Hadrian’s Wall -West
Last week I began the Hadrian’s Wall Path long distance trail with a friend and my two children (aged 6 and 9). The path runs across Northern England following the route of a Roman wall which was built about 2000 years ago to keep the Scots and Picts out of the Roman empire. For several miles sections of the original wall remain, although due to centuries of pilfering stones, not intact.
The route is 84 miles long from Bowness-on-Solway in the West to Wallsend in the East. The route covers urban, rolling pasture and wild uplands along its length.
We began our journey at the Western end hoping to finish off in familiar surroundings of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and a train back home to Bradford. The original plan was to cover about 10-11 miles per day and cover the whole trail in the eight days we had available. Two days into the route we revised our plan and aimed to do the first half at a more leisurely pace. We finished with a train to Newcastle from Bardon Mill (A few miles south of the path).
It became apparent within the first two days that our pace wouldn’t allow us to complete the route in the time we had available.
We re-planned with an aim of about 10km (6 miles) per day with plenty of time for resting and enjoying the views.
This trip was Sophie’s (6 year old) first backpacking trip. Edward (9 year old) has been backpacking twice before and Mark has completed the Dales Way with me, but many years ago. All four of us carried a pack. Sophie’s contained her water bottle, sandals, sleeping bag and cuddly toy. Edward had sleeping bag, mat, clothes, sandals and water bottle. Mark and I shared out the rest including a tent each and two large bags of food to last several days.
The first two days of walking weren’t through the most inspiring bits of the country. Some of it was pleasant enough but there were a lot of diversions and footpath closures which meant many miles on roads and tired feet. After Carlisle things improved as more of the route was through fields and countryside.
The kids were enjoying themselves but wondered where the wall was. The western parts were never brick wall, they were earth mounds and ditches with wooden defenses atop them. It wasn’t until we reached Banks on the third day we actually saw ‘wall’ in the form of Hare Hill.
This raised spirits immeasurably and we really felt that the walk was beginning at this point. Soon, our second section of wall was found with a ruined fort just after Banks, towards Bankshead and the camping barn we hoped to stay in – we were keen on showering.
Unfortunately there was no answer at the farm where the camping barn was so after a while spent waiting near the farm we retraced our steps back into Banks and to a campsite.
After Banks the wall seemed to be an almost constant feature with many mile castles and forts to keep us company.
The countryside became more remote-feeling from this point, like we’d taken steps closer to wilderness. The ground was more rugged with craggy hills and rougher grasses rather than cultivated farm land.
The ups and downs began to take their toll on smaller legs and the pace dropped appreciably. We were all glad to reach Greenhead and our bed for the night. The map showed a campsite which had been long abandoned. The youth hostel had thankfully been taken into private ownership by the local hotel and was still open. We were glad of the shower and accommodation that didn’t need building. To complete our evening of relaxation we went to the hotel for a delicious and reasonably priced meal. £10 for a main course – The chicken and haggis was superb. The sticky toffee pudding that followed it excellent too! We retired to our beds full and happy.
The next morning we visited the ruins of Thirlwall castle and then the Roman Army Museum.
Up to this point we had been very fortunate with the weather. Winds had been gentle, rain absent and nights mild. Throughout the next day the rain came down. Not especially heavy rain, but constant rain. We were heading for Once brewed and our final night under canvas. When we arrived the ground was sodden and everything we touched turned to mud. Once again we availed ourselves of the local facilities and ate in the Twice Brewed Inn.
After a night of rain and mud we ate the last of the breakfast food we had brought, packed up one final time and walked out to Bardon Mill via the Vindolanda Roman Fort.
Our timing was, by chance, excellent and within fifteen minutes we were on a train heading for Newcastle.
Notes about the trail
As mentioned above the Western end isn’t the best. I think I were to do this trail again I’d begin at Carlisle. Its a lot easier to get to and the walking is better East of there. Many of the villages you pass through aren’t big enough to support a local shop or pub, this is bad if you’re looking to resupply or eat meals as you go. What we did find though is that a lot of the villages have honesty boxes containing soft drinks and snacks so light refreshment is possible as you go.
Places we stayed, ate and drank
Day 1: The highland laddie inn a brief stop for a drink
We slept at the Roman Wall Lodges this was a small campsite with a couple of camping lodges. We could use the (excellent) facilities in the chalet. This campsite was five minutes walk from the pub, the Drovers Rest in Monkhill. Food was served here and it looked good but we had eaten in camp.
Day 2: Cakes and ale Cafe a brief stop for, umm, cake and ale.
Our stop this night was at Stonewalls farm campsite in Laversdale. This was a basic farm site but it had a handy shed containing a kettle and microwave.
Day 3: Reading room cafe, Walton another short stop for cake and a drink. Lovely little cafe next to the village hall.
We made use of an ‘honesty box’ for a coke which was conveniently half way up the hill on the way to Banks.
The night’s accommodation was a campsite in Banks (can’t find a link. Its signposted at a house on the side of the road near the village green) We had hoped to stay in the camping barn but couldn’t make contact when we arrived.
Day 4: Birdoswald fort for a drink and a cake. House of Meg tearoom lunch stop. We opted for the ‘all-day’ breakfast. (Served until 1pm). All very tasty except the sausages which were disappointing and cheap. The pub nearest the cafe was shut at lunchtimes but about half a mile away the Samson Inn was open and on the route.
Our overnight accommodation was at Greenhead Youth Hostel (Independently owned). This gave us our first shower of the trip. We ate dinner in the hotel too. Good ale and food with reasonable prices. £10 for chicken breast with haggis -delicious.
We’d expected to stay in the campsite marked on the map but it no longer exists.
Day 5: We had an early lunch in the Roman Army museum cafe at Walltown before continuing on our way to camp at once brewed at Winshields farm. The farm had a tearoom, served breakfast and had a camping barn. We didn’t have opportunity to test these.
Not really looking forward to a pasta n sauce dinner sat in a soaking wet tent we went to the twice brewed inn. The inn offered a range of ales and good food. It also had accommodation.
Day 6: Vindolanda this was our final visit on the way to the train. Nice little cafe in the museum.
Backpacking with young children
I thought it might be useful to anyone else considering this sort of undertaking to offer information and suggestions about taking little’uns on multi-day walks.
- Mileage: We found that a plan for 2kmh was about right – this includes rests and meal breaks
- Pack weight: As light as you can! – throughout the trip as my pack got lighter due to food consumption I moved things from theirs to mine to make it easier on them.
- Bed: All of us had a Thermarest type mattress -yes, Karrimats are lighter and probably character building but I wanted peaceful sleep all round!
- Sleeping bags: We used lightweight summer bags and both kids also slept in onesies – these were only used in the tent to keep them clean.
- Footwear: The kids wore walking boots with proper walking socks. We all had sandals for in-camp use.
- Warm wear: Both kids had a fleece jumper and would wear waterproofs as a walking warm layer (Remember: they cool down much easier/faster than adults so wore more clothes as a general rule).
- Water: Make sure they drink it! -We took one of those super concentrated squash bottles where a tiny squirt makes a glass of squash.
They liked to have their own packs because they felt like part of the team, they could also keep their own snacks and water bottles. Edward used an old pack of mine and Sophie used her school bag. As a walking backpack it wasn’t ideal as the straps were too close together at the shoulders which meant she needed a hood or similar to stop the straps rubbing her neck. I used this pack because it’s pink and she likes it! Sometimes giving in to their irrationalities is worthwhile to keep them happy. Both children took a small soft toy for bed time and a book each.
During the day they took turns (sometimes argued about) at being the leader and going first. The trail is superbly well way-marked with the national trail acorn emblem so route finding was never an issue.
Sophie as group leader finding the acorns.
In order to keep pack weights down we had to be flexible with clothing choices and not to squeamish about repeat-wearing pants!
The waterproof trousers and jackets doubled as a warm layer for the kids along with their jumpers. Edward wore his precious football shirts as his wicking baselayer, Sophie had to make do with standard T shirts. Shorts paired with waterproof trousers make a comfortable and practical set of legwear keeping the wind out but not too sweaty.
On an evening, as soon as the tents were up the boots came off to dry/air and the sandals went on to let hot feet breathe.
Meals: Obviously you know your kids and what they like. Food is fuel on the trail so its important they eat plenty
Breakfast: We had ‘red’ Alpen (the one with sugar in) mixed with full fat milk powder. Just adding hot or cold water made a delicious, creamy breakfast
Lunches: Tortillas (decent shelf life) with Primula squirty cheese or John West Tuna sachets in a variety of flavours
Dinners: A variety of things including: Uncle Ben’s microwave rice packets (add a little water to prevent burning) mixed with a ‘Look What We Found’ Chili con Carne’ (Three rice and one chili to get plenty of carbs) Good old pasta n sauce, Cheap Ramen noodles (BBQ beef flavour) and the best meal… Ainsley Harriot flavoured cous cous, chorizo (chorizo almost always makes it into my pack because its delicious, keeps well without a fridge and its delicious!) and dried apricots.
Snacks and trail food: A bag of dried fruit and nuts, bags of ‘Percy pigs’ gummy sweets, marshmallows (also added to hot chocolate), jelly cubes.
When we could we’d pop into cafes and have a drink and some cake to keep morale up and support the local economy!