After having walked the Hadrian’s Wall Path in June 2011, I have some practical advice for anyone who is thinking about doing the same, especially fellow wild campers:
- Take as little as possible with you. This is the single most important advice. One extra kilogram to carry might not sound much, but 1 kg to carry for 135 km is a lot.
- I would strongly advise against taking too much food with you. I made that mistake and it was a big contributor to the (superfluous) weight. I ended up throwing some cans away because I was fed up with carrying something every day that I would use in 3 or 4 days. If you are camping wild, you have to take a bit of food with you because in some stretches, pubs are rare, but don’t take heavy food like cans. Take bread and sausages or chocolate for which you don’t need a stove.
- If you are camping, do however take warm clothes. Even in summer, it was terribly cold at night. The highest point of the Hadrian’s Wall Path is 345 m and the winds up there can be fierce.
- I used the guidebook from the Trailblazer series which has very detailed and helpful maps, information on all the places to eat and sleep, and even bus timetables if you don’t want to walk every stretch.
- If you do not plan to camp wild, this is enough. If you do want to camp wild, you’ll need to leave the immediate stretch of the Hadrian’s Wall Path and you might find the OS Explorer maps 85 through 88 useful.
- Don’t try to set a record. It took me 4 days to walk the whole 135 km, but I got up and started walking at 0300 on one day and walked until 2300. That’s not exactly a holiday. Also, don’t overdo it on the first day, you will regret it in the following days. I met one guy who had once done the walk in 3 days, but he only slept 2-3 hours every night.
- If you don’t have that much time, just concentrate on the middle section of the trail where there is actually some of Hadrian’s Wall left and the scenery is more spectacular. You can cut out Newcastle and anything west of Carlisle if you are very short on time.
- There is surprisingly few forest, so you’ll have a hard time to find a good campsite that is protected from wind and rain. If you find something in the early evening, set up your camp even if you are still fit enough to walk for a few hours. A good place to sleep is worth a lot. You can get up and get cracking early to make up for the time.
- Think about water. Especially in the middle section, you sometimes walk for half a day without going through a village, so take enough water. Fill up at every possible stop! There are no public taps or water pumps or anything similar, although there are some creeks and lakes which you could use in emergencies, I guess.
- Contemplate walking from West to East. This way, you won’t have to fight against the prevailing winds.
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By the way, the pictures are great. And what was on your sweatshirt – was that from the Israeli Air Force? I didn’t recognise the symbol, and couldn’t read the print.
Yes, water is always crucial. Something to look into is either a portable water filtration system (pour it in a hanging bag), or Brita makes a water bottle with a built-in filter. Great for drinking out of rivers. Not sure of the water quality over there – we tend to use our waterways as sewers. Yuck!
A really cool item, if you can find them in military surplus catalogs, is a triangular shelter quarter, similar to what the Germans used in WW2. They have a neck hole, and can button over you as a nice poncho – especially once soaked in Thompson’s water sealer, or whatever you folk have on your side of the pond. They can double as a ground sheet, and if you get three more (and are willing to schlep the weight) they button together to form a four-sided pyramidal tent. Authentic German ones are hideously expensive, but the French knockoffs used to be about 15-20 pounds, if I recall correctly. (I’d give you mine, if I could find the darn things!)
One other, bizarre thing to consider, is an older-style US Army helmet. The non-WW2 ones are fairly cheap ($20-30 over here), they’re great hardhats if you’re near rocks or trees that are dropping nasty things, they can be sat on (keeping your bum dry), and the detachable steel part makes a great bowl/bucket for moving water or, if desperate, cooking in. Recommended ONLY if you’re going to do a LOT of roughing it like you just did.
Welcome back to civilisation! Hope you don’t find the rest of us TOO tedious! :D
compared to you we were quiet the sissies, but I guess it felt more like a holiday to us ;) We needed 6 days and had the comfort of a bed each night + a relaxing breakfast in the morning… no such hurry as you described (and we didn’t have to carry the gear for camping outside). and you’re right the way near Newcastle is really not worthwhile the trouble. The best part was the route through the national park.
This July I walked the West Highland Way in Scotland (blog posts coming up soon) with my wife. We also took more time, slept in beds, and after the third day I decided to have my gear carried from one stop to the next. It was much more enjoyable!
Thinking about doing this in the next week or so. I’m only going to have 4 days to do it though. I’ve walked the West Highland Way and various others so I’m fairly fit. Just wondered what your miles/hours walked each day was? Trying to work it out if it’s do-able!
It can be done, especially now because the days are already quite long. Thus, you can start walking very early and walk until late in the evening, covering a long distance. Because I was sleeping rough, I could really walk until I dropped, regardless of whether there was a village or a B&B.
The walk itself is not strenuous, even though along the wall (in the middle section) it’s going up and down and up and down and up and down. Maybe you have walked the cliff section of the South Downs Way? Then you know what I mean.
If you are not bent on walking the exact distance of the National Trail, you may consider moving the start and the finish. There is nothing left of the wall west of Carlisle, and the first visible remnants in the east are at Heddon-on-the-Wall. You might want to concentrate on the part between these two points. Transport to/from Carlisle is not a problem, but I don’t know about Heddon-on-the-Wall. The book which I mention under no. 4 has all the local buses though.
Don’t carry too much stuff! But then, you know that from your other walks probably. I walked the WHW last summer and it was beautiful! But after the 3rd day, I started using these baggage transport services because I had gotten so fed up with carrying 15 kg.
Hi there – I’m planning on hiking in a few weeks and was planning on bringing a tarp rather than tent to save weight and to wild camp. Is that advisable with the wind and potential rain? Will there be enough trees to tie it up?
Also, I’m quite concerned about water! How far off-trail do I need to go to get it?
You do need to get off the trail because the trail, particularly in the middle section, goes on top of a ridge where there are no villages.
But I think I never had to walk away from the trail for more than 2 km.
I didn’t go all the way to the next pub, but only to the nearest house and used the tap on the wall or asked them for tap water.
I only had a tarp, too, for exactly the same reasons.
There are not too many trees, but if you have a good (i.e. the OS) map, it will indicate any little forest, so you can set a destination for the night. Once I had to put up the tarp on one of these stone walls diving one field from the other.
Because you will still be walking in summer, I think it should be OK.
One thing I took instead of a tent was an extra wind protection cover for the sleeping bag. Very light, but it adds super comfort. That makes sleeping without a tent much more agreeable.
I am very curious about how it will go! Please let me know once you have done the walk.
Enjoy the great views!
hello there … am thinking of hiking mid to end of October .. does it sound crazy to you because of the temperatures and wind and shorter days ? thanks for all the tips though (was also wondering how many km off trail i would have to get to get tap water …)
Going in October is better than not going at all. :)
And you are aware of the problems, so that is good.
If you want to sleep outside, you will need a tent at that time of the year. And preferably an extra layer for the sleeping bag.
I never had to walk more than 2 or 3 km off the trail to get water.
Thanks for your reply of last August !
i’ve just been back, 2 days ago, very happy overall with my trip, only managed to wild camp two nights in the end … but i’m sure to plan for future walking holidays now i’m well equiped & when the weather gets warmer in a few months’ time, … and at my age (!!! … over 50 …) i wouldn’t have set off if i had not been able to read other walker’s account of that trip (…. since i had not wild camped for … a good 36 years ….).
Thank you very much for sharing your experience! I am so happy to read about it. And two nights of wild camping in October so far north is really quite tough (particularly because a lot of the landscape is quite open and windy). I am glad it inspired you to do more of the same!