In 1801 William Hutton walked from his home in Birmingham to Carlisle; continued walking along the length of Hadrian’s Wall and then walked home again – a distance of 600 miles. He was 78. In his book, The History of the Roman Wall, he wrote: “I have given a short sketch of my approach to this famous Bulwark; have described it as it appears in the present day, and stated my return. Perhaps, I am the first man that ever traveled the whole length of this Wall, and probably the last that will ever attempt it …”
William Hutton is generally credited as the first person of modern times to walk the “Bulwark” … but happily he was wrong about being the last to do so.
Since the Hadrian’s Wall Path opened in 2003, I’ve wanted to tramp the northern border of the Roman Empire which, 1600 years after the Legions left, is still remarkably obvious – at least in places.
The path runs for 85 miles from (the handily named) Wallsend, Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Bowness-on-Solway. I had visited a couple of sites on this World Heritage Site but the chance to walk beside it for mile after mile, day after day was irresistible.
Or so I thought until I bought a copy of Mark Richards’ Hadrian’s Wall Path and studied the route. I grunted with disappointment at the amount of urban walking at the Newcastle end (about 12 miles). Unfair of me I know: it’s hardly the route’s fault that two millennia of incremental urban sprawl has digested miles of Wall – and tragically, many miles more served as a handy foundation for road-builders. As much as I still hankered after travelling north to march the Roman frontier, the walk got relegated.
It was only in the spring of 2014, when I was planning a walk across northern England, that I thought of the Hadrian’s Wall Path again: the Carlisle to Heavenfield stretch would serve as a perfect link between The Cumbria Way and the St Oswald’s Way. And I would miss all the tarmac bashing at the Newcastle end to enjoy the best preserved, most scenic central section. Sounded good.
The distance I walked wasn’t great – a little over 40 miles – and would me take three days. Here’s an account of my walk (the second stage of A Walk Across Northern England from Ulverston to Berwick-upon-Tweed).