Hadrian's Wall is a "A World Heritage Site", situated in the North of England covering three of our counties of Cumberland, Northumberland and Durham from the West coast to the East coast. Most guides to the wall start it at Bowness on Solway, although the map/guide called Hadrian's Country takes it back along the west coast down to Ravenglass at the south of the Lake District.
For this guide we are going to concentrate on covering the wall by car, and will take you to those places that are easily accessible via this method and as there is very little physical structural remains prior to Banks East Turret just outside Banks, we will start this guide from here. Prior to this point much of the western wall (about 30 miles) was built of turf with stone turrets and overtime turf gives way and therefore little exists today. For a detailed history on the wall then see Hadrians Wall.
To cover Hadrian's Wall even by car it will take a number of days, to stop off at each of the significant points and then to take time at each of the major attractions. Some of the attractions on this route are not actually on the wall, but are near to it and they played a significant part during Hadrian's time here. So prior to your journey using this guide you should be able to get a good idea of what can be seen, how long at least to allow at each place and therefore be able to work out how long you need to complete your trip. We did the wall in two parts (each two days long) one starting from the West and the other from the East.
Two Ordnance Survey Explorer Maps OL43 and 316 cover the wall and it is worth investing in these are many of the turrets and smaller points are on un-numbered or unclassified roads. A number of turrets are identified on the with the word 'turret' but they are not labelled, so using the map in combination with this guide will allow you to identify what to see. Many of the turrets and other smaller sites have information boards with illustrations of how it may have looked.
We are starting our journey at Banks East Turret. To get here from the M6 J43 take the A69 which joins Carlisle and Newcastle Upon Tyne. Just past Brampton there is a road on the left to Lanercost, at the priory follow the road to the right and follow the signs to Banks. At Banks take the right fork at the Y junction which is signposted to Gilsland.
Here there is a well preserved turret as well as some good lengths of adjoining stretches of wall. The road is narrow, but there is a parking area for you to stop and take in what you can see, and the stunning views across the countryside. If it's wet like on our visit then the views may not be as stunning. Also within the same vicinity and can be reached from the same car park is Pike Hill Signal Tower, little remains today, but while here you may as well take a look and read the information board. This tower pre-dates the wall and was later joined to it at an angle of 45 degrees.
Jump back in your car and continue along the road towards Gilsland, and a little further along at Leahill, there are the remains of two further turrets, Leahill and Piper Sike. Piper Sike has a cooking-hearth within it.
As you travel along this road and you get to Appletree, to the right away from the road, and not easy to see from the car, is the remains of a section of turf wall. It runs along the edge of the Vallum, south of the main wall, and runs from here towards Birdoswald Roman Fort.
Birdoswald is the first major site on the wall when following it from west to east. It is a Roman Fort, set on a high spur overlooking the River Irthing, and it has the best preserved defences of any of the major forts on this route. Today we see the remains of the defensive wall and gateways, with the south gateway and its oven, the headquarters building, barracks and granaries as well as wooden posts which show where two timber halls replaced the granary building. There is a large pay and display car park just past the main entrance the road takes a sharp left turn and goes downhill slightly, so you have to walk back up again to gain access through the visitor centre.
From Birdoswald there is a section of wall which goes out across the fields and the next focal point is Milecastle 49 Harrow's Scar . Just beyond this is a footbridge over the River Irthing and on the other side is the remains of a bridge, Willowford Bridge. By now you are about 600 metres from your car, so it is probably now a good time to walk back and continue your journey.
On leaving the Birdoswald car park take a right and at the next road junction turn right onto the B6318 and head towards Gilsland. Go through Gilsland and just over the railway take the night right towards Gapsheild. Find somewhere to park up safely and take a walk across the fields to Milecastle 48 - Poltross Burn. It is situated right next to the railway line and is one of the best preserved milecastles on the wall. Remains include it's north gateway, a stair to the rampart walk and an oven.
From this milecastle return back to the B6318 and go towards Greenhead, continue on the B6318 through Greenhead and take the next left to the Roman Army Museum. Within this museum there are no excavations, however the building, does house replica artefacts, a reconstructed barrack room, it has information about Emperor Hadrian and runs two short films. One film explains the Roman Army, the other gives a birds eye view of the wall from here through to Roman Vindolanda. On the opposite side of the road is access to Walltown Quarry, which makes a good stop off point with parking, toilets, picnic area and access to Walltown Crags, one of the best places to see the wall snaking and diving along the crags of Whin Sill.
From here rejoin the B6318 and continue east. The next point of interest is at Cawfields. At the crossroads for Haltwhistle take the left towards Cawfields Quarry. There is a car park (max 40 bays), toilets including disabled, and a picnic site at the base of the quarry and you can get some spectacular reflections in the water. From here you leave the car and walk alongside the quarry water and up onto the cliff top. It is a meander and not a steep climb, although the final piece to the top of the crag is a lot steeper. At the top you get to Cawfields Roman Wall and Milecastle 42. There are some good remains of a milecastle here, and you can see a good stretch of the wall as it follows the hillside into the distance. From the top of the crag you can get some good aerial views of the wall going East and it is probably one of the best photo points on the wall.
Return back to the B6318 continue East and take the next left. This road takes you in a loop around to Steel Rigg another good viewpoint for the wall. Many would continue down the B road to Once Brewed and then turn left as the tourist signs point you this way to Steel Rigg. However doing this you miss a section of the wall which is just visible from the B road, but is better viewed and easier to photograph from this loop road. The advantage of using this road is that little traffic does, so you are able to stop at various points and get some good photos of Winshields Wall, as you can see from our location guide. This is the highest point on Hadrian's Wall.
When you reach Steel Rigg there is a pay and display car park, and this is another good point to get out and stretch your legs and take in the spectacular views. This is in my opinion the best viewpoint on the Wall, not just for seeing the wall, but the surrounding scenery is spectacular. As well as the wall you can also see Crag Lough into the distance. Here it is possible to get panoramic views.
Back at the B6318 go straight over down the road next to the Once Brewed Visitor Centre. This is the main visitory centre for the National park and World Heritage site. It is also the point where the Pennine Way crosses. Within the centre there are exhibitions, tourist information and parking. Continue past the visitor centre and take the next left signposted to Vindolanda Roman Fort. Follow this single track road until you come to the car park and picnic site on the right. Vindolanda is a large Roman Fort and settlement which predates Hadrian's Wall. Excavations have uncovered numerous buildings and some well preserved artefacts, but it also has a full size replica section of Hadrian's Wall built of wood and stone.
Get back onto the B6318 continue east towards Housesteads Roman Fort and keep your eye open on the left so that you don't miss probably one of the most recent iconic images of the 20th century, Sycamore Gap and Castle Nick, with its single solitary tree within a dip between two high crags. This is Robin Hood's tree in the film 'Robin Hood Prince of Thieves'. From the road and therefore a drive along the wall you can see the tree and the outline of the walls of Castle Nick, however walkers and any that fly over this part will see milecastle 39, Castle Nick much better.
From here the next major stop off point is Housesteads Roman Fort. This is the best preserved roman fort in Britain, and is one of 12 forts added to the Wall in around AD124. It was designed to contain a garrison of 800 soldiers. Excavations show the granaries, barrack blocks, headquarters building, commanding officers residence, a hospital, bathhouse, latrine, all four gateways and the remains of turret 36b which was here before the fort. The large car park is directly off the B road at which there are toilets, a picnic area and a National Trust shop. You walk under the archway and follow the path up the hill to the Museum and ticket office. Once you have your ticket then you walk across hill a little further up hill to enter just before the south gate.
The views from up here are great and although it is difficult on the ground to take in the enormity of these remains, you can see from the aerial images in our location guide that it is large and there is a lot to see. Whilst up here, before walking back down hill to your car it is worth taking a slight detour west to follow the wall back to Milecastle 37. The views from this path along this stretch of wall are stunning, sometimes you are walking on top of the wall which is on the cliff edge with a shear drop below. Once you get to the milecastle you will find the nearly complete northern gate arch which allows the height of the archway to be calculated. From here walkers would continue on west, but you need to get back to your car, so turn around and make your way back to Housesteads. As you approach you will see a set of steps to your left which takes you down to follow the path and bypass the fort to get to the wall at the other side.
Continuing on along the B6318 at Shelid on the Wall the next stretch of road now follow the course of Hadrian's Wall and it switches from one side of the road to the other, identifiable by turf mounds. Your next port of call is the car park at Brocolitia Roman Fort . This is nearest the car park and is just humps and bumps in the ground. There are two other sets of remains on this one site. The first Temple of Mithras, just behind, is a 3rd century temple built to worships the Roman God Mithras. This is a small walled area with pillar markers and some stones. Then just beyo9nd this along a stone bath and over a sty there is Coventina's Well.
Back on the road and continuing east on the left you will see Blackcarts Turret. Just before there is a small road on the left to Simonburn which you can pull to one side on and explore this turret and its 1,509 feet length of wall.
The next port of call is Chesters Roman Fort. The best preserved cavalry fort in Britain. It has a well preserved commandants house and the bath house, nearest the river, is the best I've seen to date with its complex of rooms offering customers hot, cold and steam baths. From the bath house take a look across the river and across the on the eastern side and you will see the remains of Chesters Bridge Abutment which carried Hadrian's Wall across the River Tyne. The museum displays a wide collection of Roman finds mainly those retrieved by John Clayton and include important early discoveries of the central section of the wall.
Back on the B6318 head to Chollerford and at the roundabout continue to follow the B road over the stone river bridge. At the next crossroads go right onto the A6079, along on the lefthand side is a small parking area. Off of here and across the field you get to Brunton Turret and Wall, a section of the Wall with an 8.2 feet high turret built by men of the Twentieth Legion.
After taking a look at this get yourself back onto the B6318 and continue east once again the road travels the course of Hadrians Wall, with it crossing the road and running down either side. The National Trail Path keeps to the right side. At the roundabout where the B road joins the A68 take a right and head to Corbridge, and visit the Corbridge Roman Town. This is a series of forts at an intersection of two major roman roads, Stanegate and Deer Street. It's earliest parts, a fort, dates from around AD139. It became a busy garrison town and the remains you see include the remains of a fountain house with aqueduct, a pair of granaries and walled compounds for the military, containing barracks, temples, houses and a headquarters building with an underground strong room, as well as a piece of the Stanegate Road. There is also an onsite museum which displays a selection of Roman finds.
Retrace your route back up the A68 to the roundabout to continue your journey onto Newcastle Upon Tyne following the B6318.There is not much to see along this stretch but it is a pretty and enjoyable journey in the countryside before you hit the metropolis. At Heddon-On-the-Wall you now join the B6528. The next stop is Heddon-on-the-Wall where you find a consolidated stretch of wall up to 2 metres thick in places. You can park up on the side of the road coming out of the village and enter via some gates.
Continue to follow the B6528 through Throckley until it joins the A69. Before entering Newcastle there are some sections of the wall to be found amongst the houses and streets like that of Denton Hall Turret. To get there follow the A69, straight over the A1 junction, you are now on the A186, and at the next roundabout take a right into Denton Road (A191), at the next roundabout go right into Broadwood Road, follow this road to the right and take the 4th left into Turret Road. There is room to park by the turret which will be on your right.
From here rejoin Denton Road and go straight across on the B6328 into Whickham View. Take a left into Rushie Avenue and right into Bertram Crescent take the 3rd left into Broomridge Avenue where you will find the Vallum Crossing and in the same area, Dunhill Park are the remains of Benwell Roman Temple. This is the remains of a small temple to the god 'Antenociticus' which stood outside Benwell fort.
From here you could continue through Newcastle on the A186 which takes you all the way to Wallsend, Segedunum Roman Fort. However it is quicker to bypass the City Centre by getting back onto on to the A167, coming off on the A1058, Coast Road. At the junction of the A186 take a right into Station Road, go over the A193 junction and then turn right into Buddle Street, Segedunum is on your right.
Segedunum Roman Fort stood on the banks of the River Tyne, and was the last outpost of Hadrian's Wall. For almost 300 years it was home to 600 Roman soldiers. It is the most excavated Fort along the Wall, although with the least amount to see except outlines to show where buildings once were. It has a large interactive museum and a 35 metre high viewing tower which gives a good aerial view of the site. They have also reconstructed a Roman Bathhouse, showing you what they think it looked like in its day. Across the road there is also a reconstructed piece of a Roman Wall as they think it looked like, which you can climb onto.
It is at Segedunum just the other side of the perimeter fence that is the east end of the Hadrian's Wall Path (National Trail).
This you may think is the end of our journey, but there is one more Roman site that is worth a visit now that you have come this far. It is four miles east of the end of Hadrian's Wall at South Shields. To get there take the A19 through the Tunnel to Jarrow. Where the tunnel exists at the next roundabout take the A185 and then A194 to South Shields. At the roundabout with the B1344, Station Road, at the third roundabout go right at next roundabout go left into Mile End road, then right into Green's Place and then the next major right into Baring Street, your destination Arbeia Roman Fort will be on your left.
Arbeia was built to guard the entrance to the River Tyne. It was built around AD160 and the stone fort played an essential role in the mighty frontier system. Originally built to house a garrison, Arbeia soon became the military supply base for the 17 forts along the Wall. It was occupied until the Romans left in the 5th century. Today, we can see excavated remains and reconstructions of original buildings on their original foundations include a roman Gatehouse, a barrack block built using traditional techniques of the 3rd century and the Commanding Officers House which has been fitted out with authentic furniture and wall paintings. There is also a museum building that houses artefacts and finds discovered at the Fort, and all of this combines to give an insight into life in Roman Britain.
So this has brought our tour to an end. Of course we have run it from West to East, but you could do it from East to West. Either way you get to see some fantastic sites, and get to learn about the Roman history of Britain.
Direct Drive times by car between the major venues on this route
See our other pages relating to Hadrian's Wall.
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