I’m not what you’d call an outdoorswoman. I do looking at nature, but I dislike dirt and bugs and I have vertigo. Basically, as a shirt a good friend once bought me states, I’m outdoorsy in that I like drinking on patios. But to finish up a year of traveling the world alone, I wanted a fittingly epic finale and something to occupy my mind and my feet.
That’s how I decided to walk across England along the old outlines of the Roman emperor Hadrian’s Wall. It helped me sort out my whole life (read more on the emotional journey of my Hadrian’s Wall hike).
I did it completely alone, with only my hole-filled sneakers and little Longchamp backpack. It was beautiful and epic and often difficult, and also absolutely one of my favorite experiences in my whole year of traveling. I ate some truly terrible food, got a really painful blister, and faced a lot of bulls in open fields, but I loved almost every second of it.
If you’re thinking about hiking Hadrian’s Wall trail yourself, I have plenty of great resources at the bottom of this post. Here’s how I broke up the walk – I opted for a leisurely pace to enjoy the scenery and the sights along the way – and what each day on the trail was like.
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This was really a half day, but I suggest breaking the first section up like this. I swished in on the train from Edinburgh at 9:40 am, having my Pret porridge and tea on the train. After dropping my bags at the lovely Albatross hostel, I hopped on the metro to Wallsend. Turns out I got on the wrong end, so I went allllll the way around the loop but arrived by 10:45 am. I peered around Segedunum fort but fled when a group of rowdy eight-year-olds entered.
I was itching to start walking. The first five miles was on a nicely marked trail through the industrial ruins of Newcastle (scenic!). I was excited when the river came into sight – until I saw the big signs warning me to stay off because the banks are so polluted. Rubbish was strewn everywhere and gulls hopped around in the sludgy, muddy banks. Not a beautiful and natural experience to start, but I’d rather experience that at the beginning instead of finishing at the industrial end.
But I made it into Newcastle, which is a charming little city full of old buildings and new lovely places to eat. I had a pie and a rhubarb oat cask ale at the Redhouse Pub and promptly retired to my hostel for a nap. All this took less than four hours and left me time to gather any last supplies (Compeed blister packs and chocolate bars).
Total distance: 8 miles
I left my packed baggage ready for Hadrian’s Haul to pick it up and take it on to my next stop (worth the £8 daily for sure) and headed out fortified by more Pret porridge.
I alternated between scenic river trails and more post-industrial ugliness (and one stretch along a big highway) until I reached the pretty Tyne Riverside park and stopped for a jacket potato and a pint at the Keelman’s. Apparently putting unmelted shredded cheese mixed with mayo on a baked potato is a meal in England? Hey, it was fuel and I do love potatoes. I basked for a while in the sun since I made such good time on my first leg.
The next hour was lovely – mostly in the actual countryside along wide shady paths until I climbed the hill to Heddon-on-the-Wall and found my way to Houghton North Farm, my stop for the night. I had a lovely little room to myself and an amazing shower before heading down the road to the Three Tunns pub, where I sipped a cider and ate macaroni cheese while watching Nadal smash some Aussie in Wimbledon. Then I turned my tired legs into bed early after a whole bunch of stretching for the long day ahead.
Total distance: 11.9 miles
After a very helpful chat over breakfast with my bunkhouse owner Paula and two other ladies hiking the trail the opposite way (who all pushed snacks on me which I was powerless to resist), I set off west again. Today was still along the road, but started to get more into the rolling fields of Northumberland which was a pleasant change. I popped in my headphones to drown out the road noise and Laura Marling sang me along.
I popped into the very cute classic Robin Hood pub for a wee after five miles but decided to push on and get a few more miles under my belt before a rest. The day was clear and sunny (again!) and I saw a few other hikers out going the opposite way. Everyone greets you warmly and can always tell how far you are to the pub (ah, England!).
I called into the Errington Arms around 2 pm with the appetite of a teenage boy, and devoured a corned beef pie, an excellent slice of Victoria sponge cake, and two pots of tea with glee as my sweaty sweater dried on the chair behind me. Refreshed, I set off the final five miles to my bed for the night. Unfortunately I had to pee for about four of those miles (two pots of tea is too much tea!) so it was a bit of a blur. The first downside of traveling alone – no one to play lookout while you pee behind a bush.
Down some fields and around a few country lanes, I scrambled into the George Hotel and got a hot shower in and some fresh clothes on before dinner in the restaurant. I was the only one there under 80 years old and wearing giant white pants from Thailand, so I may have caused a stir but was too busy devouring my thoroughly adequate macaroni cheese (path deep thoughts – why in Britain do they drop the &?) and a Coast to Coast real ale before collapsing into my bed.
Total distance: 16.7 miles
I woke to sunshine again (am I actually in Britain?) and quickly stuffed some breakfast into my face to get started early on this long day. The receptionist at the George assured me as I checked out that it will be the most challenging but rewarding day, and she’s right.
The views as I leave the road only got more incredible, as I climb higher and higher up and down the Northumbrian crags and moors. I caught a fox a few feet away unawares as he scampers down the tranquil lake below me. I lept over muddy sections uncertainly by the mysterious Mithraism temple, cheered on by sweet fellow walkers.
It’s a brilliant Saturday, so there are more walkers about. But I still had plenty of moments of blissful solitude. I ate a Cadbury bar atop one moor and then a bunch of adorable Newcastle teens grilled me about what Americans think of Britons. In short, it was perfect.
Steep stairs ended the day and on shaking legs, I hobbled into the lovely new YHA hostel in Once Brewed and popped next door to Twice Brewed for two Sycamore Gap pints and a good steak & ale pie. Upon returning to the hostel, I had an unpleasant run-in with a naked old man in the women’s bathroom but the lovely staff sorts it out brilliantly and I drink tea and watching Serena Williams and Andy Murray smash some Wimbledon doubles.
Total distance: 14.4 miles
After a lie-in and fueling up at the hostel breakfast, I’m off to the fort and museum at Vindolanda, just 1.5 miles down the road (I have a short day! I’ll walk! Famous last words, should have taken the bus). The whole museum is beautiful, and the famous Vindolanda tablets give an excellent idea of what life was like for the Roman soldiers here (there are invites to birthday parties, orders for boots, even a mother sending her son warm underwear for under his toga). It’s a must do.
I popped back on the trail expecting an eight mile walk according to my guidebook, so I take it easy and snap about a million pictures in the beautiful sunshine. I mostly have the moors and crags today to myself except the ever-present sheep. I stop at the cozy Milecastle Inn for a Sunday roast for lunch and realize I’m not as far as I should be, so I pick up the pace.
The woods and Cawfield quarries are lovely. I see a tiny black duck and her tinier babies paddling around. But it’s all taking much longer than my guide says, and suddenly after the ruins of Thirwall castle I pop up in the middle of a golf course. This isn’t an exaggeration – I’m literally in the middle of a green!
The kindly golfers help me get back on track and reassure me the pub in Gilsland isn’t far off, and I start speed walking across the sheep fields. Finally I arrive at the Bridge Inn in Gilsland, down a pint of Guinness, watch the USA women’s team take the World Cup, and walk the agonizing 1.5 miles to Slack House Farm. Fortunately once I arrive, my hostess Diane is lovely (and tells me it’s more like 12 miles from Once Brewed, not 8) and whips me up a shepherd’s pie. I fall into an incredible comfy bed in the farm bunkhouse, which I have to myself once again.
Total distance: 15.6 miles
Diane reassured me that my planned walk to Walton was actually a short day, and so I set off into the soft muggy haze of Cumbrian air full of homemade bread and yogurt. The soft hills were a relief after yesterday’s crags, and I mostly careened through sheep fields and a few cows with a few Wall sightings here and there. You can see in the outline of the fields where Trajan’s turf wall was originally built too.
Sadly I missed the famous outline of the phallus by taking a shortcut (sigh) but saw an excellent turret and some milecastle outlines. I popped into the Harrowgate honesty stop to enjoy the witty tshirts for sale (I Came, I Saw, I Blistered is a sure favorite of those poor souls in hiking boots) and the list of hilarious Latin phrases on the wall – these are definitely my people.
I took a little detour to see the Lanercost Priory, which was built with a whole bunch of Wall stones. Even though I was quite tired at this point, it was so beautiful it was worth the extra half-mile each way. It was tranquil and lovely, and the tea room next door fixed me up with a ploughman’s platter and a pot of tea in a cozy chair.
I pried myself out of that comfortable chair for the quick walk to Walton through more pretty fields with a view of the rain over the Pennine mountains, and checked into the lovely Florrie’s on the Wall around 3 pm to put my feet up and wash my sweaty hair. After a delicious steak & ale pie and a Pennine Pale Ale, I tried not to think about the approaching rain and went to sleep with little lambs right outside my window.
Total distance: 9 miles
Florrie’s had an excellent breakfast spread (I still dream of that bacon), so I set off fortified into the damp drizzle. This is the only day I regret wearing light sneakers – my feet are soaked by the long damp grass in just a few minutes. Fortunately my merino socks keep me toasty despite the damp, and the countryside smells sweet and damp and alive today in the gentle rain.
The scenery today was more gently rolling hills and fields of sheep and cows, not dramatic but still lovely. I hiked for a while with a lovely older American man from Colorado, and we chatted about solo travel and planning this hike.
The Stag Inn where I was looking forward to a hot cuppa and drying out my socks a bit was closed though, so I trudged on determinedly straight through to Carlisle where I waited in Foxes Cafe over a salad (with dressing on it! Yay city life!) for the Carlisle City Hostel to let me in for a shower and dry socks.
My wet shoes have given me my first blister, so I curled up in my bunk and do blissful nothing for the afternoon before I headed out for a stroll around town and dinner at Amatos, an Italian place around the corner. At this point, I’m delighted to eat something that’s not pub food tbh.
Total distance: 10.8 miles
After a light breakfast at the hostel, I headed out into the uncertain sunshine with a few sprinkles of rain. But it soon cleared and this lovely flat riverside stretch went by quickly. The city dropped off within a few minutes and I’m surrounded by chirping hedge sparrows and nodding wildflowers.
Of course, the pub where I planned to stop for lunch today is also closed, so I stuffed the PowerBar in my backpack into my mouth and carry on. I slogged on over the Solway marshes – pretty for the first half mile but three miles later I’m over it and the cows blocking my way too.
The path started to turn into a road here, and I trudged on til I hit the Laal Bite. There was still no food here but I did chug a nice cold Lucozade and have a nice chat with some other hikers.
I charged on to the end, stopping to take a picture with the famous Roger and his signpost (drop a few quid in his donation box if you do) and dragged my sore feet to the end. I breathed in the view proudly and turned off for the pub, where the kind bartender congratulated me and fed me pints and cheese crisps until the bus came. The bus driver and other passengers also congratulated me and my fellow hiker, because this is a lovely and friendly place.
I hobbled into a hot shower back at the hostel and limped a few doors down back to Amatos to celebrate with my first proper meal of the day and collapsed into bed shortly after. I am exhausted and stiff and hungry and totally, blissfully proud of myself.
Total distance: 14.3 miles
What You Need to Know About Hiking Hadrian’s Wall
When to go. I went in early July, which was beautiful. It rained only the one day, the sun was out most of the time, and up in the North of England it’s not too hot even then. I’d imagine it gets very muddy and damp if you go in spring or fall, though it’s still beautiful.
Where to stay. To keep my costs down, I opted to stay in farm bunkhouses and hostels every night but one, when I splurged for a hotel. The bunkhouses I found were lovely, comfortable, and run by truly hospitable people who offered me encouragement and advice. They often had good food as well, which was a relief in a week with some awful meals.
Where to eat. This is not going to be a gourmet experience – I now understand why people say English food is so bad. But to be honest, I was so hungry from all the walking that I really didn’t care (hunger is truly a good sauce!). The only options in the middle of the trail are pubs, which was fine with me, but if you’re picky or have dietary restrictions you might struggle. I did have some lovely breakfasts at the farms where I stayed to keep me going.
Timing. There are many ways to break up this walk – I read reports of people tackling the trail in just four or six days. I wanted to see the forts and the priory along the way, and have plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful views, so I took my time with this eight-day plan. Also I am not a particularly fast walker and I don’t like to be rushed! If you have the time and want to enjoy as much of the journey as possible, I recommend taking your time as well.
Direction. You can walk east to west or west to east, and both have their benefits. I chose to go east to west to finish with a more beautiful view, and I don’t regret it! It’s also the less-crowded route, and so I had my bunkhouses to myself.
Luggage. While I travel with only a 35L backpack, I didn’t really want to be lugging my entire life around with me every day on the Hadrian’s Wall trail. I used Hadrian’s Haul luggage service instead which I highly recommend. I gave them my itinerary of my daily stops and left my bag for them every morning wherever I stayed, and when I arrived at my evening stop it would be there waiting for me. It couldn’t have been easier, and it only cost 8 pounds per day.
What to Bring on the Hadrian’s Wall Walk
Since the Hadrian’s Wall path goes through some pretty remote areas, often there’s only one pub a day along the way – and if that pub is closed, you have no food options for lunch. There are no shops most of the time either. I recommend bringing along some energy bars in case of a hunger emergency, because all that walking will definitely make you ravenous without lunch.
I also took this excellent Hadrian’s Wall walk map and guidebook with me and was glad I did, because there’s often not a lot of cell service to use Google Maps. The trail is well-marked but having your own map is a good idea. Otherwise I really didn’t bring anything special except for cash since a lot of pubs don’t take cards there.
As for gear and clothes, I just wore my regular outfits! I will admit – in my shiny silver leggings, vintage Fendi scarf, and little Longchamp backpack, I stood out on the trail. Most people were in full hiking gear and looked ready to tackle the Pennines, and I had just sewed my fashionable sneakers together in my first hostel of the trail. But honestly? I really didn’t need any technical gear, and I was just fine in my normal clothes and comfortable sneakers.
The Hadrian’s Wall Path
This remains one of the most meaningful travel experiences I’ve had. The history, the beauty, the solitude, the peaceful task of simply putting one foot in front of the other every day – it helped me sort out my life as I was considering what to do with it on my return. And if an indoors person with excellent fashion sense but very little outdoors savvy can do it alone, you can too!