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Hadrian’s Wall – Things to Do

By Dawn Rainbolt
More by Dawn

Welcome to Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian’s Wall is one of England’s most important ancient monuments. An incredible vestige of Roman Britain, Hadrian’s Wall once marked the edge of the Roman Empire. Spanning 80 Roman miles and nearly 2,000 years old, Hadrian’s Wall has seen a second life in recent years as an adventure and outdoor hotspot.

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Learn more about the history of Hadrian’s Wall and the Romans here.

Where is Hadrian’s Wall?

Hadrian's Wall FAQs

How do you explore Hadrian's Wall? Read More

Though you can visit some of Hadrian’s Wall by car, to truly experience the enormity and understand the importance and uniqueness of Hadrian’s Wall, you should choose to walk Hadrian’s Wall Path or bike Hadrian’s Cycleway. Both are great options and these waymarked routes allow you to follow the wall in its entirety or to follow sections to see its forts and milecastles.

How long is Hadrian's Wall? Read More

Hadrian’s Wall stretches for 80 Roman miles – about 75 of today’s modern miles. The Wall is broken up into turrets, milecastles, and forts based on the Roman unit of measurement. Most people take about 6-7 days to walk the full length of the trail if covering an average of about 15 miles or 25 km per day.

For those travelling by bike, Hadrian’s Cycleway typically takes about 4 days, if covering an average of about 35 miles (or 50 km) per day.

Which is the best part of Hadrian's Wall to visit? Read More

This is a tough question to answer because the short answer is that the whole wall is an amazing monument. After all, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

If starting from Newcastle, the first intact 100m of the wall is found near the quiet village of Heddon-on-the-Wall. Afterwards, at Plantrees, the wall design changed from 3m wide to 2m near the fort of Chesters.

Near the village of Once Brewed, spot the famous Sycamore Gap. Not far from there is the famous fort of Vindolanda, an active archaeology site. Carlisle was founded by Romans and is home to an incredible medieval castle, and beyond the city, expect some wonderful hiking through an established Area of Natural Outstanding Beauty.

Should I walk Hadrian's Wall from Newcastle or Carlisle? Read More

Hadrian’s Wall can be walked in either direction. There are differing opinions on which is the better option. Some say the weather is better west to east, but our route follows the wall in the direction that it was built, starting in Newcastle in the east and walking or cycling to Carlisle and Bowness on Solway in the west. Of course, if preferred, the Hadrian’s Wall route can be reversed to suit the opposite direction.

What is the Antonine Wall? Read More

The Antonine Wall is located 115 miles north, in modern-day Scotland. This wall post-dates Hadrian’s Wall, and for about 20 years, demarcated the northernmost reaches of the Roman Empire. After a short time garrisoning the Antonine Wall, Roman soldiers returned to using Hadrian’s Wall as their northern border. Very little is left of the Antonine Wall.

Things to Do at Hadrian’s Wall

In 1987, Hadrian’s Wall was awarded UNSECO status and then in 2003, the Hadrian’s Wall Path became England’s 15th National Trail. Then of course there’s National Cycle Route #72, more commonly known as “Hadrian’s Cycleway,” as much of the route stays close to the great Roman monument. Needless to say, Hadrian’s Wall is the perfect convergence of nature, adventure, history and culture in Northern England.

Hadrian's Wall hiking

Hiking at Hadrian’s Wall

Outdoor enthusiasts visiting Hadrian’s Wall will be drawn to walking the Hadrian’s Wall Path. Inaugurated in 2003, this 84-mile-long (135km) trail closely follows the monument from Wallsend on the east coast of England to Bowness-on-Solway on the west coast.

The whole trail will take most hikers 6-8 days, with an average of about 20km per day. It is a linear trail so keep in mind you will start in Newcastle upon Tyne and finish in Bowness on Solway (near Carlisle). There are day-long options as well for those who can’t commit to an 80+ mile long undertaking, though we think each section of Hadrian’s Wall is equally as incredible and unique.

Cycling Hadrian's Wall Cycleway northern England

Cycling Hadrian’s Cycleway

If you prefer exploring the world on two wheels, Hadrian’s Wall delivers. National Cycle Route #72, part of England’s notable network of cycling routes is a 170-mile exploration into England’s Roman past. Nicknamed “Hadrian’s Cycleway,” the bike route follows much of Hadrian’s Wall and offers a different way to discover the UNESCO site.

Hadrian’s Cycleway starts in Kendal, scoots along the Cumbrian Coast, and then cuts cross-country through Carlisle and Newcastle upon Tyne to finish up at Tynemouth. Along the way, Hadrian’s Cycleway offers plenty of cultural stops for culture lovers and panoramic views for nature lovers.

Museums

Being one of England’s – and Roman Britain’s – most important ancient sites, Hadrian’s Wall is naturally home to a plethora of museums dedicated to this history of the area.

Hadrian’s Wall Gallery in the Great North Museum – At the Hadrian’s Wall Gallery in Newcastle, find artefacts from every major site on Hadrian’s Wall on display. A visit to this museum provides visitors with fascinating insights into the building, daily life and subsequent history of Hadrian’s Wall, Roman Britain, and the Roman Empire. As this museum is located near the start of Hadrian’s Wall Path, Hadrian’s Wall Gallery is an excellent way to start your trip.

There are also a number of museums along the wall, generally accompanying the wall’s forts. Though far from a comprehensive list, find museums on Hadrian’s Wall, Roman history and culture, archaeology and more at:

Archaeology

Inspired by Indiana Jones? Did you know that you can try your hand as an archaeologist at Vindolanda? For the past 25 years or so, Vindolanda has been an active archaeological site, and each year from March to September, the fort recruits hundreds of volunteers. If this interests you, be sure to book your place well in advance as spaces fill up quickly.

Not interested in digging? Feel free to stop by and watch the archaeological team at work – questions are encouraged. Of course, there are plenty of other ways to get your ancient archaeology fix on Hadrian’s Wall. In fact, it’s rather difficult to get away from archaeology at this UNESCO site.

Three types of constructions spaced at even intervals were built along the wall: turrets, milecastles, and forts. The Romans erected 158 turrets (this works out to two turrets in between each milecastle), 80 milecastles – one for each Roman mile – as well as numerous larger forts, which resembled frontier towns. Keep reading to learn more about a few of the notable forts.

Wallsend – Segedunum Fort & Museum in Newcastle

During ancient times, the appropriately-named Wallsend was home to the Roman fort of Segedunum (meaning “strong fort”), which offered protection along the eastern end of the wall. Hadrian’s Wall was built to be both a show of power as well as a defensive structure, separating the “civilised” Roman Empire from the “barbaric” northern reaches. (That said, it should be noted that the Romans did trade with the northerners above the wall).

Today, Wallsend is a historic town sitting along the banks of the Tyne. You can still visit the vestiges of the fort Segedunum, which housed up to 600 Roman soldiers from all over the Empire for some 300 years. It is cited as the most excavated site along Hadrian’s Wall and a great site to visit to become acquainted with the wall and its forts.

Located at Wallsend, find an interactive museum, a full-scale reconstruction of a Roman bathhouse, a section of wall, and a 35-metre-high viewing tower which provides outstanding birds-eye views over the Segedunum Fort.

Hadrian's Wall

Chesters Roman Fort

This impressive fort was once home to a spectacular Roman bathhouse. Nestled along the North Tyne, Chesters’ spa and baths must have offered a way to relax for those who lived along the wall. Interestingly, Roman baths were like a combination of our modern cafes, social media and conference rooms. Offering visitors a chance to chat with friends, conduct business, and network with others all the while sitting in a relaxing environment.

Chesters was a calvary fort, once housing up to 500 soldiers in Hadrian’s time. Possibly vacant when the Antonine Wall (in modern-day Scotland) was in use, Chesters’ soldiers and their families came from all over the Roman Empire from Dalmatia to Spain and beyond.

After abandonment by the Romans in the 4th century, many stones were later quarried for other constructions, starting with Hexam’s stone church and carrying on into the 18th century.

Housesteads Hadrian's Wall

Credit: VB/Andrew Pickett

Housesteads Fort

Reputed to be the most complete fort of Roman Britain and Hadrian’s Wall, this large site garrisoned 800 men in its heyday. Centrally located along Hadrian’s Wall Path, Housesteads Fort, originally called Vercovicium, predates the surrounding wall. As in many Hadrian’s Wall forts, the men who lived at Housesteads were part of auxiliary units. These were units comprised of soldiers from previously conquered regions, such as the Tungrians, who were Celtic people from Gaul (modern-day Belgium).

Just over a mile away from Housesteads Fort is Sewingshields Crags, where visitors will find a length of the wall impressively situated on Whin Sill. From this vantage point, the countryside expands in all directions, with the wall following the roll of the landscape. Enjoy stunning views of the craggy hills as well as the markings of ancient earthworks in the region. Unsurprisingly, there is also a milecastle here.

The Temple of Mithras

Procolita Fort (sometimes known as Carrarburgh Fort) was the final fort added to Hadrian’s Wall, in 134 AD. The reason why Procolita is of interest is that this small fort contains the vestiges of a temple dedicated to the god Mithras.

What’s fascinating about Mithras is that this god originated in the Near East – an incredible distance that is more than 4,500 km from Hadrian’s Wall. The Romans were exceptional at incorporating new gods into their ever-expanding pantheon. Ancient carvings are still visible on the alters at the temple.

On the reverse side, statues were found at Condercum fort (now at the Great North Museum) near Newcastle depicting a god called Antenociticus – the only place this god has ever been found in Roman Britain. Was he a local god that the Romans incorporated into their religion? Or perhaps a god especially envisioned for Hadrian’s Wall? Transported by auxiliaries? The answer is lost to history.

Corbridge Roman Town & Museum

Due to its strategic location, Corbridge was selected as the site of a new Roman strong fort in 90 AD. After all, the River Tyne was an effective highway to transport goods including building materials. Corbridge went through several iterations, a period of vacancy, re-occupations, and finally new renovations in stone.

Today’s visitor will see the stone vestiges of Corbridge commissioned during Emperor Septimius Severus’s reign circa 200 AD. From that point on for the next 200 years, Corbridge housed a military garrison as well as a bustling town.

Wander along the streets of what erupted into a thriving border town, and walk down the high street, then known as the main Roman throughway called the Stangate, which once ran all the way to Carlisle. Learn more here.

Birdoswald Fort & Roman Army Museum in Brampton

Once a bog later drained by the Romans, Birdoswald Fort was an integral part of Hadrian’s Wall. Like other forts, it was manned by auxiliary forces from other reaches of the Roman Empire – this time, it was Dacians (modern-day Romania). Birdoswald also has remnants of the original turf wall with a replica in the visitor centre. Set in a rather scenic part of Hadrian’s Wall Path, enjoy views over the River Irthing and the gorge below the monument. With just over 20% of the fort reputed to have been studied and excavated, Birdoswald along with the rest of Hadrian’s Wall forts still has offer much to teach future generations.

Visit Hadrian’s Wall Beyond the Forts

Sightseeing at Hadrian’s Wall may seem focused on Roman heritage and the vestiges of Roman Britain. And while this is true, there are also a number of other sites beyond the Roman Era worth exploring when hiking or cycling Hadrian’s Wall.

Credit: VB/Andrew Pickett

Newcastle upon Tyne

Set on the River Tyne banks, Newcastle upon Tyne is the start (or end) point of Hadrian’s Wall Path and cycleway. If time allows, Newcastle is an interesting place to visit in itself. This university city is known for its nightlife. It also has a proud history of theatres as well as a long-time economy as a shipbuilding hub alongside mirror city Gateshead on the opposite river bank. There are a number of historical sites worth visiting in the city, including the enormous medieval castle keep, Millennium Bridge, a number of theatres and more. Of course, it has Roman history too, buried layers down at the birth of the city.

Credit: Visit Britain

Carlisle

This Cumbrian county town unsurprisingly started life as a Roman settlement. But the city of Carlisle goes beyond its Roman origins. Much like during ancient times, Carlisle’s location along the border with Scotland gave it military significance during the Middle Ages. Carlisle developed an economy around textiles and mills, and later, railways. This great border city is home to a mighty medieval fortress – the epic Carlisle Castle, built in 1092 – which is still impressing visitors today.

Walltown Country Park

Nestled along the line of Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland National Park, Walltown Country Park sits on top of a former quarry that was landscaped upon its closure in 1976. It is a peaceful place for walking, running, or simply enjoying being outdoors. Walltown Park is a short distance from the Walltown turret and milecastle.

It isn’t the only quarry in the area – also of note is Cawfield Quarry, located by milecastle 42. Today, Cawfield is home to jagged craggy cliffs that plunge into a picturesque lake. Learn more about Walltown here.

Thirlwall Castle

Leave the Roman era behind for a bit and step into the medieval era at Thirlwall Castle, an imposing 12th-century ruin built to protect lords of the Borderlands against Scottish raids. As was common practice before we developed the notion of preserving the past, Thirlwall Castle uses stones “borrowed” from nearby Hadrian’s Wall.

After new peace treaties were signed at the turn of the 1600s, Thirlwall Castle fell into disrepair as the estate was used only for its land. Thirlwall has attracted many romantic poets, artists and travellers who find inspiration in its crumbling ruins to this day. Learn more here.

Hadrian's Wall in Pop Culture

We’ve talked about the well-beloved legend of Robin Hood and its Hollywood connections to Hadrian’s Wall. But there’s another big pop culture reference worth noting. For fans of Game of Thrones, many of the details about Hadrian’s Wall might sound familiar.

That’s because George R.R. Martin has admitted that Hadrian’s Wall was the main inspiration behind the Wall in the North, sometimes known as the Ice Wall, in his epic fantasy series. Like Roman Hadrian’s Wall and its forts, Martin’s Wall and its “fort” Castle Black were built to be the final outpost of an empire, delineating the “civilised” world to the south and the “barbaric” world to the north, with manned forts, towers and gates built at regular intervals.

Like Hadrian’s Wall, those who manned Martin’s Wall were the empire/kingdom’s first line of defence. And in both cases, those living on the wall ended up interacting a lot more than expected with those who inhabited the northern lands.

Food & Drink

England might not be famous for its food and drink, but you’d be surprised at how well you’ll eat when you’re in England. Want to ensure you’re getting all the local tastes? Read on for a few culinary bites to try while hiking or cycling Hadrian’s Wall.

Twice Brewed beers Hadrian's Wall

Drink Local

Along the way, stop in the uniquely-named village of Once Brewed where you can enjoy a local beer in the Twice Brewed Tap House.

Located along Hadrian’s Wall, Twice Brewed is proud to be part of a 2,000-year-old brewing tradition, and the brewery claims to take inspiration from Hadrian’s Wall itself. Some of their beers include the Sycamore Gap (a pale ale) and the Ale Caesar! (an amber ale), along with a number of other beers named after Roman gods and Roman ideals.

Twice Brewed Taphouse is the perfect place to treat yourself to a pint or two as you’re about halfway through your Hadrian’s Wall journey. Learn more here.

Locally-bred Lamb

Northern England is a place famous for its great green pastures of sheep. With plenty of sheep in every direction, it should not come as a surprise to find plenty of lamb dishes on any good menu.

You can’t get much more local or sustainable when tasting the locally-bred Northern English lambs which are usually sourced just a few miles down the way. There are a number of lamb dishes to try while hiking or cycling Hadrian’s Wall.

While in Northern England, you might like to try a traditional lamb hot pot, a stew usually including a variety of vegetables – whatever was available and in season – slow-cooked on low heat for hours. Or you might want to taste a flavourful lamb with mint sauce, another traditional dish expertly cooked using local lamb and paired with a sauce made from fresh English mint.

Cumberland Sausages

Cumberland sausages are pork sausages that originated in the traditional region of Cumberland (now Cumbria). Typically about 50cm long, and traditionally rolled up, they are seasoned with pepper and other spices and made from chopped meat. This is a dish with 500 years of history and thus cumberland sausages benefit from a protected status.

Craster Kippers

Craster kippers are actually a fish meal. These smoked fish are produced in the North Sea-facing villages of Craster (hence the name) and Seahouses and are a traditional breakfast dish from Northumberland. Craster kippers are best eaten simply, paired only with buttered brown bread.

Kendal Mint Cake

From the southern end of the Lake District, Kendal mint cakes are a popular and delicious delicacy in Northern England. This sugary delight is pure sweet tooth treat, and it is that extra energy pep that makes Kendal mint cakes popular with hikers and cyclists. After a day out walking Hadrian’s Wall Path, you’re entitled to a treat or two!

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Perhaps not as easy to carry along for trail snacks as Kendal mint cake, the sticky toffee pudding is a staple of English desserts. This ‘pudding’ is actually a type of sponge cake made with chopped dates and toffee sauce. It is often paired with vanilla ice cream or custard. The recipe’s origins are not known (there are many claims to who first invented this famous dessert), but it is likely only about 100 years old.


Visit Hadrian's Wall

Meet the Author: Dawn Rainbolt

American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she is passionate about sharing her love of the UK & Ireland with visitors from across the world.

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