Last year we drove along Hadrian’s wall and visited all of the major sites on the way. This year, we decided to walk the whole length of it. 84 miles from Wallsend in Newcastle to Bowness-on-Solway. Here’s our trip report.
Eat, walk, eat, sleep, repeat.
We decided to walk East to West, this was more out of practicality than for any other reason as train times suited us this better this direction. With hindsight we also think this is the best way to walk it, the Newcastle end is ugly, noisy, smelly with no facilities and is unwelcoming and unfriendly. It is better to start here and get it out of the way. It would be a bit of a culture shock going from nice into horrible.
Right off the train in Newcastle, you are immediately struck with a sense that the first section will not be the haven of tranquillity and antiquity that you were hoping for. Indeed, you will be lucky to get out of ‘Wallsend’ with your wallet still in your pocket, if you do then you must slog through endless miles of graffiti covered concrete and litter covered streets. It will be late in the day before you see anything green in colour and the hard surfaces play havoc on your feet. Eventually the grey relents and you will find yourself walking steeply uphill through a woodland to Heddon-on-the-wall.
Here you will have your first encounter with Hadrian’s famous barricade, and its an impressive remnant. Look well, its the last time you will see it in quite a while. From here, the path turns to arable farm land. Farmers and landowners along this part of the route guard their lands against ‘barbarians’ just as the Romans did. The only difference being that rather than swords and shields, today’s barbarians carry rucksacks and umbrella’s. They do all they can to keep these marauders off their lands, various battle strategies are employed including ploughing right up to the edge of the path, massive ‘keep out’ signs and fencing the path in with gor-tex snagging barbed wire. You will find big square detours around fields, lengthening your journey considerably. Obviously it is too harrowing for the landowner to let walkers pass through their territory, typical of the icy reception at this end of the trail. Much road walking is also necessary im afraid.
Reaching East Wallhouses, you are in for a double whammy, firstly the Robin Hood Inn may be the first place with friendly faces that you have seen and you get some history in the form of the Vallum too, a well preserved Roman defensive ditch. On this next section your progress will be slowed by history, Brunton turret (free) is a slight detour worth taking and a little further on is Chester’s fort near Chollerford (£). From here you will start to see bits and pieces of wall and views improve significantly too. Great panoramas over Haughton common and the Roman sites of Housesteads (£) and Vindolanda (£) make this section of the walk an absolute pleasure. Indeed this is how you imagined the walk would be. It is also the most demanding section, the path peaks and troughs as if you were walking up and down jagged teeth inside the jaws of some colossal beast.
Beyond Birdoswald (£) the terrain levels out and good progress can be made. This section is characterised by green fields and pretty villages, it has a much friendlier feel too. It is as if people actually like walkers here and enjoy living near the path. Honesty boxes pop up giving you the chance of a nice cold drink from a cool box, picnic benches are common and locals are interested in talking to you. The path takes you through Carlisle, this is an excellent opportunity to acquire supplies for the final miles beyond.
The final section is characterised again, by fields and then by the Solway firth. It is completely free of traces of wall and the views are mediocre. The path is more difficult to follow, we made a couple of minor mistakes. The end is reached in a mosaic floored shelter in Bowness-on-Solway.
Most of the people we met along the route were staying in guest houses, hotel’s and b&b’s. companies exist that will book it all for you, take your baggage to your next overnight stop for you and pick you up and drop you off at the wall as is necessary. This is the most comfortable way but also the most expensive way. It is also totally cheating of course.
Camping is of course the correct way to do it. Carry all of your own gear, all of the way and you have my respect. We intended to wild camp the whole time but found this problematic. Decent wild camp sites are rare especially in the East, water sources are to few, grass is knee high or covered in livestock to name but some of the difficulties. Camp sites are the answer to these problems if a little less hardcore. In the East there simply are no campsites to be found, we spent the first night by the Whittledene reservoir, although we now know the Robin hood inn just up the road takes in campers. 01434 672549
We will not recommend somewhere if we havent stayed there ourselves, below is a list of where we stayed and what we thought.
Greencarts campsite. 4Km West of Chollerford. 1Km off the path. Two adults in a tent £10. Bunkhouse available also. Nice, well looked after, clean. Lovely, friendly lady greeted us. NomadicLifeGuide recommended. www.greencarts.co.uk
Hadrian’s wall campsite. 2Km West of Once brewed. 1.5km off the path. Two adults in a tent £16. Bunkhouse also available. High quality facilities, drying room, basic shop, breakfast, pizza and a local takeaway delivers to site (£4 delivery charge). Gorgeous twenty year old cat to fuss. NomadicLifeGuide recommended. www.hadrianswallcampsite.co.uk
Sandysike campsite. 1Km West of Walton. Right on the path. Two adults in a tent £14. Bunkhouse available. Camping on the lawn of a large working farm house. Clean facilities, friendly (posh sounding) owners. NomadicLifeGuide recommended. 01697 72330
Roman walls campsite. 100M North of Monkhill. 0.5km from path. Two adults in a tent £10. Cabin and shieling available. Lovely clean facilities (even a bath!), small library. Nearby pub. NomadicLifeGuide recommended. www.hadrians-wall-accommodation.co.uk
Wallsend campsite. Bowness-on-Solway. Two adults in a tent £20. B&B and Wigwam available. Nice facilities, small kitchen available to campers, honesty box for refreshments. A good place to start or finish your walk. NomadicLifeGuide recommended www.wallsend.net
Maps and guides
The Hadrian’s wall path (national trails) Anthony Burton is the standard guide used by people. It is also a TOTAL WASTE OF TIME AND MONEY. This is more history book than walking guide, no advice on where to stay, poor directions, poorly printed maps. DEAD WEIGHT in your pack, do not buy it.
The Harvey Hadrian’s wall path map. Is THE BIBLE for this route, for in it thou shalt find redemption, (or a campsite, pub, cafe, tap, toilet, bank, shop you get the idea). It even shows you where the wall is or isn’t. Don’t go without it.
The major sites of historic interest are looked after by English Heritage who also do all they can to protect them from hikers it seems. You are not allowed to leave your rucksack anywhere, they make you carry it all around the sites, and at Housesteads the entrance is far from the wall and down a big hill (even though the site itself is on the wall) making thru walkers detour for miles to gain entry. If anyone is deserving of visiting these historic places then surely it is the hardy souls that walk the entire wall. English Heritage do not think so it seems, fencing out these barbarous intruders.
Our journey in numbers
2240m vertical ascent
2 x Rucksacks 16kg and 14kg
2 nice Canadians met
1 Canadian Pancake recipe acquired
2 Wetherspoons meals
1 Nice French guy met
2 Nice Dutch people met
Our strong recommendation
We would not suggest walking the whole length of Hadrian’s wall path to anyone. That’s right, I said don’t do it. If you are interested in the history then go and see the history – in your car. The sad fact is that there is very little of the wall left and so to walk 84 miles just to see fragments is a waste of time. If you are after a long distance walk then pick another, the West Highland Way, Pennine Way, Offer’s Dyke, Cleveland way there is a lot that you could choose that are famous for their scenery and good walking. The majority of Hadrian’s wall path has nothing to do with what’s left of the wall, the path takes in stinking graffiti covered cities, endless fields and the verges of major roads. We estimate that you walk next to the original wall for less than 1% of the entire walk, the modern route is not really even the ‘course of’ the wall especially in the East. Sad but true I’m afraid.