park is the site of the crushing are for the quarry that used to be here for over a hundred years.

Site of the quarry

The extent can still be seen by cliffs in the distance. Many kinds of stone products were produced including setts to pave the streets of Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool and Carlisle. My map showed the site of the Turret 45b on the wall but there was no sign of it now as the quarry had cut it away. However it was excavated in 1883 before being obliterated.

Old photo of Quarry workers

As I walked towards Walltown Crags I noticed a white structure on the far side of the old quarry area. There was no path to it so I walked across the open land. There I round a replica Milecastle made of old books. The paper sign adjacent says:


Dawn Felicia Knox
A new Milecastle has arisen on Hadrian's Wall built not of stone but of books ó obsolete encyclopaedias have become the cornerstones and redundant laws journals the archways. We are using books to acknowledge the introduction of literacy to Britain by the Romans. It is because the Romans brought literacy here that we know so much about Hadrian's Wall and those who lived there. Simulacrum is an art installation conceived by Dawn Felicia Knox and the Hadrian Arts Trust. It reflects elements of Hadrian's Wall in a new way and brings to the fore questions of impermanence and preservation at Walltown where the original wall was long quarried out. The project is supported by the Northumberland National Park and Arts Council England.

The Simulacrum mirrors the military structures that were once found along the wall drawing from the precision and geometry of Roman structures in contrast to the subsuming natural environment. The sculpture will begin to decay almost immediately ó rain will permeate the books, the sun will crack the book covers and plants will begin to take root. This will mirror the act of ruination of the stones itself, be it at an accelerated pace. We have recycled books destined for pulping or landfill ó once the installation ends the books will be recycled further into paper products or incinerated with the energy harvested for the Northumberland power grid.
Please do not cross the rope line - the structure is unstable and deteriorating by design.

Simulacrum of Books

There were some nice books left out on the weather and I canít agree with the plan of leaving them to deteriorate by design.
I returned to the path and up to Walltown Crags where the remains of Hadrian ís Wall run along the north edge. The views all around were very impressive especially as the weather had cleared.

Hadrian's Wall above Walltown

At the next dip at an area called King Arthurís Well I left the line of the wall to head north along a rough track. Through a gate and some very wet ground I headed across boggy ground to Collar Heugh Crag. I sat by the stone wall to eat my sandwiches in the sunshine.

View south from the wall

Over the wall the path soon joined a single track road where I turned left and after half a mile right to the isolated farm of Low Old Shields. Through the farmyard I followed the path through a field but the map shows it going through the adjacent field. I reached Tipalt Burn again where a set of stepping stones are called a ford. As I approached I was disappointed to see that a wooden footbridge had been constructed.

Stepping stones and footbridge

The stepping stones were large and substantial but I suppose health and safety has had a hand here. I crossed by the bridge then up the lane to Wood House where I left the road to descend adjacent and old sunken lane in the field. I descended to Pow Charney Burn and some very wet ground. The path followed the railway then across a field to the access track to Barron House Farm. I could see the remains of a large stone building in a field. It looked industrial and was very large. Walking through the farm yard I saw someone in a building and asked about the building. I was told it was something to do with old coal workings. A later check on the old maps showed it was part of the Thirlwall Colliery which had a link to the rail line and also a rail track running to the NE. it was in operation from around 1910 to 1926.

Old coal workings building

Distant view along the wall

I left by a track heading up the hill to the NW then across a field to a tall wooden stile over a stone wall. On the top I stepped over but the misty weather had covered the slimy wooden step so my foot slipped off. I finished up falling and down the steps to land in the wet grass and mud on the far side. I was winded but unhurt. The path continued to the road where I turned left then right to a track to a large house up for sale. I minor path headed through the woods to descend to a footbridge across the River Irthing.

Irthing Gorge and footbridge

I passed the first bridge and on to another bridge over the river.

The second bridge

I saw a sign pointing to the Popping Stone but no indication how far it was. I checked the map and saw it wasnít far so headed off to investigate. The path was slippery and muddy at first but improved further along. I didnít know what I was looking for and soon reached a rounded stone covered in moss. It matched the location shown on the map and when I saw some carvings or graffiti on it reckoned I was at the right place.

Popping Stone graffiti

Many thanks to Gilsland Bits & Pieces and WH? (Will Higgs) who wrote it. The postcard photo below is from his website.

I returned to the bridge and continued up the hillside to join the road. I stayed on the road through Gilsland and on to the Roman Fort at Birdoswald. This is the second time Iíve visited the site. The first was on a back-packing walk along the wall with Charlie in 1977. We were walking from the east to the west and reached Birdoswald on Wed 27th July 1977. We had to pay 10p to walk round the fort ruins, I didnít walk round the fort site but headed along the wall. Somewhere on the south face of the wall is a carved phallus and I managed to find it in 1977.

Corner of Birdoswald Roman Fort

I think it is one of only three on the line of Hadrianís Wall. I reached the descent to the River Irthing but didnít see it. The path took me down to a footbridge which was built in 1999. When I crossed the river with Charlie in 1977 we had to hop across the rocks and I made a note in my diary that we managed to do it without taking our boots off.

Bridge over the Irthing

Roman Bridge abutment

Poltross Burn Milecastle.

The roman bridge abutment is on the east bank and is very impressive. The wall continues up the hill and in 1977 we had to pay 5p to walk along it. At the road I crossed over then over the railway to visit the impressive Poltross Burn Milecastle. The path continues along the wall ditch which for the last mile is out in open countryside. As the mist had returned the walk was very atmospheric. I reached the B6318 and then the short walk back to my car.

Roman wall ditch