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Along the Emperor's Wall

See life from the perspective of both Roman soldier and Scots warrior.

Distance 8 miles (12.9km)

Minimum time 4hrs

Ascent/gradient 885ft (270m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Mainly well walked National Trails, 16 stiles

Landscape Ridge and wild moorland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL43 Hadrian's Wall

Start/finish NY 750677

Dog friendliness Farming country, keep dogs on lead

Parking Steel Rigg (pay) car park

Public toilets Nearest at Housesteads information centre

Notes Please don't damage wall by walking on it


© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 From the car park descend to a grassy depression beneath Peel Crags. The path arcs left and climbs back to the ridge in a series of steps before following the cliff tops past Turret 39a and Milecastle 39.

2 There's another dip, then a climb to Highshield Crags, which overlook Crag Lough. Beyond the lake the footpath climbs past Hotbank farm

3 At the next dip, Rapishaw Gap, turn left over the ladder stile and follow the faint but waymarked Pennine Way route across undulating moorland. The first stile lies in the far right corner of a large rushy enclosure. A clear cart track develops beyond a dyke and climbs to a ridge on Ridley Common where you turn half left to descend a grassy ramp.

4 The path slowly arcs right to meet and cross a fenced cart track at Cragend. Here a clear grass track zig-zags down to a moorland depression with Greenlee Lough in full view to your left. At the bottom the ground can be marshy and the path becomes indistinct in places. A waymark points a sharp right turn but the path loses itself on the bank above it. Head north here, keeping the farmhouse of East Stonefolds at ten to the hour. The next stile lies in a kink in the cross wall.

5 Beyond this, turn half left to traverse a field before going over a ladder stile and turning left along the farm track which passes through East Stonefolds. The track ends at West Stonefolds. The right of way is supposed to go through the farm and over a stile on the right past the farmhouse. However, they encourage you to take the direct alternative route in a field at the back of the farm (on the right) by leaving a 'dogs running free' sign and an alsation in the yard.

6 Past the house continue, with a wall to the left, along a grassy ride, and go over a step stile to reach a signposted junction of routes. Go straight ahead on the permissive path signposted to the Greenlee Lough Birdhide. The path follows a fence down to the lake. Ignore the stile unless you want to go to the hide itself, but instead continue alongside the fence.

7 Go over the next stile and cross wetlands north of the lake on a duckboard path, which soon swings right to a gate. Beyond this continue on the path, climbing north west, guided by waymarker posts to the farm track by the conifers of the Greenlee Plantation.

8 Turn left along the track and follow it past Gibbs Hill farm. Past the farmhouse a tarmac lane leads back towards the wall. Turn left at the T-junction to return to the car park.

After a visit in ad 122, Roman Emperor Hadrian decided that his Governor of Britain, Nepos, would supervise the building of a great wall to repel the violent Picts and Britons of the north. They originally planned it to span the countryside between the River Irthing at Thirlwall and Newcastle, but added a turf wall that would extend to the west coast at Bowness on Solway.

The engineers were put to work, aided by Roman soldiers from York, Caerleon and Chester. The first-built sections of the castellated wall were 15ft (4.5m) high and 10ft (3m) wide though later sections were reduced in size in order to speed up the construction. On the northern side the Romans excavated a V-shaped ditch, the Berm, 27ft (8.2m) wide and 9ft (2.7m) deep, except where defending crags made this unnecessary. Fortified gateways, milecastles, were sited along the length of the wall at 1 Roman mile (1.5km) intervals. They would allow passage for through traffic, and also act as a barracks for eight soldiers. Between the milecastles, at intervals of 1?3 Roman mile (498m), were turrets, which served as observation posts. Later large forts like Great Chesters, Carvoran and Housesteads were built close to the wall, and a second ditch, the Vallum, was dug on the south side to enclose the military area. This was a flat-bottomed trench 20ft (6m) wide and 10ft (3m) deep.

After the Roman withdrawal from Britain the wall fell into decay and its crumbling masonry was used to build churches, farmhouses and field walls. After Bonnie Prince Charlie's 1745 rebellion the parliament demanded that a military road be built. Unfortunately it used Hadrian's Wall as its foundations for many miles. It seemed that the wall would disintegrate into oblivion. The fact that modern-day visitors can still view this spectacle is largely due to the efforts of entrepreneur and keen archaeologist, John Clayton (1792-1890). He bought much of the land that contained the wall, and presided over the early digs that unearthed its treasures. The foundations of the wall and its forts have since been lovingly restored. The museum at Chesters remains a testament to this great man.

As you stride out beside Hadrian's Wall and above the precipitous cliffs, it is not difficult to imagine the desolate times of the Roman cohorts patrolling along the high parapets. Looking to the north you can see the dark, brooding moors where the northern tribes people lay watching. And when it is time to explore those dark moors, take the time to look back to the wall, to those whin sill cliffs silhouetted against the sky, and appreciate what a great deterrent this must have been.

What to look for

Greenlee Lough, a National Nature Reserve, is one of several shallow lakes in the area. The surrounding wetland, which you walk through on duckboards, comprises reedbed, herb fen, carr woodland and blanket bog, with water plants including stonewart, bogbean and marsh cinquefoil. From the bird hide you may be able to see wildfowl and waders.

While you're there

Housesteads, which is in the care of the National Trust, is perhaps the most spectacularly-sited and most complete of the wall forts, its elevated position giving it commanding views across the Tyne Valley and Northumberland hills. The huge site contains foundations of the granaries, barracks and a hospital.

Where to eat and drink

The Milecastle Inn on the Military Road near Haltwistle is a cosy stone-built pub with welcoming open fires and a fine restaurant. Try their delicious game pie.


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