Discovering Hadrian’s Wall Walk

Aimée Smith, 21 May, 2024
What awaits at the ‘edge of the known world’? Read on for our introduction to the Hadrian’s Wall walk.
 
The foundations
It’s AD 122 and the Roman emperor Hadrian is making a journey. His destination: second-century Britain and the northern frontier of his sprawling empire. Here he’ll commission a new fortification that 2,000 years later will still exist as Britain’s greatest Roman monument, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the defining feature of the landscapes between Newcastle upon Tyne and Bowness-on-Solway.

But why did he do it? This is one of the Wall’s great mysteries – and it continues to unravel today. As a ruler, Hadrian was known for consolidating rather than expanding his empire, so for centuries the Wall has been perceived simply as a defensive barrier. But recent excavations suggest there is much more to it – as you’ll discover by walking its route between ancient forts, historic cities and sweeping countryside.
The Hadrian's Wall Path
Since 2003, a National Trail – the Hadrian’s Wall Path – has provided hikers with a fascinating and remarkably scenic means of exploring the Wall on foot. The original fortification stretched for 80 Roman miles (73 in today’s currency), and the National Trail is slightly longer at 84 modern miles – to allow for the occasional detour.

Inntravel’s holiday takes in the full National Trail, dividing the hiking into seven days of between eight and 16 miles apiece. It’s challenging in places, particularly the craggy central section, but there are many gentler stretches – through undulating meadows, along city paths, and amid estuary marshes.

You can hike the trail in either direction, but at Inntravel we lead you from east to west, as the Wall was originally constructed. As well as giving you the chance to trace the footsteps of the Roman soldiers who built the Wall, hiking in this direction provides an evocative coastal finale: on the shores of the Solway Firth, with views into Scotland.
Bed down in comfort
Every day’s walking should be rewarded with a comfortable place to spend the night, and you can certainly look forward to this on Inntravel’s itinerary. The blend of accommodation ranges from sleek city hotels to tiny guesthouses, all selected for their charm and character. Several have an intriguing past – there’s the former headquarters of the Tyne Tees Shipping Company, an 18th-century inn where Charles Dickens is rumoured to have slept, and a historic mill house located on the spot where the western end of Hadrian’s Wall is believed to have concluded.

Of all the accommodation, we particularly recommend adding an extra night at The Twice Brewed Inn in Bardon Mill. Every room at this popular country pub promises beautiful views, and the cosy bar and restaurant serve delicious Northumbrian fare. As for how to spend your extra day, there’s an on-site brewery, taproom, and planetarium at the Inn, plus the opportunity to visit nearby Vindolanda Roman Fort with its treasure trove of artefacts – including, at the time of their discovery, Britain’s oldest surviving handwritten documents. When night falls, take up the chance to explore England’s darkest skies on an unforgettable stargazing experience led by Twice Brewed’s expert guides (pre-booking essential).
History up close
It’s no coincidence that the Hadrian’s Wall Path features on so many hikers’ wish lists: its insights into a long-lost past are superb, and they extend beyond the remains of the Wall itself. From the Roman period, there are forts and turrets, absorbing museums and ancient marooned bridges, and these are complemented by intriguing legacies from later eras. Even on days of the route when there are no Roman ruins visible, the Wall is still present – with its materials having given life to many other settlements, including the imposing 12th-century Carlisle Castle.

Of the Roman forts, don’t miss the chance to visit Housesteads – Britain’s most complete example of the genre. This is one of those places where the past feels very close, and the location couldn’t be more compelling – atop the Great Whin Sill escarpment. In its Roman heyday, 1,000 soldiers were garrisoned at Housesteads, and over a millennia later it housed yet more notorious inhabitants: the Armstrong family. This medieval clan of Border Reivers (raiders) used the once-great garrison to store their stolen livestock.

Nearby Chesters Roman Fort has its own unique highlights, which include a bucolic riverside setting and unusually well-preserved bathhouse. This cavalry fort reveals the nuanced role of Hadrian’s Wall: excavation of its gates has shown that several opened north, enabling entry into the empire. Nor were they hugely fortified, suggesting a customs rather than defensive purpose. Chesters is also interesting in that it was once the property of Victorian antiquarian John Clayton – incredibly, it lay in what was the front garden of his mansion. You can learn more about Clayton’s vital work to preserve Hadrian’s Wall in the on-site museum, home to the renowned Clayton Collection.
Scenic variety
If the history of the Hadrian’s Wall Path is an irresistible draw, so is its scenery. The central third of the National Trail provides the most iconic panoramas – of those ancient fortifications rising and falling across hills and crags. And just when you think the views can’t get any better, Winshield Crags offers a literal highpoint. From here, 360-degree vistas extend north into Scotland’s ruggedly beautiful Lowlands, south across pastoral England, and east and west along the undulating line of the wall.

Very different scenes await at either end of the route: with the vibrancy of central Newcastle and its lively Quayside district contrasted by the serenity of the Solway Firth. The latter is a recognised National Landscape (formerly an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), whose tranquil array of coastal and inland habitats make it a haven for a wide range of wildlife, as well as a welcome refuge for tired hikers at the end of a remarkable journey.
 
 

Hadrian’s Wall with Inntravel

Walk the Wall
Discover the wonders of Hadrian’s Wall as you journey over eight nights and 80 Roman miles from Newcastle to the Solway Firth. Luggage transfers and reservations at accommodation of character included.
More about our Hadrian’s Wall Path walking holiday >

Short of time?
We also offer a short walking break that focuses on the dramatic central section of Hadrian’s Wall. This makes an ideal choice for those with just a few days to spare, or for anyone who prefers to avoid the occasional city walking that’s a feature of the full National Trail.
More about our Hadrian’s Wall Path walking holiday >
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