Three Tips to Love Your Hadrian’s Wall Walk, even if Things Go Wrong

(Read our DIY Hadrian’s Wall Itinerary here. Planning our itinerary ourselves was 100% worthwhile.)

Are you considering this walk? You’re right–it’s a great one. We just returned from Hadrian’s Wall, and here’s what went wrong (and right!), our top tips for YOUR trip, and our itinerary to get your planning started.

The famous Sycamore Gap as seen from the west. [Update: The tree, tragically, is no longer there. But the sweeping views, the great people, the history…there are still so many reasons to go. ]

The Hadrian’s Wall Path is the ideal inn-to-inn trek–country pubs, roman fort museums, miles of lovely pastoral scenery, and all those mossy, rectangular Roman stones meandering into the distance. This year marks 1900 years since Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the building of this massive border wall, but just 19 years since the path was designated a British National Trail.

It’s one of the world’s great walks. So, what could go wrong over 84 miles in northern England in early September?

It will rain. In the eight days we walked, we had one day of bright sunshine, two overcast days, two days of drizzle, and three days of deluge. (The inns had hair dryers in the rooms, and those evenings we aimed them at our shoes.) But does rain stop us, fellow traveler? It does not. We looked out from under our poncho hoods at the emerald landscape and considered the quantity of rain it must take to achieve that poetic shade of green. While Larissa and Michael were rained on one single day, and Ashley at AshleyAbroad never felt a drop (humph!), it’s very reasonable to assume you will feel more than a few. Pack your dry socks and this poncho (a brilliant recommendation from Darren and Jolene at Dare to Draw Down), and trek on toward your pint at the inn that awaits you.

A moment’s respite between the showers.

There will be blisters. Possibly blisters upon blisters. I had worn my hiking shoes over many miles to prepare, but I didn’t duplicate the conditions well enough to know what would happen if I trekked in a downpour (see above.) Even Justin, who never gets blisters, got a blister. We packed a small blister management kit and a little grit, thinking of the Roman soldiers whose duties included a lot of walking back and forth in (no doubt) similar weather. It worked out fine (although I will try different shoes for our next long walk). After all, I didn’t lose a toenail as this intrepid walker did. And a few pints didn’t hurt.

Large animals may block your path. The trail goes through a bit of national park, but the majority cuts through working farms. Usually the cows and sheep studied us curiously from a polite distance, but sometimes the most delicious grass was right in front of the stile. If they were sheep, they got up and trotted off as we approached, baa-ing their disapproval, but willing to make way. Not so the bulls. They were charming enough on the other side of the fence, languidly hoofing the ground and playing at butting their heads together. But would that extra large one with the HORNS turn serious when we popped over the stile? Twice we stood at their thresholds for quite some time, attempting to evaluate their bovine mood. Finally we creaked open the gate and tip-toed on our way, not making eye contact, mumbling a very cordial greeting. Possibly being polite was not what saved us from being gored in an English field of cow patties, but nevertheless, I suggest this situation calls for the deployment of your finest manners.

How do you do, gentlemen?

Also, a lot went right! We were in England, after all, a place we both feel connected to, having lived in Cambridgeshire for a few years in the mid 90s. Among the many things that went right on our trip:

Our lodgings were quirky and wonderful. We especially loved a little B&B called Hollies on the Wall. (Reserve early–just one lovely room, kept by a delightful couple in Gilsland, a small village right on the wall path.) Another great one was The Wallsend Guest House in Bowness on Solway.

We met so many interesting people. An Australian in his 70s, having a holiday along the wall before returning to Mongolia to marry his sweetheart. Americans from Minneapolis, Boston, Louisiana, and Virginia, seeming to enjoy their walk as much as we were. Couples from Israel and Norway and Germany. But the majority of our fellow walkers were from elsewhere on the island, enjoying their own historical treasure. Four former rugby players were hiking from their hometown of Carlisle, one of the two cities along the route. They were tent camping, rain or shine. Oh, their huge packs! They showed us a bit of what they were carrying. Yes, this lad carried his teapot, naturally.

His friend carried a full bottle of wine in his pack, and God knows what else.

The history of the Romans in Britain is fascinating. We read up to prepare, but there’s nothing like walking it step by step to learn what the wall meant to the people who built it and live in the shadow of it. Housesteads Fort was especially worthwhile–we saw the remains of the granary, a latrine, the commander’s quarters, and the soldiers’ barracks, all tucked into the southern side of that imposing wall, stretching without end in both directions. A cheerful art installation marked this 1900th anniversary year, conceived by artist Morag Myerscough and executed with the help of many locals. They cleverly built it to the height that the original fort; to look out from it is to capture a view not seen for almost 2000 years.

Art on the Wall, created by the people who know it best.

The cuisine is more varied than it was 25 years ago. These days we eat vegetarian with a bit of fish from time to time, though we expected to need to be flexible on this trek through the English countryside. To our surprise we found ample vegetarian options–lots of delicious curries and even a few classics done up with plant-based “meat”, such as the veggie bangers & mash Justin had for lunch in the delightful Three Tuns Pub in Heddon-on-the-Wall.

You will have a lovely cup of tea. Oh, the wisdom of tea in the English countryside. Please order a cup at the Errington Coffee House, right on the trail. Change into dry socks, then sip your tea as you share a slice of apple tart with your walking partner, and you won’t mind the rain pelting the windows. After your second cup you’ll be ready to get back out there.

What couldn’t you tackle after this pot of tea?

You will have some excellent ales. Justin says his personal favorite is the Fox Brown Ale from the great Corby Brewhouse, but he had a hard time choosing. And it’s not just the quality ales on tap–it’s the perfect pint glass on the worn wooden bar in the traditional old pub. Ah, England.

Wall, cows, trees, rain. Repeat. A grand day out.

Cows and sheep make excellent company. Justin had some farm experience in his childhood, but I didn’t at all, so it was novel for me to spend several days ambling among them. Sometimes they were a Greek chorus, delivering divinations as they chewed, and sometimes they were a knitting group, having just put down their needles to watch us pass. Always they looked very content. I could learn a lot from that contentment.

Your walking partner is even better company. You will have many miles to be with someone dear to you, taking it in at the peaceful pace of your feet. You’ll have deep talks, and you’ll make sheep poop jokes. There will be long stretches of companionable silence, listening together to the Northumberland wind. Take someone you love and enjoy the gift of time suspended.

These lovelies took their sweet time moving away from the gate.

We have three tips for you, fellow wall walker.

Tip #1: Book it yourself. While there are many companies that will make all the arrangements for you, organizing it yourself has big benefits. With the help of the indispensable Trailblazer guide by Henry Stedman, we figured out the milage we wanted each day, then booked each night’s lodging. For us, that was an important part of the fun, to study the map and delve into descriptions of each hamlet. You can stretch a short trip into months of happy anticipation that way. These lovely little places right on the path do fill up, so book early! But here’s the bottom line on booking it ourselves: we saved a stack of cash. One popular company, Mac Adventures, offers a package that is very close to our DIY itinerary (see below). Their package offers lodging, breakfasts, and luggage transfer. To compare, we added up our expenses on only those three things. (We did not include airfare, lunches/dinners, drinks, or train/bus fare, since people on the package would pay for those things separately.) Our equivalent expense for both of us was $1238 in US dollars. The package is $1420 per person. So we saved $1602 booking it ourselves, and we chose where we wanted to stay. Their lodging isn’t always right on the wall–ours was, which we enjoyed. Note that their package also includes a navigation app, digital trip documents, an emergency number to call, and a “passport” for collecting stamps along the path (that passport was for sale in pubs and inns all along the trail for £5, by the way.) I’ll let you judge whether those extras are worth $1602, but I will mention that with Henry Stedman’s hand-drawn maps in our pocket, only once did we walk several meters off the trail before we realized our mistake and turned back. Not a big deal. This is a very well sign-posted National Trail.

Tip #2: Get the baggage transfer. Hire Hadrian’s Wall Baggage Transfer to move your bag for a mere £56! That’s just £6 per night. All you carry is your water, lunch, and rain gear. Sounds like a logistical quagmire, right? Hoping they’ll find your particular lodging each night, in time for your longed-for shower? But they did! These guys are pros, and the bag showed up on time every time. You can have dry shoes and clothes to wear to dinner, and sure, why not, even your teapot–but not on your back all day. Trust me, do this thing with your bag. You’re welcome.

Tip #3: Take your time. You can take as many or as few days as you like, of course. We chose to stretch it over eight walking days, and I highly recommend that. Why rush? We had time for conversations over pints, plenty of sleep in comfy beds, and we could linger over breakfast in the morning. Honestly, if we did it again, I’d arrange for a zero milage day with an extra night at Twice Brewed, so we could spent a day at the nearby Vindolanda Museum and Fort. As it was, we were so waterlogged and weary that night that we didn’t go at all. Ah, well. Next time.

Walking from one side of England to the other, every step of it, is deeply satisfying. Hadrian’s Wall Path is a brilliant National treasure, a first-rate walk, and the setting for a wonderful holiday. Even if a few things go wrong, fellow traveler, you still get to go.

It will be right as rain in the end.

Read our full Hadrian’s Wall Itinerary here.

Thanks for reading, and by the way, I love comments. Bookmark for more on travel, minimalism, books, public transportation, and hikes. For daily postcards from, well, wherever we are, subscribe to

8 thoughts on “Three Tips to Love Your Hadrian’s Wall Walk, even if Things Go Wrong”

  1. “Maybe I should walk across England” is not a thought that ever once crossed my mind… and now it is crossing it as cheerfully as you crossed England! Your writing is always delightful. And my goodness, what an interesting experience to be in the English countryside when the Queen died.
    Can’t wait for your next entry!

  2. Fantastic Launa! We are adding this to our list of things to do. Bookmarking this! Inn to inn is really our speed of hiking, and it’s great to know there are more options beyond the Camino.

    1. Totally agreed, Allen–inn-to-inns are a good level of challenge when our backs are not so young as they used to be. And yes! We have our eye on doing the Camino in the future We thought of this as a good warm up in some ways, to test our equipment (and we have a little adjusting to do). 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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