Hadrian’s Wall is one of the UKs most impressive historical attractions. Stretching over 73 miles from coast to coast, it was once the final frontier of the Roman Empire, built to defend Roman occupied England against the wild Celtic Picts. Now it is one of the most important Roman remains in Britain and one of the most iconic features of northern England, serving as one of the UKs premier hiking trails with plenty of staycation options along the way. With so much to see and do along the Hadrian Wall path here is an expert guide with some suggested itineraries to get the most out of your visit.
This is a paid article written in partnership with National Trails, with products or services supplied by them. Full editorial integrity is maintained at all times. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.
The Hadrian’s Wall Path is one that I have walked many times over the years, once even taking the time to complete the full 84 miles with full kit over a number of days and staying at various lodges and campsites along the way, but mostly taking my time exploring shorter stretches and simply enjoying some of my favourite parts of the English countryside with shorter staycations in different counties.
As a history lover I have always been lucky to be able to take in the UNESCO world heritage site itself and exploring some of my own country’s ancient history surrounding it practically on my own doorstep, and to have the option to do that on a day out or a longer staycation means that I can fit a visit in no matter how much or little time I have. That is one of the best things about Hadrian’s wall, as one of England’s premier national trails it can be done east to west or west to east, all at once or in shorter, more manageable chunks as part of a short or long staycation. You can hike it all or just walk specific parts and use easily accessible public transport for the rest. It is entirely up to you. However you explore it, Hadrian’s Wall should definitely be on everyone’s staycation bucket list!
Now that National Trails has added specific itinerary ideas and route plans to its impressive list of walks and countryside journeys in England and Wales, you really have no excuse not to come and explore this iconic site all for yourself!
What Is Hadrian’s Wall?
Hadrian’s Wall was the north west frontier of the Roman Empire, built in approximately 122 A.C.E by the Roman Emperor Hadrian to protect the Empire from the ‘barbarians’, otherwise known as the Celtic Picts. It took over six years to complete, following the naturally craggy topography and spanned the entire width of the country from coast to coast, from modern day Bowness on Solway in the east, and Walls End in the west. As it progressed 14 forts were added along the wall as well as gates, milecastles and turrets, and eventually larger communities grew to support the military outposts.
Hadrian’s Wall was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987 as one of the premier examples of an ancient Roman border fortification. In 2005 it was joined by the German Limes and later in 2008 the Antonine Wall, as part of a larger heritage UNESCO project known as the Frontiers of the Roman Empire.
Today four of the ancient Roman forts can be visited along the path, Housesteads Roman Fort, the single most complete Roman fort in Britain, Corbridge Roman Town, where you can see the remains of granaries, markets and temples, Chester’s Roman Fort which was once an ancient army garrison guarding the River Tyne, and Birdoswald Fort, which is one of the most extensive ruins along the path and is a perfect family day out in Cumbria. Along with various trails, museums and other attractions, Hadrian’s Wall is now one of the UKs best and most iconic historical attractions, and having a national trail adventure is one of the best ways to explore it.
Walking The Hadrian’s Wall National Trail.
The Hadrian’s Wall National Trail is extremely accessible for all types of travellers with a basic to reasonable level of fitness. Of course for seasoned hikers and the very fit there are options to make it as difficult as you like if you want to do the full length from coast to coast in as short a time as possible, but in general most sections are graded fairly gentle to moderate. The terrain is relatively flat and grassy for the majority of the walk and can be done in daily sections by most people with a moderate level of fitness. For the elderly or for those with young families there are shorter trails too with plenty of small villages to stop at along the way to spend the night or stop and get something to eat. The most difficult parts of the walk are between Chollerford and Birdoswald involve more undulating terrain where you will have to climb and descend more hilly areas, but nothing too dramatic and this should still be moderate difficulty for most people.
With the path running the entire length of the wall you can traverse the wall from coast to coast in six to ten days at an easy pace, but with so much to see and do the best option is often to choose a specific section and take a week or so as a staycation, then break the trip up into shorter walks and half day or day trips. This will allow you to take in some of the unique experiences along the way and explore some of the surrounding areas too.
While exploring the Hadrian’s Wall Path you will be walking among some of England’s best and most stunning rural landscapes, so why not take the opportunity to escape your everyday life and reconnect with nature whilst you explore some of its most important heritage?
There are plenty of amazing accommodation options along the path, and some great places to stop for lunch and dinner, so the hardest thing you will have to do is decide what parts of the Hadrian’s Wall Walk you want to do! Luckily for you these extremely useful staycation itineraries from National Trails have everything you would ever want from an epic trip, with multiple hiking and walking options and plenty of opportunities for adventure and exploration in between, so you can pick and choose to do it all in one big trip or break it up into shorter staycations. The choice is yours!
Hadrian’s Wall West: Romans, Rambling And Relaxation In Historic Cumbria.
Starting at the central section of Hadrian’s Wall, this four day itinerary will take you to the western edge of the ancient frontier, taking you through the stunning landscape of Cumbria and the Lake District all the way to the designated areas of outstanding natural beauty on the western coast, all the while following in the footsteps of Roman Legionnaires as you explore quaint market towns and the vibrant city of Carlisle.
- Days: 4+
- Distance: Various walks between 2 km and 15 km.
- Difficulty rating: Easy.
- All walks should take between one and five hours at an easy pace.
- Extensive bus and train links operate between each destination.
- Stay 2 nights in Brampton and 2 nights in Carlisle, with options to extend your trip or spend alternate nights in Bowness on Solway.
Day 1: Haltwhistle to Hadrian’s Wall.
Start your trip in the exact geographical centre of England in the quintessentially English town of Haltwhistle. Haltwhistle has excellent transport options with a train station that sits on the line between Carlisle and Newcastle, plenty of accomodation options to suit any budget, independent shops, restaurants and cafe’s and is a pleasant place to extend your trip by a day if you want to explore a little when you arrive.
Start your Roman adventure in Haltwhistle with a visit to the Roman Army Museum in nearby Greenhead (local bus service AD122 will get you there). Based on the site of the Magna Roman Fort, this is the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself into the life of a Roman Legionnaire and discover what life was like for soldiers on the frontier over 2000 years ago. The exhibits include an array of armour and weaponry to ancient coins and everyday objects, but also include a lot of interactive 3D displays making it ideal for history buffs and families alike.
After your taster of life as a Roman Legionnaire, a short drive or bus journey will take you to nearby Birdoswald where you will find the longest and most complete section of Hadrian’s wall. An easy walk along relatively flat grassy terrain will let you discover the extensive remains of a Roman fort and various turrets and milecastles as you head toward the Roman bridge at Willowford and back. Finding your way is pretty easy, you literally just follow the wall. You can also head west in the opposite direction toward Gilsland to see the ancient ditch and turf wall as well as take in some of the amazing surrounding countryside, where there are dozens of short walks and hikes to nearby historical landmarks like Harrow’s Scar milecastle, beauty spots and viewing areas that look over the Irthing valley. None of the individual walks should take more than an hour or two but you can easily spend an afternoon gently exploring the area. Don’t forget to go into the visitors centre in Birdoswald either, they are a literal treasure trove of information and can help with directions too.
Where to eat: Birdoswald cafe, Birdoswald Roman Fort.
After you are done for the day, head back to Haltwhistle train station and catch the train to Brampton, where you can spend the night ready for your next day.
Day 2. Bimble in Brampton.
Brampton is a quaint English market town that seems purpose built just to put on a postcard. Surrounded by woodland and the English countryside of Geltsdale and the Irthing Valley, there are countless options for rambling or hiking through the picturesque scenery if you want to extend your stay an extra night or two, but focusing more on walking the Hadrian’s Wall path, you can set off in the morning to Lanercost Priory.
The Brampton to Lanercost Priory walk is 6.5 km long and is rated gentle or easy. It is a simple linear walk that takes you past Brampton’s moat mound, the ruins of a medieval castle built on top of an ancient glacial ridge and now the site of a statue of the 7th Earl of Carlisle. The scenery along this stretch of the walk is spectacular and it is worth just taking your time to soak it all in.
The Lannercost Priory is a 13th Century A.C.E church which saw a lot of action during the Anglo Scottish wars and was the site of King Edward I’s death on his final campaign. It is also interesting to note that the church is partly built from stones that were nicked from Hadrian’s Wall by less than holy monks! This stretch of the walk should take up a nice easy morning at a leisurely pace.
Where to eat: Lanercost Tea Room, Lanercost.
After lunch you can take a walk (or get a bus or Uber) to Talkin Tarn Country Park, just two miles outside of Brampton. Take your time exploring the circular route around the lake through the mature woodland and keep your eye out for local roe deer and red squirrel.
After this you can spend a second night in Brampton or Talkin.
Day 3: Carlisle, Old and New.
Head to Brampton train station in the morning and take the 20 minute train to Carlisle city centre. Carlisle is one of my favourite always forgotten about cities in the UK and I have lost count of how many times I have stayed over here going back and forth to Glasgow. On the surface Carlisle is a modern, vibrant city and a great opportunity to extend your staycation with a mini city break if you want to explore the shops and restaurants, not to mention the sights of the famous Carlisle Castle where Mary Queen of Scots was held captive, or the Cumbria Museum of Military Life which is an absolute must see.
Carlisle is best known for its 2000 year old history, not just as a strategic site in the Anglo Scottish Wars, but for its connections to the Roman Empire and its importance in the establishing of Hadrian’s Wall itself. When the Emperor Hadrian visited, the frontier between England and Scotland already existed between Carlisle and Corbridge, and the largest fort on the wall itself was established here for the Ala Petriana, one of Rome’s elite cavalry units, as the wall ran through what was then known as Uxelodunum, now modern day Stanwix, a suburb of Carlisle. Archaeological finds are still being discovered today, with the famous bath house being considered a premier league find being the most recent, and history lovers can find out more at the permanent Roman Frontier exhibition at the Tullie House Museum.
Overnight in Carlisle itself and take advantage of the city’s restaurants.
Where To Stay: The Halston Aparthotel, Carlisle.
Day 4: Carlisle to the Sea.
In the morning you can leave Carlisle and head to Bowness on Sea, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and also the western end of the Hadrian’s Wall Path. Hugging the Solway Firth coastline, a rugged, beautiful stretch of coast full of amazing beaches, protected sand dunes and salt marshes, the path leads to a stunning seaside end to your Hadrian’s Wall adventure!
There are two options for this section of the walk. The longest is the direct route from Carlisle city all the way to Bowness on Sea. This route is 15 kilometres long, the longest on this itinerary, flat all the way and rated easy, and should take you between four and five hours at an easy pace. Once you get out of the city itself the path moves along the national trail and is a haven for birds and wildlife.
If you don’t have that long or aren’t feeling up to walking that distance, the shorter option is to catch the bus to the small fishing village of Port Carlisle and take the 5km circular route to Bowness on Sea from there. The route is still flat and easy but you should cut your walking time by a third and should only take a couple of hours.
Where to eat: Kings Arms, Bowness-on-Solway.
From here you have the option to have a late lunch and stay overnight in Bowness on Sea, or head back to Carlisle to stay over a second night and end your adventure there. If you want to extend your trip even further I would strongly recommend walking down to Ravensglass which is the actual sit where Hadrian’s Wall ends, and is an ancient and extremely picturesque coastal village right in the heart of the Lake District National Park. This was once the site of the westernmost Roman fort and the remains of the bath house are the tallest Roman structures surviving in Britain today. The Senhouse Roman Museum at Maryport is also well worth a visit to round off your Roman adventure!
Where to stay: Wallsend Guest House & Glamping Pods, Bowness-on-Solway.
Hadrian’s Wall East: Five Days And Two Millenia Of History In Wild Northumberland.
Located in England’s hardy north east corner, Northumberland’s wild, rugged countryside and remote, sparsely populated coastline remains largely unchanged from the time the Roman Empire occupied it, easily evoking a distant past when Hadrian’s wall was used to defend against barbarians to the north. It is hardly surprising that this was the inspiration for the wall that protected the Seven Kingdoms from the White Walkers in Game of Thrones. There may not be vast walls of ice, but what this eastern section of the wall does have is dramatic cliffs, valleys and hills that offer spectacular views across the raw, rugged eastern countryside. The wall itself is still largely intact for long stretches that make for easy hiking trails, and is home to some fascinating archaeological finds that can be rediscovered by anyone with even a passing interest in history. With the sheer amount of links to the past still on display, it is easy to feel yourself being drawn back in time and imagine what the Roman occupation must have felt like for the locals and the soldiers stationed here.
But this five day Northumberland staycation isn’t just about connecting with the fascinating Roman history of Hadrian’s Wall, but is about exploring the English heritage that evolved from it, with diversions that explore ancient market towns, Victorian Gaols and of course indulge in some of the counties local cuisine fine traditional ales at England’s quirkiest village, Once Brewed, Twice Brewed.
- Days: 5+
- Distance: Various walks between 4 km and 10 km.
- Difficulty rating: Easy to moderate.
- All walks should take between one and five hours at an easy pace.
- Extensive bus and train links operate between each destination.
- Stay 2 nights in Hexham and 2 nights in Once Brewed, Twice Brewed. An extra night can be spent in either destination.
Day 1: Hexham, The Best Market Town.
Hexham is a picturesque, quintessentially English market town and is the ideal base for exploring Northumberland and the Hadrian’s Wall path, but with a grand Augustine Abbey, more independent shops and amenities in its cobbled alleyways than any other market town along Hadrian’s Wall and a history that includes Viking raids, Border Reivers, Roman conquest and the country’s very first purpose built gaol, there is a huge amount of dark tourism to explore in such a small area, which is why adding an extra day to the start of your trip to explore it properly is a great idea.
Starting your trip here means you are literally spoilt for choice for things to do. A visit to the stunning Hexham Abbey is a must. It is a working place of worship but also allows those with an interest in history to discover its Saxon heritage and Roman tomb, and its early English architecture is worth admiring. Hexham’s Old Gaol, now a small museum, is also worth an hour or so if a dose of dark tourism alongside history is your thing.
For those who prefer a more leisurely day Hexham has a ton of independent shops you can easily get lost in as you explore the cobbled streets, and there are a lot of independent coffee shops and cafe’s you can pop into as well to make sure you are refreshed and ready to start exploring on day two.
Day 2: Corbridge and Castles.
Start your day by heading to Hexham train station early in the morning. From there get the five minute train to Corbridge. Corbridge was once the most northerly town in the Roman Empire and is a haven for independent shops, pubs, cafe’s and restaurants, and there are a few decent tea rooms as well if you want to have a late breakfast. It’s also a good idea to pick up supplies for a picnic here too.
From Corbridge you will be hiking on the circular walk to Aydon Castle. From the train station walk to the bridge over the River Tyne to Princes street, the route is very well signposted from there and this is the same point that the circular route will end as well. This is a 10 km moderate walk through ancient woodland that leads to Aydon, one of the best examples of a 13th Century, fortified manor house in England. Originally built as a simple manor house, the fortifications were added at the outset of the Anglo Scottish war and subsequent conquering and reconquering by Scottish and English forces alike. The walled orchard is a really pleasant place for that aforementioned picnic for lunch if you picked up supplies earlier, and then you can take an easy walk back through the woods to Corbridge. The whole walk should take no more than 4 or 5 hours at a slow, easy pace, including a leisurely visit to the castle and a picnic lunch.
Once you get back to Corbridge you can spend the rest of the afternoon at Corbridge Roman Town, an open air museum that showcases what life was once like in this once vibrant Roman community, a civilian settlement that supported the troops on the wall and lasted right until the end of Roman Britain in the 5th Century A.C.E. I highly recommend taking some time to visit the small indoor museum too, home to the Corbridge Hoard and Corbridge Collection, two of the most significant Roman archaeological finds along Hadrian’s Wall.
From here, take the train back to Hexham for your second night.
Day 3: Chester’s Roman Fort.
In the morning catch the local Hadrian’s Wall bus (AD122) to Chesters Roman Fort and Museum. This open air museum is a monument to what was once the most extensive Roman cavalry fort in Britain. Known to the Romans as Cilurnum, it was home to the Ala II Asturum, or the second Asturians, a cavalry unit from northern Spain who I can only imagine loved the climate on this wild border region. Take your time and wander round the ruins of what was once the barracks (which were also according to the latest research also the stables), gatehouses and even the bath house. The museum is a small treasure trove of information and ancient artefacts found on site and you can have lunch at the on site tea room.
Where to Eat: Chesters Tea Room, Chesters Roman Fort.
After lunch you can take a nice, easy stroll on the Chesters Roman Fort circular route. Starting and ending at the fort itself this is an easy 4 km walk that takes you past sections of Hadrian’s Wall through Humshaugh and back and should take no more than an hour.
After your walk you can choose to catch the bus back to Hexham for a third night, or push on to Once Brewed Twice Brewed and continue your adventure there.
Once Brewed Twice Brewed is a pleasant village with one of the quirkiest names in England, and the only one with a different name on the sign depending on which direction you come into it from! There are a lot of great cheap accommodation options and it is perfect for exploring the nearby national park, farmland and Hadrian’s Wall.
Day 4: Housesteads and Vindolanda.
Today is going to be a long day with a lot of stuff packed in, but you get to really immerse yourself in the history and archaeology of ancient Rome by visiting some of the most impressive sites in the entire UK. Starting early at Hexham train station catch the regular Hadrians Wall Bus to Housesteads, it is only a short ride but keep your ticket as it gives you a 10% discount on your entrance fee.
Housesteads Roman Fort is one of the best preserved forts on the whole wall, and really gives you an idea of the scale of the defensive forces that once guarded the border region here. The clear lines between the ruined barracks, the ancient granaries and even the hospital are mindblowing once you see them and realise just how entrenched the Roman Empire was on Hadrian’s Wall. If you didn’t get a sense of that from the villages and towns that supported the soldiers stationed here, you will now. The ancient loo is also a pretty amusing, but it is perhaps the panoramic views over the surrounding countryside that is the icing on the cake to your visit here. Just try and imagine hordes of Celts charging the wall from the distance!
From here you can take an easy 3 km walk past some of England’s oldest Oak woodland at the stunning Muckle Moss Nature Reserve to – in my opinion – one of the major highlights along the entire Hadrian’s Wall Walk, Vindolanda.
Where to eat: Vindolanda Cafe, Vindolanda.
Vindolanda is quite simply one of the most impressive ancient Roman archaeological sites in all of Europe, including Italy itself! Consisting of nine ancient forts just south of the actual wall itself, all built on top of each other, and wandering through them is made even more fascinating due to the fact that it is still a working archaeological dig and discoveries are still ongoing.
The nearby Vindolanda museum is an absolute must see and in my opinion probably worth extending your trip for a day out in and of itself. The museum has extensive galleries that tell the story of the Roman Empire and what it was like to be stationed on the wild frontiers of the Empire from a Centurions perspective, including what it was like to come up against the Celts, the only people to halt the relentless march of the Roman Empire, and get a glimpse into just how multicultural the Roman Empire was through the eyes of the Syrian archers based here over 2000 years ago. The exhibits also have a huge range of original artefacts mixed in with reproduction arms and armour to really immerse you in the Roman experience.
Where to eat: The Once Brewed Coffee and Bakehouse, the Sill.
Honestly there is so much to see and do at the museum and Vindolanda that you could quite easily take your time exploring them and end your day here if you want to extend your trip a little, but if you want to carry on, another half hour walk at an easy pace will take you to the Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre to finish off the afternoon.
The Sill is an architectural masterpiece set in the midst of the regions two World Heritage Sites and vast National Park and apart from being an educational hub for the region, it aims to reconnect visitors to the natural and cultural landscape of the area and showcase the importance of conservation.
The Sill is also home to a number of events that celebrate International Dark Sky Week in the week of the new moon every April, since Northumberland is home to England’s first and largest Dark Sky Park and its very own Dark Sky festival, so if you are visiting at this time it is well worth setting aside some extra time to visit here at night.
This is a long day so you will probably want to get back to your accomodation. If you spent the previous night in Hexham then you will be heading to your new home in Once Brewed Twice Brewed tonight, if you chose to push on then at least you won’t have to go through the whole check in and settling in procedure.
Day 5: Sycamore Gap and Beyond.
One of the best circular walks on the Hadrian’s Walk trail has definitely been saved for last as your final day will be spent walking the iconic Sycamore Gap trail. From the Sill, a ten or fifteen minute walk will take you to the Steel Rigg Car Park which is the start and end of this circular route. The route itself is just over 6.5 km and is rated moderate. The route is very well signposted but there are a number of relatively steep hills and undulations in the terrain here, nothing too difficult for those with a moderate fitness level. It should take around three hours to complete at an easy pace. The walk itself is truly one of the best on the wall, it gives you stunning views of Hadrian’s Wall itself as well as the surrounding countryside, and takes you first past the iconic Sycamore tree that the route is named after, then up to the top of Highshield Crags where you can stop for a while to admire the spectacular views across Crag Lough. On the way back you will walk the route known as the Military Way, with various waypoints to help guide you.
In the afternoon head to the Twice Brewed Inn and Brew House for an epic brewery tour in a remote pub with its very own eco brewery. The Twice Brewed Inn boasts a local brewing tradition that dates back to the building of Hadrian’s Wall, using water from their very own well and sustainable methods that use waste water in their own reed bed filtering system and leftover malt that feeds local cattle. You have to pre book a brewery tour but is an excellent way to end your Northumberland staycation and Hadrian’s Wall trek. The on site pub also does excellent meals that fill a huge gap for a late lunch.
After your tour and lunch you can head back to your accommodation for your final night on your Hadrian’s Wall Walk staycation.
The Hadrian’s Wall Walk is one of the best UK staycation ideas for anyone who wants something a little different. Giving travellers the opportunity to explore the rich 2000 year history and heritage of Roman Britain as well as getting some fresh air and exercise in some of the UKs most spectacular countryside and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it also allows you to explore some of England’s lesser known regions and city’s, from Carlisle and Northumberland to Wallsend and Bowness On Solway. Whether you are looking for an epic staycation or are looking to explore a unique part of the UK as part of a larger trip, you can’t go wrong with these itinerary ideas for the Hadrian’s Wall Path.
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