‘Disappearing’ Hadrian’s Wall ditch marked in Cumbria

The ditch was not recorded on English Heritage’s 2010 Hadrian’s Wall map and was thus in danger of fading from written records.

A ‘disappearing’ Roman ditch beside the line of Hadrian’s Wall near Whiteclosegate, 3km north-east of Carlisle, has been interpreted, offering details about the frontier fortification’s construction.

Despite having been documented on Ordnance Survey maps of the 1960s and 1970s, the ditch was not recorded on English Heritage’s 2010 Hadrian’s Wall map and was thus in danger of fading from written records.

IMAGE: David Breeze IMAGE: David Breeze
IMAGE: David Breeze

The shallow, 8m-wide ditch (above), which ran parallel to the Wall on its north side, lies immediately south of the drove road which sits on the ditch’s upcast mound, purchased by Susan Aglionby to expand ‘Susan’s Farm’ (www.susansfarm.co.uk), an organisation working to transform vulnerable people’s lives through agricultural education and well-being initiatives. This section of the Wall is no longer standing, and the main visible feature in the landscape is a broad bank running south-west/north-east. Now the boundary has gained a modern marker: new information boards.

‘The opportunity to purchase the 23-acre field through which the ditch and its northern bank runs came up in 2020. This field adjoins the farm on two sides, so agriculturally would be an asset to the farm,’ Susan explained. ‘The farm is now “Susan’s Farm” – a registered charity, a Care Farm – undertaking work with some of the most vulnerable in our community, as well as having an extensive educational programme. It was important to me that those who visit the site are able to understand what they are looking at. I was deter-mined that high-quality interpretation boards should be erected.’

To bring her vision to life, Susan contacted archaeologist Professor David Breeze for interpretative assistance, and the pair worked with artist Mark Richards to produce two illustrated information boards: one for Susan’s new field, the other marking the remains of the ridge on which the Wall sat at Gosling Sike, on nearby land belonging to Cumbria Wildlife Trust. The boards bear images of the landscape’s past and present, alongside text explaining how the westernmost section of the Wall was originally made of turf, before being rebuilt in stone some decades later. They also discuss and depict various interpretations of the Wall: the turf wall is shown with a wall-walk and parapet, and the stone wall is depicted both with a sloping top and with a level top and no crenellations.