Aesica was the 9th fort on Hadrian’s Wall and is the nearest (clearly visible) site to us here at Broomshaw. When visitors arrive, we often direct them on a shortish walking circuit which will allow them to get their bearings, see ‘ proper remains’ and arrive at The Milecastle Inn for dinner before returning to us delighted with their first taste of the area.
The fort lies about a mile west of Cawfields car park in front of the extensive Great Chester Farm buildings. One of the joys of Aesica is that the remains have not been formalised with signage, yet the outer walls and great gateways are clearly defined. Not much remains of the interior where ponies and sheep graze freely. Even so, at this site, near its south gateway, one of the only shrines along the wall remains with its modern offerings of various currencies piled up on its surface.
A small fenced off area in the centre would be easy to miss, but it protects the well preserved vaulted entrance to what would have been the fort’s strong room beneath the headquarters building. These two features alone make it well worth pausing along your way to enjoy imagining the former vigorous lifestyle of this beautifully sited fort.
The views from Aesica are spectacular. To the south the North Pennines spread out as far as the eye can see: a hazy purple in mid summer.
To the east, for the walker descending from the softer slopes of Alloa Lea where cultivation terraces are identified on the south facing slopes, the vista shows so very clearly why the Romans identified the Whin Sill as an opportunity to build upon a natural barrier. The wall continues to snake along the sometimes sheer rock faces and steep rises where sheep graze and hardy cattle raise their calves. Views extend as far as Cuddy’s Crags and can be either daunting or inspiring depending on your day’s itinerary.
Westwards the Sill rolls along, a little more forgivingly, towards the mining scars at Walltown. Like Cawfields the assault upon the Whin Sill for its hard rock and reluctantly relinquished local employment are brutally clear at both sites. But on the way to the National Park’s sympathetically reimagined site at Walltown, the lovely landscape stretches ahead through sheep country with the softness of Cumbria beckoning.
Easily accessible from Cawfields car park, the views from Aesica alone are worth the effort. However, the stone walls of Great Chester Farm reveal the marvellous realigning of the stone blocks and even paving stones into practical enclosures that can easily be recognised at this lovely site.