Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland..
It must have been a lonely place to be a Roman soldier, brought up from the European mainland and stationed on Hadrian’s Wall, looking both north and south to the moors and wondering when you’ll next see home.
Fortunately, much of this 73 mile fortification, the northernmost point of the Roman Empire, is not only open to walking, it’s positively encouraged. There is of course the famous National Trail that runs the full length of the wall, or near to the course where the wall exists no more. But there are also many circular walks including stretches along the wall, and it is not hard to get to the North Pennines or the Northumbria National Park, which are nearby.
Construction of Hadrian’s Wall was begun in 122AD and took six years to build, thereafter subsequently used and disused several times during the Roman occupation of Britain. Its purposes are thought to be less for the resistance of a mass invasion from the north, and more to monitor trade and migration, and to stop minor raids.
The central section of the wall is the most well preserved, and certainly the most dramatic due to the wild topography of the Whin Sill, a natural geological spine that Hadrian’s Wall runs along. The difficult ground may have stopped locals taking the stones for farm walls and other buildings, as they did on other sections over the centuries.
Though there are information points explaining certain features, they are not intrusive, and leave you to soak up the atmosphere of this ancient relic, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site but for the most part left unguarded and open to nature.
This central section is also the wildest, running along the southern edge of Northumbria, the great moors and forests of the north sweeping away before you. Though the forest is exclusively conifer plantation, it feels like it should be there, and you can imagine hordes of rampaging Picts emerging from it as dusk falls and attacking the unsuspecting Romans.
It is here in the central region that the Pennine Way comes up from the south and runs along the wall before leaving it again on its journey north to Kirk Yetholm. The wall runs up and down the Whin Sill like an extension of the rock underneath, and it is a section best taken slowly to enjoy the views and appreciate what building it must have been like. If you try to rush, the relentless ups and downs can be maddening.
Where the wall remains above the ground, there are plenty of milecastles and intermediate towers to be seen, the stone ramparts creeping at different heights above the surrounding soil, many with good interpretation boards. If heading out on a walk it’s advisable to leave some extra time to explore these sites.
The sections beyond the central area are less well preserved, and in many places there are no obvious remnants of the wall at all. Its line is shown on OS maps so walkers can see how close the trail goes to where the real thing once stood.
Most of these sections are through relatively flat farmland, though they’re worth walking purely because we can; the negotiations that ensured the rights of way necessary to create the whole National Trail were arduous and long. In fact the creation of the National Trail took longer than it took the Romans to build the wall in the first place.
Even if Hadrian’s Wall didn’t exist, the area is a brilliant place to walk for the low rolling hills, the views south over the looming North Pennines, and the long sweeping moor. The addition of the internationally important Roman sites, which you are free to explore, makes it a must-do for anyone’s list.
Author: Alex Kendall
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