Hadrian's Wall National Trail is an 84-mile walk that first opened in 2002 along the 73-mile Hadrian's Wall, from Wallsend near Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Bowness-on-Solway near Carlisle. One of the twelve National Trails in or bordering England1, Hadrian's Wall is a World Heritage Site and one of the most impressive Roman remains in the world.
Although the National Trail attempts to follow the original course of Hadrian's Wall as much as possible, there are sections where this is no longer feasible and the route follows alternative paths.
What is Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall is a wall built between Wallsend on the river Tyne near the east coast of England and Bowness-on-Solway on the west coast. The wall was built on the order of the Emperor Hadrian in 122 and completed within 16 years. Over half the wall, between Newcastle and the river Irthing, was built of stone but west of the Irthing the wall was built of turf. It is believed that the wall was about 14 feet high. Every Roman mile2 along the wall there was a fortified gateway, known as a milecastle, and between each milecastle there were two turrets, used as guardposts. Before Hadrian's Wall was built, in the same general area a Roman road, known as the Stanegate, had been constructed between the Roman forts of Carlisle and Corbridge. On the Stanegate were a series of forts that the garrison for the Romans stationed in the Hadrian's Wall area lived in. Additional forts were later constructed along the course of the wall itself. A defensive ditch, known as the Vallum, also runs parallel to the length of the wall to the south.
The wall was constructed to take full advantage of the natural contours of the land and perches on cliff tops and zig-zags back and forth to make the most of any natural defences. Despite this, it was not a frontier marking the edge of the Roman world, but was rather a means of ensuring the control, and taxation, of the people passing through. Hadrian's Wall bisected the territory of the local tribe and Roman allies, the Brigantes.
After the Romans left, the wall was used as a source of stone for many surrounding buildings such as Thirlwall Castle, but remained fairly intact until the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 threatened the north of England. General Wade, in charge of constructing a network of military roads to allow troops to rapidly deploy in the event of invasion, used the wall as a source of stone to construct a road between Newcastle and Carlisle, the road now known as the B6318, which obliterates and covers much of the wall east of Sewingshields Crags.
Walking Hadrian's Wall
Perhaps I am the first man that ever walked the whole length of this Wall and probably the last that ever will attempt it.
– William Hutton3, 1801.
The Hadrian's Wall National Trail is easily followed and generally well signposted, with most signs displaying the National Trail acorn logo; some also give the next point of call and distance to it.
Walking the Trail is most commonly completed in between six and ten days. The most impressive, and the most isolated, section of the wall is between Chollerford and Walton.
The route runs along land owned by bodies as diverse as local councils, the National Trust and local farmers. There is a separate Hadrian's Wall Cyclepath, National Cycle Route 72, known as Hadrian's Way. Many sections are footpath only, unsuitable for cyclists, horses and motor traffic, although many sections are along roads or bridleways.
East Or West, Which Way's Best?
This is a question for personal preference. During the summer, the prevailing wind is negligible and walking west appears to be more common. The turrets and milecastles on Hadrian's Wall are also numbered from East to West. People walking east start off on the quiet Solway estuary and finish in Newcastle whereas people walking west put the hustle and bustle of Newcastle behind them quite early and the landscape as they walk west improves.
Once you have decided which way to go, where do you start?
Bowness-on-Solway - The start point for the easterly walker. This small village is difficult to get to, especially when the roads are flooded at high tide, but is on the 71, 93 and Hadrian's Wall AD122 bus routes.
Wallsend - The official starting route for the westerly walker. This is where the wall ended, or began, and is the site of the first Roman fort actually on the wall. This is easy to get to from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, either by road or by Newcastle's metro network. Newcastle has an international airport, major railway station, international ferry port, and is close to the motorway network.
South Shields - The Roman Fort here was the supply base for Hadrian's Wall's garrison. The reconstructed replica gatehouse and accommodation here are well worth a visit and evoke the atmosphere of Hadrian's Wall. South Shields is a short walk from the Metro network.
Tynemouth - For those wishing to make the Hadrian's Wall walk coast-to-coast, start at Tynemouth and follow National Cycle Route 72 Hadrian's Way for the 6 miles between Tynemouth and Wallsend, where you meet the official start of the National Trail. This makes the journey 90 miles rather than 84, but gives the satisfaction of knowing that you have truly walked from one side of the country to the other.
Distances (in miles)
Places To Visit
In addition to the stunning scenery, the milecastles, turrets, forts, temples and other associated sites of Hadrian's Wall, there are many other sites on or near the wall well worth a visit. Many of these, though not all, are in the care of English Heritage. Should you wish to visit many of the places listed below, you may wish to consider a year's membership of English Heritage, as this could well work out cheaper in the long turn, particularly if you plan to visit any other historic sites in England following your walk along Hadrian's Wall.
Attractions on Route
- Wallsend Segedunum Roman Fort
- Tyne Riverside Country Park
- Chesters Roman Fort
- Northumberland National Park
- Housesteads Roman Fort
- Carvoran Roman Army Museum
- Thirlwall Castle
- Birdoswald Roman Fort
- Tullie House Museum
- King Edward I Statue4
- Arbeia (South Shields) Fort
- Tynemouth Castle and Priory
- North Tyneside Steam Railway
- Bede's World
- Newcastle Castle Keep
- Newcastle Cathedral
- Great North Museum5
- Benwell Vallum Crossing
- George Stephenson's Cottage
- Corbridge Roman Site
- Aydon Castle
- Vindolanda Roman Fort
- Lanercost Priory
- Carlisle Castle
- Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
- Gretna Green6
- King Edward I Monument
Many of these attractions both near to and on the Hadrian's Wall Trail are on the AD122 Bus Route, which runs the whole length of the wall from Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway. This bus operates every day during the summer, and on summer Bank Holidays operates a restricted Sunday service.
There is a railway, the Tyne Valley line, that runs between Newcastle and Carlisle. Sadly other than at Newcastle and Carlisle, the stations are a fair distance from the Wall trail. The railway stations between the two cities are at Wylam, Corbridge, Hexham, Haydon Bridge, Bardon Mill and Haltwhistle.
The importance of being prepared for such a long-distance walk cannot be emphasised enough, especially as the route is one where the walker is isolated from towns and villages for a large proportion of the time. Spend time preparing for the walk. Research both the historical and the practical side of the Wall; the Hadrian's Wall National Trail website is a good place to start. It has up-to-date information on accommodation and a wide range of other useful information. Familiarise yourself with the route you will be taking and work out when the route will be taking you close to shops, and what their opening times are, so that you are able to plan when you will be able purchase vital supplies in advance.
When walking the Hadrian's Wall National Trail a strong pair of walking boots or trainers is recommended. Footwear should ideally provide strong ankle support and good grip, and be waterproof and lightweight. To avoid blisters, it is best to ensure that all shoes have been worn often before; do not attempt to break in a new pair of boots by wearing them continuously on the wall walk. You may wish to consider purchasing anti-blister socks from an outdoor leisure shop.
Although you can follow the signposts containing the National Trail acorn symbol7, it is likely that you will need to divert from the established path, especially to get to your accommodation and to purchase food etc. It is therefore recommended that you take an up-to-date Ordnance Survey map or equivalent with you.
The best maps to get are the Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure and Explorer maps which are 1:25,000 scale:
- Explorer 316 - Newcastle-upon-Tyne - Gateshead, South Shields, Prudhoe, Ponteland, Cramlington & Whitley Bay
- Outdoor Leisure 43 - Hadrian's Wall - Haltwhistle & Hexham
- Explorer 315 - Carlisle - Brampton, Longtown & Gretna Green
- Explorer 314 - Solway Firth - Wigton & Silloth
Alternatively the less detailed 1:50,000 scale OS Landranger maps are acceptable. Maps 85, 86, 87 and 88 cover the route of the wall.
You may also wish to use the Hadrian's Wall Path National Trail Guide, which includes both 1:25,000 scale maps showing the wall and a written description of the route. Similarly, Harvey's Hadrian's Wall Path map is in 1:40,000 scale, less detailed than the Explorer but more detailed than the Landranger maps. This is a map of the entire route, showing useful information for the walker. Neither the Trail Guide nor Harvey's map show as much of the surrounding area as the OS Maps. These can be found in outdoor pursuits, tourist information and book shops, or ordered online in advance.
Another recommended book is the Essential Companion to Hadrian's Wall Path National Trail. Although not a map, it does provide useful information to a walker and provides all the information not shown on the maps, such as opening times for the various shops, pubs and museums en route, location of water taps, toilets, accommodation etc.
If you wish to walk all of Hadrian's Wall in one go, then accommodation will be required. There is a choice of accommodation available; it is best to see the Hadrian's Wall National Trail website for more information. Remember to use the site's map or an OS Map to ensure you know precisely where your accommodation is located. All accommodation should be booked well in advance, especially for walks taking place during the peak summer period.
The cheapest way to stay along Hadrian's Wall is by camping. Campsites often offer basic facilities such as toilets and showers. There are no campsites close to Wallsend or Newcastle and Carlisle city centres, but most of the rest of the route is fairly well supplied. It is worth knowing that walkers are allowed to camp for one night on Wall Village Green free of charge. Facilities there include toilets, which are open all night, and swings.
Hostels, Hotels, B&Bs and Guesthouses
There are five Youth Hostels along the route of the wall, three of which are permanent and two are satellite hostels open only in the summer. These are located at Newcastle, Once Brewed8, Greenhead, Birdoswald9 and Carlisle, which is open in summer only.
There are a number of other hostels and bunkhouses in private ownership, in addition to hotels, B&Bs and Guesthouses along and close to the route. There are also some national chain hotels located within the cities of Newcastle and Carlisle.
Between Newcastle and Carlisle, the wall and the National Trail rarely encounter towns and villages. Shops, restaurants and pubs are few and far between and often have limited opening hours.
Places with a number of shops, restaurants and pubs include Wallsend, Newcastle, Corbridge, Hexham, Haltwhistle and Carlisle. Places in italics are not on the path of the wall.
There are also places to get food and supplies at:
- Newburn - a takeaway, pub and newsagent
- Heddon-on-the-Wall - post office, pub, tea room and corner shop
- Wylam - Corner shop, tea room and post office
- Acomb - Post office
- Wall - pub
- Humshaugh - Post office
- Once Brewed - pub
- Gilsland - Post office, pubs
- Walton - Post office, pub
- Burgh-by-Sands - Post office, pub
- Drumburgh - vending machine
- Port Carlisle - Caravan park shop, pub
- Bowness-on-Solway - Post Office, café and pub
Please note that many of the above have restricted opening times, and not all post offices necessarily sell food.
How To Walk The Walk
Walkers should familiarise themselves with the Countryside Code and be aware of the dangers that walking on rough terrain and uneven near cliff edges can face – never attempt the walk in the dark. The terrain and climate during the walk can also vary significantly, with the walk flat and at sea-level between Wallsend and Heddon-on-the-Wall, then either hilly or extremely hilly until Crosby-on-Eden, where the route again settles down to being practically flat. The route is not mountainous, however, and at its highest point is 1,000 feet above sea level.
It is possible to do the walk with organisations that arrange for a guide and/or baggage carrying. Walking the Hadrian's Wall National Trail with a large group can provide a completely different walking experience to that of walking the path on your own or in a small group. Although you gain the reassurance that you are going the right way, walking in a large group might possibly detract from the experience of seeing the wall in isolation. If you do walk on your own, it is recommended that you take a phone and/or whistle with you, consider carrying a first aid kit and emergency rations, and keep someone informed of your progress at all times.
If you do use a baggage transfer company, shop around. Be aware that while there are many baggage transfer companies, some of them use the same man with a van to do the actual baggage transfer, particularly at quiet times. It is common for customers of different companies to be charged different amounts for exactly the same service.
If you are planning on visiting the museums in the Newcastle area, there is a left luggage office at Newcastle's Central Station, on Platform 12, open from 8.00am until 8.00pm. There is a charge for each item left. Similarly in Carlisle, the café/bar opposite the railway station offers a left luggage facility. If you wish to camp overnight on Wall's village green, luggage can be arranged to be delivered to and collected from the nearby Hadrian Hotel pub.
Hadrian's Wall Code of Respect
As Hadrian's Wall is a unique World Heritage Site, the National Trail has a Code of Respect which walkers are asked to abide by.
Do not do the walk in winter. During the wet winter months, the ground is waterlogged and the risk of damage to Hadrian's Wall and other associated archaeological remains is very high.
If you are only doing a short walk, avoid causing wear and tear to the route by walking a circular route rather than walking on the same ground twice.
Never climb up or walk on top of the wall10. The only place where a public right of way on top of the wall exists is for a very short section at Housesteads Roman Fort.
Visit a Roman fort as part of your visit.
Only walk along the signed, waymarked paths.
Keep all dogs on a lead.
Do not litter or light fires.
Close gates behind you unless the farmer needs the gate open.
Use local shops, restaurants and pubs and stay close by.
Only camp at official campsites.
Walkers are requested to avoid walking in single file and to avoid walking on bumps, which may be earthwork archaeology, or on eroded patches of grass.
It is important to know that the coastline between Dykesfield and Drumburgh, and also between Port Carlisle and Bowness-on-Solway, at the eastern end of the walk is at sea level. This means that at high tides, these areas can be affected by tidal flooding, with the main road between Dykesfield and Drumburgh under water. Noticeboards located at Dykesfield and Bowness-on-Solway display the tide timetable. Walking during high tide periods is discouraged. Tides normally only cause a problem when they are above 9 metres. Even then, it is usually possible to get above the water level by walking along a raised embankment 6–8 feet above the road level; however, it is best to avoid these areas during times of flood risk. For more information of flooding, see the UK Hydrographic Office website and search for Silloth, the nearest listed location, and add on an hour and a half. Avoid this area an hour and a half before and after any high tides listed that are greater than 9 metres.
When walking the Wall you can collect National Trail Passport stamps. If you collect the six stamps, available only in summer, you are entitled to buy a badge and certificate proving that you have walked the Wall.
So, why not make the preparations and enjoy a week's holiday of a lifetime?
More Information About Hadrian's Wall
- History of the Edge of an Empire
- Hadrian's Wall: A Journey Along the Edge of the Empire
- The Staffordshire Moorlands Patera
- The Western Defences
- The Forts And Camps North Of Hadrian's Wall
Bring on the wall!