Hadrian’s Wall Path

Hadrian’s Wall is a great place to walk if you have the slightest interest in the history of these islands and any sort of imaginative faculty whatsoever. It’s not bad for a ‘my first trail walk’ either; the ups and downs are pretty gentle, routefinding is a doddle, but there’s a grand sense of space and, away from the main attractions, still a remarkable loneliness.

Well, that’s true of the ‘bit in the middle’, where the Wall really is a wall, well-preserved Roman artefacts and some seriously good interpretative museums dot the landscape, and the Whin Sill outcrop lends drama to views both near and far. That stretch, alas, is barely a third of the total 84 miles of Hadrian’s Wall Path. What of the rest?

To my mind, what makes Hadrian’s Wall Path such a good excursion is precisely because of its variety. Starting in the east (which most people don’t; they’re sensible, and keep the prevailing wind behind them), there’s city walking through one of our most characterful cities, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, river walking by the Tyne itself, and an early introduction to Wall by means of its extant ditch, or Vallum.

Then comes the Whin Sill; airy walking above crags, beside one of the great linear monuments of the world. Once it dissipates beyond the Gilsland Gap, there’s charming pastoral walking, with friendly farms offering refreshments and a nice village or two. Slowly the path drops down to the flood-plain of the River Eden, and the border city of Carlisle, before the path’s last few miles head out towards the Solway Firth and the estuary views over to Scotland.

In summary then: big city, river, Wall, fields, river, little city, estuary.

Page by page

East: Newcastle and the Tyne

Central: On the Whin Sill

West: Eden and Carlisle

Logistics

You probably won’t do it how I did it.

I started with the bit in the middle, in 2007, as a half-term treat for my history-obsessed son Adrian, then 15. Ten years later, I wanted to complete the trail to help boost my tally of National Trails – but would this mean two visits, one for each end? No. In 2017 I went up to the AGM of the Mountain Bothies Association, which that year was in Langwathby, south of Carlisle. I reckoned I could polish off the Newcastle sections in two days, travel by bus and train to Carlisle, and use that as a base for the remaining stretch west of Gilsland – two more days. It worked out fine.

Hadrian’s Wall Path is one of the most-walked of all National Trails. It fits nicely into a week, and balances landscape with history and variety, so its popularity should be no surprise. Alongside that has come a well-developed tourist infrastructure, and in particular there are plenty of places to stay, campsites, bunkhouses, hostels, B&Bs and hotels. Some walkers use luggage transfers – there are plenty of companies offering; no doubt this means they can posh up a bit in the evenings, but deep down they know it’s a cheat, and hardly cheap either.

Transport-wise, Newcastle and Carlisle are major rail hubs, reachable (the former especially) by direct train from almost anywhere in the country. The very ends – Wallsend and Bowness – have, respectively, metro trains and local buses to their nearby city, although the latter runs only a few times a day.

If you’re walking the whole thing in one go, then you need not bother about public transport in between. That’s just as well. The two cities are linked by railway and main road, which carries a good bus service throughout, but both are, in general, a few miles south of the HWP, just too far to be within walking distance. The exception is at Gilsland, where the train takes a loop north across the route of the Path. Annoyingly, Gilsland station closed in 1967, though there is a very active campaign to re-open it.

Between the Newcastle fringe and Carlisle, there are almost no bus services other than the extremely useful Bellingham to Hexham service at Chollerford – I used it in 2017 – and infrequent buses serving the B6318 near the Errington Arms and linking Haltwhistle to Gilsland. There is one exception however, from Easter to September: the wonderful AD122 bus (the route number dates from the year of the Emperor Hadrian’s command that the wall be built), which links all the principal sites several times a day. (Once it ran into late October – we used it in 2007, from Newcastle to Chesters fort.)

To help plan your visit try:

  • the National Trail site, with a very clever interactive map that can inter-relate the main attractions to accomodation and transport links; and
  • the Hadrian’s Wall Country site, more sober and plain but everything’s there.