In 122 AD, a Roman emperor decided it was time to establish a permanent footprint on the cold and rainy island that Julius Caesar looked at, claimed, and got back in his ship to the warm Mediterranean.
Just five years later, a stone wall with dozens of fortifications, stretched from coast-to-coast of Britannia. The Emperor Hadrian’s plan was a reality. Hadrian’s Wall marked the furthest outpost of the Roman frontier, meandering 84 miles across England. It would be actively defended for 300 years.
Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site celebrating 1900 years perched atop crags and winding through quiet river valleys.
There is also an official National Trail that follows the line of Hadrian’s Wall across its entire length. This summer we walked those 84 miles in just 9 days. We gained blisters, freckles, and sore muscles, but we also learned such a feat is possible (if insane). We found ourselves mesmerized by our surroundings and completely apathetic to any stressors from our ‘real lives.’ Because a trek like this consumes you. More than giving you permission to disconnect, it requires all of your concentration and the scenery demands your attention.
Photographs don’t show how distinctly inhospitable or untamed this land is. You cannot convey the sense of wildness or extreme elevations because there is nothing to compare it to. It is you and the crag. You and the wind. You and the tiny Alpine flower that’s found a sheltered crack to grow in. No guidebook can prepare you for that.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing a series of posts about our experience and highlighting some particular villages and historic sites, but I’d like to start with this series of lessons I learned walking across a small island.
- There will be sheep sh*t. So much sheep sh*t. You will step in it. The trick is to miss the fresh ones.
- The pint at the end of your hiking day will be the most delicious thing you have ever tasted.
- You will learn how to use about 34 different gate hardware closures.
- Never pass up the opportunity for a loo. Ever.
- You are now part of a very special club. It is not exclusive – anyone can join, as long as you adhere to the club guidelines.
- Always tell oncoming walkers about something cool they will see coming up.
- If you see a struggling walker, check on them.
- Always say hello and ask where they are headed to next.
- Always take your hiking boots off when entering a pub or an inn. Walking around in socks is a special privilege. You earned it.
- Every half an hour or so, turn around and look behind you. Look where you came from and enjoy that view as well.
- The Geordies are simply the kindest, funniest, most welcoming people on the planet. No contest.
- A squished ham and cheese sandwich and a juice box, enjoyed in the shade of an old English Oak, is the most delicious lunch you will ever have.
- You will walk across active pastures and barnyards and front yards. This is normal. Be respectful.
- Stopping at a local “Spoons” is a rite of passage, but avoid the “Greene King.”
- England makes the best cider.
- The Romans were absolutely mad to do what they did. You are also mad for walking alongside it.
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All photos taken by Meaghan Walsh Gerard. I’m happy to share but please ask for permission to use elsewhere.