Following the 2000-year-old wall that stretches 84 miles across northern England, from the west coast in Bowness-in-Solway to Wallsend, Newcastle in the east, is one of the best things we’ve done…
…and one of the hardest.
Hadrian’s Wall was originally built to keep the Scots/Picts (basically anyone north of the wall) out of Roman-ruled England. It took around 15,000 men six years to build the wall – not bad considering the terrain and the limitations of the time. Those Romans were a clever bunch, though.
They didn’t take the easy route at all. The Wall follows the natural peaks and troughs of the dramatic and hilly landscape, making the feat all the more impressive.
You’ll find yourself thinking “why didn’t they just go around that hill?” a lot on this walk. But then, of course, you realise that it wouldn’t be a very good barrier if the enemy could just go to the top of the hill themselves and jump over the wall!
On more than one occasion, you’ll also find yourself thinking “phew, I’m glad that bit is finished” as you finally reach the top of a steep climb, before realising that there’s another hill directly in front of you. And another. And another.
And that’s why this walk is difficult.
And why it’s worth taking on.
Every single step of the way was amazing and an experience that we often think about and relive. You get an adrenaline rush as you’re shadowing the wall along the ancient route, thinking about the historical events that took place in the exact spots you’re standing in.
You’ll walk by mile-castles (located after every Roman mile), where you can imagine soldiers living and working, ready to react if an enemy was spotted in the distance.
You’ll also walk by turrets (located between every mile-castle), and you’ll walk past large forts (including Chesters, Housesteads, Vindolanda and Birdoswald) that attract many visitors annually from around the world.
Stopping and taking in some of the history along the way (especially at the forts) is something we’d recommend you do, even if it’s just to take a break from the walking!
You’ll get a fantastic view of some of England’s most dramatic and breathtaking scenery. It stretches out for miles and miles in front of you, and you’ll find yourself stopping regularly to take it all in – something else we recommend you do often.
We did this walk for two reasons:
- It’s something we both always wanted to do
- We wanted to raise money for charity
Our aim was to keep costs to a minimum, so we spent plenty of time planning before we left. Our suggestion is that you make time to do some planning too (it never hurts to be prepared), but we also hope our little blog series about our walk will help save you some time there.
NOTE – There are companies that you can pay to create an itinerary for you, and who’ll transport your bags from place to place so you don’t have to carry them. So if that’s your preference then the option is there, but we wanted to have the full hiking experience, backpacks and all!
Both of us are active, fit people, but we had never done a long distance walk before. If you can relate to us, we would recommend the itinerary below. If you’re super fit and want to really push yourself, we would recommend taking a day or two out. On the other hand, if you’re not as active, we would recommend that you add an extra day or two to the itinerary.
So if you’re thinking about doing the walk, or maybe if we can convince you to do it, you might find the information below interesting.
Day 1 – Bowness-on-Solway to Carlisle
~14 miles / 6 hours
Since we live in Newcastle, we decided to take the train out to Bowness and start walking on the same day. The trains didn’t work out quite as easily as we had hoped (plus we also had to take a connecting bus), so we didn’t actually get to the starting point until 14:30.
Not ideal considering we had 14 miles ahead of us and had to be back in Carlisle by 20:00.
That was definitely a mistake on our part. Do not start your first day of walking at 14:30. Start in the morning, which allows for breaks and gives you the opportunity to relax.
But, with our silly mistake, we didn’t have time for breaks or relaxing. We high-tailed it towards Carlisle, boosted by adrenaline and the realisation that we were actually doing this challenge that we’d had our sights on for a good couple of years.
Due to our quick pace, fuelled by the drive to get to our hostel at a reasonable time, we covered the 14 miles in six hours. Not bad.
Unfortunately, there are no ‘above-ground’ remains of the wall during this first leg of the walk, but there are stretches of ‘turf walls’ that help you follow where the Wall used to stand.
Since Bowness is on the coast, you’ll follow the sea for a while, before moving further inland. There are some great spots to stop and take a break which look out over the water but, because of our late start, we weren’t able to enjoy these as much as we would have liked.
The walk takes you into Carlisle city centre, right beside the castle. It’s right at the front of a large park area, which the Hadrian’s Wall Walk skirts through so you will get to see portions of it. Since we got to the city late, we weren’t able to explore Carlisle Castle but we took a few “End of Day 1” photos and headed for our hostel, which was purposefully picked for its proximity to the walk.
Carlisle City Hostel has a check-in curfew (hence needing to be back by 20:00), which we were late for (whoops!), but the staff were nice and didn’t have any issues with this. We dropped our bags off and headed to the nearest Wetherspoons for a quick meal to refuel our bodies (and grab a pint of course) before passing out in our beds.
James was smart and ordered a real ale. For you non-British readers, a real ale is a non-carbonated beer that’s served at room temperature (it’s not warm, it’s just not ice-cold).
Krysta, who, at the time, wasn’t accustomed to drinking a beer that’s not carbonated, ordered a pint of lager. Silly mistake. Don’t do that. She couldn’t finish it and didn’t even want to look at it.
Non-carbonated drinks, in particular, are exactly what should be ordered when you’re dehydrated and in need of a ‘Day 1’ celebration drink.
It also turned out that, despite having walked 14 miles, our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs when it came to ordering food. Krysta suffers from this problem on a daily basis anyway, never mind after an exhausting day of walking. Copious amounts of chicken strips were ordered and placed in front of us, and we probably ate half of them. Whoops.
So to sum up when it comes to after-walk refreshments:
- Chicken – good idea
- All of the chicken – bad idea
- Real ale – good idea
- Lager – bad idea
- Pint of water – fantastic idea
Overall, this was one of our least favourite days of the walk for a few reasons. First off, there isn’t really any wall to see. Second, we were rushed. Third, we were at sea-level so there wasn’t any epic and jaw-dropping views to admire. And lastly, much of the walk was pavement rather than a proper hiking trail.
NOTE – Walking on pavement is harder on your knees and ankles because there’s nothing to cushion your steps if you’re wearing hiking boots as we were (there’s more about how you can mitigate this problem in our Top Ten Tips article here).
Poor James felt the wrath of the pavement. But that’s a story for part two. And three and four and five and six. Uh oh.
Many people opt to begin their walk in Carlisle rather than in Bowness like we did. But Bowness is the official start of the walk, so that’s why we started there. You can cut a full day off your walk if you miss this section out, but keep in mind that you won’t have technically completed the full walk!
Have you done a long-distance walk before? Have you done the Hadrian’s Wall Walk before, or are you thinking about doing it? Let us know below in the comments.
Interested in what happened on day 2? Click here to find out!