Walk from Gilsland to Haytongate through a striking and well-preserved section of Hadrian’s Wall, punctuated by turrets and milecastles.
Gilsland straddles the two counties of Northumberland and Cumbria, and you might have seen the ‘Welcome to Cumbria’ sign as you crossed the River Irthing, which forms the border. Resultantly, you can expect to see some changes in the landscape. The hills will roll from one to the next – this means the hiking will be less demanding than the previous days – and the limestone-strewn landscape will fade away. This absence of limestone caused difficulty for the Romans who needed great quantities of rock to build their wall. Initially this section of the wall was constructed with turf, and the milecastles from timber and earth. It is only later that the wall was upgraded to rock.
This section contains some of the best-preserved parts of the wall, and also some of the last – little of the wall remains intact west of Banks. While the drama of the middle section is now mostly behind you, Hadrian’s Wall continues to stand atop the high ground allowing views that stretch for miles in every direction, including to the Lake District to the south-west, which will keep you smiling as you wander further on.
Limited options for food along this section; arrange a packed lunch in advance!
There are several stretches where you must walk on the road as there is no pavement or verge. Walk on the right side facing the oncoming traffic unless there is a right-hand turn, in which case you should cross to the outside edge to allow drivers the maximum chance to see you.
Some of the path is along rocky steps; be careful as these may be slippery, especially when wet.
Some of the fields may have cows in; they are not aggressive but take care not to startle them, and pass around them with a wide berth.
Such is the way of British hiking, that you need to be prepared for all seasons and weathers; sturdy hiking boots, warm clothes and a waterproof/wind-break layer are all required, as is plenty of sun-cream and a healthy respect for the sun.
Walking poles will be a big advantage on some of these ascents and descents.
Ensure your phone is fully charged; if you doubt the battery will last throughout the hike, it might be beneficial to bring a power bank.
This walk is isolated with limited opportunities to buy food or water so be sure to bring enough with you.
Points of Interest
Birdoswald Roman Fort
You will have just climbed steeply out of the River Irthing Gorge (after 2.2 kilometres), so perhaps it is no surprise to find a major Roman Fort occupying a clearly strategic position at the top. This is one of the best-preserved forts anywhere along the wall, and also the longest continuous stretch of Hadrian’s Wall. As well as wandering around the excavations, there are exhibitions, information boards and a full-scale model of the wall.
More information available here: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/birdoswald-roman-fort-hadrians-wall/
So much in this region tells the story of conflict between England and Scotland (as they are now known). Let’s remind ourselves that is the whole reason Hadrian’s Wall was built! Lanercost Priory – built from Hadrian’s Wall rocks - is no different and while it appears peaceful today, it has a history riddled with violence, the victim of numerous Scottish raids, and the refuge of King Edward I as he embarked on his campaigns against Scotland. It was ultimately closed by Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries Act. This Priory is a short detour from Haytongate, where the trail finishes.
More information available here: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/lanercost-priory
Food and Drink
Options for food or drink are very limited along this walk, so be sure to bring enough provisions.
There may be honesty boxes at 5.4 and 9.4 kilometres, but these are only limited to snacks such as chocolates, crisps and bottles of drink.