A weekend on Hadrian's Wall
Why visit Hadrian's Wall
It's nearly two thousand years since the Roman emperor Hadrian ordered a wall to be built across the north of Britannia following his visit to Britain in AD 122. Hadrian's Wall is now the most famous frontier of the mighty Roman Empire. It dominated the region for around 300 years, stretching 73 miles (80 Roman miles) coast to coast from Wallsend in the east to Bowness-on-Solway in the west.
Today, it remains an inspiring and atmospheric monument to this incredible civilisation. Hadrian's Wall was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, and there are all sorts of places to visit and learn about the Romans.
Several extensive forts and modern museums tell the stories of the different aspects of life in Roman Britain at Hadrian's Wall, with all kinds of interactive displays and objects on show. The main sites run by English Heritage are:
- Housesteads Roman Fort - Take in the most complete example of a Roman fort in Britain, set high on a dramatic escarpment.
- Chesters Roman Fort and Museum - Explore the well preserved cavalry fort, including Roman baths, and discover an amazing collection of Roman objects and inscriptions in the Clayton Museum.
- Corbridge Roman Town - Walk the streets of this once bustling town and find out more about life outside the army in the museum, which is home to English Heritage's biggest collection of Roman finds.
- Birdoswald Roman Fort - See the longest continuous remaining stretch of Hadrian's Wall, and explore the extensive ruins of the fort.
If you have more time and prefer to go a bit further off the beaten track, there are stretches of wall to follow on foot or by bike that take you to quiet ruins on rocky outcrops, past the remains of bridges and signal stations.
Things to do on Hadrian's Wall
Day 1: Eastern End of Hadrian's Wall
CORBRIDGE, CHESTERS AND HOUSESTEADS
Corbridge Roman Town is the closest major site to Newcastle upon Tyne, after you've left the city heading west. Although it's not on the Wall itself, Corbridge gives you a great insight to Roman life in Great Britain. The town pre-dates Hadrian's Wall and was still a vibrant community right up to the end of Roman period. Walk through the remains of Roman streets, and check out some astonishingly well preserved artefacts in the museum.
A quick 15 minute drive west is Chesters Roman Fort and Museum the most complete Roman cavalry fort in Britain. Chesters was once the home of John Clayton, the man credited with saving Hadrian's Wall in the 19th century. There's also an unusually well-preserved bath house (discovered accidentally by Clayton's workmen) and a huge collection of artefacts in the Clayton Museum.
The landscape of the central section of Hadrian's Wall is undeniably the most dramatic. There's a particularly scenic (though challenging) 13 mile stretch that you can walk around Housesteads Roman Fort, between Sewingshields Wall to the east and Walltown Crags further west. This passes the famous Steel Rigg and Sycamore Gap, Whinshields Wall and Cawfields too.
Housesteads itself is the most complete example of a Roman fort in Britain, set high on an escarpment with incredible views. It's a great site for families, with an interactive museum and mini cinema, then up at the fort itself you can look out for the Roman toilets. The site is jointly run by English Heritage and the National Trust, who operate the visitor centre by the carpark.
Day 2: Western End of Hadrian's Wall
BIRDOSWALD AND LANERCOST PRIORY
A little further west, you can see the longest continuous remaining stretch of Hadrian's Wall at Birdoswald Roman Fort. After you've explored the interactive displays and artefacts in the museum, there's the remains of the extensive fort outside. For Roman history buffs, the biggest draw of Birdoswald is being able to see examples of all the different elements of Hadrian's Wall that once punctuated the frontier.
There are examples of milecastles, turrets, the remains of a bridge, and a signal tower - all of which you can see on a 3 mile circular walk from Birdoswald back towards Gisland. Find out more about the Birdoswald Trail here.
Lanercost Priory is about a five and a half mile walk (or an 8 minute drive) away from Birdoswald along the Hadrian's Wall Path in the opposite direction.
Built of stone taken from Hadrian's Wall and standing close to its tallest remaining stretch, Lanercost Priory is a beautiful and tranquil spot - now. The priory's history hasn't always been peaceful; it suffered frequent attacks during the long Anglo-Scottish wars, once by Robert Bruce in person. It's the best-preserved of Cumbria's monasteries though - the east end of the noble 13th-century church survives to its full height, and there are tombs from patrons dating back to 1339.Plan a visit
Where to eat and drink
We asked our site staff and local members for their tips on places in Northumberland to eat and drink, and here's what they suggested. If you find somewhere you want to recommend, let us know on Facebook or Twitter.
- Warm up with a bowl of soup, a tasty bacon stottie or perhaps a slice of homemade cake at one of the many tearooms along the Wall. You'll find English Heritage tearooms at Birdoswald and Chesters Roman Fort, but there are plenty of places to grab a bite.
- Try real Cumberland sausages at the tearoom and farmshop next door to Lanercost Priory, along with a range of produce from local suppliers.
- One of the best-known pubs along the Wall is the Twice Brewed Inn, located midway along Hadrian's Wall near Steel Rigg.
Where to stay
There are numerous hotels and B&Bs in market towns along the route of the Wall. Chollerford, Haltwhistle, Bardon Mill and Matfen are handy for visiting Housesteads or Vindolanda. Base yourself in Hexham or Corbridge to explore visit Corbridge Roman Town and Chesters.
Alternatively, if you're travelling in a group, Birdoswald Farmhouse is the perfect place to stay. Overlooking the remains of the fort, the farmhouse can be booked out entirely for groups of up to 39 people. The minimum group size is 15 people, so it's also perfect if you're having a big get-together with friends or family.
For smaller groups, the nearest market town to Birdoswald is Brampton.Stay at Birdoswald
Getting there and getting around
Hadrian's Wall runs 73 miles across the north of England. It's easily explored from the major cities at each end - Newcastle upon Tyne in the east and Carlisle in the west. The landscape is beautfully rugged, especially in the famous central section.
BY CAR: The A69 is the main east-west highway. A more scenic tourist route opened this year, marked by a Roman helmet symbol. You'll need £4 (in coins) for most of the pay and display car parks along the Wall, although at English Heritage sites this is refundable with your entry ticket. For Northumberland National Parks car parks, once you've bought a ticket it is valid all day at different sites.
BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT (bus and train): The AD122 bus is the main route serving Hadrian's Wall, running from Hexham to Haltwhistle between April and September. This also connects with local bus services including the 185 which serves Birdoswald. A country line connects train stations between Carlisle and Newcastle - Haltwhistle and Hexham are handiest for exploring Hadrian's Wall.
BY BIKE: The 174 mile long Hadrian's Cycleway runs from Ravenglass in Cumbria to South Shields. If you're just whizzing along, Sustrans suggest that it would take you around 3 days to cycle - longer if you plan to stop off and visit sites.
ON FOOT: It's possible to walk from coast to coast along the Hadrian's Wall Path, an 84 mile National Trail, but there are plenty of shorter routes and circular walks if you prefer a day out rather than a week-long hike.
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