Hadrian’s Wall was built by order of Emperor Hadrian starting in AD 122. The common wisdom is that it was built to keep out the Barbarians of the North from the superior civilization in the south. The Romans were in Britain for 4 centuries but were first invaded by Caesar in 55 BC. Emperor Claudius returned in AD 43 and Britain was a successful conquest for him. He left it to others to conquer the whole of the island and it was under governor Agricola that real advances were made through what is now Scotland to the Tay. Routes were built up the west and east coasts. Rome wasn’t really interested in conquering the Highlands and wanted to establish a border around its most valuable lands. A natural border was the land between the Forth and the Clyde but one of the 4 legions of Rome’ s armies was called back to Europe and the army was spread too thinly to control as much land as that. So a new border was established between the Tyne and the Solway Firth.
When Hadrian became Emperor in AD 117 there were already forts at Carlisle and Corbridge (now a village close to Hexham) and they were linked by a road. Other forts had been built at Vindolanda (near Bardon Mill, Hexham) and Nether Denton (about 12 miles north east of Carlisle) along with other smaller forts. It was Hadrian who decided to make a permanent frontier and that it would go from Bowness to the bridge built at Pon Aelius at the river Tyne.
The wall was to be of stone to a width of 3 metres from the Pon Aelius for 45 Roman miles (43 miles today) and then it was to be of turf, with sloping sides, 6 metres wide at the base. To the north would be a ditch that was 10 feet deep. At regular intervals were Milecastles and in between these a pair of turrets The Milecastles were really fortified gateways so there was a way through the wall. This provided a way to the enemy if needed and also for trade.
Early on the foundations were laid and where the Milecastles would be wa planned out. Soon afterwards it was decided to reduce the width of the wall. A fort was built at Segedunum at the mouth of the Tyne and 11 more forts were built at 7 mile intervals to Bowness-on-Solway. And before the wall was completed a further ditch known as the Vallum was dug to 6 metres wide and 3 metres deep. The excavated earth was piled in mounds on either side.
In AD138 Hadrian died. New Emperor Antoninus Pius, decided to advance further into Scotland to the Forth and Clyde. A new wall was built - the Antonine Wall. In the latter part of the second century, there was an invasion from the north and Roman gains were reversed. There a a hasty rebuilding of Hadrian’s wall which needed to be repaired and the Vallum cleared out as some of it had been filled in. The Military Way was built south of the wall. The wall was again altered when Septimius Severus became emperor in AD 193 and was in Britain from AD 208-10. Sections were totally rebuilt and and extra narrow wall bonded by a hard white mortar is the reason that much of this remains to this day. Over the years there was further rebuilding of the forts. By AD 410 the Roman power in Britain was over but settlements grew where military fortresses had been up and down the Wall. However many of the stones were taken from the Wall over the years for other projects including the Lanercost Priory ( 2 miles east of Brampton). In 1754 a new route from Newcastle to Carlisle was built right on top of the line of the Roman Wall. This was followed by the start of the first real interest in the Wall and the beginning of a movement to save it.
Today many people every year walk this wall or portions of it. You can start at either end. There are more remains of the wall between Newcastle and Newtown than between Newtown and Bowness. You do learn to see the vallums and the ditches and the mounds of earth from the values. It is quite an up and down walk on the eastern end of the walk and much flatter on the west. The forts at Vindolanda, Corbridge, Housesteads, Chesters and Birdoswald can be visited separately on a days out and some of these have museums attached. A good portion of the wall can be seen at Heddon-on the-Wall which is just north of Wylam and west of Newcastle. A visit to Segedunum is a must before embarking on the walk from the East. You learn much of the history of the wall here and you can see the outline of the fort that existed here.
Many companies do walking tours and a walk can be arranged with them. I went with Let’s Go Walking. You will be guided on where to walk (although the path is well marked), your luggage transferred each night and hotel arrangements made. Many of the accommodations have kitchens too so finding dinner is not difficult! Counting arrival day as Day 1, it takes 7 days to go from Newcastle to Carlisle. It would take one more day to Bowness.
This is a very interesting walk and very peaceful through farmer’s fields much of the time. You will see many sheep and cows along the wall. Make this walk a future plan for a holiday or even do part of it for a day out.