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Hadrian’s Wall East: Five Days & Two Millennia of History in Wild Northumberland

It may be 2,000 years old but Hadrian’s Wall – once the northern frontier of the Roman Empire – remains a formidable barrier. The 135km-long National Trail that follows it, from Wallsend in the east to Bowness-on-Solway (within the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) in the west, is unique in providing unfettered public access to this precious UNESCO-listed landscape. In few places is history so open, on such a large scale. Which makes it an excellent focus for a fascinating short break.

The east-central section of the wall wends across Northumberland, one of England’s wildest and least-populated counties. It is here that the wall performs some of its most dramatic manoeuvres, diving down valleys and climbing up hills, affording big views. It is also home to some of the most astonishing archaeology: excavated sites, with their garrisons, bath houses, even communal toilets, reveal what day-to-day life was like in Roman Britain. And, as well as all the wonderful walks and historical insights, there are plenty of welcoming places where you can stop for a proper pint and a great pub meal. An excellent ancient adventure awaits.

Tour Overview

The icons below highlight the distance, difficulty and theme of this itinerary.

Days

5

Distance

Walks from 4km to 10km

Difficulty

Easy / Moderate

Landscape

High Hills & Moorland / Rolling Countryside

Theme

History / Food & Drink

Activities & Experiences

Walking / Heritage / Hands On

Hadrian’s Wall Path: Hadrian’s Wall East

Here’s everything you need to help you plan your very own walking and exploring break in Northumberland’s Hadrian’s Wall Country. Click on the blue arrow tabs below for more information. To save this itinerary to view later, use the Save to My Rucksack button at the top of the page.

Itinerary

Plan a five-day escape in Northumberland to explore the east-central section of Hadrian’s Wall. Base yourself between the market town of Hexham and the village of Once Brewed/Twice Brewed, just south of the wall. Both have public transport links.

Day 1 Hexham, The Best Market Town

Handily accessible by train, handsome Hexham – once voted England’s Favourite Market Town by Countryfile magazine – has a tranquil air that belies its bloody history. From pillaging Vikings to raiding Border Reivers to the country’s first purpose-built prison, there’s a delicious darkness to Hexham’s past. Which makes it a compelling base for the start of your adventure.

Take your time, spending a day wandering around. Visit beautiful Hexham Abbey, with its Saxon crypt and Roman tomb. Stroll the flower-filled gardens of Sele Park. Hop between Hexham’s art galleries, independent shops and market stalls. Catch a performance at the grand Victorian Queen’s Hall Arts Centre. Enter the Old Gaol, which dates from the 14th century and is now a creepy museum. And grab a bite from one of the many cafes, restaurants or cosy pubs.

Overnight in Hexham. There are many options – see Accommodation, left.

Day 2 Corbridge & Castles

Catch a train – it only takes five minutes – from Hexham to Corbridge, once the most northerly town in the Roman Empire. Now, the quaint streets and courtyards of this ancient village boast a glut of independent shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants. You could spend time browsing now – perhaps picking up some local goodies for a picnic – or save it for later: you’ll be back.

The plan is to take a circular walk from Corbridge to Aydon Castle (English Heritage). Nestled in woodland, Aydon is a magnificent example of a medieval English manor house, barely altered since it was built in the 13th century. Spend time inside its old stone walls, searching for the original carved fireplaces, latrine block and arrow slits. If you’ve packed a picnic, the walled orchard is the perfect place to sit.

Following quiet country lanes, the trail returns to Corbridge, where you can pause for a drink before visiting the nearby Roman Town (English Heritage). Walking the old streets, past the granaries, markets, workshops and temples, you’ll get a sense of what life might have been like here two millennia ago. The modern museum houses an impressive collection of artefacts including the Corbridge Lion, an impressive stone sculpture that reveals much about Roman beliefs.

Overnight in Hexham. There are many options – see Accommodation, left.

Day 3 Chesters Roman Fort

Today, hop aboard the AD122 Hadrian’s Wall Bus to Chesters Roman Fort (English Heritage), site of the most extensive Roman cavalry fort in Britain, once home to a garrison of 500 troops. Imagine life as a Roman horseman as you roam around, from the well-preserved baths and steam room on the banks of the North Tyne to the officers’ quarters and elaborate commandant’s house. The on-site Museum of Roman Finds is a treasure-trove of objects and inscriptions.

Rest up in Chesters Tearoom – for a proper local lunch, try a traditional Northumbrian stotty cake – before heading off on a gentle afternoon stroll. From Chesters Roman Fort, follow a lovely loop, heading along a section of Hadrian’s Wall towards Humshaugh, a pretty village tucked into a river bend; pause at the the war memorial to admire the magnificent views.

Back in Chesters, catch the AD122 Bus back to Hexham or onward to Once Brewed/Twice Brewed. Both have places to stay – see Accommodation, left.

Day 4 Housesteads and Vindolanda

Spend a whole day back in the Roman Empire by exploring some of Hadrian’s Wall Country’s mightiest sites. Start at Housesteads (English Heritage), accessible via the AD122 Bus. High on a steep escarpment, this Roman fort – with its barrack blocks, granaries and communal loos – offers domestic insights plus sweeping views along the wall and surrounding hills.

From here, it’s another short hop by bus (or a 3km walk) to one of Europe’s most crucial and exciting Roman archaeological sites: Vindolanda. Sitting just south of the wall itself, Vindolanda comprises nine forts, all built on top of each other; the impressive remains include walls, headquarters buildings, granaries and barracks but, with the archaeological work ongoing, new discoveries are made all the time.

The scale is vast, and the finds extraordinary – the Vindolanda museum has a collection that includes a 2,000-year-old toilet seat and writing tablets (voted Britain’s ‘Top Treasure’), which tell of daily life here in the inhabitants own words. Marvel at the exhibits, relax in the glorious gardens and take lunch on the tearoom terrace, which overlooks the replica Roman temple and a tranquil stream.

From Vindolanda, make your way to The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre, either on foot (it’s a 35-minute walk) or by AD122 bus. This striking hub is spectacular, packed with hands-on exhibits that explore the area’s natural and cultural heritage, and topped with a fully-accessible grass roof that gazes over Hadrian’s Wall. Explore the displays, check out the programme of workshops and pick up a tasty treat in the Once Brewed Coffee and Bakehouse.

Overnight in Once Brewed/Twice Brewed – see Accommodation, left.

Day 5 Sycamore Gap & Beyond

End on a high, saving some of the most spectacular sections of Hadrian’s Wall for last. From The Sill, head towards Steel Rigg Car Park (a 15-minute walk) to pick up a 6.5km circular walking trail, towards Sycamore Gap. Here, you’ll see the iconic sycamore tree posing in a dramatic dip in the wall, the old stones rising on either side. Continue meandering up and along the ridges to the top of Highshield Crags, one of finest viewpoints: look down on glittering Crag Lough and the wild countryside spreading all around.

Return to The Sill, and the sustenance of its cafe, before heading to the Twice Brewed Inn & Brew House. This remote pub has its own eco-brewery on site – join a tour for a behind-the-scenes look at how it all works, plus a chance to sample their ales in the tap room. Then linger in the pub next-door: not only does it serves slap-up dinners, it has its own observatory (plus expert astronomers on hand) so you can finish your trip by exploring the infinite wonders of Northumberland’s dark skies.

Overnight in Once Brewed/Twice Brewed – see Accommodation, left.

Accommodation

The itinerary recommends two nights in Hexham and two nights in Once Brewed/Twice Brewed. Here are some suggestions depending on whether you are travelling by car or public transport.

Hexham
  • The Beaumont Hexham – Victorian townhouse with splendid views of Hexham Abbey. Tastefully furnished bedrooms are cosy and comfortable. The open-plan restaurant, lounge and bar serve delicious local seasonal produce.
  • Hadrian Hotel – Set in rolling countryside, a ten-minute drive from Hexham. Serves homecooked, local-sourced food in the fire-warmed bar or beer garden. Also has a small fine-dining restaurant, Hjem, serving a tasting menu of Northumbrian produce four nights a week.
Once Brewed/Twice Brewed
  • Twice Brewed Inn – Delightful country pub and B&B serving hearty pub dinners and local ale Has an onsite Brew House and a Dark Skies Observatory.
  • YHA The Sill – High-spec hostel including 18 en-suite bedrooms, based at The Sill Landscape Discovery C Well located for exploring Hadrian’s Wall.
  • Centre of Britain Hotel & Restaurant, Haltwhistle – Traditional hotel combining contemporary style and buckets of history – the oldest part of the hotel, dating to the 15th century, served as a Border Reivers Pele Tower. Individually designed rooms and delicious food.

For more information on accommodation and things to do along the route, head to Visit Northumberland and Hadrian’s Wall Country.

Food & Drink

Many of the pubs and hotels listed under the Accommodation section also offer food, from pub classics to fine dining. Additionally, seek out some of the region’s characterful cafes.

Activities

There’s plenty of excellent walking in Northumberland’s Hadrian’s Wall Country. Many of the heritage sites are quite close – it’s possible to walk between them, or follow circuits.

Walks

For further walking inspiration visit The Outdoor Guide.

Experiences

There’s heritage aplenty in this region. As well as Roman sites, take in ancient abbeys and state-of-the-art centres and museums.

Cycling

For further information on cycling visit Cycle England.

Travel

Travel possible by car, bus and train. Northern Rail services the region.

Advice

Suggested walks should take between one and four hours. They are graded fairly gentle to moderate.

We advise that you check opening times and booking restrictions before travelling.

Please check out these links for latest advice when in the countryside

Countryside Code

COVID-19 Guidance

Interactive Map

Click here to access the interactive map

Maps, Guidebooks & Merchandise

The official guidebook and map for the Trail are available from the National Trails Shop along with a wide range of gifts and other merchandise.