When I moved to England last Fall to start my Masters program I had more than just graduating on my mind. I wanted to use my time here to see as much of the UK as possible. Being from the US, it’s
not so easy impossible to surround yourself with history dating back to the first century. Here, it’s practically impossible not to. That in mind, I set out to make the most of my 365 days.
People in England walk…a lot. Not always to get somewhere, not always because it’s the only mode of transportation available to them, but because walking, apparently, is a great English pastime. I have found my people!!!! They have national trails that run AROUND THE ENTIRE COUNTRY. Be still my introverted heart. This was a magical discovery. After about a month living in Newcastle, Hadrian’s wall and the accompanying national path that stretches almost the entire width of England (84 miles), had been mentioned to me on several occasions. A trail you say? I must walk it! When I get an idea in my head, it’s hard to shake it. So, I recruited my mom and planned our walk. 84 miles, 5 days. We got this.
There are several walking holiday tour companies that will plan the whole trip for you. From arranging baggage transfer, to booking B&Bs and providing maps/walking directions. I looked at several but ultimately decided that I could do the planning myself and save us some money, so we opted for that. I love planning and can be a bit OCD, so I wasn’t worried – but if you aren’t the planning type, the walking companies seemed like a great alternative! I looked up B&Bs, researched baggage transfer companies and bought us a map and informational book about the wall. In the end I really enjoyed planning the details and felt pretty good about our schedule.
Mom flew into Birmingham and took the train up to Carlisle where I met her. We hopped on a bus out to Bowness-on-Solway to an adorable and highly recommended Wallsend B&B where we spent our first night. Bowness is basically the middle of nowhere. We had a taxi driver (story for later) tell us that Bowness seemed to him like a town stuck in 1950s England. Seemed accurate to me. We took a stroll over to the firth and had dinner at King’s Arms, the local pub and only dinner spot, before hitting bed early for a 7:30am start to our first day of walking!
Day One: Bowness-on-Solway to Crosby-on-Eden (21 miles)
We started the day with a lovely English breakfast at Wallsend B&B. We set our bags out for the baggage transfer company to come pick up and we set off! Armed with water, packed lunches, and our map – we hit the path.
I had a read quite a bit about other’s experiences on blogs, so I knew that the beginning and end of the walk was generally quite boring. Hadrian’s wall, or the remnants of what it used to be, can mostly be seen only in the middle section, so the first and last sections are mostly walking through small towns and on paved sidewalks. Much of day one was that. The occasional path through a park, but mostly sidewalk. We stopped for lunch under a cute tree in a small town called Beaumont.
21 miles – on path or street – is a long stretch! We ended up arriving at our next B&B close to 6pm. This B&B was called Parkbroom Lodge. It was in a renovated old house. The beds were comfy and the dinner was good, although it had much more of an unfinished feel to it. It was just off the trail though, making it very appealing to our tired feet. Mine now rocking some pretty wicked blisters on each heel – luckily they didn’t hurt much (I’ll spare you the photos). Shower, dinner, foot massage, sleep. On to day two!
Day Two: Crosby-on-Eden to Gilsland (17.8 miles)
More fields than roads today! This was also the first (and only) day that had cute little snack stands located at various farms on the path. They were for walkers to replenish with some water or sweets. One stand even sold an assortment of t-shirts and wall walk gear. There isn’t much else on this stretch as far as food.
The B&B had told us about a cafe called the Reading Room which we stopped at about halfway through today’s walk. It was a much needed place to rest and they had bathrooms! Today was clear skies and really warm, nothing like the England I know and love. It took a toll on us to walk in that heat, so we rested a bit after lunch before continuing on. We also saw our first bit of the wall today! We made it to the wonderful Willowford Farm B&B around 6:30pm. After a quick shower we pulled ourselves together to get down to the pub for dinner.
Day Three: Gilsland to Humshaugh (20.5 miles)
Irrelevant fun fact: at this point the blisters on my heels form, pop, and re-form at a rate unlike I have ever experienced…but I’m all good, because for the most part they don’t hurt! #littlevictories
Today we got a bit of a slow start. We slept like rocks and by the time we dragged ourselves out of bed and got done with breakfast, we were pushing 10am. Whoops! We were well fed and back on the path soon enough though. Ahead of us was the most physically demanding, but also most beautiful, section of the wall. We had about 3 miles of flat-ish farmland before the hills began. It was up and down for pretty much the rest of the day, but the views were breathtaking.
Before the walk I had told my mom about a book series I read by LJ Ross. She’s a writer from Newcastle and she’s writing a mystery series using locations in England’s northeast as the setting for murders. I really enjoyed them and one of the books is based around Sycamore Gap– which is a famous stretch of the wall that most people know from Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (kid runs up the tree, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Costner to the rescue!) I decided we should have lunch there. About 1.5 miles before arriving at Sycamore Gap, hunger took over and we didn’t quite make it there for lunch, but it was amazing to see nonetheless (Sycamore Gap is shown in the cover photo for this post).
The National Trust created a wall walk “Passport” where you can collect stamps at set locations along the walk to document your progress. There are seven different stamping stations. We had a stamping station at Housesteads Roman Fort, about 5.5 miles from our B&B for the night. By the time we got to Housesteads it was around 5:30pm and mom was done for the day. The hills were tough and we had met a couple of women at Sycamore Gap who were really sweet and offered to give her a lift to our B&B that night – after all, 5.5 miles by car is only a couple of minutes.
I decided to be the stubborn person I am and finish the walk. I made it to the B&B around 8pm…I think. I have vague memories of showering and collapsing into bed almost immediately. Pro-tip: don’t do this section of the wall in one day. It’s beautiful and worth spending more than one day on if you can. Also, there are only so many hills one should walk in a day.
Day Four: Humshaugh to Heddon-on-the-Wall (18.2 miles)
These B&B breakfast’s are amazing. Seriously, gimme all da calories. We got packed lunches again today before setting off, knowing it was supposed to be another long, but slightly less hilly, day. LJ Ross (the author mentioned above) also has a book using Heavenfield as the setting. Heavenfield is an old church in a fairly secluded area near Chollerford where King Oswald (604-682 AD) was said to have raised a large cross before the Battle of Heavenfield around 634 AD – Northumbria was victorious! We decided on this as today’s lunch spot.
Today wasn’t as picturesque as yesterday, but it was still lovely. It became very clear as we neared 6pm that we had been overly ambitious about this stretch. I wasn’t able to find any B&Bs in Heddon-on-the-Wall that had vacancies, so I turned to AirBnB and was able to find a house that was just off the path, it was perfect, but would have meant around 20+ miles of walking for today.
When we FINALLY reached the Robin Hood Inn at the end of just over 18 miles, there was still another 7 miles to get to our AirBnB for the night. It just wasn’t going to happen. We ended today at 18.2 miles, stuffed our faces at the pub, and took a taxi to our AirBnB in Heddon-on-the-Wall for the night.
Day Five: Heddon-on-the-Wall to Wallsend (15.7 miles)
The very last day. After waking up to wonderful breakfasts every day of this trip, it felt a little odd to be responsible for feeding ourselves. Mom whipped up toast and eggs and we packed up our bags for the baggage company one last time. Today was very similar to day one. Lots of walking on concrete paths, except this time we would be walking into Newcastle city centre instead of through small towns. It felt a bit strange to walk through the city I’ve been living in for almost a year and have it feel like some sort of huge accomplishment. We finished the walk on a Sunday, so we ran into the Sunday market on the Quayside and I made mom partake in my favorite market treat: gyro’s from the Greek stand. Seriously the ladies at the gyro stand must recognise me by now. I’ve been there 6 times in the last two months!
Ultimately, finishing in Newcastle is quite anticlimactic. The “official” end (or beginning if you walk the other direction) is at Segendum Fort in Wallsend. Unlike in Bowness, there is no sign or congratulations. Just a gift shop and vague acknowledgement from the staff that you’ve completed the walk. That’s ok though, because we know we did it! We walked the width of England, in five days, and didn’t die or sustain any permanent life-altering injuries. We’ll call that a major win.
Full disclosure: in the planning phase of this trip, I had intended scheduling the walk for 6 days, except then I accidentally (long story) ended up booking it for 5 days, which meant we had VERY long days of walking. On the bright side: my mom did not die and also did not kill me. And in the end…WE DID IT!
Would I do it again? Probably not. Would I recommend it? For sure! But plan for more than 5 days, 6 to 7 would be better. Or cut out the very beginning/end and just focus on the parts where more wall still remains. Also – walk west to east instead of east to west. You have less people walking that direction, plus you’ll have the wind with you instead of against you.