Hadrian’s Wall is one of northern Europe’s greatest remnants of the Roman Empire. It was effectively the northernmost border of the entire empire, which in its heyday extended into three continents. Construction of the wall was initiated by Emperor Hadrian in 122 AD—the wall was more or less complete no more than six years later, a feat so impressive that it could only be done by the Romans. I decided to hike the Hadrian’s Wall Path in autumn.
The wall extended from the fort of Segedunum in Wallsend on the River Tyne in the east—in present-day Newcastle—to the Solway Firth in the west, crossing the British Isle pretty much from coast to coast at its narrowest point.
Hadrian’s Wall was essentially a fortified closed-off border, complete with a milecastle at every Roman mile and a large garrison at regular distances. People crossing the border had to clear customs and were checked thoroughly by Roman soldiers. Along the wall ran a military road, a ditch and a vallum, which basically was a fortified ditch. The entire length was 73 miles (117 kilometers).
Nowadays, large sections of Hadrian’s Wall are still visible. The Hadrian’s Wall region in northern England, in Cumbria and Northumberland, is of such historical, cultural and archaeological importance that it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987. Because of all these features, it has grown into the most popular tourist destination in northern England.
The Hadrian’s Wall Path is a magnificent long-distance hiking trail that essentially follows Hadrian’s Wall, or what’s left of it, for its entire length. The trail is an official national trail in the United Kingdom and is 84 miles (135 kilometers) long. It runs past ancient Roman fortresses and ruins, across expansive sheep-and-cow-dotted meadows, alongside Hadrian’s Wall and through spectacular countryside and quaint market towns.
It is an enormous World Heritage Site, one that is best explored on foot and with a backpack. The Hadrian’s Wall Path is amazing in many ways, one of which is that it can easily be completed in a one-week period. The hike is generally split up into six manageable sections, an itinerary that I followed, too, when I hiked this epic trail a few years ago.
The sections of the Hadrian’s Wall Path:
Wallsend – Heddon-on-the-Wall (15 miles or 24 kilometers)
Heddon-on-the-Wall – Chollerford (15 miles or 24 kilometers)
Chollerford – Steel Rigg (12 miles or 19 kilometers)
Steel Rigg – Walton (16 miles or 26 kilometers)
Walton – Carlisle (11 miles or 18 kilometers)
Carlisle – Bowness-on-Solway (15 miles or 24 kilometers)
The Hadrian’s Wall Path can conveniently be accessed as it basically starts and ends in two major cities, Newcastle-on-Tyne and Carlisle respectively. The last section runs between Carlisle and Bowness-on-Solway, two places that are connected by buses. (There are, in fact, buses along the entire trail in summer.)
I hiked the Hadrian’s Wall Path in early fall, which was an absolutely superb time of year to do it. The big hordes of summer hikers were long gone, but the weather was still as good as you can expect from northern England. Sure, it rained a couple of days, but just when I arrived at the most dramatic section of the hike (days 3 and 4), the skies cleared and the sun cast its golden rays across the rolling hills and rocky outcrops, bogs and marshes, and meadows and woodlands that make up the landscape.
The Hadrian’s Wall Path takes six full days of hiking to complete and, with two days of getting there and away, makes for an ideal and unforgettable week-long hike—the perfect length and timeframe. You don’t need to take more than a week off of work to do this. The two weekends at either end of your week-long hiking holiday will provide more than enough time to get to Hadrian’s Wall and back home.
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Written by and photos by guest contributor Bram Reusen for EuropeUpClose.com. Bram Reusen is a freelance travel writer, translator and photographer from Belgium who currently lives in Vermont, USA. Bram’s preferred ways of traveling and getting around are hiking, cycling and road tripping. You can follow his adventures at Travel Experience Live.