In March this year I set out on my first long distance hike along the Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail. I have dappled in National Trails before having done the Peddar’s Way and Norfolk Coast Path as part of a sponsored walk/cycle during the pandemic but that was in stages and in my own bed each night. The Hadrian’s Wall Path was a whole new realm of walking for me with a 6 day adventure laid out before me.
Hadrian’s Wall Path is an 84 mile route that reaches across the breadth of England from West to East (or East to West depending on the direction you choose to walk it). I chose to walk from west to east starting out in Bowness-on-Solway in Cumbria on the west coast and ending up in Wallsend, Newcastle upon Tyne in the east to make sure I was walking with the wind to have the weather in my favour.
The National Trail follows the line of the Hadrian’s Wall UNESCO World Heritage Site, passing through some of the most beautiful parts of England – from rolling fields and rugged borderlands to the vibrant cities of Newcastle and Carlisle – with dozens of fascinating museums along the way. If you complete the walk in the peak tourist season you can buy a little passport to have stamped along the way (sadly my walk was completed in March so no proof of passport stamps for me).
Hadrian’s Wall Path was the 15th National Trail to be established and came into being in 2003. I have had a hand in maintaining this National Trail whilst working as a Countryside Access Officer in Cumbria and volunteered on the Wall with the Northumberland National Park so had a sound knowledge of it’s history before setting foot on my first long distance adventure along it’s length.
Why walk the Wall?
So why was walking the wall important to me? Having lived in Cumbria all my life until University I knew the west of the country well, I then completed my studies of Countryside Management at Newcastle University, living in the city for 3 years, so began to learn more about the east too. During my studies I completed a student placement with Northumberland National Park and continued to volunteer with them for the rest of my time at University. Here I made great friends with the rangers and folk that worked along the wall, I learnt a huge amount from practical conservation skills to gaining a wealth of knowledge about the wall from Paget Lazzari, Head Ranger at the time, who had worked for the Park for 30+ years.
So I had roots at both ends of the Wall and some key interests along the way but I didn’t have much inkling to walk the length of the Wall whilst I lived and worked in the area. It wasn’t until I returned from living in Suffolk that the flare for a long distance walk started.
Whilst at University I was diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety and depression, I found I wanted to get as far as I could from Newcastle at the time, so a job offer in Suffolk as a Rights of Way Officer suited those wishes nicely. But after a few years on the flat lands of East Anglia, the hills of the Lakes were calling me home and a job offer of a Countryside Access Officer in Cumbria gave me the opportunity to come home after time to recover mentally away from the North East.
It was in March this year I found myself changing jobs yet again to return to a role as an Access Field Officer, where I found myself with 2 weeks leave to use up between jobs. I hadn’t really planned anything and thought 2 weeks stuck at home wouldn’t keep me entertained, so I there was no better time to get stuck into my first long distance hike.
Why Hadrian’s Wall when there is the likes of the Cumbria Way and the Coast to Coast so close my doorstep? I felt Hadrian’s Wall Path was the most fitting as it didn’t sound too daunting, the National Trail website itself says and I quote ‘Anyone who is reasonably fit can walk the Hadrian’s Wall Path and the route is relatively easy.’ I had done zero training at this point, booking accommodation merely 2 weeks before setting off on the adventure itself so thought it sounded pretty manageable (who was I to know quite how unfit I was and how much ill fitting boots can hamper a hike).
I had recovered from my mental health issues and felt I had finally reached a stage where I wanted to put to bed my demons of Newcastle, so the Hadrian’s Wall Path was the perfect opportunity to put my past behind me and start a new chapter back in my homeland of Cumbria. Doing the walk as a kind of pilgrimage to my past and opening a new door to my future.
I had never walked alone for more than 2 days, I enjoy a walk and a wild camp but that’s usually around 24 hours of solitude which I quite appreciate but didn’t know how I’d cope with 6 days alone with my own thoughts for company (and Sydney the dog of course).
In the end my boyfriend joined me for the first day and my mum the second so I only had 4 days to myself but what an adventure it was. I learnt a great deal walking from Maia to Segedunum and loved most of the walk itself. This week I’ll take you through each stage of my walk day by day, detailing my route and giving you an insight into how I found walking the Wall.
Hear about my hike on Distance Hiker’s latest podcast episode here.