2019 was a different year for me. I didn’t do one of my annual cycling tours due to a variety of factors; mostly just time slipping away during the year. I had some tentative plans for a couple of possible routes but I’m going to keep hold of those ideas for the future (though, as I am writing this up almost a year on from the walk described here, Covid-19 has put paid to those plans happening in 2020 as well).
Instead, towards the end of the summer when we’d still not had any real sort of a break, Nash suggested planning a trip. I was thinking of something nice and relaxing. A week somewhere to France to chill quietly perhaps? “I thought we could walk the length of Hadrian’s Wall” came the suggestion. So I was almost right.
I won’t bore you with the details, but after a few checks of maps, B&B booking websites and guide books, we came up with a plan to complete the route over six days of walking (four full days with a “half day” at either end). So it was that on a Thursday in the middle of September we set off drove north up the A1. We parked the car up in the long stay parking at Newcastle Airport and, laden with a suitcase and a medium sized rucksack each, we walked into the terminal, straight back out the other side, and got the Metro into the City Centre. After getting lost in some underpasses we made it down to the river front and checked into our base camp: the Malmaison hotel. We would be staying overnight here tonight and we were also booked back here for a final night at the end of the trip. With some more spartan accommodation awaiting us en-route we had treated ourselves to a quality room to bookend the adventure. As such we could bring some nicer clothes for travelling and the evenings in town here and leave the suitcase with the hotel whilst we were away walking. We were too early to check in but we left the suitcase and one of our rucksacks at reception. We wouldn’t need to be carrying much for today’s warm up walk.
We headed back up the hill to Manors Metro station and got the yellow train east towards the end of the wall at the appropriately named Wallsend (aka Segedunum). As the name suggests, the station is close to the fort that guarded the end of the wall overlooking the River Tyne. The museum was quiet so we had a good chance to explore the excellent exhibitions, take a look over the site from the viewing gallery, take a wander around the site itself, and have a panini each in the café.
Having got ourselves into the Roman spirit we made ready to begin. Back at the museum entrance we bought our “passports” and collected our first stamps just as a small group entered. They had just completed the walk in the opposite direction. After congratulations and good lucks were shared, Nash and I made our way down to the southern gate of the site and onto the path ready to start the walk.
Today we had just four miles or thereabouts ahead of us, more aligned with the river than the line of the wall. It was a hot afternoon and we were going to need plenty of water, even for this short walk.
The very end of the wall is now lost under the remains of the derelict Swan Hunter ship building yard but one of the best remaining sections of wall is right outside the fort and as such forms the traditional start to of the route. From here we headed Westwards. For most of the today we would be following the start of the Hadrian’s Wall cycle route which I had ridden back in 2015.
For the first mile or two the path sits at a good height above Tyne, but the views are intermittent as you pass through wooded parks and around housing estates. The walking was nice but largely uneventful. One of the key tests for today was to see how our limbs would hold up. Nash had damaged her knee a month or two previously and she was a little concerned about how it might take to all this walking. She was testing a new knee bandage which needed a bit of regular adjustment but seemed to be helping. I had been forced off my bike 3 or 4 weeks earlier by a driver pulling out at a roundabout and as a result had a fairly badly swollen foot. It was much improved by now but still not quite right.
At the end of one stretch of park the pathway drops down to the riverside and the rest of today would be at waterfront level as we walked back towards the city centre. It’s hard to believe that you are so close to one of the major UK city centres as you follow the lovely waterside path. We were just a mile or so from the centre of the town but could barely tell as we looked across the river to the green banks on the other side. The occasional riverside industrial units gave the game away a little, but it’s still hard to imagine that you are so close to the core of one of the UK’s major cities at this point.
After only a little over an hours walking from Segedunum we turned a corner in the river and saw the sites of Newcastle honing into view in front of us. Within very short order you glimpse the Baltic Mills and the Sage on the Gateshead side of the river, and the various bridges crossing the Tyne, most notably the iconic Tyne Bridge. After a brief stop to fill up a water bottle at a bike shop we carried on and before we knew it we were back at the Malmaison.
We were both hot and had a few aches and niggles but on the whole we felt pretty good. We settled ourselves into our room and both had a long bath each before heading to the hotel restaurant – we had got a deal which included a two course meal and a glass of Prosecco along with a nice room overlooking the River. It was nice to then be able to simply get the lift back up a couple of floors to our room with its very large and very comfortable bed. Our accommodation for most of the remainder of the trip was likely to be a bit more basic.