Hadrian's Wall Walk Days 1 and 2.
Hadrian’s Wall. Many of us first heard about the crazy idea of building a wall between England and Scotland (then Caledonia), when learning about the Romans at primary school. I have been fascinated by the concept ever since, and walking the path along its route has been on the bucket list for a long time. So now we have finally arrived to walk the Hadrian’s Wall path, one of England’s Long Distance Trails. Lots of planning involved, especially as we are in Buzzbee our campervan, so the logistics of where to park and how to get to and from the start or finish took a lot of working out. The biggest decision was which way to walk. East to west, which is the order in which it was built, or west to east with the prevailing winds and rain behind you. We chose east to west because we didn’t want to end in a city!
Here we are with the North sea behind us. The next sea that we see (excuse the pun), will be the Irish sea on the west coast.
Finally, when to go? It had to be between mid May and mid July for us. So, and this is sad, I looked at the weather for all those weeks for the last 6 years. One week stood out as being consistently dry, and with easterly, southerly and northerly winds rather than westerly. The first week of June. So, we started our walk on June 1st, and, fingers crossed, it has been warm and dry with easterly winds. Let’s hope it continues!
The border with Scotland is now much further north, but Emperor Hadrian visited Britain in AD122 and decided this was the perfect place for the Roman Empire’s northwest frontier “to separate the barbarians from the Romans!” It started at Segedunum fort, Wallsend, near the North Sea coast in what is Newcastle-upon-Tyne today. It ran for 84 miles to the Solway Firth on the west coast, following the military Road, also built by the Romans, for much of its length.
Building across this hostile and hilly landscape took 6 years, and the wall included 14 forts, a small guarded milecastle, not surprisingly, at every mile, and a huge ditch called the Vallum along it’s length as a further defence. It is thought that about 5,000 soldiers were involved in the build.
So, the walk. Firstly we visited Arbeia, a reconstructed fort at south Shields on the east coast. This was Hadrian’s base camp, supply centre, and home for 600 troops. It also guarded the mouth of the River Tyne, and controlled shipping.
The walk starts at Segedunum, the remnants of first fort on the wall, which is next to the now defunct Swan Hunter Shipyards. The helpful staff there allowed us to leave Buzzbee on the carpark while we walked, and we purchased our Hadrian's wall passport to get stamped at intervals along the walk. We were a bit worried about the first part of the walk as it looks very industrial, but it wasn't at all, and mostly follows a pretty tree-lined walkway until it reaches the banks of the Tyne. We even saw a bullfinch! There was some good graffiti though!
Much cleaner now than when it was known as the Gut, further upstream there are salmon, although down stream there is still lead and tar pollution from the many factories that once lined these shores. Regeneration is everywhere, with new housing, marinas, and in the centre of Newcastle, a vibrant waterfront. Seeing the iconic bridges for the first time had us humming ‘The Fog on the Tyne is all mine, all mine’, even though it was a sunny day! Kittiwakes, dainty seagulls that don’t steal chips but prefer fishing, have made central Newcastle their home, and you see them nesting everywhere, even on the old Baltic flour mill, and the huge Tyne bridge. Spot the precarious nests!
This superb sculpture was dedicated to the steel foundry workers.
Passing through the centre, the riverpath continues through a modernised landscape.
Across on the south bank, an enormous timber structure came into view. This is Dunston Staiths, and is the largest timber structure in Europe. Nearly a mile long, with 4 railway tracks on top, and 6 loading chutes, waggons full of coal would be shunted up to the top, then tipped into the chutes, down into the holds of waiting ships. 5.5 million tons of coal a year could be moved through the Staiths. I feel sorry for the trimmer, whose job was to wait in the hold for the coal to fall, then quickly rake it to stop the ship becoming unbalanced. A new and beautifully landscaped business park now lines the river where the many Armstrong foundries and factories used to be.
We were getting peckish, and on the business park is a little Oasis – The Newcastle Deli. 2 excellent Paninis plus drinks for under £9 was excellent value. A few miles further we ended day 1 at Scotswood, where we could catch the bus straight back to Segedunum and Buzzbee. We then drove out of the city westwards to the charming village of Wylam, on the banks of the Tyne where we camped for 2 nights.
What a delightful village. A beautiful river front, the oldest railway station still used by passengers in England, built in 1835, and 4 pubs are just some of it’s charms. George Stephenson was born here, and railway locomtives were once built in what is now the library. We walked to Stephenson’s cottage, owned by the National Trust but sadly now closed, as was the railway museum at the library. Covid or cutbacks?
A good night’s sleep, and then a short walk to Charlie’s corner to catch the X84 bus to Denton Burn library, from where we could walk through the park to pick up the walk where we left it. Again, tree lined walkways were pleasant ways through any urban areas.
We passed another trace of industrial heritage was this one remaining glass cone, built in 1797, from the Lemington glassworks. Bizarrely, it was leased to Jaguar Landrover who occasionally used it as a showroom!
Leaving the city behind, Newburn country park was delightful, especially as it contains the Keelman Arms and Big Lamp brewery, both built in a converted water pumping station, and with excellent ale, as Chris will testify! Following a beer and a riverside picnic, the path turns inland and heads uphill to Heddon on the wall, a very pretty village.
Now some of you may have noticed that we haven’t said much about the actual wall that we are meant to be following. That is because there is very little left in Newcastle itself, so as we puffed up the hill, we were excited because at the top our reward would be our first sight of a significant remnant of the wall. We weren’t disappointed. At 100metres long this is one of the best preserved stretches of wall base there is.
Incredible to think it is nearly 2,000 years old. Now we are really on the trail, and 15 miles walked.
The X84 bus stop was just around the corner which took us back to Wylam. Tonight we had the excitement of a meal out in the excellent Bistro en Glaze (say it quickly!). Why exciting? It was almost our first evening indoors in a restaurant since the start of Covid lockdowns 15 months previously!