Believe it or not, there is a place on Hadrian’s Wall where the Romans gave up. It’s a place called Limestone Corner.
The Romans are a famous civilisation, not only for their ability to build Hadrian’s Wall, but for their determination. When they came up against enemies or challenges, they would learn from them very quickly. They would either adopt the tactics of their enemies, bring in a different style of troops to face the challenges or they would learn from their mistakes and not allow them to happen again.
Limestone Corner, however, is a location where the Romans were defeated. Not by the native Britons, not by the weather, but by the sheer geology of this location. Contrary to the name of the place, Limestone Corner isn’t actually made of Limestone. It’s made of an igneous rock called Whinstone. Whinstone was formed about 295 million years ago when magma forced its way up through the tectonic plates and cooled to form Whinstone. Over time, the tectonic plates moved the stone around the world and brought it to northern Britain. It became part of the landscape of the north east of England after the last Ice Age.
Planning Hadrian’s Wall
When the Romans arrived, they planned the route of Hadrian’s Wall, the most northerly part of which was planned to run through Limestone Corner. While digging the wall ditch, they started cutting through the Whinstone. As they did that, they dumped the Whinstone to the north and ploughed on. But at some point, they must have received an order to stop. When they stopped, they downed tools and left the wall ditch as it can be seen today.
If you visit the wall ditch today, you’ll find clues about how they broke up the rock. They used massive chisels which they bashed into the rocks along a weak line in the rocks and smashed the rocks apart to be dumped.
But why did the order to stop come? Perhaps they were being too slow in their work? Or perhaps they needed to focus more on the wall than the ditch itself? We don’t know the reason. But they stopped their work here, left it as it was and moved on.
Why did they stop?
I’m fascinated about why they stopped. To the south of this spot, in the Vallum, the ditch behind the wall, they dug for a straight mile, right the way through the Whinstone and created the Vallum, which you can still see today. But here at the ditch wall, they stopped. You can see how the ditch becomes shallower and shallower until eventually there’s just a small dip in the boulder clay which is more likely to have been created by modern-day walkers.
The wall ditch does appear for around 60 miles at various locations along Hadrian’s Wall. The Romans had started digging it here but stopped for some unknown reason.
I think the reason I love thinking about this puzzle is because, when you think of the Romans, they were never beaten by anything, they never stopped learning and building. But Limestone Corner perhaps demonstrates that they were actually very pragmatic and didn’t continue with something, for some reason.