Walking the wall
Hadrian’s Wall is one of the UK’s most popular long-distance walking routes. Serious walkers break the walk into sections, taking three days (if you’re very fit!) or longer to walk between Carlisle and Wallsend.
Most serious walkers tackle the route from west to east, as the prevailing westerly breezes are then at your back.
Accommodation in the more remote central parts of the wall is relatively limited, so go on line, do your search and book as far in advance as possible. There’s more accommodation available in the larger towns of Haltwhistle and Hexham, and it’s dropping down from the Wall into the towns that’s possible using the AD122 bus. The bus service starts at around 9am and runs until about 6pm (see timetable), making it ideal for walkers to reach the wall from the two towns.
Northumberland’s weather can be quite changeable, so the ability to abandon your walk and hop on the bus can be very useful. The bus follows the central section of the wall between Walltown, Milecastle Inn, Once Brewed, Housesteads, Chesters and Chollerford. East of Housesteads, it’s relatively easy to walk down from the Wall to the road – known locally as the Military Road as it was constructed to move troops in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion. West of Housesteads, much of the land between the Wall and the road is very boggy, so keep to footpaths, otherwise you could find yourself up to your needs in sticky mud (or ‘clarts’ as we locals call it!).
You can flag the bus down and it will stop anywhere that it’s safe to do so. Please take care – the Military Road can be busy and traffic can be very fast moving.
The Pennine Way follows Hadrian’s Wall from Walltown to just east of Housesteads, where it turns north towards Wark Forest. The AD122 enables walkers to break their Pennine Way trip with a visit to Hexham or Haltwhistle for a well-earned rest. After Housesteads, there’s no refreshment facilities or shops before Bellingham, about 13 miles to the north.
Backpackers and lightweight campers are welcome on the AD122 Hadrian’s Wall bus. Our drivers will help you to stow your pack safely. There are camping sites that cater specifically for walkers at Winshields, near Once Brewed, and at Chollerford. There’s a Youth Hostel at Once Brewed, but it will be closing for redevelopment in autumn 2015. The more adventurous will find the mountain bothy at Haughtongreen, a three mile walk north from Housesteads just off the Pennine Way, open all year (one of our AD122 drivers helps to maintain this unlocked open shelter). There are some wild camping sites in Wark Forest and Kielder Forest, details from Kielder Castle Visitor Centre.
If you would rather tackle the wall in sections rather than in one go, the AD122 provides an excellent way to reach either the start or finish of your walk. Walking west to east is usually recommended. There are car parks at Walltown, Cawfield Quarry, Once Brewed, Steel Rigg, Housesteads, Brocolitia and Chesters – but they can get busy or full during the summer and at weekends. Park up, do your walk and use the AD122 to return to your start.
Sample walking distances:
Walltown to Cawfield Quarry: approx. 3 miles. The bus stop for Cawfield is Milecastle Inn, half a mile to the south.
Cawfield to Steel Rigg: approx. 2.5 miles. It’s worth adding an extra mile to visit Aesica Roman Fort, half a mile east of Cawfield.
Steel Rigg to Housesteads: approx. 3 miles. This section of the wall clings to crags high above Crag Lough and includes Sycamore Gap, where the world famous sycamore tree has featured in Hollywood blockbusters and television dramas (it’s soon to be seen in ITV’s adaptation of the Beowulf saga).
Housesteads to Sewingshields: approx. 2 miles. There is no car park at Sewingshields, but you can easily drop down to the main road to catch the AD122.
East of Chesters
Go North East also provides regular bus services that reach parts of Hadrian’s Wall and other Roman sites east of Chesters:
Portgate and Halton Red House: Our ‘Tynedale Links’ service 74 provides a bus about every two hours, Monday to Saturday, from Hexham and Newcastle to the section of wall between Milecastles 23 and 24 (near Errington Hill Head), Portgate (the Errington Arms pub) and Halton Red House. It’s about an eight and a half mile walk east from Halton Red House to Heddon on the Wall, from where our ‘TynedaleXpress’ services provide two buses an hour during the day, six days a week, back to Hexham or eastwards to Newcastle. Our Hadrian’s Wall Day Ticket Plus is valid on Tynedale Links and TynedaleXpress services until 27 September, and our great value saver tickets are available all year round.
Corstopitum Roman Fort and Roman civilian settlement lies just to the west of modern-day Corbridge and is served by an hourly bus on our ‘Tynedale Links’ service 687 between Hexham and Corbridge six days a week.
Heddon on the Wall: there’s a good section of Hadrian’s Wall easily accessible from our ‘TynedaleXpress’ services.
What did the Romans ever do for us?
While Hadrian’s Wall might be one of the most visible of the Roman’s time in the UK, probably their most important legacy was the network of Roman roads. Many of the routes of the Roman roads remain in use today as modern roads and others can be followed as ‘lumps and bumps’ in the landscape.
There were a number of important Roman roads through the Tyne Valley. Dere Street ran northwards from York towards Corbridge and is largely followed through Durham and Northumberland by the present-day A68. There was a Roman bridge across the Tyne and Corbridge (you can find some of the pier stones by the river near Corstopitum). After Corstopitum, the road ran north towards Scotland, eventually crossing Hadrian’s Wall at Portgate, near the Errington Arms pub. Just to the north of here, the Devil’s Causeway branched off to the north east, eventually running to Berwick upon Tweed.
Stanegate ran westwards from Corstopitum towards Carlisle, and was built before Hadrian’s Wall. Our ‘Tynedale Links’ service 683 to Newbrough uses part of the route of the road, which then runs as a modern road westwards towards Vindolanda. West of Vindolanda, the AD122 route uses Stanegate – the perfectly straight road to and from Vindolanda. Look out for the base of a Roman mile marker near the trees at the west end of Stanegate.
Lumps and Bumps
Hadrian’s Wall itself included a road that ran just to the south of the wall, and beyond that a wide ditch called the Vallum. Where the wall follows the crags of the central section, the Vallum and road followed an easier, flatter route to the south. For much of the Wall between Heddon and Walltown, the route of the wall and the Vallum can be made out in the landscape. Looking westwards from the bus, you’ll often see a deep ditch just to the north of the road – that’s the northern defence ditch that ran alongside the wall. Sadly, in many places General Wade’s military road is built on top of the wall, so there’s no visible stonework, but just to the south in many places you’ll see an earth bank, the Vallum ditch and another bank.
While Hadrian’s Wall is most definitely the ‘star of the show’, much of the landscape along the central section contains the remains of other temporary Roman forts. Some of these can be seen quite clearly near Milecastle Inn. You’re looking for a very distinctive ‘playing card’-shaped outline in the landscape, often outlined by one or two ditches and banks. Just to the east of Milecastle Inn, on the crest of the hill on the Military Road, Milestone House sits right in the middle of a huge temporary Roman fort – you can make out the boundary quite easily on the west and south sides.
The Brits were here first!
Although the Romans occupied this area for around 400 years, there are a number of reminders that the Ancient Britons were here first and afterwards.
Just east of Milecastle Inn you’ll see some standing stones, called Mare and Foal. These two upright stones are all that remains of a Bronze Age stone circle (although there were only ever four upright stones), built perhaps a thousand years before the Romans arrived. Why these circles were constructed remains a mystery; they may have been burial sites. However, other standing stones can be found about two miles almost directly north – it’s possible that they helped to mark a safe route through the treacherous bogs.
Northumberland was the ‘cradle of Christianity’ in the 7th century of the first church on the site of Hexham Abbey, only the crypt remains, dating from 674AD. The Old Gaol, behind the Moot Hall in the Market Place, is the oldest purpose-built prison in England. Hexham’s cobbled streets are packed full of interesting shops, with something for everyone.
East of Newcastle: the end of the Wall: Use Go North East’s ‘Coaster’ service 1 to reach Wallsend and visit Segedunum, the fort at the eastern end of the wall. There’s a full-scale reconstruction of a Roman bath house, plus spectacular views from the top of a 35 metre viewing tower.
Day out ideas
There’s so much to see along Hadrian’s Wall that one day simply isn’t enough. We’ve put together some ideas for days out by bus and train to visit some of the best sites and attractions
Must see the Wall?: From Newcastle, take our X85 ‘TynedaleXpress’ from Eldon Square at 10 past each hour – ask the driver for Hadrian’s Wall Plus tickets. Within minutes of leaving the bus station, the bus joins the West Road and you’re already on the route of Hadrian’s Wall. You’ll get your first glimpse of remains of the wall on your left at Denton Burn. Change at Hexham to the AD122 and fifteen minutes later you’ll reach Chesters Fort, but stay on the bus to Housesteads for the dramatic crag-top section of the wall. If you’ve time and suitable footwear, walk to Steel Rigg and down to Once Brewed for the visitors’ centre and to catch your bus home.
Dig archaeology: Then you’ve got to visit the ongoing excavations at Vindolanda. For more than 40 years, archaeologists have been exploring the remains of the fort and its civilian settlement.
Visit for free: While there are admission charges at some of the sites of interest along the wall, much of it can be seen for free. For example, take the AD122 to Milecastle Inn. From the roadway, you can easily make out the outline of some temporary Roman camps. Take a short walk on the road to the north towards the Milecastle at Cawfields, but then pick up the Hadrian’s Wall path and walk for half a mile to the west. This short walk takes you the farm at Great Chesters, where you’ll find Aesica Roman Fort. One of the last forts to be built on the wall, the outline of the fort is clear and various buildings can be made out inside. There’s a Roman altar in the south east corner.
Buying the best value ticket: For one day visits from Newcastle or Carlisle, you can start your day by bus or train. By train, ask for a Hadrian’s Wall Bus Link ticket when you buy your train ticket. You can then travel by train to Hexham and enjoy a day on the AD122 Hadrian’s Wall service. By bus, one day, three day and five day tickets are available from Newcastle using Go North East ‘TynedaleXpress’ services X84 and X85. These tickets are also available and valid on our service TEN between Hexham and Newcastle and on our ‘Tynedale Links’ services, including service 687 that serves Corstopitum at Corbridge and service 74 that serves Portgate to Halton Red House. Ask the driver of your first bus for advice on the best value option for your visit.
These itineraries are based on Monday to Saturday bus timetables – connections to/from buses and trains are different on Sundays.
‘Must See the Wall’: By Bus: leave Newcastle Eldon Square Bus Station at 0910 on Go North East service X85. Look out for sections of the wall on your left as you pass through Denton Burn! Change at Hexham Bus Station to the AD122 at 1010. Arrive Once Brewed at 1043, have a coffee break at the Visitor Centre and then enjoy a three-mile walk along the wall from Steel Rigg to Housesteads, visiting the famous tree at Sycamore Gap – allow a couple of hours for this. After a lunch break, board the AD122 towards Hexham at 1438. You’ve 40 minutes in Hexham for a little shopping before boarding our X85 for Newcastle, arriving at 1634 (or later if you want to do more shopping in Hexham).
By train: Itinerary as above, but depart Newcastle at 0924, returning at 1558; or from Carlisle at 0828, returning at 1651.
’Dig archeaology’ itinerary: Outbound travel as above from Newcastle or Carlisle, but stay on the bus to Walltown to start your visit at the Roman Army Museum. Two hours later, reboard the AD122 at 1254 and ride to Vindolanda to see the excavations in progress. After a two-hour visit, board the bus towards Hexham at 1526. This will get you back to Newcastle by bus at 1705 and by train to Newcastle by 1648 or Carlisle at 1800.
Need advice planning your visit? Ring Go North East customer services on 0191 420 5050.
Published: Monday 27/07/2015
By Visit Northumberland
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