Hadrian's Wall was built by the Roman Empire to protect their colony in England from the Pictish tribes in Scotland. It stretches for 87 miles across the north of England from the Irish Sea to the North Sea in the counties of Cumbria, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear.
Built by Roman soldiers in the 2nd century A.D., only stretches of the wall are still visible, but the wealth of archaeological research has resulted in an almost unparalleled cluster of museums and excavations. Hadrian's Wall is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Cities & Towns
All these towns are near to the Wall, but the Wall itself is strung out in the countryside.
Hadrian's Wall was one of Ancient Rome's fortified borders, which gave the late Roman Empire security against the barbarians at its gates. Constructed and later garrisoned by soldiers drawn from all over the Roman world, the wall preserves an immense amount of military and civilian day-to-day life.
By road (perhaps bus) from main roads or transport hubs at Carlisle or Newcastle. Part of the wall is also on the Pennine Way long-distance footpath.
There is now a recognised National Trail that follows (with slight deviations) the whole length of the wall from Wallsend to the Solway Firth. The path is relatively easy going for most of its route, with the notable exception of the middle section around Steel Rigg. Here the path rises and falls steeply as it follows the escarpment. This section is however regarded as the most beautiful.
The region is well served by road and a railway runs parallel to the wall from Newcastle to Carlisle. A single ticket is approximately £13 (as of April 2010). There is a bus that runs the length of the wall from Bowness in Soloway to Newcastle (both ways) 7 days a week. Bus number AD122. Ideal for linear walking allowing return to a vehicle or lodging.
There are several excavated Roman forts. Most of the Roman remains are in the open air: dress for the weather and wear sensible shoes.
Housesteads, Haydon Bridge, NE47 6NN, ☎ . open weekends during the winter and every day in summer.. The most famous sight on the Wall, Housesteads is the most complete Roman fort in Britain, and one of the best-preserved in Europe. English Heritage are in the process of improving the visitors' centre, replacing the rather small museum. adults £6.20, children £3.70, concessions £5.60.
Vindolanda. Vindolanda is not quite as complete a ruin, but has a somewhat better museum, and features a reconstructed section of Wall. It is particularly interesting to archaeology. £10 adults, £5.50 children, joint ticket with the Roman Army Museum.
Chesters, Chollerford, NE46 4EU, ☎ . A former Roman cavalry fort, Chesters has a fairly extensive - if rather old-fashioned - museum including exhibits excavated at Housesteads and elsewhere. adults £5.40, children £3.20, concessions £4.90.
There are numerous smaller forts, milecastles, temples and other buildings. While many are little more than lumps in the ground, many of the better-preserved are now under the care of English Heritage and are listed on the Hadrian's Wall section of their website.
Mithraeum. One of the few partially preserved temples of the god Mithras in the UK.
The museums are rounded out by the Roman Army Museum.
Look out for military jets training in the skies above Kielder Forest. There is a (relatively) secret RAF base within the forest that serves as an electronic warfare training base.
- For a nice day: Breakfast at the Once Brewed YHA hostel, walk to Vindolanda, then loop north to Hadrian's Wall, walk along the wall for a few hours, then walk back to the Twice Brewed Inn for supper and real ale.
- Daytrip from Newcastle upon Tyne: Take bus AD122 from Central Station at 09:30 to Chester Roman Fort (£4.50). Visit the Roman fort and museum (Entrance fee adults £5.00/concession £4.50), then hike on the Hadrian's Wall Trail to Housesteads. Visit the Housesteads Roman Fort and museum (Entrance fee adults £5.00/concession £4.50). Walk to the road (entrance to parking lot) and flag down the bus AD122, which passes here at 17:34 back to Newcastle (£5.50; and the only direct bus to Newcastle).
- Hike the whole of it, from Bowness-on-Solway to Wallsend or vice versa. Note, however, that it's necessary to book your accommodation couple of months in advance, for the trail is very popular, and if you just knock on the door of a random B&B on your way you'll probably find it fully booked.
Eat & Drink
Most of the larger attractions on the forts serve refreshments of some description. There are also hotels and public houses in most of the villages dotted around the area.
There is a range of accommodation from hotels to B&Bs, to Bunk barns to camp sites.
The Greenhead Hotel and Hostel, Greenhead, Brampton, Cumbria, CA8 7HB, ☎ . Both the hotel and hostel are a short distance from the wall. For the hostel, ask at the hotel. Hostel (£15pppn), Hotel (£50-£80pppn).
Once Brewed YHA Hostel, Military Road, Bardon Mill, NE47 7AN. The hostel is pleasant and friendly. Beds from £16.
The Old Repeater Station, Military Road, Grindon, Haydon Bridge, NE47 6NQ, ☎ . Bed and Breakfast close to the middle section of the wall and offers very good accommodation, good food, good beer and is only a short walk from the wall.
Tantallon House B&B, Gilsland, CA8 7DA. Tantallon House offers accommodation around 10 minutes walk from the National Trail. It also has a holiday cottage. From £44 (no cards).
There is a very slight risk of thieves looking for easy pickings at ill-attended tourist car parks. A locked car is precaution enough. Otherwise, the worst hazard is a sharp rain shower.