I recently returned from an eight-day, nine-night adventure walking Hadrian’s Wall Path in Northern England. This 84-mile National Trail follows the remains of Hadrian’s Wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and an ancient Roman wall built to protect the Empire’s lands in Britannia from the Caledonians to the north back in 122 AD.
The idea of taking a walking trip has been a bug in my brain ever since I first read about walking holidays in the United Kingdom a few years back. To me, this seemed like the perfect way to mark a milestone birthday or major life event. My trip was first planned for my 50th birthday “journey” in 2020, but that obviously didn’t work out and my solo walking holiday ended up taking place just after dropping off my daughter at college in August as a way to escape my newly-empty nest.
To be honest, I jetted off to England a bit unprepared as my recent focus had been on getting everything needed for a dorm room purchased and delivered. Yes, I had been upping my walking mileage in recent weeks, but not really “training” per se. I was making the big assumption that I was up to the task of walking eight to twelve miles a day for eight days straight.
While I had done some research and read some guidebooks, I still couldn’t wrap my head around what it would really be like to walk long distances every day, on my own, without a guide. Would I be bored? (Not really) Would I get lost? (A couple of times) Would I be able to do it? (Yes but it was hard) And most of all, would I enjoy it? (100 percent!)
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE WALKING HADRIAN’S WALL PATH
If you are considering taking a walking holiday along the Hadrian’s Wall Path in England, here are a few things you should know as you are planning your trip. If you want to see more details about my 8-day walk, read about my full journey along Hadrian’s Wall Path.
1. WHERE DOES HADRIAN’S WALL PATH START AND END?
Hadrian’s Wall Path runs from coast to coast (or just about) in Northern England. It runs between Bowness-on-Solway in the west to Wallsend, near Newcastle, in the east. The path, which is 84 miles long, follows the line of Hadrian’s Wall, many times along the wall’s ancient remains.
The path winds its way through pastures and fields, along country roads, through villages, traversing the cliff edges of the crags, and on paved paths and streets. Along the way, you will encounter historical sights including castles, cathedrals, the remains of ancient Roman forts and signal towers, and bustling cities such as Carlisle and Newcastle.
2. WHICH IS THE BEST DIRECTION TO WALK HADRIAN’S WALL PATH?
If you have researched Hadrian’s Wall Path you may have noticed that many people choose to walk the path from east to west, starting at Wallsend near Newcastle and ending in the more scenic Bowness-on-Solway. I definitely noticed on my walk there were many more people walking west than walking east.
There are pros and cons to each, but overall I’m very happy that I chose to walk from west to east, beginning in Bowness-on-Solway and ending in Wallsend. Here is why:
- Starting in Bowness-on-Solway you start in a scenic village and spend the first day walking through the countryside and small villages. It starts you off with a taste of the English countryside, which, especially if you are coming from overseas, is probably part of what you were looking forward to seeing on your walk. On the flip side, if you start in Wallsend, your first day is urban and suburban, all on pavement.
- The winds tend to blow from west to east, giving you the wind at your back rather than in your face. I lucked out with only one small rain shower but should the weather have turned, I’d much prefer the rain blowing against my back than in my face.
- The beginning of the trail in Bowness-on-Solway is just a small gazebo with a passport stamping station. To me, ending there feels a bit anti-climactic. Even though walking west to east on the last day is a bit brutal on the feet because of the pavement, ending at Segedunum Roman Fort & Museum at least means there will be someone there to greet you as you finish your journey (assuming you finish during hours when the visitor center is open) to congratulate you. There is also a small gift shop if you want to pick up some “I walked Hadrian’s Wall” swag (after walking 84 miles you deserve it) and, most importantly, a bathroom.
- When walking west to east, you can take a day or half of a day in Carlisle before starting if you are flying in from overseas and seeing some of the historic sights, instead of making a long detour on your walk. And, at the end of your walk, you can either backtrack on the Metro to stay in Newcastle for a day or spend a day at the seaside in Whitley Bay. I also extended my trip by taking the train from Newcastle to Edinburgh, which was a short 1.25-hour express train ride north.
3. HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO WALK HADRIAN’S WALL PATH?
How long it takes to walk 84 miles is really up to you and what you feel comfortable with. I did an eight-day, nine-night trip with walking distances of eight to thirteen miles per day. During my trip, the majority of the people I met were walking Hadrian’s Wall Path in five to eight days. Some people added a rest day in the middle and others wanted to power through. I even met someone walking the entire 84 miles in 36 hours for charity.
When planning, I encourage you to be realistic about your abilities and the cumulative effect of walking long distances (carrying a daypack) over several days. A five to eight-day hike of eight to twenty miles a day is NOT the same as five separate hikes of eight to twenty miles each over a more extended period of time. Just because you can walk 15 miles doesn’t mean your body is ready to do it every day in a row for a week.
There isn’t really a right answer as to how long it should take. There is only the right answer for you.
4. WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO WALK HADRIAN’S WALL PATH?
Hiking season runs from April to September and by the end of October, many places of business along the path close down for the winter. The path is fragile from October through April and hikers are asked to avoid the path at this time. Summer is the busiest time to walk, especially on the center section of the path on the weekends and holidays, as those are particularly popular with day hikers. Ideally, you should plan to walk from Walton to Heddon-on-Wall during the week.
Keep in mind that Northern England can be rainy, so expect to have at least one or two rainy days during your walk. In the spring, you will have the benefit of seeing plenty of wildflowers and lambs, but it may also be a bit rainier and you may need to watch the tide schedule near Bowness-on-Solway to avoid flooding.
Early September will be a bit quieter and the weather is generally good. I walked from August 27-September 2nd and found the weather lovely for walking. Temperatures were in the mid-60s to low 70s and I only had one day of light rain showers. Keep in mind that if you are walking in the summer, you should plan to book your accommodation by the spring, as there are limited options with only a handful of rooms that do get booked up.
5. HOW DO YOU GET TO HADRIAN’S WALL PATH?
If you are starting in the west, which is what I would recommend, you can take a train from London Euston Station or Glasgow to Carlisle on the Avanti West Coast Railway. There is also an option to take a long-distance bus on National Express if budget is a concern. I actually stayed in Carlisle for two nights and took a taxi service to Bowness-on-Solway to start my walk on the first day. Alternatively, there are bus services along Hadrian’s Wall Path, just keep in mind that these do not run to Bowness on the weekends.
If you prefer to start in the east, you can take a train to Newcastle from Edinburgh or London Kings Cross on the LNER (London North Eastern Railway.) From Newcastle, it is easy to take the Metro to Wallsend or all the way to South Shields on the coast if you want to make it a true coast-to-coast trip.
6. HOW DO YOU BOOK A WALKING HOLIDAY ON HADRIAN’S WALL PATH?
Booking a walking holiday is fairly straightforward if you have a good guidebook to help identify accommodations along the route. However, I found it much easier to outsource the search for available accommodations and baggage transfers by booking through a walking holiday company.
Walking holiday companies will arrange transfers, book accommodations, take care of luggage transfers, and provide you with an itinerary and guidebook/map for a self-guided trip. There are dozens of companies that specialize in walking trips and offer this service, some specifically for Hadrian’s Wall Path, and others that offer options in multiple countries. I decided to book through Celtic Trails because they offered the itinerary option that I was most interested in (8 days, 9 nights) and in the west-to-east direction that I preferred.
If you prefer a group trip or a guided walking tour, there are a few options available including Hadrian’s Wall Ltd, HF Holidays, and Shepherds Walks Holidays. If you decide you want to camp or book your own accommodations, you can still arrange for baggage transfers through a handful of companies including Hadrian’s Haul and Sherpa Van Project for £7-9 a bag (20 kg weight limit.)
7. WHERE DO YOU STAY ALONG HADRIAN’S WALL PATH?
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If you are on a tight budget, there are campsites, bunkhouses, and hostels along Hadrian’s Wall Path. Wild camping is not allowed, although I did meet one person who was wild camping, however, he did say someone came out to see what he was doing in their field in the morning.
If you are like me and prefer a bit more privacy and comfort, there also are bed and breakfasts, inns, pubs, and even a couple of luxury hotels. If you are looking for a rest day in the middle of the trip, I walked past Walwick Hall boutique hotel near Chester’s Fort and it looked lovely!
Most inns and bed and breakfasts include a hearty English breakfast and many offer packed lunches for an additional fee. If they aren’t conveniently located within walking distance to a town, most will also offer dinner or have a full restaurant/pub.
Keep in mind that if you are traveling on your own and want a private room, you will likely need to pay a bit extra for a single supplement. However, I actually found room rates to be quite affordable, even with a single supplement, especially when compared to big cities like London or Edinburgh.
Also keep in mind that many inns and bed and breakfasts in Northern England do not have air conditioning, as it is typically rarely needed. But given the recent heat waves in Europe in late June/early July, that is something to keep in mind when booking your trip.
This is where I stayed and my quick thoughts:
- Carlisle: Warwick Lodge: comfortable and convenient bed and breakfast, there was quite a bit of street noise though so I would recommend earplugs or my must-have travel item, Sleep Buds by Bose. Walkable to the train station and plenty of restaurants.
- Brampton: Oakwood Park Hotel: a lovely estate home on a farm with welcoming hosts, also offers a large menu of homecooked meals for dinner.
- Gilsland: The Samson Inn: located above a pub/restaurant, this was my least favorite accommodation and the worst burger I’ve ever had, but the convenience is hard to beat.
- Hexham/Once Brewed: The Twice Brewed Inn: located above a craft brewery and pub, this has a fun vibe and one of my favorite amenities — a bathtub! Trust me when I say that after walking the crags a bath will feel so good. They offered a huge breakfast and good food in the restaurant for dinner.
- Simonburn: Simonburn Tea Rooms & Bed and Breakfast: such a lovely bed and breakfast in the countryside, you will need them to pick you up and drop you off at the path but the hospitality is terrific, as are the homemade dinner options. If you arrive early you can enjoy tea or a glass of wine in the beautiful garden.
- Corbridge: Fellcroft Bed & Breakfast: very gracious host, this B&B is more like a home than an inn. Walkable to restaurants in town. You will need to get a transfer to/from the path. I kind of wish I had continued on to Heddon-on-Wall that day but perhaps it is better that I didn’t as it was another two hours of walking to get there.
- Tyne and Wear: The Keelman’s Lodge: this restaurant/brewery has a separate building for accommodations but without much charm or many amenities. It is a great location and the food won’t leave you hungry.
- Whitley Bay: The Metropolitan: instead of staying in Newcastle, I continued on to the coast (via Metro from Wallsend) and stayed in Whitley Bay, just a few minutes walk to the beach on the North Sea. This stylish B&B was the most modern of my trip, with welcoming hosts and delicious breakfast alternatives to the traditional English breakfast. Walkable to the Metro station, coastal promenade, and plenty of restaurants.
8. HOW FIT DO YOU NEED TO BE TO WALK HADRIAN’S WALL PATH?
You will see walkers of all ages along Hadrian’s Wall Path. You do not need to be an experienced hiker, but you do need to be in decent shape. The walk overall is rated easy to moderate. Much of it is flat but the center portion of the walk along the crags is a series of undulating hills. During those days my fitness tracking app said that I climbed the equivalent of 120-130 floors each day.
Celtic Trails suggested that I walk four to seven miles a day for four days a week in the weeks leading up to my walk. In addition, it is recommended to do at least one walk as long as your longest walk day. I wasn’t quite able to do this, but I was consistently walking three to six miles a day for a few days a week in the couple of months prior and did one nine-mile walk.
However, the mistake that I made was not doing these practice walks with a day pack. While my feet and legs hurt, my back and core hurt more from carrying my pack. I’d highly recommend taking some hikes or walks with a loaded daypack.
9. ARE THERE PLACES TO EAT ON HADRIAN’S WALL PATH?
While there are some cafes, tea rooms, and pubs on, or just off, Hadrian’s Wall Path, it is important to plan ahead. There are a few stretches without any convenient dining options on path, outside of coffee or snacks at a visitor center. If you don’t want to add any extra mileage to your walk, it may be best to bring along a packed lunch on these days. Most accommodations will supply a packed lunch if you request it the evening before.
The lunch options at pubs en route may also be limited to snacks such as crisps or simple rolls or sandwiches. I recommend always carrying some snacks such as energy bars, salty snacks, and hydration tablets. You will also run across some honor snack cabinets/sheds that sell snacks and drinks for about £1 each, so be sure to carry some change.
I ended up choosing not to request packed lunches because I didn’t want anything more to carry and two days I made a lunch of my snacks. After a hearty breakfast that was enough to carry me through.
All accommodations provide a full English breakfast which includes: eggs, bacon, toast, mushrooms, tomato, and black pudding, along with a selection of cereals and fruits. Most accommodations will also provide dinner or are within walking distance of restaurants.
Since this is the English countryside, you can expect to see a range of traditional dishes such as steak pie, fish and chips, mince and dumplings (ground beef in a gravy with biscuit-like dumplings), bacon rolls (grilled bacon sandwich on a roll), prawn salad (small shrimp in a mayonnaise-based sauce), and roast beef or pork. Be sure to save room for the “pudding” (aka dessert) menu. I once tried sticky toffee pudding and it was enough to feed a family.
A few places worth stopping at include:
- Carlisle – Carlisle Cathedral Cafe – great sandwiches and a lovely courtyard setting
- Carlisle – Penny Blue Bar & Restaurant – hip upscale dining and lounge
- Brampton – Lanercost Priory Tea Room – off-path but a worthwhile detour to see the Priory from the 1100s, excellent sandwiches and cakes
- Once Brewed – Twice Brewed – good beer selection and yummy pizza
- Corbridge – The Black Bull – really good fish and chips in a classic, historic pub setting
- Port Gate – The Errington Coffee House – coffee house/pub offering sandwiches, quiche, soup, tea, and cakes
- East Wallhouses – Robin Hood Inn – I didn’t eat here but I did stop in for a drink and to use the restroom and walkers who were leaving raved about the food
- Heddon-on-Wall – Three Tuns – this is a convenient path-side pub with surprisingly good nachos
- Newcastle – JD Wetherspoon Quayside – the food wasn’t anything special but I loved the location on the river in the Quayside district, great for people watching and getting off your feet for a bit
- Whitley Bay – Trenchers – voted the best fish and chips in the UK so I had to check it out and it is very good and a surprisingly lovely setting (with live piano music on Fridays)
10. DO YOU NEED TO BACKPACK ON HADRIAN’S WALL PATH?
Many campers backpack along Hadrian’s Wall Path, but the majority of walkers stay in inns, B&Bs, and bunkhouses. Instead of backpacking, it is possible to use a luggage transfer service to move your bag from place to place. As I mentioned above, baggage transfers are available through a handful of companies including Hadrian’s Haul and Sherpa Van Project for £7-9 a bag with a 20 kg weight limit.
When you arrange for this service, bags need to be downstairs and ready for pick up by 9 a.m. and they will be dropped off at your next lodging by 4 or 5 p.m. Even when I arrived earlier, I never got to a lodging before my bag had arrived.
11. IS IT HARD TO FOLLOW HADRIAN’S WALL PATH?
Hadrian’s Wall Path is generally well-marked with clear signposts showing direction and marked with the white acorn symbol of the National Trails. That said, it is important to stay alert and be familiar with the general route you are taking each day. It isn’t hard to walk past a gate or miss a signpost that may be covered by a larger sign.
There are several guidebooks available with written instructions and maps. During my walk, I used the Hadrian’s Wall Cicerone guide supplied by Celtic Trails as part of my walk pack. I also previously purchased Hadrian’s Wall Path by Henry Stedman, and I found his descriptions a bit clearer to read but I didn’t carry that one with me on the trail.
It is also recommended to download or buy printed copies of Ordnance Survey maps. In a pinch, I referred to Google Maps, but I didn’t want to leave that running for long as it drains your phone battery so quickly. I did also carry a Garmin InReach GPS and a compass. I made a few wrong turns but only once did I really get far off track and had to loop around by road to regain the path.
12. ARE THERE TOILETS ALONG HADRIAN’S WALL PATH?
This is such an important question and the answer is…not enough. Access to toilets varies day by day and sometimes it is worth planning an excursion off-path to have ready access to a toilet (for example, visiting Lanercost Priory or Carlisle Castle.) Other times, you will need to stop into a pub or tea room, visit the welcome center at one of the Roman Forts, or make use of port-a-loos.
Sadly some days you may only run across one or two of these options throughout the course of a day. Beyond that, there are occasional clusters of woods or hedges, but not always much privacy. Many times I was standing in a field covered in poop from the cows and sheep but nowhere for me to go. Just remember that if you make use of the great outdoors to follow the principles of Leave No Trace.
13. HOW MUCH DOES A WALKING HOLIDAY ON HADRIAN’S WALL PATH COST?
A walking holiday on Hadrian’s Wall Path is surprisingly affordable. My 8-day, 9-night “classic” trip cost £875, plus £41 per night as a single supplement. Most meals were £10-20 each and breakfasts are included in your stay. The train from London to Carlisle starts at around £35 and the train from Newcastle to Edinburgh starts at about £15.
Flights to London can often be found for a good price or there are many options for using frequent flyer points. Of course, you can make a walking holiday even more affordable by camping or staying in hostels or bunkhouses. There are also more upscale accommodations in some destinations if you prefer a more luxurious trip.
14. WHAT WILL YOU SEE ALONG HADRIAN’S WALL PATH?
The benefit of the Hadrian’s Wall Path above some other walking holidays is that in addition to seeing the beautiful English countryside, you will also get to walk in the footsteps of history and visit many Roman ruins. Of course, you will also spend a lot of time walking through fields of sheep or cows (and all they leave behind.)
I loved walking through small villages and exploring some of the cities (Carlisle and Newcastle). I was awed by the beauty of the rolling hills of the crags. There are some stretches that are a bit boring or tedious, particularly those along paved paths near cities. My least favorite part of the walk was from Newcastle to Wallsend (but part of that was also that it was the last stretch that felt endless.)
There are also opportunities to take some detours to see historical sights off the path, but I learned early on that I only liked making detours towards the end of the day as there isn’t anything worse than getting back on path and realizing you have eight more miles to go that day.
Some of my highlights include:
- Carlisle Castle
- Carlisle Cathedral
- Lanercost Priory
- Birdoswald Fort
- Walltown Quarry
- The Sill Discovery Center
- Newcastle Castle & Cathedral
15. IS WALKING HADRIAN’S WALL PATH SOLO SAFE?
Since I was walking Hadrian’s Wall Path on my own, many people asked me if I felt safe and the answer was yes. The only times I felt uncomfortable was when I had to walk past cows and their calves. In those instances, I usually took the circuitous route around. Some stretches of the walk were busier than others but I rarely went longer than 30 minutes without seeing someone walking in the other direction or ahead of me.
The landscape is very open and I didn’t feel uncomfortable the way I might if I was hiking in the woods on my own. The terrain didn’t present any dangerous obstacles or wildlife (outside of the cows or the occasional horse — the sheep were easily shooed away.)
The only other section that I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with, and I wouldn’t want to walk after dark, was from Newcastle to Wallsend. Because most people walk east to west, I ran across very few people along this stretch as they had all left Wallsend in the morning and I was arriving in the afternoon. This section goes along the river past some abandoned warehouses along unappealing footpaths.
EVERY DAY IS LONGER THAN YOU THINK.
One last point to keep in mind is that every day is longer than you think it will be. If the mileage from one stop to the next is twelve miles, don’t be surprised if you clock 13.5 after you make some detours, excursions, and possible wrong turns.