Hadrian’s Wall National Trail with Ramblers Walking Holidays
For someone who finds herself drawn
to Roman sites, Hadrian’s Wall and I were tardy in getting acquainted. The Romans have drifted in and out of my life
since I was a child growing up close to the old Roman town of Verulamium,
better known now as St Albans in Hertfordshire.
As an adult, I’ve visited many wonderful remains in France, Italy and
Turkey, but didn’t set foot beside Hadrian’s wonder wall until three years ago. I’ve longed to explore in more depth ever
Enter Ramblers Walking Holidays
who offer a week-long itinerary across the summer months (£815 in 2015). Starting just west of Newcastle-upon-Tyne,
their Hadrian’s Wall National Trail holiday covers around 66 miles to the
wall’s most easterly point at Bowness-on-Solway.
Ramblers grade the itinerary as
‘moderate D/D+’, so if you’re reasonably fit, the walking shouldn’t present a
problem. Much of it is along undulating
farm tracks and moorland footpaths with a day and a half of steeper crags in
the middle around Housesteads and Vindolanda - the iconic picture-postcard view
as the wall clings to the edge of Whinsill.
Walking boots are a must and I’d recommend a walking pole to help
negotiate the sections of stone steps or grassy banks, especially if wet.
Weather is always a variable
here. During early summer temperatures
in the early 30s, I found myself fervently hoping for cooler weather in time
for the walk. But be careful what you
wish for! In mid-July, the daily
temperature ranged from 14-17 degrees, and whilst we only got seriously wet on
one afternoon, you do need to pack everything from sun cream to waterproof
trousers and a jumper in your rucksack.
Walking from east to west means
that if it’s breezy, you are usually walking into the wind, but hey, this is
the northern frontier of the Roman Empire and moody weather goes with the
landscape, so just zip up and enjoy those panoramic views. Along the crags, you’re treated to miles of
nothing looking north towards Scotland and again south to the Pennines, and as
you drop down towards Carlisle, a vista of Lakeland peaks comes into view across
rolling farmland dotted with sheep and cattle.
It is all utterly glorious, even beneath glowering skies.
And although you’d be wise to carry
your waterproofs, you don’t have to carry anything else. Unlike the soldiers from across the Empire,
stationed at mile castles, turrets and forts along Hadrian’s Wall, guests of
Ramblers Countrywide Holidays are garrisoned in two very comfortable
First four nights are at The Battlesteads Hotel at Wark on Tyne, just a short drive north of Hexham. Owners Dee and Richard have won numerous
awards for eco-friendly practices that include a biomass boiler and huge
revolving solar dish. There’s even a
Dark Sky observatory with visiting astronomer.
The food at Battlesteads is
exceptionally good with a wide choice of home-made dishes and the rooms
comfortable and mostly spacious. If you
really want to pamper yourself, upgrade to one of the brand new chalet rooms
for the luxury of Jacuzzi bath, fluffy dressing gowns, mini fridge, and your
own decking terrace. And if you’re
visiting independently and need disabled access, ask about wheelchair-friendly
The last three nights are at The
Crown & Mitre Hotel in Carlisle, a large Edwardian property sandwiched
between the pedestrianised town centre and Cathedral close, so traffic-free and
blissfully quiet at night. Food is
plentiful and well presented, and there’s a small indoor pool for those who
like a dip before dinner. Each day, a
coach transports walkers to the start of the day’s walk, and back to the hotel
afterwards. Clients travelling in their
own cars simply follow the coach on changeover day and leave their vehicles in
a public car park near the Roman Army Museum till the end of the walk when the
coach brings them back.
Any group activity can be more or
less enjoyable according to the personality and knowledge of the tour
leader. We were very lucky in Liam
Newell who struck the right balance of friend and leader, and who knew exactly
where to go for answers to our questions if he didn’t already know them. But he usually did, a mine of information on
a wall completed in AD 128 after just six years of construction work.
We were lucky too with the mix of walkers. Average age? Probably 62/3 without getting very personal and asking outright, but between 40-ish and early 70s. There were several single ladies including a lovely Australian tacking a week’s walking onto a business trip; several married couples, some of whom had done many trips with Ramblers Walking Holidays; and a couple of ladies like me who had left their husbands at home to go walking with a friend.
The package does not include
transport to Wark from home or back from Carlisle. Some took the train; others drove. Packed lunches can be bought at Wark or
provisions in Carlisle centre. The
itinerary includes time to visit Chesters Fort (English Heritage), renowned for
its riverside bath house; Housesteads Fort (EH and National Trust), famous for
its communal latrines (Roman not modern!); the Roman Army Museum with its
excellent 3D film, Edge of Empire;
and Birdoswald Fort (EH).
A group of us also elected to miss
the last bit of the crags walk in favour of visiting Vindolanda to see the
ongoing excavations, famous tablets (earliest examples of Roman handwritten
letters), and collection of amazing leather shoes. Spine-tingling stuff. Entry fees to all sites are extra unless you
are a member of EH or NT; Vindolanda and the RAM are owned by the Vindolanda
Trust and a double ticket costs around £10.
On the last couple of days, you
lose the wall, in as much as the stone has long since been recycled into local
buildings, but a sign beside the Solway Firth marks the end of where it once
stood. It’s a symbolic finale to an
incredible feat of ancient engineering and one of the most satisfying and
informative walks I have undertaken so far.
Highly recommended to anyone who loves history, heritage and the great
outdoors with a generous dose of end-of-the-day comfort.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Ramblers Walking Holidays
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