June 30, 2023
Destination: The North
Walking Hadrian’s Wall Coast to Coast
A staggering 2,000 years ago, some 15,000 Roman soldiers built Hadrian’s Wall following Roman Emperor Hadrian’s visit to Britain. Its purpose: to serve as the northern frontier of the Roman Empire, which it did for 300 years, separating territories that were controlled by the Picts.
The original wall was 73 miles long – now stretching 192 miles – and homed 80 milecastles (small forts) all exactly the same, as well as six large forts that functioned like armed cities.
Fast forward to today, and Hadrian’s Wall is a popular destination for walkers and cyclers looking for a challenge. Made even more famous by Alfred Wainwright who, in 1973, famously mapped the Coast to Coast route along (and adjacent to) the wall.
So if you’re planning on walking Hadrian’s Wall Coast to Coast, here’s everything you need to know before you set off.
Coast to Coast Fact File
- Total distance: 192 miles
- Average time to complete the Coast to Coast: 16 days
- Average Daily Walk: 12-14 miles
- Counties Traversed: Cumbria and North Yorkshire
- National Parks traversed: Lake District, Pennines, Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors
- Highest Point: Kidsty Pike in the Lake District (780 metres)
What is the Coast to Coast?
Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk is one of England’s most popular and challenging walking trails. Usually walked West to East (although easily walked in the opposite direction), the walk starts at St Bees Head on the Irish Sea, and takes you all across England towards the North Sea’s Robin Hood’s Bay. The route winds its way through three National Parks (the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors) and two counties (Cumbria and North Yorkshire).
Although it’s an overall challenging walk because of the cumulative distance and intermittent climbs, it’s perfectly manageable even for beginners, with careful planning and preparation. Also, because Wainwright, the man himself, divided the walk into 12 sections, the trek can easily be broken up into manageable chunks (it’s not imperative that you take it on in one go!). Those wanting to complete the whole Coast to Coast should set aside 14 to 16 days.
How Long is the Coast to Coast?
The entire distance of the Coast to Coast is 192 miles reaching from St Bees in the west to Robin Hood’s Bay in the east. For those wanting to stick to the exact route, it’s waymarked so you can rely on some direction while you’re walking.
That said, there’s also plenty of room for detours if you spot a local pub you’d like to visit, or a little jaunt that takes your fancy.
How Difficult is the Coast to Coast Walk?
Two weeks of walking, no matter how you look at it, is going to be a challenge. 14 to 16 consecutive days of non-stop walking will take its toll on your body, even if you don’t take into account the more tricky climbs and scrambles. So the distance in itself is something not to be underestimated.
That being said, the Coast to Coast is relatively free of hugely challenging points. The most tricky parts are in the Lake District where there will be some steep climbs and high elevations. There’s also an intense middle section of the walk where the daily distance needs to reach 15 to 20 miles even though there’s very little elevation. This bit is more about endurance than anything else.
These are the physical difficulties bound up in the Coast to Coast. Quite another aspect is the mental challenge. There are, for example, long stretches of endless boring farmland which require a certain inner strength to endure. That said, the repetitive nature of walking long distances – the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other – can reap some incredible benefits for your mental health. As is the simple notion of overcoming physical and mental challenges.
The best way to get to the Coast to Coast path is via Carlisle if starting in the west or Newcastle if entering from the east. Both are cities well connected by rail.
Onwards from Carlisle is the AD122 (beautifully named!) bus that connects with Bowness-on-Solway running from Spring to September and connects the Birdoswald Roman Fort to Hexham, stopping at various historical sites including Vindolanda Roman Fort.
What You’ll Need
Weather conditions in the north of England can be unreliable – and often wet – and so waterproofs are an absolute must. If you’re planning on completing the full Coast to Coast, you’re more than likely to be rained on at some point.
Good footwear is also imperative and, although big trekking boots aren’t absolutely necessary, they might be helpful on wet and slippery parts of the walk. It’s also worth bringing a first aid kit including blister plasters in case of accidents, or just sore feet!
You might want to consider getting your luggage transferred along your walk, using companies like Hadrian’s Haul. They’ll collect your bags each morning and take them to your next overnight accommodation, costing around £7 per bag per daily transfer.
The Coast to Coast Route(s)
Stretch 1: Bowness-on-Solway to Gilsland
- Time allowance: 3 days
- Distance: 30 miles
The first stretch of the Coast to Coast takes you through Cumbria from Bowness-on-Solway from the flat firth through to beautiful hilly areas. This section has only sparse remnants of the archaeological remains of the wall, although the vallum (the large ditch beside the wall dug by the Romans), becomes apparent once you’ve reached beyond Carlisle.
Stretch 2: The Crags
- Time allowance: 2 days
- Distance: 22 miles
The most challenging (yet most rewarding) stretch of the Coast to Coast, the Crags are a range of dolerite cliffs known geologically as “Whin Sill”. These crags emerged millions of years ago as a result of lava leaking through England’s bedrock, forming long igneous walls.
When they built the wall, the Romans took full advantage of England’s natural wall boundary, building the wall along the Sill’s north-facing edge.
It’s also along this section that you’ll come to Britain’s most famous fort “Housesteads” which once homed 800 soldiers. You’ll also come to Sycamore Gap – a dip between two crags – the filming place of a scene in the 1991 blockbuster, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Stretch 3: The Crags to Newcastle
- Time allowance: 3 days
- Distance: 35.5 miles/2–3 days
Beyond the Crags is the stretch that takes you through the grasslands of Northumberland towards Brocolitia Fort. The Temple of Mithras, built by the Romans to commemorate the eponymous sun God, is an absolute must. Once past the temple, you’ll head down into Chollerford, a pretty village near the River Tyne, the river you follow towards Newcastle.
Stretch 4: Newcastle to South Shields
- Time allowance: 1-2 days
- Distance: 23.5 miles
The final leg of the Coast to Coast takes you from Newcastle towards the coastal town of South Shields. It’s the most urban section of the walk, but you do get to pass the fort at Segedunum, the final fort along Hadrian’s Wall before you reach the east coast.
If you do wish to continue the walk to complete the Coast to Coast, you’ll head east beyond Segedunum but will need to get the Sheilds Ferry across the Tyne. From here, it’s a short walk along the High Street towards Sandhaven Beach where you’ll be able to dip your toes into the (cold) waters of the North Sea!
Coast to Coast Refreshment Stops
The Coast to Coast is a popular route and with that in mind, there’s no shortage of good pubs ready to cook you up a roast beef dinner, a plate of fish and chips, or a steak and ale pie. You’ll also be glad to hear there are plenty of B&Bs offering hearty breakfasts and many will provide a packed lunch for walkers to take with them on their onward journey.
Look out for picnic stops – there are many – along the route. These will be a welcome spot for you to enjoy a windswept bite to eat while you take in the outstanding views. One word of warning: avoid sitting on the wall or the milecastles when you stop for your lunch!
So, there you have it, the Active England guide to walking the Coast to Coast path on and alongside Hadrian’s Wall.
As you can see, it’s manageable even to novice walkers, but because there are so many elements to pull together – the kit, the overnight stays, the equipment and so on – we’d recommend booking a tour company like us to take care of the logistics for you.
If you’d like to know more, check out our guided walking trips in the North of England, and we can work with you to find the best package to suit your need and ability.
[Editor’s Note: Did you know that Jago ran the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall dressed as a Roman Centurion?!]