Hadrian’s Wall was constructed by 15,000 Roman soldiers, starting in 122AD and serving as the northern frontier of the Roman empire.
The original wall was 80 Roman miles (73 modern miles) long, with 80 small forts at each mile and six larger forts that served as armed cities. The wall took six years to build and its forts and milecastles stayed occupied until the Romans left Britain three hundred years later.
Ever since, people have been quietly pulling it to pieces, using the stone to construct everything from churches and monasteries to the Military Road that runs alongside.
Still, despite their best efforts, over ten miles of the ancient wall still remains, in small and large chunks dotted across the country.
In 1987, Hadrian’s Wall was listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site and in 2003, the Hadrian’s Wall Trail was opened. The Trail largely follows the original route of the wall and its accompanying defences from one coast to the other.
The 134-kilometre-long Hadrian’s Wall National Trail is a delightful hike from coast to coast, running across the northern-most part of England from Wallsend on the east coast of England to Bowness-on-Solway on the west coast.
Not only does it cross some of the most beautiful and wild scenery in the country, but it also incorporates some of its fascinating ancient history.
Both the Wall itself and the accompanying trail attract walkers from around the globe who are drawn in by the unique combination of centuries-old history and a landscape that is by turns idyllic and dramatic.
The typical route goes east-to-west, following the direction in which Hadrian’s Wall was built.
Fit walkers are recommended to allow five to seven days to tackle the whole path but there is no maximum amount of time to spend on the trail as hikers can stop in various places and veer off on connecting paths.
Between Chollerford and Walton are the highest and wildest parts of the path and also where the Wall is most visible and includes several important Roman forts.
If you choose to go with a company, a guided six-day walk will cost around £500. Based on two people sharing a room, this would include all accommodation, one or two meals per day, baggage transfers between stops and information about the route.
Choosing to do it yourself will cost slightly less and also offer flexibility around how quickly or slowly you want to go.
- Changing landscape and environments from cityscape of Newcastle to the serenity of the Solway Firth.
- Follow World Heritage Site of Hadrian’s Wall, past Roman settlements and forts.
- Enjoy delicious local food at a lively country pub or hidden tearoom.
- Highly accessible and manageable walk, with good level of comfort for those who prefer a real bed to a tent.
Both Newcastle and Carlisle are on the UK national railway network. The start of the walk at Wallsend can be easily reached by taking a local train from Newcastle to Wallsend Metro Station. From the station, walk in the opposite direction to the shops along Station Road towards the tall tower of Segedunum Roman Fort and Museum.
There is a Hadrian’s Wall bus that runs close to the central section of the Wall during the peak times (summer months).
If you are driving, bear in mind that Bowness-on-Solway does not have a car park and anyone thinking of leaving their car in Wallsend while they walk Hadrian’s Wall are advised to leave their car in the long stay car park at Newcastle airport.
Several European flights also land at Newcastle Airport each day, as well as some domestic ones from the south of the country.
Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail runs over 134 kilometres of unbroken and signposted trail stretching from coast to coast. It passes through some of the most beautiful parts of England, including cities or towns, rolling fields and rugged moorland.
Although the trail itself is 134 kilometres, it should be noted that the total distance trekked will be much more than this by the time you peel off the track each day to head to a local village or town to eat, sleep and recuperate.
Most walkers complete Hadrian’s Wall in between five and ten days, depending on fitness levels and whether you want to stop off for longer in some of the historic towns en route. An additional day is needed to complete the full coast-to-coast walk to South Shields.
Unless you are a seasoned trekker looking for a challenge, it is worth going at a slightly slower pace to take in the incredible wealth of sightseeing along this trek.
Grade and difficulty of the walk
One of the best things about the Hadrian’s Wall Trail is that it is very doable but anyone with a basic level of fitness.
The walking is relatively easy, with the highest point on the path just under 345 metres above sea level, reached via a gradual incline for the most part. For much of its length the path is more or less flat as it runs through remote countryside, with the ups and downs following the rolling hills.
There are sections that pass through the cities and suburbs of Newcastle and Carlisle, and the parts of the track that are on tarmac can be a bit tougher on the soles of your feet but are still very flat.
The route is very accessible and can be taken as slowly as suits each group with easy road access in the event of a problem. In wet weather the mud or slipper rocks can be a pain but outside of a potential sprained ankle, there are no real risks or difficulties with the trail.
Just note that at points, accommodation is less frequent and further apart, results in some long days of walking and an increased risk of blisters.
For less-seasoned trekkers or those that like the idea of a multi-day hike but not so much carrying all their kit, there are several companies that offer a gear transport service along Hadrian’s Wall, where you leave a bag behind at your accommodation for collection each morning, and it gets dropped off at your intended destination later that day.
The typical cost of this is around £7 per person/bag per day and can be booked last minute.
Very little experience is needed to take on Hadrian’s Wall – just a well-broken-in pair of walking boots and the ability to walk up to 15 miles per day.
Children, even up to the age of six, have managed to do these walks, as long as they are fit enough and have the bare essentials.
For those with less experience, it is worth looking into the luggage service mentioned above, so that you can spend your time and energy on just getting yourself from A to B.
There are no permits or fees to walk the Wall. However, for a bit of fun you can order yourself ‘The National Trail Hadrian’s Wall Passport’ online and collect stamps at seven stamping stations along the way to earn an achiever’s certificate.
Guided or Self-Guided
There is absolutely no need for a guide on the Hadrian’s Wall Trail. The path is well-signposted with the National Trail acorn symbol and for most of the walk there are many signs of human activity, and many other walkers in summer.
On top of that, you are quite literally following the Wall for the majority of the route, so it’s hard to go too far astray.
Having said this, much of the walk covers wild land and wilderness and you may choose to divert to explore now and again, so a good map, compass and guidebook are important.
Some people also may opt to do it in an organised group, meaning that daily distances, accommodation and transport will be planned out for them in advance.
As is typical of English weather, particularly up north, winter is generally pretty cold and miserable and summer weather is generally mild but always changeable.
Whatever time of year you choose to go, you could well be up against light or heavy cloud, blazing sunshine, sideways rain and the occasional pummelling wind and it is worth packing for four seasons in one day.
It is also worth looking at the weather before you start and along the route, as ideally you don’t want to coincide the bad weather with being up on exposed cliffs with no shelter.
The best time to do the walk is late Spring (May), Summer (June-August) or early Autumn (September). This gives you best chance at having good weather that will be mainly sunny, with light to moderate cloud cover and temperatures between 20 and 25 degrees.
A six or seven day itinerary assumes a leisurely pace of somewhere between six and fifteen miles per day (some days, distances are shorter due to hillier terrain). If you have more time, there are various walks that start and/or end on the trail, allowing you to diverge away the Wall and explore local areas and observe wildlife.
Most of the longest, middle section of Hadrian’s Wall is part of Northumberland National Park, which offers interesting and rewarding walks.
The Greenlee Lough trail, for example, is a 7.5 mile trek joining both a section of the Pennine Way and the Hadrian’s Wall Trail, winding through the Geenlee Lough National Nature Reserve, where you will spot wildfowl and waders.
There are also plenty of shorter, easy routes, like the Thirlwell Castle Walk, that are closer to 2 miles in length with flatter gradients. The circular Steel Rigg and Sycamore Gap walk is another relatively short and family friendly route providing some of the Wall’s most spectacular views.
The typical route on the trail itself goes east-to-west, following the direction in which Hadrian’s Wall was built. The bonus of following the trail in this direction is that it finished in Bowness-on-Solway for a meal and drink at the King’s Arms, the traditional end point, where you can trade stories with others who are finishing up.
It is also a prettier walk, starting in the busy suburbs of Newcastle, and ending with a stroll through countryside to the sea in Solway.
Having said that, some people do choose to walk to walk west-to-east for more favourable weather conditions – with the wind/rain at your back and afternoon sun behind you instead of in your eyes. Below are two itinerary options that can be done in either direction.
Four-day itinerary for brisk walkers with a good level of fitness:
Travel to start of trail. Bowness-on-Solway to Crosby on Eden – 19 miles
Crosby on Eden to Steel Rigg – 24 miles
Steel Rigg to Heddon on the Wall – 27 miles
Heddon on the Wall to Segedunum Fort – 15 miles
Six-day itinerary for a more laid-back approach:
Bowness-on-Solway to Carlisle – 14.5 miles
Carlisle to Lanercost – 13 miles
Lanercost to Once Brewed – 14.5 miles
Once Brewed to Chollerford – 12 miles
Chollerford to Heddon-on-the-wall – 15 miles
Heddon-on-the-wall to Wallsend – 15 miles
One of the best parts of this hike is that you can choose to stay in warm, comfortable accommodation every night if you so choose with no need for camping. Accommodation is generally in B&B type properties with friendly hosts who greet you at the end of each long day’s walking.
There are also budget hotels and bunkhouses (essentially hostels) that offer good rates but can get booked up. Accommodation options right on the path are limited, and fill up fast. Nearby towns offer additional options but will mean extra walking or organising transport to and from the trail when needed.
For anyone on a strict budget, camping is the most affordable choice and also provides more flexibility. Note that wild camping isn’t allowed anywhere along the path and the distances between campsites can be quite far, so should be planned out before setting off.
Dinner at a local pub costs around £10-20, and some accommodation will provide cheaper options or may event roll it into the price. Bunkhouses also have a well-equipped kitchen, which is perfect for anyone with particular food requirements or looking to save some money.
Although there are a few places to buy basic groceries in villages, they aren’t well-stocked supermarkets. It is definitely worth stocking up on high-energy snacks to tide you over between meals and carrying these with you on the trail and topping up in the larger towns.
Those visiting the areas surrounding the Cumbrian stretch of Hadrian’s Wall should allow time at the end of the trip to follow the extraordinary coastal routes, as well as the moorland pathways.
If you want to add in a few extra days along the route, many of the key stops offer more than just a B&B to sleep and nurse your blisters.
In Chollerford you can explore Chesters Fort and its outstanding remains – including the ornate headquarters building, commanding officers residence, barrack buildings and military bath-house
Once Brewed offers up a Vindolanda and Housesteads Roman Forts, as well as The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre to learn about the unique landscape of Northumberland.
Adding on an extra day in Carlisle will leave you with enough time to visit the award winning Tullie House Museum, explore 12th century Carlisle Cathedral and check out the medieval Castle, with its ancient chambers, stairways and dungeons that contain the ‘licking stones’ where parched prisoners found enough moisture to stay alive, only to be brutally executed on Gallows Hill.
Newcastle is also a thriving city and it’s worth adding on a day or two to explore, depending on which direction you choose to walk Hadrian’s Wall.
Victoria Tunnel is an opportunity to explore Newcastle’s historical story underground and was used to allow the passage of waggons transporting coal from the 1840s-60s then used again during WWII as an air raid.
The tour takes you underground and explains what stands above including Hadrian’s Wall! If you are a football fan, you can head to St James Park – the football stadium that is smack bang in the middle of town.
The tours include a guided walk through the changing rooms, down the tunnel and into the media room, amongst other things. Otherwise just head down to the quayside, stroll over Millennium Bridge to Gateshead’s contemporary art museum, BALTIC, or try out a variety of Newcastle’s finest bars and restaurants.
|Skills Required||Hiking, Walking|
|Difficulty||1/5 - 2/5|
|Starts at||Bowness-on-Solway, Wigton, UK|
|Finishes at||Wallsend, UK|
|Length of route||134 Km|
|Average time to complete||5 - 10 Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||Yes|
|Highest point||345 metres|
|Equipment needed||Poles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots|
|Countries visited||England, UK|