SECTION 1: Introduction
- Visiting Rome’s Northern Frontier
SECTION 2: History of the Wall
SECTION 3: The Wall east to west as it exists today
- South Shields to Benwell Hill (including Newcastle)
- Benwell Hill to Rudchester (including Heddon-on-the-Wall)
- Housesteads to Great Chesters (including Steel Rigg and Cawfields)
- Great Chesters to Birdoswald (including Walltown)
- Stanwix to Burgh-by-Sands (including Carlisle)
RELATED VISITOR ATTRACTIONS/MUSEUMS
A major tourist destination Hadrian’s Wall has a number of major museums/exhibits along its length and offers a whole range of walks of varying difficulties/lengths in beautiful countryside. The following are related staffed museums/forts on or very near the Wall or the West Coast defences (links open in new window):
- Vindolanda Roman Fort (off direct line of wall)
- Roman Army Museum (Magna)
The iconic Sycamore gap: found at Steel Rigg.
The Hadrian’s Wall path logo is the same as those used on other National Trails - an acorn symbol (shown right). Wouldn’t a Roman Helmet have been more relevant?
Built by the Romans to control movement between north and south, Hadrian’s Wall is Britain’s most stunning historical monument and a popular tourist destination for thousands of people who come to walk all or part of the National Trial. But all is not as it seems - the official walk deviates from the original line of Hadrian’s Wall in several areas.
HADRIAN’S WALL: VISITING ROME’S NORTHERN FRONTIER
Ask many people what Hadrian’s Wall was and why it was built and the most frequent answer you will get is as a barrier to stop the Picts. This was certainly one role it played in its near 300 hundred year occupation, albeit how successfully is open to debate, but it also had other functions. It enabled a division between north and south tribes helping to defuse an anti-Roman insurgency in Cumberland and the Pennines. It made it possible for a newly posted Legion to avoid the withering casualties suffered by its predecessor. It probably even facilitated taxation just like so many other borders since. Today only fragments of this once mighty frontier remain - but they are set within some of the most picturesque landscape in the north and undoubtedly represent Britain’s most impressive historical monument.
Hadrian’s Wall Path
In 2003 the Hadrian’s Wall Path, a National Trial, was created. Offering an unbroken 84 mile walk it stretches from coast to coast and for much of the length it follows the original line of Hadrian’s Wall. It offers an excellent way to see the best sections of Hadrian’s Wall, to visit the associated museums/exhibits and to see a little bit of everything including the Stanegate Road (the original frontier), the Vallum, vast swathes of the wall itself (original and reconstructed) as well as all major (staffed) sites.
Line of the Wall versus the National Trail
As good as the National Trail is, it is essential to understand that by exclusively following it you are not walking the complete original line of the Wall - in fact you are missing much of the Newcastle end, some of the approach to Carlisle, the site of the final Roman fort on the Wall and the twenty plus miles of sea defences that ran along the Cumberland shore.
This not a criticism of the National Trail - the aim of that walk is to give the best experience to the most people - the majority of whom want to walk coast to coast along scenic paths rather than follow the line of the Wall. The streets of urban Newcastle are less appealing to tourists than the National Trial’s route along the banks of the Tyne. Likewise the route of the Wall from Walby to Carlisle is less appealing than the National Trail’s diversion to the banks of the Eden due to busy traffic.
This article comes in three sections:
Section 1: An introduction to the National Trail and the components that make up the Wall. Essential reading for anyone wishing to visit all or part of the Wall.
Section 2: An account of the history that led to the creation of the Wall and then the its place in Roman Britain. How did an army that relied on mobility and an empire that thrived on conquest come to develop such a grand static monument?
Section 3: A guide stretching from South Shields in the east to Maryport in the west describing the real line of Hadrian’s Wall. I hope this fulfils two functions - firstly to enable viewers to cherry pick sections they are likely to be interested in and secondly to provide guidance on where the National Trail diverts from the line of the Wall. Each section has postcodes, OS grid reference and lat/longs to help you find the segments of the frontier. Whatever part of the Wall you are visiting, this section can help you get there!
The Wall at Steel Rigg (see relevant section)
Please note: each part of Section 3 has a dedicated map showing more detail.
REFERENCES / FURTHER READING
Breeze, D.J (2011). The Frontiers of Imperial Rome. Pen and Sword Books Ltd, Barnsley.
Burton, A (2010). Hadrian's Wall Path. Aurum Press Ltd, London.
Crow, J (1989). Housesteads Roman Fort. English Heritage, London.
English Heritage (2010). An Archaeological Map of Hadrian's Wall, 1:25,000 Scale. English Heritage, London.
Hodgson, N (2011). Chesters Roman Fort. English Heritage, London.
Moffat, A (2009). The Wall. Birlinn Ltd, Edinburgh.
Wilmott, T (2010). Birdoswald Roman Fort. English Heritage, London.
Bedoyere, G (2010). Roman Britain: A New History. Thames and Hudson Ltd, London.
Dando-Collins, S (2010). Legions of Rome. Quercus, London.
Hobbs, R and Jackson, R (2010). Roman Britain. British Museum Company Ltd, London.