Are you looking for a day filled with adventure, history, and stunning scenery? If so, then look no further than Hadrian’s Wall and Vindolanda. This World Heritage Site offers the perfect blend of fascinating Roman ruins and breathtaking landscapes, all combined in one unforgettable experience!
Whether you are an amateur historian or professional archaeologist, these gems of the north are sure to take your breath away as they offer exquisite insights into this bygone era. Come along and join us on our journey to explore just some of what Hadrian’s Wall has to offer, from learning about life inside a former Roman fort at Vindolanda to wandering along one of Britain’s most celebrated National Trail.
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Hadrian’s Wall was once the Northern frontier of the Roman Empire. Stretching 84 miles across Northern England from Wallsend on the east coast to Bowness-on-Solway on the west coast. Today, only parts of the wall are still visible. However, there are still some fabulous sites to explore.
The following guide details everything you need to know about visiting Hadrian’s Wall. In particular, it will show you the best sites to see and how to get to them. Furthermore, I will detail how to explore Hadrian’s Wall via public and private transport.
History of Hadrian’s Wall
Many believe Hadrian’s Wall once served as a border between England and Scotland, which wasn’t. It was the Roman Empire’s northern frontier against the Northern British tribes.
During his reign from AD 117 to 138, Hadrian abandoned continual conquest and expansion in favour of enclosing the Roman Empire within clearly marked frontiers. In some areas, these were nothing more than a road or river with several roaming guards along the way. On the other hand, the Northern border of the empire in Britain had been very troublesome.
The Roman Conquest of Britain started in AD 43 and was largely completed by 87. The Romans had many campaigns to conquer the North but came under extreme resistance from Northern English and Scottish tribes. Consequently, they realised having a drawn-out war far outweighed any economic or political benefit and decided to leave the northerners alone.
In AD 122, under Hadrian, a defendable wall was constructed 84 miles long and took six years to complete. The wall was thought to have been up to 4.6 metres in height and 3 metres deep. At mile-long intervals along the wall, you would find small guard posts or a small fort. In addition, more prominent forts were situated at 7-mile intervals. Another feature that was introduced after the original designs were completed was a 6-metre deep ditch called the Vallum. This feature gave an extra line of defence and can still be seen along much of the route today.
After the Romans
In AD 409, the Roman occupation was over; for the most part, life continued as it had. The Romans had gradually left, and a new era of Anglo-Saxon rule had begun.
The wall remained in a reasonable state right up to the Elizabethan period of the late 16th century. From this period, though, stone from the wall was increasingly taken and used to build houses, churches and farms across Cumbria, Northumberland and Tyne & Wear. However, by the 1800s, people interested in antiquities began to speak out and prevent this from happening.
By the mid-19th century, the momentum behind the drive to preserve the wall had grown, and Victorian archaeologists and historians began to contribute to an understanding of the Roman frontier that continues to grow today.
How to get to Hadrian’s Wall:
Spanning across numerous counties in the North of England, visiting Hadrian’s Wall is relatively easy. You can easily take a day trip from cities such as Carlisle or Newcastle and some smaller towns along the route.
The car is the easiest way to check out some popular sites along Hadrian’s Wall. Most sites, like the more significant forts, will have car parking facilities. However, to discover some of the more unique sections, you may need to take a bit of a walk.
By public transport:
If you base yourself in one of the towns or cities along the route, seeing most sites using public transport is straightforward. However, some of these services may not be running in winter, so please check before travelling.
The AD122 bus route runs a circular route between Haltwhistle and Hexham railway stations. This bus is probably your best option for visiting Hadrian’s Wall, stopping at some of the most popular sites along the route and some scenic places to walk along the wall.
If using public transport, I suggest you base yourself in either Carlisle or Newcastle. From Carlisle, you can get a local train to Haltwhistle and pick up the AD122. From Newcastle, you can catch the train or bus to Hexham and again pick up the AD122.
For some, the only way to visit Hadrian’s Wall is to walk it! Many people choose to walk small sections of the Hadrian Walls National Trail. Equally, some people prefer the challenge of walking the whole 84 miles!
Those who intend to walk end-to-end can join the Passport scheme between May and October each year. Simply buy your passport, have it stamped at seven specific spots along the route and claim your enamel badge and achievers’ certificate.
Whatever you decide, you are sure to pass through some beautiful landscapes and enjoy some fabulous historic sites along the way!
My visit to Hadrian’s Wall and Vindoloanda:
Whilst staying in Penrith in September, I decided to see if I could check out Hadrian’s Wall for myself. However, I wasn’t sure if it was possible, especially after talking to my host, who advised it was too far away to visit on public transport. Despite this, I decided to take a chance, get the train into Carlisle, and then see if any buses would get me to the wall.
Initially, I arrived in Carlisle and thought it would be a hassle, so I checked out the fabulous Carlisle Castle and the Cathedral. Both were great, but after wandering around the town trying to decide what to do next, I noticed the tourist information centre. So, the next thing I was talking to one of the lovely staff who told me about the AD122 bus route and that it was my only option if I wanted to visit the Wall.
Getting to Hadrian’s Wall:
As it was already close to midday, I decided to get my skates on, grabbed a leaflet, quickly got the next train to Haltwhistle, and then caught the AD122 bus. An hour later, I sat on the bus en route to my first stop of the day.
My first stop was at The Sill, the newly opened National Landscape Discovery Centre. This place features various exhibitions and event spaces that focus on inspiring people to explore the area’s beautiful landscapes.
Although this place isn’t on most people’s itineraries when visiting Hadrian’s Wall, it makes a great starting point. It is served by the AD122 bus and has a large parking area and a lovely cafe inside. The unique design of the building also lets you walk up to its roof to get some fabulous views of the surrounding area.
Taking a walk:
From here, I noticed that one of the wall’s most famous locations was only a short walk away, the Sycamore Gap. This location has become famous since being featured in the 1991 film ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ starring Kevin Costner. The tree has been known as the ‘Robin Hood Tree’ ever since.
Update: Sadly, the tree no longer stands due to vandals who cut it down in 2023.
The walk from the Sill to the Sycamore gap only takes 45 minutes. However, it can be pretty steep at the start, with many uneven steps up to the top of the wall. Once along the rim, it’s a leisurely, easy walk towards the gap.
After having a little rest and a quick bite to eat, I walked back past The Sill and walked up to the old Roman fort of Vindolanda.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Vindolanda; however, I was pleasantly surprised. Vindolanda dates back earlier than Hadrian’s Wall, with the first of its forts dating to AD 85. However, years later, Vindolanda became a significant base during the wall construction.
After the wall was completed, Vindolanda became one of the walls garrison sites. Moreover, it continued to play an active part in the wall’s history, maintaining a strategic position and being regarded as a vital part of the frontier system.
Even years after the Romans had left Britain, families and communities continued to call this place home. It is thought the last people left Vindolanda in the 9th century. As a result, the site gradually degraded from an abandoned ruin to a scrub woodland.
The site remained untouched until the 17th century when farmers started to clear some of the scrub from the land. Over some time, these farmers discovered various artefacts. These included altars and inscriptions, urns and pots, and Roman coins.
Eventually, the site was owned by various families who wished to preserve and protect the site. In 1970, the Vindolanda Trust was set up along with further excavations and the now admission building and museum.
This place is truly remarkable! As you walk through the entrance building, you are greeted with the sheer size of the once-Roman Fort. However, it’s easy to see that this would have been more than just a fort; it’s the size of a small village, with most of the site still yet to be excavated.
You can wander the old streets and even watch some excavators at work. Besides this, you can check out a replica wall and turret, giving you a better idea of what it may have looked like in its heyday.
At the bottom of the site, you will also find a fabulous museum, coffee shop, and a landscaped garden filled with Roman art and exhibitions.
After a good exploration, it was time for me to get the train back to Penrith. As much as it was a busy day, I think if I’d gotten to Carlisle earlier and gone straight to Haltwhistle, I would have had plenty more time to check out some other sites. However, I enjoyed my day out; it was an excellent way to visit Carlisle and Hadrian’s Wall in a single day.
Other places to visit along Hadrian’s Wall:
Here is a list of some of the other interesting places you can visit along Hadrian’s Wall:
Housesteads Roman Fort:
Set high on a dramatic escarpment on Hadrian’s Wall, Housesteads Roman Fort takes you back to the Roman Empire. Wander the barrack blocks and the hospital. Peer into the oldest toilets you’ll ever see and admire the stunning panoramic views from this ancient fortress.
Corbridge Roman Town:
Not all the sites on Hadrian’s Wall were heavily guarded fortresses. Corbridge was once a bustling town and supply base where Romans and civilians would pick up food and provisions. It remained a vibrant community until the end of Roman Britain in the early years of the 5th century.
Chesters Roman Fort:
Chester’s Roman Fort is the most complete Roman cavalry fort in Britain. Wander around the unusually well-preserved baths, steam room, and the officers’ quarters. Discover a fantastic collection of Roman objects and inscriptions in the museum, which were all found at the fort and along Hadrian’s Wall.
Ravenglass Roman Bath House:
The remains of the bathhouse of Ravenglass Roman fort, established in AD 130, are among the tallest Roman structures surviving in Northern Britain. The walls stand almost four metres high and guarded what was probably a useful harbour.
Birdoswald Roman Fort:
Stand in awe at the longest remaining stretch of Hadrian’s Wall at Birdoswald Roman Fort. Explore the ruins of the Roman fort, a turret and milecastle and look along the wall as far as your eyes can see.
Senhouse Roman Museum:
Dramatically sited on cliffs overlooking the Solway Firth, this award-winning museum is next to a Roman fort probably founded in the first century AD and rebuilt during the reign of the emperor Hadrian.
Arbeia Roman Fort:
Standing above the entrance to the River Tyne, Arbeia Roman Fort guarded the main sea route to Hadrian’s Wall. It was a key garrison and military supply base to other forts along the Wall and is an integral part of the history of Roman Britain.
Where to stay when visiting Hadrian’s Wall:
There are many places to stay along the Hadrian’s Wall route. If you have your own car, you could stay in one of the many hotels, guest houses and B&Bs around the area. If camping is your thing, there are also many campsites within Cumbria Northumberland National Park.Booking.com
Those needing to rely on public transport may want to base themselves within and around Carlisle or Newcastle. It is also possible to take a trip to Hadrian’s Wall from the Northern Lake District, such as Penrith, like I did. However, getting there is a bit of a hike; I would recommend staying more local if you can.
Overall, a day exploring Hadrian’s Wall and Vindolanda was an incredible experience that opened my eyes to the ancient history of Britain and the beauty of nature surrounding this piece of England’s past.
I highly recommend visiting these majestic locations to anyone who enjoys history or beautiful landscapes. It can be hard to find exciting and captivating sites to visit, but Hadrian’s Wall and Vindolanda are worth the trip. There’s always something new to explore, as well as finding some peace and relaxation in the surrounding countryside.
Thanks so much for stopping by; I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read and make it to the end! I have lots of exciting new content in the next few weeks, so make sure you pop back to catch up!
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