Hadrian’s Wall Heritage
Explore Hadrian’s Wall Northumberland
This is a journey on the edge of empire, a World Heritage Site in rolling countryside and valleys dotted with stone villages.
History here is on an epic scale with a landscape to match. Hadrian’s Wall, begun in 122 AD as a 73-mile boundary (80 Roman miles) between the North Sea and Irish Sea, is still part of the local psyche.
For those travelling west, the Wall begins with an afterthought. Wallsend earned its name when the structure was extended four miles east from Newcastle. Remains of the Roman fort of Segedunum have inspired an award-winning museum here.
Those travelling on foot should follow the Hadrian’s Wall Path national trail, on which the entire route can be completed in six days by experienced walkers.
The best road is the A69 and for a rest from driving try the Hadrian’s Wall Country bus, the AD122, which runs the length of the Wall until the end of October. It will carry bikes and offers rover tickets and concessionary fares. There are local and long-haul passenger trains between Newcastle and Carlisle.
Fragments of wall can be glimpsed beside the A69 at the west end of Newcastle, on the way to the rural Tyne Valley. But a few miles on, around Heddon-on-the-Wall, some stretches are buried beneath the B6318 military road, whose name derives from the 18th century Jacobite rebellions rather than the Romans.
Parts of the village’s St Andrew’s Church are Saxon. Nearby is a luxurious place to relax at Close House Hotel and golf course.
To the south are striking Prudhoe Castle and Wylam, where the birthplace of rail pioneer George Stephenson is a National Trust property. Another fortress, Aydon Castle, lies farther west along the A69, near the attractive village of Corbridge.
In Roman and medieval times this village was a vital hub, reflected in Corstopitum Roman site, the Saxon Church of St Andrew and some welcoming inns.
It stands on the A68 – part of the Dere Street Roman road from York to Scotland that cuts a straight path north between sheep pastures. To the south, amid grouse moors, is the Derwent Reservoir, a base for sailing, windsurfing and fishing near the historic village of Edmundbyers, where there is a youth hostel and a historic church. Not far away is the listed medieval village of Blanchland.
On grassy moorland north of the Wall is the hamlet of Thockrington, where the architect of the National Health Service, William (Lord) Beveridge, is buried in St Aidan’s Churchyard.
The next section of the Hadrian’s Wall Path, Chollerford to Steel Rigg, offers classic views of the snaking Wall in a panoramic landscape where the walking grows a little more arduous.
Chollerford, on the A6079, is a small village with a well-known hotel, the George, beside the North Tyne. The river used to be guarded by a Roman fort at Chesters.
The nearby village of Wall, set around a green, was the site of the Battle of Heavenfield in 635 AD when the victory of Northumbria’s King Oswald (later Saint Oswald) over Welsh king Cadwallon was attributed to God and resulted in firmly establishing Christianity throughout the North.
The battle was chronicled by the Venerable Bede. Wall’s Hadrian Hotel is also a pub and restaurant. Even the name of neighbouring Fourstones is derived from the Roman invasion, reputed to be called after altars that marked its boundaries.
Historic and beautiful Hexham, where the North and South Tynes meet, is noted for its abbey. A church built here by Saint Wilfrid in 675-80 AD was said to be beyond compare with any other north of the Alps. The ancient crypt still survives. It was a powerful diocesan church, but the Vikings raided Hexham in 876 and the building was wiped from history for centuries.
The Steel Rigg to Walton stretch of Hadrian’s Wall Path takes in the highest point of the Whin Sill on which the Wall is built, 1,131 feet above sea level at Windshields Crags. Walltown Crags gives views from the North Pennines to Scotland and the end of the Wall at Bowness-on-Solway.
Haydon Bridge is now bypassed and enjoying a quieter life. It has an acclaimed pub-restaurant, the General Havelock Inn. About 10 miles south are the attractive and contrasting villages of Allenheads and Allendale as well as Allen Banks nature reserve.
Bardon Mill, near the Roman site Vindolanda, has a pub and hotel, the Bowes. Ridley Hall was until after the Second World War the home of the Bowes Lyons, the family of the late Queen Mother. Once Brewed has a National Park centre and a youth hostel. The origin of the name, like that of Twice Brewed, seems lost in history.
The market town of Haltwhistle owes its name to Old English meaning a hilltop between two streams. It is claimed to be the centre of Britain, a notion giving its name to a hotel and restaurant here.
Near the Cumbrian border are the villages of Greenhead and Gilsland. Greenhead has a Roman Army Museum. Nearby Birdoswald Roman Fort has interactive displays and a model of the Wall in its prime.
Thanks to Northumberland National Park conservation work, ruined Thirlwall Castle protects nesting sites in its walls for swifts, bat roosts and 2,000-year-old lichens on the stones, which were carted away from the Roman Wall.