In April 2015 we took on the challenge of walking the 84 miles across northern England, following along the remains of Hadrian’s Wall in order to raise money for charity. We started in Bowness-on-Solway on the west coast and hiked our way across the country to finish in Wallsend six days later.
It was a fantastic experience filled with stunning landscapes, ancient settlements and sheep. Lots and lots of sheep.
Along the way we learned a few things about what to do, and what not to do during the Hadrian’s Wall Walk. If you’re thinking about giving this awesome trek a go, then it might be worth a few minutes of your time reading some of the tips below. Hopefully you’ll find it useful.
1.) Walk west to east
This way the wind is always at your back. The highest point along the wall is 1132 feet and most of the time you’ll be walking through vast, open landscapes. The wind can be extremely strong at times, but if you’re walking west to east, you won’t notice it half as much. In fact, at times, it’ll give you a helpful boost, pushing you along.
We bumped into several people walking in the opposite direction, and it didn’t look as though they were having as much fun as us.
2.) Pack for the weather
And be ready for unexpected changes. England and Northern England, in particular, is notorious for unstable, changing weather. So expect anything and everything over a 24 hour period.
We did the 84-mile walk in April and didn’t consider putting sunscreen into our backpacks at all. On Day three we realized this was a big mistake! We’d had nothing but clear blue skies and temperatures in the low 20s since we’d started. While this was nice, it also meant the right side of our bodies got very badly sunburnt. 8-10 hours in the sunshine, walking in the same direction will do that to you – especially if you’re a pasty Northerner like James.
We eventually got our hands on some sunscreen, but it wasn’t easy. Basically, make sure you pack for any weather. And we mean any.
3.) Bring all of the necessary supplies from home
The walk is in the country and away from any cities, towns, or villages. There is accommodation along the way that may sell limited supplies, but this shouldn’t be relied upon. Bring along plenty of energy snacks, plasters, paracetamol, sunscreen, a large water bottle or two, etc.
4.) Bring a map!
Looking back on it now, this sounds obvious. But with the route being such a popular and famous one, we figured that it would be signposted the whole way. While most of it is signposted, some parts of it weren’t and a map definitely helped us out.
We even referenced the map when the route was signposted at times just for clarification. It was also very useful for helping us to break down our days into manageable chunks, and to see how much farther we had to walk each day.
We actually didn’t bring one with us, but we were extremely fortunate to run into a group of walkers who were finishing just as we were starting and they very generously gave us theirs. I’m not sure what we would have done without it!
5.) Plan your accommodation beforehand
We chose to plan and carry out the walk on our own, and not use a company to help us. So we planned our own itinerary, including how far we would walk each day and where we would stay.
There are many hostels, campsites, and bed and breakfasts along the way, but they are rarely located right on the walk, so you will need to have an idea of where they are and the best way to reach them.
We got caught a few times with being further away from our accommodation for the night than we would have liked, which either resulted in us calling a taxi or walking an extra mile or so to reach it.
A little bit of planning here can save those tired legs at the end of the day.
6.) Pace yourself
We reached Bowness-on-Solway later than we would have liked, which meant starting our walk at 2pm. We’d also been told by our hostel in Carlisle that the front door is locked at 10pm. There were 13.1 miles between Bowness-on-Solway and Carlise, which gave us eight hours to get to our hostel.
Walking that distance for eight hours straight with limited breaks, meant we pushed ourselves much harder than we should have considering it was our first day.
To add to that, James picked up a small injury that became worse and worse every day of the walk, which nearly stopped him from finishing altogether.
So plot out a pace that you think is reasonable for yourself, and stick to it. Start a little earlier than you need to and take it slow if necessary too. There’s no harm in taking a bit longer to do it than others if that means you complete it safely and happily!
7.) Don’t rely on the walking time given by Google
When planning out our route, we typed in our beginning destination and our ending destination for each day into Google and selected the “walking” option to see how long each day would take.
On average it looked like we were going to be walking 4-5 hours each day. This sounded very reasonable to us, almost easy, and we were excited about the amount of free time we would have to put our feet up in the evenings and just enjoy being in the countryside.
The joke was on us though!
Google doesn’t really take elevation into account, and this walk is quite strenuous at times. You will climb up a hill on one side, then down the other. Then back up. Then back down. Then up. Then down. Over. And. Over.
The Romans did not build walls the easy way.
It is a very unrealistic plan to follow the times that Google gives, as we ended up walking 8-10 hours every day. Yes, we still enjoyed the scenery and the landscapes we walked through, and it’s not like we power walked either, but it might have been to our preference to take an extra day to do the walk and break it up a bit more.
8.) Bring two pairs of shoes: hiking boots and trainers
This is a tip that we didn’t learn until Day 5, but it’s a valuable one.
Much of the walk is along rough ‘off-road’ terrain where good grip is needed, and this is where you’ll want to wear your hiking boots.
However, a decent amount of the walk is also on hard pavement (mostly at the beginning and end of the walk), and we were told that hiking boots weren’t the best footwear for that terrain and that trainers should be worn instead as they cushion and protect your feet more.
Although it’s uncommon, poor James suffered quite serious injuries due to not wearing the correct footwear.
He felt a small niggle from a misstep early on in the walk, and as time went on it got worse and worse. It resulted in him having tissue and tendon damage in both of his legs and feet, and he was told that something as small as wearing the correct shoes at the right time could have prevented it from happening. So heed this advice!
9.) Snack and drink water constantly
As mentioned earlier in this list, bring plenty of high-energy snacks in your bag from home. We brought granola bars, nuts, dried fruit, chocolate and raisins.
We each brought a refillable water bottle and filled them up at the beginning of each day. You never know when you will reach water next, so take advantage and fill it up even if you’ve only drunk half of it.
Throughout the day, make sure you stop to snack and drink to keep your water and energy levels high.
In contrast, don’t overeat either. You don’t want to develop a painful cramp halfway through an 8-hour walk. Constantly nibbling and sipping as you go along is the safest option.
Eat larger meals for breakfast and for dinner when possible, but keep in mind that you won’t always be near a restaurant or a pub while walking. They’re a warm welcome when you’re near one, but be mindful that you may be stuck eating Pot Noodles for a meal or two!
10.) Don’t forget to enjoy yourself!
Yes, the walk is exhausting. Yes, you will work hard. Yes, you will struggle. Yes, you will feel like giving up at times.
But the views that you get are absolutely amazing and unforgettable when you’re on top of the wall!
Take your time. Spend a few extra minutes at the Sycamore Gap. Think about the history of the wall itself and each Milecastle and turret that you pass. Enjoy the sheep and the cows (you’ll be wary of them at first, but by the end, they will seem like old friends).
Soak up the atmosphere. Enjoy the company that you’re with. Be proud of yourself for what you’re accomplishing. And enjoy the fantastic feeling of joy and relief when you reach Segedunum, Wallsend.
Good luck with your walk!
Have you walked Hadrian’s Wall before? How long did you walk it in? Do you have any tips that we missed, or did you learn the same things that we did?