Hadrian's Wall- Path Route
PUBLISHED: 14:17 11 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:45 20 February 2013
Thanks to 1,900 years of near-neglect, Hadrian's Wall is no longer the mighty barricade it once was, but it still provides a pretty spectacular manmade landmark WORDS AND PICTURES BY DAVID TAYLOR
Hadrian's Wall was the biggest DIY project ever undertaken by the Roman invaders during their stay in these isles. With leylandii being in short supply, a 70- mile-long stone barrier was the only way to keep those nosy neighbours to the north from peering into their property, the conquered lands of Britannia and its peoples. Hadrian's Wall is no longer the mighty barricade it once was, and the Romans would probably despair at the damage wrought over the years - though they'd appreciate the arrow-straight B6318 road that shadows the route of the Wall for part of its length. The walk starts at Steel Rigg car park, just a short drive from the B6318 at the junction with Once Brewed.
The route follows a small stretch of the Hadrian's Wall Path, which is proving popular with walkers keen to follow in the footsteps of Hadrian. The full trail is 84 miles long and generally takes about six days to complete. Fortunately, between Easter and October, the AD122 bus links various points along the route of Hadrian's Wall. So it is possible to enjoy stretches of the path without committing to an expedition on the scale of a Roman Emperor. From Steel Rigg car park, turn left and follow the road briefly downhill to a route marker pointing west. Cross over the wall into a field and start climbing uphill toward the summit of Winshields Crag. At 345m, Winshields Crag is the highest point on the Hadrian's Wall Path and offers a commanding 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside, south to the Tyne Valley and north to the vast plantations of Wark and Kielder Forest. It is no coincidence that Hadrian's Wall follows the route that it does.Winshields Crag is one of a number of cliffs that erupt from the landscape in Northumberland, along a line that runs roughly east to west. These crags are part of the Whin Sill formation, an ancient extrusion of dolerite formed 295 million years ago. The scale of the crags increased the effectiveness of Hadrian's Wall as a defensive barrier. As the view from Winshields attests, a potential invader of Roman Britain would be spotted long before he reached the cliff base, at which point his problems would really begin. Follow the path downhill from Winshields to the road at Caw Gap which, as the name suggests, is a natural break through the ridge on which the Wall was built. Cross the road and follow the route marker to the remains of Turret 41a. This small turret is one of a pair that was placed between the milecastles overlooking Melkridge Common and, further west, at Cawfields. There were some 160 turrets
built along the length of the Wall and they were used as observation and signalling points for the Roman army. From the turret, the path winds around Thorny Doors, along Cawfields Crag to Cawfields milecastle. Milecastles were built every Roman mile along the Wall. They would hold a small garrison of troops used to man the turrets and control the trade routes between Britannia and Caledonia, the unconquered land to the north. There is a persuasive theory that the Wall not only served as a defensive structure at the edge of the Roman Empire, but that it was also an effective method of controlling trade between north and south, and of collecting taxes due from that trade. From the milecastle, the path drops downhill to a gate and the sight of a triangular cliff at the head of a lake. Cawfields in the 19th century was an important site for the quarrying of 'whinstone', the dark,Whin Sill dolerite. Dolerite is an igneous rock and far harderwearing than the limestone used in the construction of the Wall. Although Cawfields is no longer an active quarry, whinstone is still quarried elsewhere in Northumberland today. Thanks to its erosion resistance, chips of whinstone are used in the construction of roads nationwide. It's a warm thought that a car journey anywhere in Britain may involve driving over tiny pieces of Northumberland. From Cawfields follow the road briefly west to a bridge, and then once over the bridge, climb a stile into a field. The path then skirts the northern boundaries of two more fields to Great Chesters Farm and the remains of Aesica Roman Fort. Soldiers were posted to Aesica to guard nearby Caw Gap. However, despite its role as a military camp, decidedly domestic discoveries have been made at Aesica, including a hoard of third century jewellery found during a dig in 1894. From Aesica continue west through two fields to a small plantation of trees. Follow the path through the trees to a stile and open countryside again. The ground here is more broken and care should be taken not to put a foot wrong, not only to avoid personal injury but because this area is designated as a biologically sensitive site of special scientific interest. At a larger scale the landscape is also more uneven, with the ground rising and falling in a succession of small hills rather like a natural rollercoaster. Eventually the path reaches Walltown Crags, the site of another old whinstone quarry, and arguably one of the most dramatic stretches of Hadrian's Wall as it snakes along the edge of the crag. From Walltown Crags follow the path down to Quarry Lake and on to the car park and picnic site. From the car park it is only a short walk to the Roman Army Museum where AD122 can be caught back to the Once Brewed Visitor Centre. Enjoy!