Coast to Coast in the footsteps of Hadrian
Work in Progress! The blog pages for this walk are still being finalised and will be added in the coming few weeks.
In September 2019 I left the bike at home and instead took off on foot with my other half on a walk across the coast of Britain following the line of Hadrian’s Wall
You can read about the whole trip in one go on this page, or if you’d prefer you can read the individual posts from each of the days of the trip using these links:
- Hadrians Wall Walk Day One – 19 September 2019
- Hadrians Wall Walk Day Two – 20 September 2019
- Hadrians Wall Walk Day Three – 21 September 2019
The Whole Adventure (to be completed):
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.
Friday morning and it was time to start the walking proper. We got all of our kit ready, leaving anything that we wouldn’t need for the next five days in the suitcase which we would be leaving at the hotel. We made sure our respective troublesome joints were strapped and ready for a full day of walking. Before setting off we made full use of the hotel buffet breakfast and made final adjustments to the bags. Then it was time to checkout and shortly afterwards we were standing on the quayside ready to walk.
Ahead of us today we had 15 miles. The day promised to be one of two halves. We would start with 9 or 10 miles following the Tyne valley upstream, and then the remainder would be following the wall on higher ground above the valley.
We had a glorious bright and clear morning to set off into, and the gorgeous Tyne bridges lay just in front of us. After a quick diversion to a Tesco Metro to gather lunch and snack supplies we headed upstream out of the City through Elswood. We soon got into a good, steady, stride. The path is tarmac here, though it does lead away from the riverside every now and again following some old waggon way routes and various other footpaths, but you get a real feeling for how lovely the Newcastle area is even in some of its more deprived areas. We passed the Lemington Glass Works site and a statue commemorating the 38 lives lost in the Montagu Mining Disaster of 1925.
At Newburn the path passes back down to the riverside and we took a break on a bench by the Riverside Country Park visitor centre where the cafe provided us with coffee and a biscuit as well as refilling our water bottles. I had stopped on pretty much the same bench on my cycle ride a few years earlier on a similarly warm day.
The Tyne valley along here is glorious and the going was still good, although by now we feeling a little frazzled and hadn’t gone quite as far as we had hoped by this time of the day. The path diverts away from the river to follow the old Wylam Waggonway track for a mile or so before we had to turn to the right and tackle the first hill of the walk; a long but steady climb up onto Heddon on the Wall.
After a few hours walking and having got used to flat ground the hill took it out of us a bit, but eventually we made it to the top. We took a short diversion (although it felt a lot longer at the time) to get our first glance of the wall since leaving Wallsend, and then found a small park close to a garage and shop. We got some fresh drinks and some extra food from the shop, made use of the garage toilet, and had a good refreshing lunch on a bench in the shade of the park.
Despite the time we had already taken we still had a long way to walk today. We were over half way; but not by too much. From now on up we were off the flat riverside land and, whilst we had climbed the main hill of the day, the path ahead promised some good undulations and lots of stiles to climb over.
At least we now had the feeling that we were actually following the wall. The vallum was obvious to the south in many places and there were some suspiciously well faced stones in some of the field walls. The miles ticked over slowly. We were tired now; out of snacks and low on water. A couple of diversions around some fields were known and planned for, but still felt like they were taking us out of our way when we just wanted to get to the end of the day. Passing the Great Northern Lake (a couple of reservoirs built to power some of the Victorian factories of Newcastle) indicated that we were getting close – just a mile or two to go – but despite the open countryside we couldn’t yet see our destination in front of us; it was hopefully hidden behind some trees rather than still beyond the horizon.
The light was starting to fail as we eventually came out of a footpath to the side of the road and realised that we had made it to the hamlet of East Wallhouses and our destination for the night The Robin Hood Inn was clearly visible. It was a very welcome site and is a lovely pub – if you’re up that way it’s definitely worth a visit.
We had twin rooms for the night (due to availability rather than choice). We rested up and got refreshed and slowly and gingerly on tired legs walked back down to the bar for a much needed pint or two and a lovely pie based supper before heading back up for a well earned sleep.
We woke up on the Saturday morning stiff but ready for another day of walking. The day was looking quite bright as we dressed and stiffly negotiated the stairs down to the bar for breakfast. We’d done one full day of walking but were still unsure how we might get on today. We ate well – though not so much that we couldn’t move! As well as breakfast, the Robin Hood Inn had prepared a packed lunch for us both. As we continued westwards we would be in fairly open countryside and were not likely to come upon too many supermarkets.
Ready for off we gathered our bags, checked out, stamped our passports at the box on the wall of the pub, and started walking West, leaving just after 8am. By now, in late September, the sun was still low on the horizon at this hour. There were a few morning clouds but it looked like they would burn off and it promised to turn into a nice day. The path follows the line of the ditch by the side of the busy road but it was a pleasant start. We passed Wallhouses and Halton Shields and across a small part of the unexcavated fort at Halton Chester before coming to the roundabout that marked the junction of the Wall and the Roman Dere Street (which ran from York into Scotland). There was likely an impressive gate here at the time of the wall but now there is just an old pub recently converted to a coffee shop and café. There weren’t going to be many places to stop so, although we had not yet ventured overly far, we took a quick break for coffee and cake.
For the next few miles, the remains of the Vallum on the South side of the wall were particularly clear. The path then carried on through a plantation which had some uneven ground and lots of tree root trip hazards, however the trees did provide some cover from the sun which was now getting quite strong. We were about 8 miles into the day by the time we arrived at the site of the Battle of Heavenfield where we made a quick diversion to look at St Oswald’s Church (where we also made grateful use of the pews for a few minutes to rest our feet).
From here we started to drop down from the hills and came upon the first visible stretch of wall since Heddon. The path then takes a diversion along some lanes to avoid a busy stretch of wall side road with no footpath. We headed down into the North Tyne Valley and towards the first major Roman site since Wallsend. After walking to, and across, the bridge over the river, and having walked through Chollerford we were very much ready to have a break at Chesters Fort.
We paid the entrance fee and started with a good look around the excellent antiquarian museum and then found a bench to sit and eat our packed lunch. We had a look around the excavated remains of the fort, probably slightly less full heartedly than we would if we weren’t already tired. We had an ice cream, stamped our passports, and got back on the road.
From the valley the only way was up. From the top some stiles (there are a lot of stiles on the route) led us into a field and into Northumberland National Park. Upon entering the park we were soon we were starting to get to the good stuff so far as the wall is concerned. The stretch through the National Park would take us the rest of today and most of tomorrow. Within the Park we would be following some of the best preserved bits of the wall along the most beautiful and dramatic countryside.
The start of this stretch is marked by a stretch of wall at Black Carts. This is the longest section of wall so far on the route coming in this direction. The joy of finding some proper wall remains here also helps to hide that you are still slowly but steadily climbing onto the hills.
The wall remains disappear but the ditch remains very evident and before long we were turning the ‘corner’ at Limestone Corner. We were at the most northerly point on the walk and the landscape was opening up wider and wider with every passing mile.
It was also getting later though and we had to press on. It was almost 5 o’clock by the time we turned the corner with the best part of 4 or 5 miles to walk. The path follows the line of the ditch close to the road but on the grass, the path is quite uneven and the walking was slower as a result.
Despite this we were soon at the site of Brocolitia Fort, partially excavated but with no extant above ground remains. The path here crosses the road and skirts around the fort. It is pretty, but did add a few more yards onto the straight line distance remaining. You do, however, get to visit the temple of Mithras which is evacuated and open for viewing. After the fort we crossed the road back onto the ditch and some more uneven ground.
With time ticking on, and the sun beginning to set, we came to a point where the path and the road diverge. Here we jumped the fence and onto the road. Our guide book warned against doing this, but we were late and our B&B was a short way ahead alongside the road so this should be a good shortcut. It wasn’t much fun though. Although not the busiest stretch of road, being straight and open most drivers were, shall we say, playing fast and loose with the speed regulations.
However in front of us we could spy the Old Repeater Station and, at just around half past six and roughly 10 and a half hours after leaving the Robin Hood, we arrived and kicked off our walking boots. Les, the owner of the B&B was cooking and we had just enough time to shower and change and join him and two other walkers for a simple but excellent supper and a couple of beers. The other two gentlemen, not traveling together, were an American retired teacher and a Dutch airplane mechanic and Roman reenactor.
The company was excellent. We exchanged tales of where we had been and what was ahead (we were walking in different directions so could share tips). Both gents were using a service that was transporting their luggage from one B&B to the next. Why didn’t we think of that? I resolved to call the company in the morning and see if we could do the same.
Tired, but feed and refreshed, we went back to our bunk beds and fell quickly to sleep.