Monday, August 29, 2011

WALKING THE HADRIAN'S WALL PATH: Days 1 and 2 — Wallsend to Wall

Milecastle 39 of Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall formed the north-west frontier of the Roman empire for most of the period AD122-410.  The empire's frontiers extended over 5,000 km from the Atlantic coast of Britain through Europe, the Middle East and across North Africa to the Atlantic.
The site's outstanding universal value to humanity is recognized under the World Heritage Convention, 1972.
                                              Inscription on UNESCO Plaque at Segedunum 

Eight days ago, I completed my 85-mile walk of the Hadrian's Wall Path, which stretches westward from Wallsend (just outside Newcastle on Tyne) to Bowness on Solway.  Now part of the United Kingdom's incomparable national trail system, the path follows the ruins of the magnificent wall constructed by the Romans between AD 122 and 128 under the direction and guidance of Emperor Hadrian, who is remembered historically as one of "the five good emperors."

The Romans occupied Britannia in AD 43 and spent many years thereafter trying to subjugate the local tribes.  On the whole, they were eminently successful; indeed, to some extent, many of the southern tribes eventually grew comfortable with the civil order and new infrastructure that came with Roman life.  The northern tribes, however, known collectively as the Caledones and living in the area that is now Scotland, remained steadfastly recalcitrant and continued to resist Roman occupation at every opportunity.  At the same time, mounting obligations in other parts of the Roman Empire were placing new burdens on both the treasury and the manpower of the empire.  Thus, rather than remain in perennial conflict with the Caledones, the Romans decided to formally establish a northern frontier to their empire and to fortify that boundary as a means of separating the "lawless" northern tribes from the conquered and "law-abiding" southern tribes.

It was against this backdrop that Hadrian ordered the construction of the wall in  AD 122. Much of the wall has been destroyed over the centuries by subsequent military conflicts, vandalism, scavenging, and weather.  What remains, however, is magnificent, which is why UNESCO, in 1987, added the wall to its list of World Heritage Sites, placing the wall in the company of Petra, Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Wall of China.  Moreover, as indicated above, a walking path parallel to the wall was formally established and made part of the UK's national trail network in 2003.

I was honored to be joined on the walk by my two great friends — Robert, author of The Solitary Walker, who joined me for four days of the walk, and Dominic, author of Made Out of Words, who joined us for a couple of those days.  Meeting these guys and enjoying their fine, cheerful, and edifying company was, without question, the highlight of the entire trip for me.  For what it's worth, there was not a scintilla of difference between the friends I encountered personally and the initial impressions I had drawn of them from their respective blogs.  Authentic, intelligent, adventurous, morally courageous, and good humored — these are the words that best describe the two guys who tramped with me through the best sections of the Hadrian's Wall path.

More about Robert and Dominic to come, so let's begin. 

Day 1:  Wallsend to Wylam

The path began inauspiciously at Wallsend near the foundation (photo below) of the ancient Roman fort of Segedunum, which is located in a largely industrial area.

Soon after leaving Segedunnum, however, the path took on its own kind of beauty, with magnificent patches of rosebay willowherb juxtaposed against the blue fences that offered visual protection from some of the modern developments.

The initial four or five miles of the path is an asphalt walking/cycling track that runs alongside the River Tyne.  At one point, however, the path diverted through some lovely parkland . . .

. . . before returning to the asphalt track along the river.  In the distance, I could see the city of Newcastle . . .

. . . which has some very interesting bridges, including the Millennium Bridge (below), also known as the "winking eye" or "blinking eye" bridge.  As one can see from the darkness of the next photo, however, the weather was taking a turn for the worse, so I pressed on, eager to reach the green, softer footing of the English countryside.

After leaving Newcastle, I reached the pleasant surroundings of the Tyne Riverside Country Park and and followed a riparian path that catered to equestrians and cyclists, as well as walkers. 

After a few miles, the path turned away from the river, proceeded through some pleasant communities . . .

. . . and turned down the Wylam Waggonway. . . 

. . . past the childhood cottage of George Stephenson, inventor of first steam locomotive for railroads . . .

. . . to the village of Wylam, where I spent the first evening.

Day 2:  Wylam to Wall

After a brief walk to from Wylam to Heddon-on-the-Wall, I discovered the first significant portion of Hadrian's Wall.  

The path then paralleled a highway that was built upon the wall many years ago. The views were lovely, however, often giving me a sense of walking up into the clouds.

Being a national trail, the path was well marked.  When in doubt on a national trail, one need only follow the white acorn, which is always posted on signposts, stiles, kissing gates, and other places along the path.

After crossing the road in the above photo, I continued westward past magnificent wheat and barley fields, all crowned with magical clouds.

Passing through small villages, I discovered lovely old church doors . . . 

. . . colorful barns . . . 

. . . and stunning landscapes . . .

As I moved westward, the path was bracketed by endless bouquets of wildflowers on the left and a stone wall on the right . . . 

. . . eventually leading me to cross the road, walk through a pasture of grazing cows . . . 

. . . cross over a stile (note the white acorn reminder of a national trail) . . .

. . . and discover a wonderful new section of the wall.

A few miles later, I arrived at the village of Wall, where I spent my second evening of the walk at the Hadrian Hotel.  Little did I know that another guest in the hotel that night was the mysterious Solitary Walker . . .

Stay tuned.  The scenery and the stories get better in the next post.


  1. What a marvelous journey!

    I've only seen a small portion of Hadrian's Wall but even that I found stirring.

  2. They get better? Is that possible? These are stunning. I love that wheat field with clouds, but the field with dots of red (poppies?) alongside the path is equally enticing.

    I want to say that I'm almost sick with jealousy, but I would mean that in only the best of ways. A friend has long wanted to do this walk and we talked of it several times, but it hasn't happened...yet.

    The turnstile is so cool. Winslow Homer features them in several of his paintings.

    Are you saying you had no idea The Solitary Walker was there? What an amazing "synchronicity" that was surely by divine arrangement.

    I'm glad to see you've been out on a grand adventure. Thank you for sharing it with us. I so look forward to the next installment.

  3. I'm pleased that you had a good time on one of our National Trails. I walked the route myself in the early 70s, it wasn't waymarked then but you were allowed to walk along the top of the wall; there were few people walking in those days so erosion of the path was not seen as a problem. I notice that the colourful barn which you photographed has some very large, neat square stones used in its construction - now where do you suppose the farmer acquired those? I am looking forward to further instalments in your travels and reacquainting myself with the landscape of the Wall.

  4. George, terrific photos and words, and it's going to be great watching the story unfold from two perspectives, yours and the Solitary Walker's - guess he's giving up the "solitary" part for a spell, though?

  5. I've only walked a few of the best sections and visited the two best forts on foot, but it was magnificent, even so. To have walked the full length of it is admirable. I look forward to the next instalment.

    I've already read Robert's account of where he catches up with you.

  6. Sounds like an ideal holiday exploring beautiful new territory on foot and enjoying stimulating conversation and friendship. Your photos are stellar as always. By the way, the "willow herb" growing alongside the trail in the above photos is what is known in my part of the world as fireweed - my favourite wildflower, which I've personally never seen growing in the UK, though had heard that it grew there, so I was excited to see it in the photos.

  7. Your photographs and enthusiastic commentary make me wish I were there George. What a wonderful gift you have given yourself - and to connect with two blogging friends is surely the icing on the cake.

    It's hard to imagine that the photos could get any better. It was a delight to get a glimpse of your walk with these. Thank you so much.

    Happy trails ...

  8. I've come back to look at these photos again, and I see I forgot to tell you how much I like the variety of architecture in the Millenium Bridge photo with the old flour mill and the amphitheater of Metal(?). Really a nice composition. Each of these have wonderful qualities.

  9. To Maureen,

    Thanks for your generous comments. I hope you will have a chance someday to walk the Hadrian's Wall path, as I did. It was a terrific experience.

  10. To Teresa,

    Good to hear from you, Teresa, and thanks for the generous comments. By all means, get it touch with your friend and tell him that it's time for the two of you to walk the Hadrian's Wall path — pronto! From what I seen in your own postings, I know that you would love the experience.

    Actually, I knew that the Solitary Walker would meet me at some point, but I thought that point would be the village of Gilsland. As you will learn from the next post, however, I was surprised to meet him two days earlier. Check out his current posting and you will see his account of our encounter.

    Glad you like that photo of the wheat fields and clouds. That's one of my favorites. I was rather overwhelmed by the pure simplicity of the scene.

  11. To John,

    Thanks for dropping by, John. It's good to hear from someone who walked the trail more than thirty years ago. Yes, I think the builder of that little barn probably used more that his fair allotment of stones from the wall. He would not be alone, however, since, as you know, many of the structures along the route, especially churches, were constructed with stones from the wall.

  12. To Goat,

    Hi Goat. I'm delighted that you stopped by to read this posting and make a comment. During my walk with Robert, he had many fine things to say about your blog and recommended that I check it out, which, of course, I will. Stay tuned; the most interesting part of the walk is yet to come.

  13. To Friko,

    Good to hear from you, Friko, and I was unaware that I had remained silent when you asked If I was going to meet Robert on this walk. In any event, we had a great walk along this historic wall. I'm not quite sure where you live, but I wonder if I was near your part of the country.

  14. To Bonnie,

    Great to hear from you, Bonnie. I can assure you that Robert and I would have enjoyed your company had you been able to join us on this walk. The history and scenery were great to experience, but getting to know Robert and Dominic were clearly the highlight of the trip for me. My guess is that all of us, at one time or another, has wondered what it would be like to personally meet someone who has become a blogging friend. Would that person be the same as we imagine or would they be different, perhaps significantly different? In this case, there was no difference whatsoever. Robert and Dominic were precisely who they appear to be in their writings. What a joy is would be to find such authenticity in the world outside of blogging.

  15. To Teresa,

    Thanks for the additional comment on the photo of the Millennium Bridge. This is a pedestrian/cycling bridge and it is one of seven bridges that cross the Tyne at Newcastle. Sorry for the poor quality of the photo, but the black and white appearance was created by the foul weather that was overhanging the city when I took the shot.

  16. To Fireweed,

    So good to hear from you, Fireweed, and to learn that the fireweed of "Fireweed Meadow" is actually the same plant as the rosebay willowherb that I discovered along the Hadrian's Wall path. No plant was more ubiquitous on the walk and it was a great pleasure to accompanied by such beautiful wildflowers.

  17. At last.

    I smiled reading the political history of the wall, establishing a boundary for the Romans to keep out the criminal northern tribes. I thought about you leaving this land of ours and its partisan bickering, and spending days over there following the path of this monument of political strategy.

    Oh George, just as I heartily agreed with Robert’s descriptive words of you at his post, delighting in the fact that you really are those things, I completely agree with your descriptive words of Robert (I don’t know Dominic, but maybe I should), and I’m tickled that he, too, is authentically his blog persona. Again though, I’m not surprised about that.

    The photos, as I expected, are just gorgeous. I wonder how you knew the names of the flora? Did you carry a reference book with you? The rosebay willowherb with the blue fence! So beautiful. Thank you for the word “riparian” which I never knew. Is the land the wall covers maintained by the government? I agree about the wheat photos (you know how I feel about wheat), both are breathtaking, walking into those clouds. The second with its tracks at the horizon is brilliant. I did wonder how you always knew where the path was, and if acorn signs would appear when needed.

    The three photos starting with the church door are frame-worthy, and I love the progression from city to countryside village. I think the clouds were awfully cooperative to give you such photogenics.

    I smiled at the end when you pique our interest with the mysterious guest in the house. It reminds me of The Lord of the Rings, when the hobbits check into the Dancing Pony, and Strider is sitting at the table in the dark, watching them, his pipe glowing.

    I’m glad there will be more! It is just so happy-making picturing you, Robert and Dominic in conversation for four days. Hope you don’t mind me not editing myself and making a long comment. That’s what you get for not taking me along.

  18. George, that post was absolutely lovely, and I did enjoy reading it. It was great to see the pix of that first stage - I almost feel I've walked it now, at least in spirit.

    You keep us hanging, George ... and eagerly awaiting the next instalment. Even though I know what happens, I'm in thrall. Now, that's good blogwriting!

    Rosebay willowherb - one of the unifying images of the walk ...

  19. To Ruth,

    No comment from you is too long, Ruth, and I hope you know that you were always welcome to join us on this walk. Kindred spirits are always welcome.

    Yes, I carried a Hadrian's trail guidebook that provided history, a route map, and information on flora and fauna. I have learned from Fireweed that the rosebay willowherb identified in my photos is the same as the fireweed found in the northwest.

    There may be portions of the wall and path maintained by the government. For the most part, however, the path and wall are located on private property. To their credit, many of the landowners routinely maintain the path for walkers.

    Thanks for the generous comments on the photos. Hopefully, I can at least provide a flavor of what one experiences on the path.

    As I said in the post, stay tuned; there's more to come.

  20. To Robert,

    Good morning and thanks for the comments, my friend. Writing about the journey we took together is a wonderful way of reliving the experience.

    Rosebay willowherb was, indeed, one of the unifying themes of the trip — that and the good conversation. Fireweed has advised me that rosebay willowherb is the same species as the fireweed mentioned in the title of her blog, "Fireweed Meadow."

    Have a great day.

  21. Wow...I'd almost forgotten how good you are with the camera! Wonderful pictures, really. I need to add this further up the list of things to walk. Beginning to think I need to leave...and just keep walking forever! Gracias! did you make out during the hurricane?

  22. To Karin,

    Thanks for the kind thoughts, Karin. Yes, by all means, add Hadrian's Wall to your bucket list — and, yes, one could do worse in life than to just keep walking forever. As for Irene, we fared better than I anticipated. No significant damage. Thanks for asking.

  23. Lovely to know that you got back safely George - do hope the hurricane didn't interfere with you too much.
    I am so glad you enjoyed meeting Robert and Dominic -wish I had been able to join you too.

    Your photographs and commentary are good enough to publish in a booklet - have you thought about doing that?

  24. Hi Pat,

    Thanks for nice comments. It was great to spend time with Robert and Dominic. As for the hurricane, we fared reasonably well at my home. All things considered, it could have been much worse.

  25. Great walk, great post. I just wish I could have been there for the whole thing. I certainly feel inspired now to do the whole route.

    I like the photos of Newcastle and Gateshead: I go to The Baltic gallery quite often and to The Sage for concerts from time to time. I also quite like walking through towns (at least the thought of it!) We're no less natural than the nature we see everywhere else - in a way, a city can be seen as as impressive as a termite's mound.

    As for rosebay willowherb - it looks great, but anyone who tries growing veg in the UK develops an instinctive urge to pull it up whenever they see it!

    Looking forward to the next instalment...

  26. Hi Dominic,

    Great to hear from you, and thanks for the great comments. I think you should go ahead and do the whole route. You would clearly have a great experience.

    You're definitely right about the merits of town and city walking, and I agree that "a city can be seen as impressive as a termite's mound." It's all about remaining open to the present moment, gratefully receptive to whatever life has to offer on any given day or place.

    Stay tuned! I have some interesting photos of the two days that you, Robert, and I walked together.

  27. George - What a glorious adventure! The blue of fences, benches, door, and sky are wonderful. I love the wheat fields and the bales of hay. The scenery you encountered is splendid. Thanks for taking me along on your walk.

  28. Hi Barb,

    Thanks for the kind comments. You would clearly enjoy a walk along Hadrian's Wall. Great history and scenery for the entire distance.

  29. Dear George,

    LOL how wonderful! I was reading Robert's post on Wall Photo Sequence (2). As I was scrolling down Wall Photo Sequence (1) I noticed a link to your blog, which read "Walking the Hadrian's Wall". I paused. Hmmmm... Hmmmm???

    What a beautiful adventure to be walking with blogger friends. The pics are stunning.

    Thank you for sharing.

  30. Hi Rebecca,

    Thanks for stopping by again. Stay tuned. There's more to come on the Hadrian's Wall experience, and, yes, meeting a couple of blogging friends in person was the highlight of the adventure for me.

  31. You have an amazing life George, so full of discovery. Your photographs buoy me along the trail too.. so breath-taking.. Thank you

  32. Hi, GWEN. Thanks for the lovely comments. Nice to hear you say that my life is amazing and full of discovery; that's the goal, though I sometimes fall short.

  33. Did you hear me gasp as I looked at your photos? Well, I did. The wheat field is outstanding and I can't think of a more perfect vacation. Walking with all that surrounding oneself... I can only imagine that you often paused and marveled at the beauty of it all.

  34. Oh... I forgot to ask... What are kissing gates?

  35. HI, MARGARET. I, too, love the wheat field shot. A "kissing gate" is a gate that swings in a "v" shaped or "u" shaped enclosure, thereby allowing humans to pass through, but not livestock. They are very common in England. There are many stories about why they are called "kissing gates," one being that the gate is always just touching one side of the enclosure or the other, rather than being locked. Another is a tradition in which the person advancing through the gate will not push the gate back and allow the next person to go through without a kiss. Needless to say, I have no experience with this tradition.

  36. Nice set of photos! I was doing it from the other end at about the same time, started in Bowness on Solway on the 9th Sept. 2011 and walked back as far as Heddon. Hoping to do it again starting at Wallsend this year. It started a a mild obsession in me resulting in my working on a website detailing various LDPs:

    I will add a link to your photos on my Hadrian's Wall page.

  37. Thanks for your comments, SINBAD. Great to hear about your new website on long-distance paths. It's a passion for me. I have the C2C, the Hadrian's Wall, and the Cotswold Way under my belt, and I'm walking the Offa's Dyke Path in August.