Hadrian’s Wall – Steel Rigg to Housesteads
It was going to be a bright day so it was time to head out on one of those favourite walks on a whim. I had the urge to head back to Hadrian’s Wall and a favourite little section of it, Steel Rigg to Housesteads. Hadrian’s wall, built in AD122 as the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire. 73 miles across Britain from coast to coast, Bowness-on-Solway near Carlisle to Newcastle. This small section I did this day has so much variety, history and commanding incredible views that I always truly enjoy every single step taken.
The section is only 3 to 4 miles along, but a most scenic central section within Northumberland National Park, with points of interest seemingly at every turn. In fact, the lonely tree at Sycamore Gap is one of the iconic images along the whole length of the wall. A single tree, perfectly situated and visually unique. It gained even more fame when used as a setting in ‘Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves’, where Kevin Costner as Robin rescued the boy from up ‘the’ tree. The wall itself is used for great effect. The sycamore tree is also actually now known as ‘Robin Hood’s Tree’. Yes, I know, it is a few hundred miles north of Nottingham..
In the main image at the top of this post you will see the terrain for the miles. Ups, downs, crags, views for miles and a taste of the history on offer. In the bottom of that picture you will see what is known as milecastle 39. The Roman’s built these fortlets at each ‘Roman mile’ between the major forts along the wall, a little garrison guarding the gates through the wall. On this walk you have of course then the pleasure of 3 of them.
As you walk along the wall and over the crags that the wall follows you get a real sense of not only scale but also the logistic issues that must have been there in the building! On the high points you can see it snaking across the land for miles, no obstacle getting the way it seems. Considering the wall you see today is a ruin and that originally it would have stood 3.5 to a great 6 metres in parts you can feel the undertaking and manpower that must have been involved.
Above is a favourite spot to watch the world go by. The small hump in the background was the starting point at Steel Rigg car park. Here you are about two thirds along the section looking back. The crags on the left contain the milecastle, the tree and the lake beneath. It is here you get not just a higher vantage point but you have started losing all the day trippers that want to just ‘see the tree and go’ 😉
Onwards you go, many more sights to see yet.. Over the next top and as seen below. another great example of a milecastle, milecastle 37.
The walls here in parts stand still at 1 metre in height, and each side of the gateway through the wall shows the remains of a Roman Arch.
On the wall, beside the wall, away from the wall looking on, the surroundings help bring it all to life with unforgettable landscapes. A tip is to get out on the walk early in the day. A low sun, and miles to yourself. The masses heading for the landmarks start to crowd around late mornings onwards. First thing in the day you walk the wall seemingly away from all, just the odd person every hour or so
A common misconception is that the wall is some kind of boundary with England and Scotland. Far from it. The structure was built long before the countries were born. It was simply as far as Roman Britannia went North. Today the whole of it is very much within England, with its western end nearly 70 miles south of what is now Scotland.
It is also here in this section of the wall that another great pathway crosses, a pathway running from way way south heading northwards. The Pennine Way. The views left and right do give rise to other wonderful areas of this land. South and West to Yorkshire Dales, the Northern Pennines and over to Cumbria. Northwards beyond the ridge is the expanse of Northumberland towards the Scottish Lowlands.
The outward stretch for today is almost done. You suddenly head into the trees physically walking upon the wall itself. Where the trees end is the great garrison fort of Housesteads…. and that is a post all to itself soon. Today was about enjoying the miles.
Now then you can choose to go back the way you came, back along the great 3-4 miles. Or you can follow the wall back but from a new perspective. You can get to North of the wall where there is a path taking you all the way back to the car park you started at, The Pennine Way. This time looking on via the formidable high crags the wall was erected on. Or a little South too via the old Roman military road. There are more historic treasures to be explored too. The start point, Steel Rigg car park is just off the B6318 by a village called Once Brewed.
Always a great time, no matter the weather, for all standards who don’t mind ‘little’ steep up and downs. Fulfilling, a learning experience and truly memorable. Even I whom never always goes back to old walks with so many out there… yet here I was again, enjoying every step.