The sycamore of sycamore Gap along Hadrian’s Wall in Northumbria is the most photographed tree in all of England. No surprise since it is perfectly framed by the dip in the terrain, which allowed it to grow by protecting it from the sometimes brutal winds of the area. The day we were there was a little blustery, giving us just a little taste of reality.
We took an extra day on our walk in the middle of our trip, an area which is remote and therefore more intact sections of the wall and forts. If you ever do the walk think about it. It give you lots of time to enjoy the area, and to take a break during the storms.
In this area the wall is built along the edge of cliffs. It is fairly vigorous walking, and some of the steep, rocky areas are a bit treacherous when wet.
This section contains a lot of lovely scenery, even on a cloudy day, including the most photographed tree in England: the sycamore of sycamore gap. It is a striking site: a large healthy sycamore tucked into a gap in the cliffs.
The walking part, for us, was from the Steel Rigg visitor center to Housesteads Fort.
Turret on Steel Rigg.
We took the bus from Housesteads past Steel Rigg to Vindolanda. Vindolanda is not to be missed. If I had it to do over I would have opted for 3 nights at Henshaw Barn so we had a full day there.
Vindolanda is a very large fort and the civilian settlement that built up around it, still under excavation, along with a well done museum of the finds. Including personal letters, miraculously preserved and located that give insight into daily life.
Gilsland to Once brewed wasn’t the original plan. We were supposed to go to Housesteads Fort, another three or so miles. After looking at the weather report (wind and rain) and studying the terrain (turning to the steep side) and maps I proposed that we shorten the day and use the following day (supposed to be a rest day where we just visited Vindolanda) to do just the section between Steel Rigg and Housesteads Fort. Boy was that a good call!
In Gilsland there is a ruin of a mile castle, number 48, it’s called “Poltross Barn”. The marked trail had a detour around this mile castle but the woman who ran our bed and breakfast told us to ignore the detour because it was passable and the “barn” was worth seeing. It was.
You can see the Roman’s effect on the landscape…and the current guardians.
This stretch has a lot of wall…and a lot of hills. But the hills are unusual: from the south they rise gradually then drop down abruptly. The Romans deviated from the straight shot across the narrowest part of Britain to take advantage of the unusual landscape running the wall along the crest of the hills. The military road was to the south where the landscape was easier to navigate and travel was both quicker and could be done on horseback. Frodo is played by my husband.
The scenery was beautiful and I was glad that we cut the day shorter, especially when a rain squall came at us as we started the steepest segment. We could just wait it out. By the end of the day the sky was looking innocent with a lot of blue and fluffy white clouds, as if there had never been a storm.
Our fifth day going east from Bowness-on-Solway took us from Lanercost Priory to Gilsland, the county line between Cumbria and Northumberland.
It felt a bit like the real wall walk started as we headed east from Lanercost. Before that it was a lovely walk through English countryside. We finally got to see Hadrian’s wall, not just stones from the wall used in other buildings. That is because we were moving into less populated, more rugged terrain: Fewer buildings that needed stone (like the Priory) and harder to take the stones far.
Path, wall reamins and road running arrow straight.
Stile built into a stone wall.
Straight path forward.
Pedestrian bridge over the Irthing River at Willowford.
Remains of the Roman abutment at Willowford, the river shifted away from the bridge over the past 1500 or so years.
Most people “do” this 14 or so mile stretch in one day. The walking is pretty easy and even I could have done that (although it would have been a stretch), but we took two: Carlisle to Crosby-on-Eden, then Crosby-on_Eden to Lanercost Abbey.
We did this in order to backtrack a bit and spend the morning at the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle. This was a very worthwhile stop because we learned quite a bit about how to recognize the wall and the earthworks near it when un-excavated-which is most of the way. It made the walk into a sort of scavenger’s hunt.
On this stretch you start out walking along the Eden River in Carlisle, the main charm of this stretch is the wildflowers along the way.
It is a nice walk through Cumbrian countryside. The tower in the picture below is a folly, not an ancient fort.
The weather was okay until we got to Crosby-on-Eden, then the wind came up. Overnight it really blew, and the next day was blustery–good English weather with lots of atmosphere. It was in the stretch between Crosby-on-Eden and Lanercost that you start to see the signs of the earthworks and un-excavated wall. The only parts of the wall itself that you see are the stones re-purposed in churches, manor houses, etc along the way.
Hadrian’s Wall Path.
In this stretch you are walking on un-excavated wall with the defensive ditch running by your side.
Passing though farms and fields of buttercups.
As you leave the river the terrain is no longer flat, but sometimes that is because of human activity.
These young bullocks seemed to be saying “and don’t come back” to me. They had followed me across their field.
The sun came out at the end of the second day.
The end of that section, Lanercost Abbey, a lot of the stones for the Abbey were initially part of Hadrian’s wall.
Since life is moving fast and my ability to process the pictures from our last trip is not, I’m hoping to, at least on and off, work through our experiences walking the English National Hadrian’s Wall Trail day-by-day. Maybe life will slow down or I’ll speed up…but I’m not banking on it. Walking the wall was a major accomplishment for me, I am not well balanced or athletic, so I feel a need to spend some time reflecting on it.
This small gallery shows the variety of walkways that make up the national trail.
On our second day of walking Hadrian’s Wall Walk was about 9 miles from Boustead Hill through Burgh-by-sands (pronounced Bruff-by-sands) and other smaller villages, then along the Eden River into the city of Carlisle, we walked along roads (both paved and dirt), through cow pastures, beside a river and on narrow nettle and blackberry lined walk ways.
Yesterday we touched down after a 23 day trip to England. The centerpiece of our trip was to walk the Hadrian’s Wall National Trail from Bowness-on-Solway to Wallsend, on the outskirts of Newcastle. We finished that walk a week ago today (officially it is 84 miles, but I can’t really brag-we did it over 12 days and had our luggage transported).
The National Trail is marked, well marked, by an acorn symbol.
Here are some pictures for Cee’s Which Way from the first day, walking along Solway Firth.
(I have so many pictures of my husband’s back that I have it as a key word in Lightroom!).
The road along Solway Firth is prone to seasonal flooding. In several spots they have signs to let motorists know how deep the water will be so they know if it is safe to proceed.
Our first acorn (or at least the first one I noticed).
Ducks go that way. (Actually it means that there is a wildlife refuge, but they use the same format on signs to show pedestrians and cyclists which way to go).
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