The Best Places to Explore Along Hadrian's Wall
The glorious yet wild Hadrian's Wall Country is where you'll find Housesteads, Chesters and Vindolanda, all Roman remains of note, as well as The Sill
North of the wall, The Barrasford Arms offers a warm welcome at a traditional country pub with rooms. In nearby Gunnerton, Southland Farm is home to four quaint sandstone cottages and a lovingly restored 1940s showman’s wagon all surrounded by beautiful gardens and rolling countryside. Across in Matfen, the recently refurbished Matfen Hall Hotel has just reopened with a brand new fine dining restaurant and the Orangery serving afternoon teas. With a 27-hole golf course and spa, gym and treatment rooms this is definitely the place to lay your head if you’re looking for a little luxury. On the Wall find the luxurious Walwick Hall, a country house hotel complete with spa and refined dining. To the south, near Newbrough and Fourstones, you’ll find The Red Lion which offers six ensuite bedrooms, as well as welcoming log fires, delicious freshly-made food, local real ales and a great pub atmosphere. As far as B&Bs go, Carraw Bed and Breakfast, also near Fourstones, is one of the best. Situated on a hilltop (on the foundations of the Wall itself) it overlooks the vast Northumberland National Park. South-west of the wall, Layside is a brand new log cabin offering seriously luxurious self-contained rooms, where you’ll be hosted by seasoned travellers Sophie and Kevin who will be on hand to prepare breakfast and recommend local activities, while nearby Henshaw Barn is a rustic B&B offering two stylish double rooms, and wholesome food home-cooked by your classically-trained-chef-cum-host, John.
Hadrian’s Wall Country, including the many sites of the Roman ruins, is simply begging to be explored on foot. Cawfields is one of the easiest Hadrian’s Wall milecastles to reach by car, but also encompasses one of the highest standing sections of the entire Wall. Expect steep slopes where the Wall hangs on the edge of the sheer crags of the Whin Sill and views over the quarry lake. From here, head east to see the iconic Sycamore Gap tree, which featured in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; continue on and you’ll end up at Housesteads Roman Fort, the most complete Roman fort in Britain. West of Houseteads, Walltown is arguably where to get the best view of Hadrian’s Wall as it snakes and dives along the craggy Whin Sill. The Wall is well preserved here but it is also a great example of how the soldiers coped with the rocky outcrops, sometimes incorporating the natural rock into the Wall itself. Keep going west and you’ll get to Birdoswald Roman Fort on a ridge high above the River Irthing. Once bog and forest, the Romans drained the area and here the Wall was originally built from turf. The well preserved ruins are an archeologist’s dream revealing more about Hadrian’s Wall and those that came after than any other site along its length, including carvings from the Dacians (now Romania) that travelled with the army and carved symbols of their homeland into the fort’s walls.
You can learn all about the history of the Wall in the rather more contemporary setting of The Sill. Housing both permanent and temporary exhibitions you can get hands on here with interactive games, poetry, stories and music all aimed at bringing the surrounding landscape to life. There’s a great café here for refuelling too (perfect if you’ve already walked part of the Wall) and make sure you visit the Sill’s unique grass roof. Inspired by the shapes and geology of the nearby Whin Sill, the roof is planted with a unique collection of local plants all chosen as they can withstand the tough climactic and soil conditions found along the length of the Wall, and gives great views across the landscape.
If you really want to get up close to the history of the Wall then book a special guided walk and talk. Ancient Britain’s award-winning full-day tour ‘Roam with the Romans’ transports you back 2,000 years to a time when Hadrian’s Wall was a frontier, a place where two cultures collided. Local guides, dressed in authentic costumes, will weave a narrative from both sides of the Wall with tales of the natives and stories told by the occupying forces. Discover what life was like under the Caesars and explore the hidden archeological gems of the Wall on foot as you roam along the slopes of the Whin Sill.
Spa lovers should seek out Chesters Roman Fort, not for relaxation but to discover how the Roman did it 2,000 years ago. The tranquil Roman spa on the banks of the North Tyne was once a relaxing and social space for weary soldiers, and the ruins of the bathhouse, steam room and officers’ quarters can still clearly be seen.
Foodies should head to Hjem in the aptly named village of Wall. Scandi chef Alex Nietosvuori ’s speciality is a tasting menu, which packs in the freshest seasonal produce from their Northumberland surroundings. If you can bag yourself a table (they’re in high demand) we promise you won’t be disappointed. Restaurant Pine is another Michelin-starred gem not far away just south of Matfen, just off the old Military Road. There are Hygge Cabins in which to stay but it’s really the food you come for. Watch your dishes being created in the open kitchen as you sit back and enjoy the carefully-curated tasting menu courtesy of Cal Byerley.
For those that enjoy some retail therapy, head to the pretty village of Corbridge on the River Tyne, known for its independent shops and cafés. Full of quirkiness and colour, RE is a must-visit for inspirational ideas for your home, while award-winning Forum Books is a rare treat – an independent bookshop chock-full of hand-picked books, covering an eclectic subject range. Plant lovers should check out The Garden Room, vintage lovers head to Vintage at the Tower and for quirky handmade gifts, Craft Works Gallery on the end of the historic bridge over the Tyne is worth a look. There are lots of cafés and pubs in the village perfect for a coffee and cake, or something a little stronger and more substantial. There’s a riverside walk which will take you west to the market town of Hexham and its beautiful Abbey and historic Gaol.