Hadrian’s Wall Path

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.

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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.

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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 WayAnd I would miss all the tarmac bashing at the Newcastle end to enjoy the best preserved, most scenic central section.  Sounded good.

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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).

Day 1 – Carlisle to Gilsland

Day 2 – Gilsland to Steel Rigg

Day 3 – Steel Rigg to Wall

6 thoughts on “Hadrian’s Wall Path

  1. The first time I came across a Roman ruin (in Rome), I actually burst into tears. I’ve never quite been able to explain how overwhelming it was all of a sudden to realize in my bones that ancient history was REAL and still ongoing. Other Americans seem to take it more in stride, so I don’t know quite why it was so mind-blowing. Denver was just such a young city to grow up in. When I think about what Hadrian’s Wall IS, I still go a little woozy inside.

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    • I wrote quite a long paragraph about Rome and how the ruins on the HWP might be anti-climatic for anyone who has visited Rome. But the post (Day 2, I think) was getting a little long, so I deleted it. Did you visit Ostia? A whole Roman city, just outside Rome and almost devoid of visitors (worth checking Google images, if you didn’t go). I think Rome can be a little over-whelming and it’s possible to quickly become blasé at the sheer amount of historical stuff! Whereas, a partial arch in a sheep field in Northumberland seemed all the more fantastic for its incongruous setting.

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  2. We walked a small part last year and like you felt a little cheated at the missing wall sections, but would like to go back and make a better job of the walk, looking forward to your account.

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    • Hi Julie, the best preserved section is between Walltown Quarry (not far from Gilsland) to just beyond Housesteads. It’s only about 12 miles, with lots of ups and downs but a magnificent walk. Dave

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  3. Looking forward to this. Bob and I walked it a few years back in my pre-blogging days. I really liked all the urban walking but not the whole day alongside the busy road. And we got well wetted!

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    • Hi Charles, well you’ll just have to re-walk it now during your post-blogging days. I’m thinking that about quite a few paths – that I should re-do them just to do a write-up. All sounds terribly tiring though. Dave

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