If you’ve made the decision to embark on taking on Hadrian’s Wall you may have already done a fair bit of research, dived into a couple of Wainwright’s volumes, or talked to other people who have come out the other side.
But, for whatever reason, many assumptions exist about Hadrian’s Wall: that it’s breathtakingly beautiful from start to finish, that you always walk it west to east, that you do it by foot. But we thought that if you’re serious about tackling England’s most historic and exciting physical and mental challenges, we thought we’d uncover some of the myths for you.
1. You Don’t Have to Do it All in One Go
First thing first, Hadrian’s Wall is LONG! At 192 miles from your starting point to the end, it takes about two weeks of long walking days. Not only does that put an enormous strain on your body, but it can also be a significant mental challenge too. Aside from this, it might not be easy to take more than two weeks out of your schedule to tackle it in one go.
So for whatever reason, you can only spend two or three days on the wall, so why not split it up into bite-sized chunks?
Chunk 1: Bowness-on-Solway to Gilsland
- Time allowance: 3 days
- Distance: 30 miles
Chunk 2: The Crags
- Time allowance: 2 days
- Distance: 22 miles
Chunk 3: The Crags to Newcastle
- Time allowance: 3 days
- Distance: 35.5 miles/2–3 days
Chunk 4: Newcastle to South Shields
- Time allowance: 1-2 days
- Distance: 23.5 miles
2. You Can Get a “Hadrian’s Wall Passport”
Something a little novelty, but a good souvenir nonetheless, you can pick up a passport for £5.99 that gets stamped along the way (there are six stamping stations in total). The great thing about this is that the whole £5.99 goes directly to the maintenance of the wall.
As well as your passport, you can pay a few quid for a certificate to confirm you’ve completed Hadrian’s Wall walk and even an achiever’s badge!
3. You Don’t Have to Walk it West to East
There are pros and cons to walking the wall west to east, as there are walking it east to west, but the point is, there’s no hard and fast rule.
The advantage of starting from the east is that it’s generally a prettier walk – or at least it feels like it. You get the 20 miles of Newcastle’s sprawling suburbs out of the way first, finishing up your walk amongst stunning countryside towards the ocean at Solway.
The downside of this is that starting out your walk pounding the tarmac of built-up Newcastle might mean your feet take a hit right from the outset. Many people report having trouble in the latter stages of their walk as a result.
The upsides of walking the traditional route, west to east, is that you have the prevailing winds on your side, making the walk much easier overall. You also get to enjoy a cracking night out in Newcastle to celebrate finishing your journey!
4. Prepare for Longer Daily Walks
It’s always worth planning your overnight stops in advance of starting your walk based on how long you think you’ll manage to walk each day. It’s also worth planning ahead of time where you’ll be eating dinner. The last thing you’ll want to do once you’ve reached your overnight accommodation is to have to trek another mile to the nearest pub!
But no matter how meticulously you plan, you should be aware that some days are going to be tougher than others, so you need to allow for longer days. Some of the harder stretches that require a bit of scrambling, or days when weather conditions aren’t in your favour, may add extra time to your walking day. Not to be helped, but worth being aware of.
5. You Must not Skip Breakfast!
Walking Hadrian’s Wall – some days for up to eight or nine hours – will burn a lot of calories, so stocking up on a hearty breakfast is an absolute must.
The good news is that most, if not all, B&Bs en route will have this covered, offering you a traditional “Full-English” (bacon, eggs, sausages, beans, toast, and black pudding if you’re lucky!) either included with your stay or at a small extra cost. Aim for lots of protein and wholemeal carbohydrates if you can – they’ll keep you full for longer so that you don’t have to keep stopping for snacks.
6. There Are Plenty of Great Pubs en Route!
Whether you fancy a swift pint to keep your spirits up or need somewhere to stop for lunch, there are plenty of local watering holes along your Hadrian’s Wall route. In fact, nothing beats a good hearty pub in which to rest your weary feet between walks.
Our favourites are the Black Bull and the Milescastle Inn at Haltwhistle, The Carts Bogg Inn at Langley, and the Dyvils Inn at Corbridge, although there are many more. Don’t forget to grab a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale when you near the east end of your walk.
7. Not All of It Is Scenic
You can’t look at an image of Hadrian’s Wall online without falling in love with its sheer beauty. The two-thousand-year-old ramshackle stones snaking their way through sweeping green hills, ancient forts standing strong amongst a patchwork of fields of grasslands and gorse. You’d be forgiven for thinking your walk will be a back-to-back idyll.
But, whilst there are vast swathes of intense beauty along Hadrian’s Wall (especially in the central section), not every stretch is like this. In fact, much of the wall is covered by mounds of grass, and then there’s the Newcastle section, which is mainly walking through suburbia.
8. Don’t Assume You Can Show Up at Roman Forts Without Booking Ahead
Hadrian’s Wall walk is only ever enriched by its points of historical interest. And we’d certainly recommend checking out some of the milecastles and forts along your route, particularly Vindolander, Birdoswold and Housesteads. But don’t forget to book a timed appointment in advance.
The potential problem with booking an appointment is that when you’re walking Hadrian’s Wall, there’s always the chance of delays, and it’s often difficult to judge how long each section of your walk will take. That said, if you do want to visit one of the forts then it’s unlikely you’ll get lucky for an available appointment to look around.
9. Don’t Book Cheaper Accommodation Off the Trail
As if walking the 192 miles of Hadrian’s Wall wasn’t enough, don’t make it more difficult for yourself by booking overnight accommodation off the beaten track. No matter how affordable the night rate, you’ll be sure to regret those extra miles of walking!
You can of course get a taxi to off-trail accommodation, although this will add extra cost that you’d have saved on the cheaper accommodation anyway. It’s also worth paying more for accommodation that provides meals (although hopefully, these establishments won’t charge a premium for this), as you’ll be reluctant to go out again after a long hike on the wall.
10. You Can Cycle It
When you think of Hadrian’s Wall, most people think of the walk – whether that be on the wall itself (the tougher option) or right beside along the Military Road. But, imagine cycling the route?
You have the option of starting in the beautiful coastal town of Silloth-on-Solway rather than Bowness, and traversing the Coast to Coast route on two wheels.
Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, “Route 77”, as it’s known, is the 170-mile cycle route that takes you from Ravenglass in the Lake District all the way up to Silloth, and all the way across to South Shields on the east coast.
Bonus tip: You don’t have to organise it all yourself
The tip you’ve been waiting for!
As you can see, there are quite a few things to think about (and potential problems) when walking Hadrian’s Wall.
Here at Active England Tours we do all the legwork (not literally!) for you, manage the logistics and take care of your luggage and accommodation, so all you have to do is to walk – or cycle – the route. Easy!
If you’d like to know more, check out our tours of Northumberland and the Lake District.