This blog is all about walking Hadrian’s Wall from an archaeologist’s point of view.
Why walk Hadrian’s Wall? Because it is arguably the best way to experience it. Over the years I have walked, cycled, driven, and flown it, but walking gives you by far the best appreciation of the way the Wall uses the topography. Why walk it from west to east? Try walking the Wall in bad weather and you will understand one of the most significant reasons: the prevailing winds in Britain are from the west, so they – and whatever precipitation they bring with them – will be at your back. It also starts gently and builds to a crescendo; walk east to west and you begin with the museum and fort at Wallsend and end with what looks for all the world like a garden shed at Bowness (and it is difficult to avoid the word ‘anticlimax’ in so doing). Moreover, the gentle walk along the coast at the beginning is a good warm-up for the main event. When the 78-year-old William Hutton set out (from Birmingham!) to walk the Wall, he did so first from west to east then, to make sure he had not missed anything, did it again from east to west. When he published a description of his little jaunt (a total of 601 miles, by the time he had made it back to Birmingham thirty-four days later), he chose to do so from east to west and this remains the favoured way to do it.
The Hadrian’s Wall National Trail has made it much easier to access the course of the Wall but you should note that you are not obliged to stick to it where a right of way or public road can give you access to parts of the Wall avoided by the Trail (most notoriously at the east end, where the last – first, if you walk the Wall the old-fashioned way – twelve Roman miles of Hadrian’s Wall are resolutely ignored by the Trail, which suddenly develops an unhealthy interest in the river Tyne for no good archaeological reason). Do not however go wandering across private land or wherever you are not wanted: rights of way are clearly marked on up-to-date Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 maps, as is Open Access Land, so use them. On the Trail, signage (ugly word) is sometimes not as good going west to east as it is the other way, but you will cope.