An excellent way to spend May bank holiday weekend. Day by day trip report below.....
We arrived at Segedunum Fort at 11am, and got going straight away, after collecting our "Hadrians Wall Passports" from the visitors centre of course. The first day doesn't really make much attempt to follow the route of the wall, in fact it only meets it at the very start of the day, at the fort, and again at the end of the day at a short stretch of wall in Heddon on the Wall. Instead it opts to follow the River Tyne for most of the day, which according to the book has "exciting possibilities for wildlife as well as boasting an impressive history". The route headed off on wide tarmac cyclepath, with a backdrop of huge cranes, car scrapyards, and various engineering works, before dropping down to the River Tyne. The cyclepath was nice and quiet, and it was dry and sunny, so it wasn't overly unpleasant. Getting closer to Newcastle there were waterfront flats clustered round little marinas, and we passed a bunch of people going in the other direction wearing "Hadrians Wall walk 2008" T-Shirts.
Soon the big silver slug-like construction of the Sage centre came into view, followed by the various bridges crossing the Tyne, and the impressive buildings lining the quayside. Lots of office workers were sitting around eating their lunch. We stopped at a cafe just under the Tyne bridge for a cup of tea and quick snack. Next there was a long section, past the Copthorne, and on past the Elswick business park, and then heading away from the river. It was getting quite hot by now and there was a rather dreary section next to some dual carriageway. Passing Scotswood some local wag had turned the footpath sign to point in the wrong direction, and we ended up going the wrong way for a couple of minutes before we realised. We bumped into two American guys who had also been mislead by the dodgy sign. Back on the right route, we crossed some sports fields, and a pedestrian bridge took us over the A1, where we were able to look down at the nose to tail friday afternoon traffic trying to get away for the bank holiday.
At Newburn the route rejoined the river, and we adjourned to the Boatman for a quick refreshment stop. The American guys went past and managed to resist the temptation of a swift half. On the outside wall of the pub, engraved in the sandstone blocks, were the levels of various floods, the highest was in 1771 and it was quite a bit higher than the top of my head. From here it felt like we had finally escaped the city, we were surrounded by fields, and leafy green hillside. There was a very pleasant section along a gravelly track right beside the river, and then finally, the route left the river and headed off through a golf course before climbing up towards Heddon-on-the-Wall. As we got nearer to the village, there was a short cut through a wood to Houghton. We sat down for a while amongst the bluebells, to eat our sandwiches that we had only just remembered about, before pushing on to the bunkhouse at Houghton.
The bunkhouse was very comfortable, we had an ensuite shower, and there was even a kitchen where you could cook your own stuff. The two American guys were there, they didn't have a booking and the place was full, but they had managed to pitch a tent on a very small tent-size piece of lawn. Apparently the last bank holiday in May is the busiest weekend of the whole year for the trail! Two other chaps arrived having booked two nights in the bunkhouse. In the morning they were going to get the earliest AD122 bus back to the start and then do the first stage of the route back to here travelling extra light, which was an interesting strategy. There were also a couple of Canadians. The trail seemed to attract quite an international audience, I was surprised that it was so well known. After a pot of tea we wandered back along the road to Heddon-on-the-wall, to inspect the section of wall in the village. The village was very well served (compared to the places on later days). There were two pubs to choose from, and a small shop at the petrol station where we stocked up on pasta to cook back at the bunkhouse, and even some houmous, bread, and tomatoes for making some sandwiches for tomorrow.
After a very good continental breakfast we got going again. The second day follows the course of the old Military Road, now the B6318, for most of the day. There is nothing much left of the wall itself on this stage. The military road was built on top of it in 1747, using much of the wall as the road foundations! So the wall remains are now somewhere underneath the B6318. But on the South side of the road you can still see the Vallum in many places. And on the North side of the road the North ditch is still very visible in a lot of places. So the route started off along edges of fields, it wasn't too bad, often hidden from the road by large hedges. At Harlow Hill an enterprising individual had set up a mobile walkers snack bar, but it was a bit too soon after breakfast so we resisted the temptation. At the Robin Hood Inn we got the second stamp on our passport from the little box on the outside of the porch.
The route pushed on along more field edges beside the road, occasionally switching over to the other side of the road for a bit of variety. By now we were starting to feel a bit peckish, but hemmed in between the road and fields nowhere really passed the "suitably pleasant picnic spot" test. However at Downhill the route finally left the road for a short time, round a small bit of forest, with good views, and an excellent section of Vallum. We sat down and had a couple of sandwiches, while looking at the view. It was turning into a good day for walking, dry and sunny but with a cooling breeze. After a short climb through fields we arrived at the Portgate, the crossing point of Dere Street roman road, now the A68, with the wall, and we stopped at the pub for a pot of tea.
After the pub there was a lovely section, through grassy fields, with a cracking section of Vallum which had been colonised in places by bright yellow gorse bushes. Then some singletrack through trees and another section of grassy fields and gorse bushes. This was a good spot for a second snack stop, and we sat down in the sun, out of the wind, and had some more sandwiches and some cashew nuts. The path crossed over to the other side of the road and there was a long section right beside an excellent bit of North ditch, in some places also full of gorse. St Oswald's Hill teashop arrived, and we stopped for a very welcome pot of tea and toasted teacakes. Soon after the teashop we crossed back over to the South of the road, where there was an excellent piece of wall at Planetrees, with two different widths. The Roman wall builders having got all the way here from Wallsend, and presumably with enthusiasm waning a bit, decided it would be a lot easier to make the rest of the wall a bit thinner, and apparently the transition from "broad wall" to "narrow wall" occurs in this very section.
Soon after Plantrees the route hits a very quiet back road that it follows, taking a bit of a dogleg away from the route of the wall itself, and towards Wall village. The road passes a sign warning of private land with no access to the route of the wall. At the furthest end of the dogleg we continued up the road to Wall, where we had booked in at the small hotel in the village. Having dumped our stuff, we previewed a bit of tomorrows route, down to Chollerford, and along to Chesters to have a look at Cilurnum fort. The route took the impressive long stone bridge across the North Tyne, with a good view of a heron standing in the shallows down river. Just after the bridge is a small cafe beside the garage, and a campsite. We were just in time to get a couple of hours looking round Cilurnum fort before it closed. There were some excellent remains of the bath house and latrine down near the river, and also the commandants house, with underfloor central heating! In the excitement though we forgot to get the third stamp in our wall passports. On the way back up the hill to Wall is another section of wall at Brunton Turret which we had a quick inspection of.
Nice early breakfast in the hotel, there were a few other walkers getting ready for the off. It was another dry sunny day, although quite windy, and according to the forecast there was torrential rain down in the South of England! We headed back down the road to Chollerford again, where we stopped off at the garage to stock up on emergency supplies, although there wasn't much to choose from apart from crisps. Passing the entrance to Chesters we remembered to get the third stamp on our wall passports from the little box at the entrance. The route continued following the pavement alongside the road (the B6318 again) as it climbed out of Chollerford, but at Walwick it left the road and headed across green fields. After Tower Tye there was a great view of an upcoming section of wall on the hillside, and we could see a few small groups of walkers spread out ahead of us.
Soon after the path reached Limestone Corner, a jumble of small boulders (which aren't actually limestone at all). The wind was really getting up by this time, and it constantly changed from sunny to shade and back as the clouds blew through. At Brocolitia the path passes by the Mithraeum, used for worship of Mithras by the Romans. There was a small pile of money left as an offering on one of the altars. The Mithraeum is deliberately pokey, and originally windowless, to represent the cave where Mithras apparently slayed the Primaeval bull.
From Brocolita the path crossed over to the other side of the B6318. This bit felt rather bleak, especially with the strong wind, although there was an excellent North ditch. Eventually the path finally diverged from the road and started climbing the long shoulder of Sewingshields, past a small cottage hidden from the wind in a dip. After a bit of forest, where there some small cottages hidden from the wind, a section of wall appeared, and then stayed with us for almost all of the rest of the day. It was a bit sheltered from the strong wind here, and we stopped for a sit down in the sun and a snack. After traversing the rest of Sewingshields the path descended into Busy Gap. It lived up to its name, after seeing small pairs of walkers previously there were suddenly lots of people about. There were also superb views of the cliffs coming up ahead.
At Knag Burn we stopped and had a look at the map to decide what to do next. A cup of tea would have been nice, but Housesteads looked very crowded, and the cafe was a bit of a detour off route, so we pushed on. The path traversed the top of Housesteads crag, through pine trees, and this is the only bit of the entire wall where you can actually walk on the grassy top of the wall, with superb situation perched on top of the high crags. There were lots of ups and downs along this bit as the wall repeatedly dropped into and then climbed out of various gaps, with very strong easterly wind on the higher bits. Rapishaw Gap, followed by the intersection with the Pennine Way heading North to the Cheviots, Milking Gap, Sycamore gap, Castle Nick, and plenty of others. At Steel Rigg there was a bit of a gale blowing, and the best snack spot we could find was sat beside the wall in the car park.
It was about half four when we left Steel Rigg. The wind was still at full strength, but fortunately still coming from behind us. From being very busy all the way from Busy Gap to Steel Rigg, the path now quietened down a lot, it was almost empty in fact. We climbed up to the highest point on the route, Winshields Crags, at 345m (1132 ft), and then dropped down to Caw Gap. From here to Cawfields Quarry there was an absolutely top-notch section of wall running along the top of Cawfields Crags before dropping to the impressive Milecastle 42, and then down to the big prow of rock overlooking the large pool in the quarry, and superb views back along the crags.
Just after leaving Cawfields Quarry was a B&B, and the cat temporarily befriended us as we passed by. It was getting on a bit, although it felt a lot later than it really was, and I think without noticing it we had changed to heads-down mode by this point. We pushed on through pleasant green fields full of sheep, and through the remains of the small Aesica fort. There was an excellent turret, 44b, with views down over Walltown Gap. Then a final impressive stretch of wall above the whinsill outcrop near Walltown quarry, with lots of twists and turns to follow the top of the outcrop. After wandering through the quarry, a good section of North ditch appears. We followed it for a while, then took a path off left, which brought us in very nicely just above Greenhead.
We had an early breakfast in the hotel, there were a few other walkers having breakfast too. It looked like a nice sunny day again outside, blue skies, although there were now reports of heavy rain and flooding in the South of England! On leaving the hotel there was a short section of quite pleasant cycle track through fields, with views of Thirlwall castle in the background, to get us back on to the Hadrians Wall path. The walking to Gilsland was through green fields, following good bits of ditch, sometimes the path was even in the ditch. We took a quick diversion into Gilsland to see if we could stock up on food, but as it was a bank holiday monday there was nothing open. Fortunately we had stocked on some emergency nuts and crisps from the bar in the hotel.
After Gilsland, the wall reappeared, an excellent long section which went all the way down to the River Irthing. A steel footbridge crossed the river and then a short climb out of the river valley to a small milecastle???? and another long section of wall. Some of the stones in this bit of wall contained phallic carvings, which you could spot if you looked carefully. The wall eventually reached Birdoswald fort, where we got the fourth stamp in our wall passports. We were definitely ready for a quick cup of tea at this point, but unfortunately because there was an event on in the fort we couldn't use the cafe without paying the full entrance fee. It did look interesting, there were lots of roman legionnaires wandering about inside, but it was a bit early for a longer stop, so we decided to forgo the tea, and the legionnaires, and pushed on.
After the fort, a little bit more wall, then it disappeared. It was nice walking though, across green fields, still sunny, and some bits of vallum still in existence. The route joined a very quiet back road for a while, and went past a couple of towers literally right on the edge of the road, one had even been chopped in half by the road. There were superb views looking South towards the Pennines. Then more green fields full of sheep, lots of big trees, before coming to the refreshment station at Haytongate. Excellent facility, and after missing the earlier tea opportunity, we were definitely ready for a sit down and a cup of tea and snack.
Nearing Walton a "temporary diverted" sign took the path on to the road for a while, although the map (2007) still had it going off across fields, so we were intrigued as to why it had needed to be rerouted. Anyway, we finally reached the Centurion in Walton and stopped for a spot of lunch. It seemed to be on some sort of go-slow with the food orders, despite not being that busy, but otherwise a nice enough pub. After Walton, there more rolling fields, with some slendid large trees, before skirting the edge of Carlisle airport. We kept our eyes open, but there didn't seem to be much action in the airport. Soon after we arrived at Crosby-on-Eden, and the rather plush bunkhouse, and after quick showers we walked the short distance into the village for very substantial meal at the Stag.
The bunkhouse had an interesting setup, they supplied a box of ingredients and you cooked up your own breakfast in the small self catering kitchen. We headed back through the village, and then the path joined the river, obviously a popular dog walking spot judging by the amount of dogshit strewn everywhere. It was a bit cloudy, but still dry, and still very windy. There was a long bit of road, crossing over the M6 then a section of cyclepath separated from road, alongside a field with a little tower standing in middle of it. As we neared Carlisle, we passed through a nice park with huge trees and cattle grazing, before crossing over the River Eden on a footbridge
We soon arrived at the Sands Centre, where we collected the fifth stamp on our passports, and then lounged on the sofas in the restaurant for a while with a pot of tea. There was a short bit of park with some colourful bushes, then riverside walking, past some scruffier industrial bits, and under an abandoned railway bridge. At Burgh-by-Sands we adjourned to the pub for some lunch. It would have been useful to stock up on some bits and pieces, and both the book and the map both had the village containing a Post Office (in different places), but we couldn't find it in either location!
After the village there was a very long and flat road section, with signs warning of possible flooding. There was a very strong wind on this bit, thankfully coming from behind. At Drumburgh we came across the excellent snack hut, much better than we expected, and had a short sit down out of the wind and quick snack before the final bit. Nearing Port Carlisle there was a pleasant stretch through bushes just off the road, and views of the sea and beach just to right. A bit more road through Port Carlisle, past the old canal, and we were soon at the small but very welcome final pavilion. An inscription on the entrance read "Ave Terminvm Callis Hadriani Avgvsti Pervenisti" (The end of Hadrians Wall path)! We sat down for a little while and looked at the view, and of course collected our sixth and final stamp.
Highly recommended! Very interesting walk. Finding accommodation can be a bit of a challenge, there are only a small number of places enroute, I found the National Trail map very useful for researching the possibilities.