Hiking Hadrian’s Wall–the practicalities

If this series on the Hadrian’s Wall Path has sparked your interest, why not walk it yourself? It’s one of the more interesting and less challenging of the UK’s fifteen National Trails.

The total length of the trail is 84 miles. It is well signposted and difficult to get lost. Furthermore, there are plenty of camp grounds, hotels, and Bed and Breakfasts along the way. The scenery is attractive and varied but not rugged. If you want something really challenging, Wales or the Scottish Highlands will be more your style. The Hadrian’s Wall Path is more of a fun ramble through lots of history, with the added bonus of being able to boast that you walked across England.

The first question you have to ask yourself is whether to go westwards or eastwards. I decided to go from east to west because I wanted to leave Newcastle behind me and, with the brief exception of Carlisle, walk through rural areas. Ending a hike in a major city didn’t sound inviting. Plus the fort and museum at Segedunum give a good overview of the Wall’s history. Most guidebooks are written with this direction in mind, including the Hadrian’s Wall Path by Anthony Burton, published by National Trail Guides. This is the one I used. The main disadvantage of going this route is that the prevailing weather is from the southwest so you’ll have the wind and rain in your face. The National Trail Guide uses detailed Ordnance Survey maps that show not only the trail, but lots of other interesting historical and natural features along the way. If you decide to go for another guide, I recommend buying an Ordnance Survey map too.

I did my hike in the third week of August. The path was fairly busy but I had no problem making reservations at hotels and B&Bs just two weeks in advance. The summer is the best time to go in terms of weather and long days, but if you want to avoid people you might want to go in early September when the students are back in school. Spring and autumn could both be fun, but avoid the Path in winter. Many parts are very exposed and walking on the Path at this time can lead to erosion due to muddy conditions.

Accommodation is plentiful. A good place to start is Hadrian’s Wall Country. Their listings are a bit out of date, however, so you’ll need to call the places and doublecheck everything. National Trails publishes a pamphlet called Where to Stay for Walkers, available at Tourist Information Centers in Newcastle, Carlisle, and other local spots. Many of the campgrounds are actually in barns and offer amenities such as showers and a cooked breakfast. If you arrange it right, you can skip carrying a tent altogether and just bring a sleeping bag. There are also a variety of hotels and B&Bs. I only looked at the ones that I specifically mentioned in my posts. Only the Barrasford Arms was anything approaching luxurious. The others provide clean, decent accommodation and a hot cooked breakfast, which is all you really need anyway. There are also several youth hostels along the way if you don’t mind sharing a room with strangers.

Other than camping supplies for those who wish to do so, here are a few essentials:

  • A good set of waterproofs, including pants, coat, and hood. You’ll need them.
  • A sturdy pair of hiking boots.
  • A variety of clothing for cool and hot weather. I walked in everything from long pants and a sweater to shorts and a t-shirt. The weather can change quickly.
  • Sunscreen (the British sun can be surprisingly strong in summer).
  • The usual safety gear like blister treatment, first aid supplies, whistle, etc. While you aren’t hiking to the Mountains of the Moon, you do want to be prepared.
  • Snacks and water. You’ll find plenty of places to buy nibbles along the way except when going over the crags. There it gets a bit remote. It’s best to be prepared on all part of the Path.
  • Sneakers. These are optional, but make walking much more comfortable on the first day when pounding along the pavement through Newcastle.

One final note: don’t expect to get a signal on your mobile phone along much of the route.

How long the Path takes depends on you. I took six days averaging 14 miles a day. I’m no star athlete, but I’m a reasonably fit, regular walker and I was carrying a thirty-pound pack. I had no trouble with that pace. I saw most things along the way but an extra day or two would have given me a chance to make some interesting detours and explore more of Carlisle. Shorter days are certainly possible considering there’s accommodation at regular intervals along the way. You can also do it more quickly. One pub owner told me of a guy who did it in 24 hours. I guess that gave him something to brag about, but he couldn’t have seen much.

The thing that makes this hike unique, the Wall itself, means that extra caution must be taken while walking. Please do not climb on the wall or remove stones. There’s one short section at Housesteads where they’ve reinforced it enough that you’re allowed to walk on top, but please only do that there. Also, stick to the official route. There are a lot of sensitive archaeological remains and areas of wildlife on either side, so it’s important to keep this in mind. Also follow the Countryside Code, which is mostly common sense but a good thing to reread every now and then.

The Path often cuts through private land. While you are allowed to walk there, please stick to the trail, don’t alarm the livestock, and close gates behind you.

Enjoy your hike, and when you’re done, share your experiences in the comments section!

You can read the entire series here.