Where can you wander alongside the ghosts of Roman soldiers at garrison towns, ancient temples and crumbling forts? Step back in time nearly 2000 years by exploring Hadrian’s Wall along England’s wild northern frontier. The wall crosses a sublime, historic landscape that is still giving up the secrets of the region’s turbulent past.
Hadrian ordered the construction of his wall in 122 AD, ‘to separate the Romans from the barbarians’. It stretched in its heyday from coast to coast, with a pair of turrets and a ‘castle’ or small fort every mile. It’s impossible to walk Hadrian’s Wall and not become fascinated by the Romans and Britons who lived, worked and died here. Whether you’re covering a short section of the wall in an afternoon or spending a week walking its entire length, let Lonely Planet magazine guide you to the six unmissable sights.
1. Housesteads. The wall’s most dramatic site, and the best preserved Roman fort in the country, is at Housesteads. From the ridge, you can see Northumberland National Park and the wall snaking into the distance. The foundations include a hospital, barracks and even flushable toilets (£4.50; nationaltrust.org.uk).
2. Millennium Bridge. On the eastern side of the River Irthing lie the remains of the bridge that carried Hadrian’s Wall across the water. The course of the river has changed over the years and the new Millennium Bridge re-connected the route in 2001, taking walkers from Cumbria to Northumberland.
3. Lanercost Priory. The peaceful, russet-coloured ruins of Lanercost Priory in Cumbria are all that remain of a building founded in 1166 by Henry II and inhabited by Augustinian canons. After the dissolution, it fell into disrepair until the nave was restored as a parish church in 1740 (£3.20; english-heritage.org.uk).
4. Brocolitia Fort. Excavations near Brocolitia Fort (also known as Carrawburgh Fort) unearthed the Temple of Mithras, a third-century construction built to worship the eponymous Roman god. Although desecrated, some walls remain alongside copies of original altars (free; english-heritage.org.uk).
5. Vindolanda. The museum here offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of a Roman garrison town, displaying leather sandals, Roman helmets and writing tablets. The excavated site also includes parts of the fort and town, and reconstructed turrets and temples (£5.90; 10am-5pm; vindolanda.com).
6. Heddon-on-the-Wall. A consolidated stretch of Hadrian’s Wall, nearly two metres thick in parts, is visible outside Heddon-on-the-Wall in Northumberland. The village marks the journey’s end for many walkers, who prefer this more picturesque conclusion over the city of Newcastle, nine miles further to the east.
Make the trip
The trail is open all year round, though walkers are encouraged to visit between May and October, to allow the ground to recover over winter and spring. Find planning information and tips on nationaltrail.co.uk/hadrianswall and hadrians-wall.org. Highly regarded local company Hadrian's Wall Ltd can take the hassle out of a trip, offering self-guided, part-guided or fully-guided walks and cycles; providing maps; organising accommodation; and taking luggage in between overnight stops.
This is an excerpt from an article by Marcel Theroux, originally published in Lonely Planet magazine.
Marcel Theroux is an award-winning novelist, journalist and broadcaster. His latest novel is entitled Far North (Faber & Faber; £12.99).
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