The Kilometre of Hadrian’s Wall from Haytongate to Banks is one of great contrast. Most of the wall is invisible, buried beneath scrub and a makeshift farm wall of sorts that in places incorporates pieces of the original wall. The majority of the sandstone blocks, the only building material available west of the Gilsland fault, rolled down the hill to build 90% of Lanercost Priory. The remains are protected by it’s own defences of hawthorn, beech and young oak trees forming a batten of greenery impenetrable as any barbed wire. Only the north ditch stands clear of the line and leads the eye both east and west across fields full of buttercups and sheep.
These sections of the wall are the most evocative. You know it’s there, you just can’t see it. The imagination works overtime piecing together the clues in visualising what stood here nearly 2,000 years ago. Further to the east, where rock was more abundant and the Ministry of Works had pieced the clues together and left behind ‘a series of small walls’, neat edges and manicured lawns that spell out the Roman presence in our part of the country, is where spectacular Roman engineering stands amidst spectacular scenery but somehow leaves little to actually imagine. Birdoswald and Housesteads are testament to this preservation, anaesthetised yet preserved in their own way. But follow this section of robbed out, scrubbed out, tumbled down, picturesque line of would-be-wall east from Haytongate and you get to Hare Hill and here lies the contrast.
Suddenly you have wall. Rearing out of the bank like a giant breaking stone wave, standing 2.7 meters (8.8 feet) of rebuilt Roman Wall. It carries, high up on it’s north face, a Centurial building stone marked PP (centuria primi pili) to commemorate the century of the senior centurion of the LEGIO VI VICTRIX who built this narrow wall section (the stone was actually found some time before 1894, west of Turret 53a, and built into the reconstructed face of the curtain wall at Hare Hill) – the PP is just visible in the photo below, the second P more pronounced.
Hare Hill comes as quite a shock after the easy walk over the top of Craggle Hill following the line of the invisible wall, conjuring up images of remote northern landscapes and lonely watch-towers only to be brought up short by the actual wall itself, standing about half of its original height of between 5 and 6 metres (16 and 20 feet), its claim to fame being the highest, albeit rebuilt section of original Hadrian’s Wall standing in situ.
Returning to Lanercost for tea via Hayton Gate and Hare’s Hill makes a short linear walk easily completed in a hour without stops or part of a more adventurous circuit from Brampton over three to four hours. Either way, Hare’s Hill offers a glimpse of a Roman heritage that is all around us either laid out in neat rows with information boards to help us understand what we are seeing or hidden from the human eye with just our imagination to help us see.