Walking the Hadrian’s Wall Trail: An In-Depth Guide

Nearly two thousand years ago, for reasons still debated, the emperor Hadrian visited Britain and made a decision. In AD122, he ordered a wall be constructed between the banks of the River Tyne near the east coast, to the Solway estuary in the west.

The wall took six years to build, and its forts and milecastles stayed occupied until the Romans left Britain three hundred years later. Ever since, people have been quietly pulling it to pieces, using the stone to construct everything from churches and monasteries to the Military Road that runs alongside.

Still, despite their best efforts, over ten miles of the ancient wall still remains, in small and large chunks dotted across the country. 2003 saw the opening of the Hadrian’s Wall Trail, which largely follows the original route of the wall and its accompanying defenses for 84 miles (135km).

I once lived in London for a few years, but I was a much lazier person back then. Long-distance hiking would have been the last thing on my mind, and as a result, I’d never done it in the UK. With a summer trip around Britain already planned, and a girlfriend keen to try a multi-day hike for the first time, it was time to change that glaring omission.

In mid-July, I laced up my walking shoes, lifted my pack onto my back, and started walking west through the Newcastle suburbs. Six days later, I dropped that pack onto the floor of the King’s Arms in Bowness-upon-Solway and raised a cold pint in celebration.

I’ve broken this post up into two main sections, Planning and Logistics, and The Walk Itself. If you’re planning your own trip and want all the details about things like weather, food and accommodation, which direction to walk, packing lists and getting to and from the trail, check out the first part.

If you’re most interested in pretty pictures, a route summary, or day to day descriptions of walking the Hadrian’s Wall Trail, head to the second bit.

Or, of course, just read it all!

Planning and Logistics

The Hadrian’s Wall Trail is apparently one of the least-challenging, yet most interesting, of Britain’s National Trails. Most people complete the walk in about a week, although you could do it in four days if you were particularly hardcore, or take much longer if you were after a gentle stroll.

Direction

Hadrian's Wall Trail, acorn sign

Most guidebooks, including the one we used, suggest walking east to west, so that’s the way we did it. There are pros and cons to that approach: on the upside, you get to finish beside the ocean in the pretty little village of Bowness-on-Solway, rather than slogging through the Newcastle suburbs.

On the downside, the wind blows from the west, so you’ll be walking into it all day. That wasn’t a major problem, but it was definitely noticeable.

There’s also not much accommodation in Bowness, with transport back to Carlisle quite sporadic. It’s also easier to walk shorter days in the early stages (ie, when you need them) if you’re heading east. More on both of those things below.

Overall, if I was to walk this trail again, I’d probably go in the other direction – but there’s not much in it either way.

Weather

Hadrian's Wall Trail, coming in to Once Brewed

As you’d expect in the north of England, summer weather is generally mild, and very changeable. Throughout my entire life, I don’t think I’ve ever checked the forecast as often as I did during this walk.

Heavy cloud, blazing sunshine, sideways rain, we had it all. Fortunately, although it rained overnight a couple of times, the downpour continued during the day only once. Even then, it didn’t rain all the time, just coming and going for several hours. The worst of it unfortunately coincided with being up on exposed cliffs with no shelter, but it wasn’t the end of the world.

The rest of the time was mainly sunny, with light to moderate cloud cover. Temperature highs were generally in the high teens to low twenties (Celsius), although it got up to 25 degrees on the final day.

As mentioned earlier, the prevailing wind comes from the west, and it did so more or less continually. On hot days, the light, cooling breeze was a blessing. When the heavens opened, the heavy gusts blew rain straight into our faces for hours.

Accommodation

Green Carts barn

When it comes to where you’re going to sleep each night, it’s basically a decision between “camping” and “something else”. If you’re on a strict budget, sleeping under canvas is easily the most affordable choice. It also gives more flexibility, although bear in mind wild camping isn’t allowed anywhere along the path, and the distances between campsites can be quite far.

Since we were flying carry-on only to the UK and didn’t have much camping gear anyway, we went for the “something else” option. For us, that meant budget hotels and bunkhouses (basically, hostels for hikers). Several pubs also have rooms available, and B&B’s make up the rest, but the prices for both of those were a bit out of our league. I’ve listed each place we stayed, and what I thought of it, further down.

While the trail passes through two cities, much of it runs through fairly remote parts of the country by English standards. Because of that, outside Newcastle and Carlisle, accommodation options right on the path are limited, and fill up fast. There are more choices in nearby towns, but that either means extra walking, or getting a lift to and from the trail when needed.

If neither of those sound appealing, and/or you’re walking in peak season (UK summer school holidays), you’ll definitely want to arrange any accommodation that’s not a campsite well in advance. We walked just before the start of the summer holidays, booked a couple of months ahead, and a few places were already full.

A word of advice: when working out daily distances, check exactly where your accommodation will be, rather than basing it on the nearest town or village. After a long day of walking, nothing saps morale faster than discovering you’ve got a couple of extra miles to go when you thought you were done. And yes, I may be talking from experience…

Food

Hadrian's Wall Trail, bacon baguette

Even if you’re not self-catering, getting enough calories to fuel your walk along Hadrian’s Wall isn’t hard. No matter where you are, you’re never more than a couple of hours from a cafe, pub or restaurant serving up filling, satisfying and often, delicious food. All B&B’s include a hearty breakfast in the price, and all the bunkhouses and hotels I stayed in offered it as well, either built in to the nightly rate or for a reasonable extra charge (typically around £5).

Couple that with excellent craft beers and ciders almost everywhere, and you’ll likely find the eating and drinking to be one of the highlights of your experience. I know it was for me.

That said, when lunches and dinners typically cost £10-20, eating out for every meal gets expensive. Most bunkhouses have a well-equipped kitchen, so if you’d like to save money and have a bit more control of your diet, it wouldn’t hurt to carry extra food. There are a few places to buy basic groceries in villages, but don’t expect too much from them.

You’ll also need to pack snacks, to tide you over between meals or when energy levels are flagging. For me, that was snack bars and peanuts, but take whatever appeals as long as it’s full of calories and not too heavy or perishable.

Note too, that opening hours (and food-serving hours) vary, based on the season and day of the week. It’s pretty normal for pubs to not open until around 11am, or start serving food until midday, often with a break in the afternoon. You’ll always be able to get drinks and packaged snacks, but if you know you’ll be desperate for a hot meal after slogging through the rain for hours, it’s worth phoning ahead or looking up details online.

Gear Transport / Bag Shipping

Hadrian's Wall Trail, walkers ahead

If you like the idea of a multi-day hike, but don’t love the thought of carrying your life on your back while you do it you’re in luck. Several companies offer a gear transport service along Hadrian’s Wall, where you leave a bag behind at your accommodation for collection each morning, and it gets dropped off at your intended destination later that day.

Since we were in the UK for three weeks before and after the walk, we were travelling with a bunch of non-hiking gear. I investigated using the Poste Restante service to have a bag shipped and held at the Carlisle post office, which seemed possible, but in the end opted to just use one of the dedicated services instead.

We used Walkers’ Baggage Transfer, which cost £7 per bag per day, and the process was straightforward. I simply entered the dates on the website, along with pickup and drop-off locations, and paid by bank deposit in advance. You can arrange transfers any time up until the day before, which still allows for flexibility if you’re not booking in advance.

We consolidated all the stuff we didn’t need into a single bag, left it at reception when we started walking each day, and as if by magic, it was waiting at our accommodation when we arrived. We could have done without any of it, but I will admit it was nice to have a pair of jeans to put on each night!

Getting There and Away

Getting to and from Newcastle is simple. It’s a major city, and is well-served by the bus and train network. Several European flights also land at Newcastle Airport each day, as well as some domestic ones from the south of the country.

You can get surprisingly good deals with National Express and, depending on where you’re coming from, Megabus. Our National Express bus from Leeds cost £6 per person, for a 2.5 hour trip. Trains are noticeably more expensive, but are faster and more comfortable.

Hadrian's Wall Trail, Bowness to Carlisle bus timetableFor most walkers, the metro is the best way to get to and from Wallsend. A single adult ticket towards “the coast” cost £2.60 from the central city – we jumped on at St James station, and didn’t need to change lines.

The transport options for Bowness-on-Solway, on the other hand, are very limited. It’s a small village, served by an occasional bus service to and from Carlisle, or a roughly £30 taxi ride. Due to a timetable change, I missed my intended bus by twenty minutes when I arrived in Bowness, and had to wait over three hours in a pub for the next one. Not a terrible hardship, to be fair, but still one I could have done without.

At the time I did the walk (July 2017), the bus back to Carlisle cost £6.20, and ran Monday through Saturday at the following times:

Morning: 7:34, 10:12

Afternoon: 13:37, 17:14, 18:58

There’s no bus on Sunday, so if you need to get to or from Carlisle on that day, you’ll likely need to take a taxi.

A local bus, the aptly-named AD122, runs along Hadrian’s Wall between Hexham and Haltwhistle, connecting with other bus services along the way. This makes it relatively easy to treat parts of the trail as day or overnight walks, if you don’t have the time or desire to walk it all in one go.

Packing List

Despite the walk’s relatively short length, the changeable weather can make it tricky to figure out the right mix of gear. I’ve got a general rule for these sort of hikes that, if I’m not camping or self-catering, my bag shouldn’t be more than about 10% of my bodyweight. For me, that means that everything I need to stay safe and comfortable, including water and snacks, needs to come in under 7-8kg.

To that end, I’ve put together a separate post with my full Hadrian’s Wall packing list. It’s got detailed descriptions of everything I took, why I chose to pack it, and how well it all worked in practice.

 

The Walk Itself

For a walk lasting less than a week, the Hadrian’s Wall Trail was surprisingly diverse. There are two significant cities at either end, but miles of wild countryside in between. The trail is dead flat in some parts, yet the hills give spectacular views in others. Large chunks of the wall remain, but for nearly half my walk, there was little sign the Romans had ever set foot in the country. And then, of course, there was the weather…

Difficulty

Hadrian's Wall Trail, hills and trail

On the face of it, the trail looks pretty straightforward. With a highest point of just 350 metres, several towns and villages along the route, and easy road access in the event of a problem, walking the wall, at least in summer, doesn’t pose too many dangers.

What hills there are tend to be more gently undulating than steep climbs and descents, and while you need to watch your footing, especially in wet weather, the chances of anything worse than a sprained ankle are pretty low.

Also, compared to the Caminos de Santiago I’ve walked, there’s a lot less time spent on paved surfaces – in fact, in the middle sections, there’s essentially none. Walking on grass or dirt is much easier on the feet than tarmac or cobblestones!

Despite that, though, the walk has its challenges. Weather is one – we were lucky, with just one day of rain, but many hikers get a lot more. Putting on wet shoes and trudging through downpours for days is just miserable.

Also, especially since we were on a budget, accommodation was less frequent and further apart than I would have liked. That, in turn, meant some long days, especially at the beginning. Unfortunately, especially on the first day out of Newcastle, that coincided with walking mostly on pavement.

The end result? Blisters. Even with well-worn in hiking shoes and boots, both Lauren and I picked up blisters by the end of the first day. Mine were confined to the sole of one foot, but Lauren’s were on the toes and back of both feet.

Mine didn’t cause major problems, and were largely gone by the end of the walk. No such luck for Lauren, however. By the end of day three, she’d lost a toenail, and the pain in both feet meant she could barely walk to breakfast on day four. In the end, the only sensible choice was for her to call it quits and head for Carlisle on the bus that morning, to wait for me there.

Shorter distances on those first couple of days would have made all the difference. More on that below.

Route Summary

Note that all distances are approximate. They were recorded on my Fitbit, which doesn’t use GPS, and tends to over-estimate mileage a bit.

Day 1: Wallsend to Heddon-on-the-Wall, 29km

Day 2: Heddon-on-the-Wall to Green Carts Farm, 33km

Day 3: Green Carts Farm to Once Brewed, 22km

Day 4: Once Brewed to Walton, 29km

Day 5: Walton to Carlisle, 20km

Day 6: Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway, 24km

 

Day by Day

Day 1: Wallsend to Heddon-on-the-Wall

We stayed at Rooms Inn the night before, a good budget hotel just outside the city centre, and about a 15 minute stroll away from the metro to Wallsend. Arriving an hour before the 10am opening time meant there wasn’t much to see at Segedunum, the major Roman fort at the start of the trail. After a quick look around, we adjusted our packs, took the obligatory photos, and started walking west.

Hadrian's Wall Trail, early on day 1

The trail ran along the Tyne River for much of the day, initially past old shipyards and former industrial sites. It sounded awful, but most of the suburban and industrial sprawl was hidden behind trees, and in the end it was a pleasant, surprisingly-attractive walk in the sunshine back to the city centre.

After a quick stop at the Pitcher and Piano (great location, bad coffee), we carried on past Newcastle’s mish-mash of bridges, the river, pavement and suburbs continuing for hours. Still, the trail did a good job of finding little bits of nature when it could – a large park here, a disused railway line there – and the promise of good food and craft beers at The Keelman in Newburn kept us moving along nicely. It delivered on the beers, at least, but either way it was nice to kick our shoes off and relax for an hour.

We hadn’t seen many other hikers all day, but started spotting a few during the final hour and a half to Heddon-on-the-Wall. Despite being uphill, that section was my favourite of the day, all woodlands and great views, with the added bonus of the first section of actual wall on the edge of town.

Hadrian's Wall Trail, late on day 1

Houghton North Farm was our accommodation for the night, and I’d highly recommend it. It’s mostly a bunkhouse, but we’d picked up a private room for the night. It was clean, with a super-friendly owner, and the price included a solid breakfast the next morning.

The only thing to note is that’s about a half-mile from Heddon itself, which meant a bit of a walk back into town to grab dinner at the Three Tuns pub. The huge, tasty portions and a pint of cider made the return leg easier, it must be said.

Day 2: Heddon-on-the-Wall to Green Carts Farm

It rained overnight, but had cleared up nicely by the time we dawdled our way through breakfast and headed off around 8:30. We’d just discovered the damage the previous day’s pavement had done to our feet, but it wasn’t posing much of a problem … yet.

Hadrian's Wall Trail, wheat fields, day 2

The paved path soon disappeared, and although we were beside or near the surprisingly-busy B6318 road for most of the day, we heard rather than saw it much of the time. Breaking the long day up into four sections, the first part saw us walking on a grassy trail through pretty wheat fields, stopping briefly beside a reservoir to check out the non-existent birdlife.

Our first proper stop was at the Robin Hood Inn, and although it was too early for lunch, the coffee and cake still went down a treat. The second section dragged through endless, albeit scenic, farmland, alongside (and sometimes in) the Roman defensive trenches that once ran along either side of the wall.

Lunch was at the Errington Arms, beside a roundabout that was once a major entry/exit point in the wall. With a great menu, and so few other places to eat nearby, it’s no surprise it was packed with hikers and locals alike. Stuffing our complaining feet back into their shoes, we set off across the fields and through the forest, with the highlight being a large section of wall with glorious views across the countryside.

Hadrian's Wall Trail, large chunk of wall, day 2

Arriving in Chollerford (and wishing we’d booked accommodation there), we grabbed a quick drink at the George Hotel, then slowly limped out of town along the main road past the remains of Chesters Fort. It took over an hour to reach our accommodation, Green Carts Farm, and both of us were sore and shattered as we stumbled through the door a few minutes ahead of the pursuing rain.

We’d booked beds in the somewhat-fancier bunkhouse, but for some reason, ended up in the more basic barn. Since we were the only people staying in it that night, though, I wasn’t going to complain – when it comes to accommodation, I’ll take privacy over nicer surroundings any day!

Day 3: Green Carts Farm to Once Brewed

The rain continued on and off all night and into the morning, but after a cooked breakfast well worth the £5 pricetag, we made the most of a break in the weather and headed out.

Hadrian's Wall Trail, views on day 3

This was meant to be one of the best days of the walk, and even with the grey skies, I could see why. The views over the fields and moors were incredible, and with few other walkers or signs of civilization, it felt like we had the rugged landscape all to ourselves. England can feel like a crowded place at times, but this definitely wasn’t one of them.

After dodging the showers for the first couple of hours, they came back and stuck around for the rest of the day. Sadly this coincided with being up on the crags, with little shelter from the weather. Having rain blasted into my face for hours wasn’t exactly what I’d dreamed of for a summertime jaunt in the English countryside, even if it wasn’t exactly unexpected!

We’d planned to check out the excavations at Housesteads along the way, apparently the best-preserved Roman fort anywhere along the trail. With the rain really setting in, though, and the better part of two hours left to walk, we grudgingly decided against it, and had to make do with a quick snack at the gift shop/cafe instead. Sadface.

Hadrian's Wall Trail, Sycamore Gap, day 3

Sycamore Gap, made famous in that Robin Hood movie with Kevin Costner, is a very photogenic spot when the sun’s out … but less so when we were there. We eventually descended down from the crags via some steep stone steps, walked along the road for a few minutes, and ecstatically walked through the door of the Twice Brewed pub to join a legion of other soggy hikers. Never before has bangers and mash tasted so good.

We stayed at the sprawling Winshields Farm that night, a few hundred metres further down the road. Dozens of teenagers seemed to be enjoying their damp camping experience on the huge grass area out the front, but we were in a bunkhouse round the back – and again, we had it to ourselves! No, I’ve no idea how.

It’s lucky the food and drink at the pub was so good — it’s the only dining option in Once Brewed if you’re not self-catering, at least until the YHA hostel opens later this year. A few hours later we braved the rain one last time, and headed back for dinner.

Day 4: Once Brewed to Walton

And just like that, the rain disappeared, and didn’t return for the rest of the walk. Sadly, despite the blue skies, when Lauren could barely limp the twenty metres to breakfast in the morning, her feet made the decision that her walk was over. I waved goodbye to a forlorn, flip-flop-wearing figure at the gate, as she headed in one direction to catch the bus to Haltwhistle and Carlisle, while I headed in the other.

Hadrian's Wall Trail, day 4 views

To make matters worse for her, this ended up being easily the best day on the trail. With blue skies and sunshine, absolutely gorgeous views in every direction, great hiking up and down gently-rolling hills, and plenty of sections of wall to keep this history nerd amused, it was the kind of hike I never want to end.

The highlights just kept coming. Whether it was a quiet moment beside the lovely quarry-turned-lake at Cawfields, endless views from the top of Walltown Crags (near the wonderfully-named Cockmount Hill), the ruins of Thirlwill Castle, or the impressive remains of the Roman bridge across the Irthing River, the day could do no wrong. Even the bacon sandwich I had for lunch at House of Meg’s cafe in Gilsland tasted remarkably good!

Hadrian's Wall Trail, day 4 bridge remains

The highlight of the day, though, was a 2000 year old penis. I’m not even kidding. Historians will tell you it’s a symbol of fertility and good luck, but honestly, I think that bored Roman wall builders just liked to doodle pictures of male genitalia as much as the average teenager does today.

Hadrian's Wall Trail, day 4 phallus

To cap things off, my accommodation at Florries on the Wall in Walton turned out to be exceptional – and this time, not only did I have the room to myself, I was the only person staying there at all! Starting mid-week, outside school holidays, definitely helped keep numbers down during my time on the trail, but even so, it was a supremely lucky break to never have to share a bunkhouse the entire time.

These bunkhouses only opened a couple of years ago, and the rooms were simple but absolutely spotless. The owner was super-friendly, and we chatted for ages over a delicious dinner and local craft ales, and again over breakfast the next morning. In short, if your itinerary allows, definitely stay at Florries.

Day 5: Walton to Carlisle

With a much shorter day in store, I wasn’t in a hurry to get moving in the morning. The weather was good, but the landscape was no match for the day before – flatter, with far more farms, and far fewer wild areas. Still, there were nice spots, with several fields full of overgrown wildflowers, a couple of small forests, and surprisingly, a really lovely section just outside Carlisle itself, beside the river through Rickerby Park.

Hadrian's Wall Trail, day 5 wildflowers

Without the hills or 88 (!) photo stops of the previous day, and with my blister mostly healed, the day passed quickly. I’d considered an early lunch at the Stag Inn in Crosby, but arrived too early for it to even be open. Oops.

Reunited with Lauren in Carlisle, it was strange to be surrounded by the noise and bustle of a city again, even though it had only been a few days since leaving Newcastle. On the upside, there were a lot more food options, and we had an excellent lunch at Foxes Cafe, and an even better dinner at Alexandros.

We’d got a good deal on a room at the downtown Ibis Hotel, which had everything you’d expect from a large chain hotel, and for someone who hates breakfast buffets, a surprisingly good… um … breakfast buffet.

Day 6: Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway

For what was a relatively short final day, there was plenty of diversity – some good, some less so. The first few kilometres followed an ugly but necessary diversion from the original trail, after floods in 2015 collapsed the banks of the river Eden that runs through the city. Things got much better after that, with some lovely riverside walking through fields and woodlands as far as Beaumont.

Hadrian's Wall Trail, St Michael's church, day 6

As the day heated up, I checked out St Michael’s church in the pretty town of Burgh-by-Sands, and enjoyed a coffee and cake at the nearby Greyhound Inn, before starting the final slog. And a slog it was – my diary entry for that last two-hour march along the salt marshes says “dead flat, dead hot, and dead boring”, and that pretty much sums it up.

There was a bit of birdlife, and plenty of lazy sheep, but that was about as exciting as things got, the whole way to Port Carlisle and on to Bowness. A hint, though: unless it’s pouring with rain, walk along the top of the embankment that runs alongside the trail where you can, rather than on or beside the road itself. It’s much easier walking, with better views, and more shelter from wind and sun.

Hadrian's Wall Trail, the end

The end of the trail came quickly. One minute I was walking along beside the estuary, the next I was in Bowness, following the last of the National Trail acorn signs to a little hut with an information board and a sign congratulating me for finishing my walk along Hadrian’s Wall. Finishing alone was a touch anticlimactic, to be honest, but the warm welcome I got at the nearby King’s Arms more than made up for it, with several other hikers either starting or finishing their walk.

As mentioned earlier, the bus timetable had changed at some point in the past, so I needed to wait three hours or so until the next one. A good excuse to have a drink, chat to fellow walkers from around the world, and reflect on what had largely been a very enjoyable, and in several parts, incredibly scenic, hike across the country.

After eventually getting back to Carlisle, we spent the final night at Arkale Lodge, another good budget hotel close to the bus and train stations, with clean rooms and a strong shower to wash all that trail sweat off me. After an excellent (non-buffet!) breakfast the next morning, we bid farewell to Carlisle and the trail, and boarded a train to Edinburgh. That, as they say, was that!

Alternative Options

Hadrian's Wall Trail, Newcastle bridges

In hindsight, we’d have broken up the first three days a little differently, even if it meant spending a bit more money.

Since we arrived in Newcastle in the afternoon, we could have dropped our bags at our hotel near the city centre, taken the metro out to Wallsend, and walked back to the hotel that evening. That would have cut out a couple of hours from the next day, and likely avoided those damn blisters.

The second day was also too long, especially so early in the walk, and the last hour or more from Chollerford to Green Carts Farm wasn’t much fun at all. If we hadn’t needed to book in advance, I’d have paid the extra to stay at the pub in Wall, or a hotel or B&B in Chollerford, rather than pressing on.

So, if I was going to walk it all again in the same westerly direction, this is how I’d do it. Distances are, again, approximate.

Day 0: Wallsend to Newcastle City Centre, 8km

Day 1: Newcastle City Centre to Heddon-on-the-Wall, 21km

Day 2: Heddon-on-the-Wall to Chollerford, 28km

Day 3: Chollerford to Once Brewed, 27km

Day 4: Once Brewed to Walton, 29km

Day 5: Walton to Carlisle, 20km

Day 6: Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway, 24km

I’d also consider adding an extra night to the walk, and breaking up those longer middle days even further. Either way, as mentioned earlier, you’ll likely have fewer issues with long distances in the early stages if you’re heading east – something else to think about!

Final Thoughts

I loved walking the Hadrian’s Wall Trail. That fourth day, with gorgeous views and blue skies as far as the eye could see, ranks up there as one of the best hiking days I’ve ever had. Even when the weather turned nasty, the landscape was still spectacular — and it gave the perfect excuse to linger in a cozy pub for far too long!

Despite the blisters, it’s not a difficult walk, especially if you do it over a longer period than we did, or find ways to break up the days a little more evenly. The remains of the wall and defenses were the icing on the cake for a history nerd like me, but even if you’re not fascinated by ancient Rome, the rolling hills and empty landscapes of the middle section in particular make the walk more than worth the effort.

I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

 

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Walking the Hadrian's Wall Trail- An In-Depth Guide

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