The Milecastle Inn (find us here) is only half a kilometre from the best-preserved part of the whole Roman Empire frontier, which stretched through Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. This World Heritage Site, designated by the United Nations in 1987, was begun under the orders of the Emperor Hadrian in 122AD. Hadrian’s Wall, which averaged 4 metres high, 1.75m wide, was constructed right across England at this point, from coast to coast, a length of 80 km but took only 6 – 8 years to build! Approximately 20,000 regular Roman soldiers, legionnaires, and we know the actual legions, the II, VI and XX legions, built the Wall, ready at all times to fight off the local marauding wild Britons, (there wasn’t such a thing as the Scots in those days!).
Every Roman mile, based on 1000 double paces (approximately 1620 yards compared with 1760 yards – the English mile), the soldiers built a milecastle, which could hold up to 20 men. The milecastle viewed from the Milecastle Inn is number 42 of 80 (so we are near the centre of the Wall). This milecastle, specifically built by the XX legion, is one of the best preserved and unusually built at a jaunty angle on the edge of The Great Whin Sill, a dramatic long escarpment of very hard rock formed by volcanoes 200 million years ago. One of the main reasons the Romans chose this line for the Wall using the edge of naturally formed defence, the steep faced crag. The value of the very hard stone is apparent with evidence of quarrying at Cawfields Quarry just beside the milecastle creating a spectacular raised point where this milecastle is situated. Cawfields Quarry, named from the calls of nearby colonies of black Crows and Rooks, an area within and run by Northumberland National Park, for parking and easy access to Britain’s newest and popular national footpath, the Hadrian’s Wall Trail, opened 2003.
The area immediately around the Milecastle Inn is one of the most important Roman areas along the Wall. There are more sites of Roman camps in the fields around here than anywhere else on the Wall. It was only here the earlier Roman Road built in the late 70’s AD, the Stanegate, the road across the country from Corbridge Roman Town, Corstopitum, to Carlisle, Luguvallium, in the west, was the closest to the newer construction area of the Wall. It meant that a lot of the supplies and soldiers, to construct and garrison the Wall, stayed in temporary camps in this area before dispersing east and west, along the Wall. The soldiers were tempted to overstay here for the same reason you will visit or stay at the Milecastle Inn; refreshment and warmth!
The nearby Haltwhistle Burn provided fresh drinking water and also coal deposits near the surface, you can see today, for fires. When you are settled down to a meal and a drink inside the Inn just imagine the scene and noises outside nearly 2000 years ago, the clanking of armour, the myriad of chat in different tongues, the auxiliary soldiers were from all over the Empire, Romanians, Belgians, French, Spanish, Iraqis, Libyians and other nationalities. Visually the effect the sight of these concentrations of alien sounding troops with their armour gleaming in the sun or fire light would have astounded the first locals to see them.
There is a footpath following the stream down to Haltwhistle, the Centre of Britain, in the lovely South Tyne valley giving the visitor a further variation of walks and access to local services. If you don’t want to walk from here, and don’t want to use the car, just outside the Milecastle Inn is a bus stop for the award winning Hadrian’s Wall
Bus service, a great form of sustainable transport, running mainly between Easter and autumn, (timetables available in the Inn). It will take you to all the main Roman sites along the Wall and historic towns and villages, in high season enhanced by on board heritage guides. The service is an excellent way of being dropped off to start a walk, along this linear feature without having to retrace your steps. The Milecastle Inn is a great central base to appreciate the most important sites of the Wall and the Roman corridor. To the east you have the two most visited sites of Housesteads Fort and Vindolanda. Housesteads is one of the best preserved, and spectacularly situated of the 14 or so large forts along the Wall, base for 1000 Tungarian soldiers, from present day part of Belgium, it also has the best example of multiple Roman toilets! The wooden writing tablets found preserved at Vindolanda have just been nominated, by English Heritage, as the most important archaeological finds in Britain.
The wild and beautiful landscape around the Milecastle Inn, within the National Park, resounds to the evocative calls of upland birds especially that of the Curlew, symbol of the National Park, a bird here throughout time from prehistoric settlement, the Romans and the rampaging times of the Scots through various conflicts in this border region.
Braveheart was active through this wild area here, until the mid 1700’s anyone in this area could come under attack from the Border Reivers, robbers of both English and Scottish families.
From the comfort of the Milecastle Inn, therefore, you are on the doorstep of one of the most wildly beautiful and historically important areas of Britain – enjoy your stay!