Hadrian's Wall and associated features between the field boundary west of turret 37a and the road to Steel Rigg car park in wall miles 37, 38 and 39


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
Bardon Mill
Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
NY 76488 67850

Reasons for Designation

Hadrian's Wall marks one of the frontiers of the Roman Empire. The international importance of the surviving remains has been recognised through designation as a World Heritage Site. The military importance of the Tyne-Solway route across the Pennines was recognised by the Romans during their early campaigns through northern England and into Scotland in the second half of the first century AD. At this time a military road, the Stanegate, was constructed along with a series of forts. Subsequently the Romans largely withdrew from Scotland and there is evidence that the Tyne-Solway route was being recognised as a frontier by the start of the second century AD. This position was consolidated in the early second century by the construction of a substantial frontier work, Hadrian's Wall, under the orders of the Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian's successor, Antoninus Pius, subsequently attempted to establish the boundary further north, between the Clyde and the Firth of Forth, but by c.AD 160 growing unrest amongst the native populations of northern Britain and pressures elsewhere in the Empire caused a retraction back to the Hadrianic line. Hadrian's Wall was then the frontier of the Roman Empire in Britain until c.AD 400 when the Roman armies withdrew from Britain. Stretching over 70 miles from coast to coast, Hadrian's Wall was a continuous barrier built of stone in the east and, initially, of turf in the west. The stone wall was originally designed to be ten Roman feet wide and sections of this width are termed broad wall. A change of plan shortly after construction began led to a reduction in the width of the Wall to eight Roman feet, such sections being termed narrow wall. Today, stretches of both wall types survive, including some sections of narrow wall built on broad wall foundations. For most of its length a substantial ditch on the northern side provided additional defence. Where the Wall crossed rivers, bridges were constructed to carry it across. Construction of the Wall was organised and executed by legionary soldiers. From the beginning the barrier was planned to comprise more than just a curtain wall. At regularly spaced intervals of about a mile along its length lay small walled fortlets known as milecastles. These were attached to the southern side of the Wall and most had a gateway through the Wall to the north. Hence they controlled crossing points through the Wall as well as affording space for a small stable garrison. Between the milecastles were two equally spaced towers known as turrets. Together the milecastles and turrets provided bases from which the curtain wall could be watched and patrolled. Both the turrets and milecastles are thought to have been higher than the Wall itself to provide suitable observation points. It is often assumed that a platform existed on the Wall so that troops could actually patrol along the wall top; it is however far from certain that this was the case. At the western end of the Wall a system of towers, small fortlets and palisade fences extended the frontier system another 30 miles or so down the Cumbrian coast and helped control shipping moving across the estuary of the Solway Firth. As originally planned, and apart from whatever space there was in the milecastles, provision for the accommodation of garrison troops manning the Wall was left with the line of forts which already lay along the Stanegate. At some point a fundamental change of plan took place and forts were constructed along the line of the Wall itself. There are now known to have been 16 forts either attached to the Wall or in close association with it. Some overlay earlier features such as turrets or milecastles. At this stage another linear element, the vallum, was also added to the defensive system to the south of the Wall. This was a broad flat-bottomed ditch flanked by a pair of linear banks. It shadows the course of the Wall for almost all its length, sometimes lying very close to it but sometimes up to a kilometre away from it. The vallum's main function was to act as a barrier to restrict access to the Wall from the south. It also had a function in linking the forts along the Wall with a method of lateral communication. When the forts were placed along the wall line no provision was made for a road to link them. This situation was clearly found impracticable and a metalled track was therefore provided in places along the vallum between the north mound and the ditch. Later, after the withdrawal back to the Hadrianic line from the Antonine Wall, various refurbishments were made throughout the frontier line. At this stage a new linear feature was added: the `Military Way'. This was a road linking all elements of the Wall defence, running from fort to fort within the area bounded by the Wall and the vallum. Throughout its long history the Wall was not always well maintained. It was often neglected and sometimes overrun, but it remained in use until the late fourth century when a weak and divided Roman Empire finally withdrew its armies from the Wall and Britain. It now survives in various states of preservation. In places, especially in the central section, the Stone Wall still remains several courses high and the attached forts, turrets and milecastles are also clearly indentifiable. Earthwork features such as the ditch, vallum and Military Way also survive well in places. Elsewhere the Stone Wall has been virtually robbed out and only its foundations survive beneath the present ground surface. Similarly, stretches of the earthwork remains, including sections of the Turf Wall, have been levelled or infilled and now only survive as buried features. Although some sections of the frontier system no longer survive visibly, sufficient evidence does exist for its position to be fairly accurately identified throughout most of its length.

Hadrian's Wall and its associated features between the field boundary west of turret 37a and the road to Steel Rigg car park survive well as a series of buried and upstanding remains. Significant information on the development of the frontier system over time will be preserved. The section includes a unique extra tower in Peel Gap. The prehistoric field boundaries give this section of the monument enhanced importance, as they have a known relationship to the Roman frontier works.


The monument includes the section of Hadrian's Wall and its associated features between the field boundary west of turret 37a in the east and the west side of the road to Steel Rigg car park in the west. Hadrian's Wall follows the crest of the Whin Sill throughout this section, which includes the steep rock outcrops of Hotbank Crags, Highshield Crags and Peel Crags. There are extensive views to north and south all along this section. The upstanding remains of Hadrian's Wall, the milecastles and turrets are Listed Grade I, from Milking Gap to the road to Steel Rigg car park. Hadrian's Wall survives well as an exposed and consolidated wall for the larger part this section averaging 2m wide and 1.4m high. It reaches a maximum height of 2.75m at Sycamore Gap where there are 11 courses extant. Here there are also traces of original mortar and whitewash along the north face and in the wall core. Above Sycamore Gap on its west side is a section of bypassed broad wall foundations which measure 2.75m wide and two courses high on the east side and a single course high on the west side and is now consolidated and on display. Above Peel Crags the Wall is in poor condition though it stands up to 2.7m on its north side and up to 1.7m on the south side. Elsewhere in this section the Wall survives as a turf-covered mound averaging 2m wide and 1m high. Modern field walls overlie these turf-covered stretches of Wall. The wall ditch was only constructed in the gaps between the crags, as the steep craggy scarps render a ditch superfluous here. Where it was constructed the ditch survives as a visible feature. At Milking Gap the ditch averages 10m wide and 1m deep. Excavations by Crow in 1986 to the west of the Roman tower at Peel Gap showed the ditch to be 9m wide and 2.3m deep with a level berm 9.5m across. At Peel Gap the ditch is less well preserved as a surface feature, though it averages 1m in depth. The ditch upcast mound, usually known as the `glacis', is here visible only as a slight counterscarp. The glacis is better preserved at Milking Gap where it averages 6m wide. Milecastle 38 is situated on a west facing slope with views to the north and south. It is visible as a series of turf-covered mounds and it measures 18m north east to south west by 17.4m across. The turf-covered remains of the north east wall are 2.6m wide and 1.2m high. On the south and east sides robber trenches mark where the walls were located. These measure 3.6m wide and up to 1.4m deep. There are traces of a rectangular building in the south west corner. The milecastle was partly excavated during 1935 by Simpson. Pottery found indicated occupation continued into the fourth century AD. Milecastle 39, known as Castle Nick, is positioned in a steep sided gap between Highshield Crags and Peel Crags with views to the north and south. It survives well as an upstanding stone feature and is now consolidated. It measures 19m long and about 15.5m across, though its overall width varies slightly at each end. The walls stand up to 1.75m high. The milecastle was partly excavated by Clayton and later by Simpson. However, excavations by Crow between 1985 and 1987 produced a detailed understanding of the milecastle and its internal structures and their development over time. Early barrack blocks were later replaced by individual small buildings with curved porches, probably designed as wind breaks. The pottery sequence showed that the occupation of the milecastle was continuous and ended probably sometime in the fourth century AD. An 18th century milking parlour was later constructed in the north west part of the milecastle. The milecastle excavation produced many small finds including pottery, coins, and metalwork which included short swords and lances, together with gaming boards and pieces. Turret 37b is located on the crest of Hotbank Crags with very extensive views in all directions. It survives as a turf-covered platform. The platform measures 6.3m north to south and 10m across and is up to 1.4m high. There is a small enclosure on the east side of the platform which appears to abut both the south side of the Wall and the east side of the turret wall. It could therefore be contemporary with the Wall and may have served as a small stable. It was located in 1911 by Simpson. Turret 38a is located on the west side of Milking Gap on an east facing slope. It commands extensive views to the south and directly overlooks Crag Lough to the north. It survives as a buried feature below the turf. It was located in 1911 by Simpson. Turret 38b is located on Highshield Crags and also has extensive views in all directions. It survives as a turf-covered platform. The platform measures 6.8m north to south and 13.4m across. There is an internal scarp up to 0.3m high. This turret was also located by Simpson in 1911. Turret 39a is located on the crest of Peel Crags and commands wide views in all directions. It is visible as a slight rectangular hollow about 0.2m deep. The turret was located in 1909 and excavated in 1911 by Simpson. Its walls were of narrow gauge and were found to have been demolished and the Wall built over its entrance indicating that it fell out of use during the Roman period. A platform, probably for a ladder, was positioned in the south west corner. The remains of a man and a woman were found buried in the north west corner. Burial in such a place was against Roman law and as such these could be the remains of an unlawful event. A Roman tower is positioned in Peel Gap on Hadrian's Wall with limited views to the north and south. Unusually it is located between the two turrets 39a and 39b. It survives as consolidated stone foundations. It was discovered by Crow during investigation and clearance of the Wall in this section in 1986. This additional tower was later than the Hadrianic narrow wall. Finds from inside and outside the tower showed that it had a similar structural history and use to the neighbouring turrets. Hearths and a ladder platform were found in the interior. Wall mile 39 is a particularly long one as the distance between turrets 39a and 39b exceeds by over 200m the normal spacing of 494m from turret to turret. The Peel Gap tower lies exactly midway between these turrets implying that spacing was the most important factor determining its location. As an observation post it is in a very poor position. A medieval tower is located in Peel Gap abutting Hadrian's Wall. It was probably part of the original pele tower which gave its name to the modern farmhouse and adjacent crag. It survives as a slight platform with excavation trenches and spoil heaps, up to 0.4m high. It was excavated by Simpson in 1911 who recovered medieval green glazed pottery from the interior. The course of the Roman road known as the Military Way, which ran along the corridor between the Wall and the vallum linking turrets, milecastles and forts, survives well as a linear causeway throughout this section. Some stone is visible on the south scarp where it has been built up to make a level surface. This scarp appears to have had a stone revetment. The south scarp averages 0.4m in height, although it reaches up to 1.2m high in places. West of Peel Farm the Military Way is overlain by the road to Steel Rigg car park. To the south of Sycamore Gap are the remains of a prehistoric field boundary running roughly from north to south, probably dating to the Bronze Age. The Roman Military Way overlies this boundary which indicates that it is certainly pre-Roman in date. The peat bog, which has grown over remains of this boundary further to the south, is of Bronze Age origin. A second boundary is located running transversely to the Sycamore Gap boundary, to the west of it, south of the Military Way. Their assumed junction is masked by the peat bog which has built up to the south. These boundaries survive as sinuous linear features of low stone banks, averaging 1.2m wide and 0.5m high. A small irregular field system is situated to the south of milecastle 39. It takes the form of two roughly rectangular paddocks linked by an axial boundary. The boundaries survive as upstanding features. They are constructed from roughly coursed boulders standing up to 1m wide and 0.45m high. They are of a form usually considered to be medieval. The axial boundary runs up to the south east corner of the milecastle showing that it is later than the milecastle in date. There are ten shielings located within this section of the Wall. Shielings are small shepherds' huts which were used on a seasonal basis usually during upland grazing in the summer months. They are characteristic of the medieval period in this area. There are five free standing shielings located between Castle Nick and Sycamore Gap. Their dry stone walls average 1m in width and 0.4m high. A group of three shielings with multiple phases are located 50m east of milecastle 39 abutting the south face of Hadrian's Wall. These were discovered during excavations between 1985 and 1987 by Crow. Their walls average 0.6m wide and 0.4m high. They are now consolidated and are visible as stone features. Two further shielings are situated 120m east of turret 38a. They survive as low stone structures and are situated to the immediate south of Hadrian's Wall. The largest and easternmost of the two measures 9m by 3m with traces of an entrance in its south wall. The walls of both shielings stand up to 0.3m high. On either side of the last pair of shielings is an irregular enclosure abutting the south face of Hadrian's Wall. They survive as upstanding stone features. The larger and westernmost of the two enclosures measures 28m east to west by 5m wide. Its walls are constructed from roughly coursed boulders which stand up to 0.4m high. The much smaller enclosure to the east also has walls made from roughly coursed boulders up to 1.5m wide and 0.4m high. Both of these features are probably shielings or animal byres, although their irregular form is unusual. All field boundaries, except those constructed directly on the line of Hadrian's Wall, sign posts, stiles and road/trackways are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath all these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 5 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Crow, J, 'Britannia' in Roman Britain in 1987, , Vol. 19, (1988), 434
Simpson, , Richmond, , Birley, , Keeney, , 'Archaeologia Aeliana' in Milecastles on Hadrian's Wall explored in 1935-6, , Vol. 4 ser,13, (1936), 263-9


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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