Hadrian's Wall, Great Britain

Hadrian's Wall on the border between Scotland and England was once the largest fortification of the Roman Empire. Today, ancient fortifications can be explored on walking and cycling trails.

Hadrian's Wall runs between the present-day border of Scotland and England in the north of Great Britain. The massive stone wall was built by the Romans in 122-130 on the orders of Emperor Hadrian to mark the northern border of the Roman Empire. The remains of Hadrian's Wall are one of our top 10 UK sights and were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987 as the Frontiers of the Roman Empire.

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Hadrian's Wall controlled border traffic and acted as a protective wall against raids by the Picts on the Roman Empire and clandestine border crossings by Scottish and Irish tribes into what was then the province of Britannica.

Hadrian's Wall - the border of the Roman Empire

The 113 kilometre long wall stretches from Wallsend on the east coast to Bowness on Solway on the west coast of Great Britain. In the east, Hadrian's Wall was made of stone and was a good 3 metres wide and over 4 metres high; towards the west, it became an earthen wall.

Along its entire length it was fortified by a moat. 320 watchtowers and 17 forts guarded the 80 gates of Hadrian's Wall, which represented a breach after every mile of the wall. The massive wall was the largest construction project of the Romans and a masterpiece of the Roman limes organisation of the time. Hadrian's Wall retained its high strategic importance until the 16th century.

Although Hadrian's Wall was used as a quarry after it lost its importance as a border fortification, large parts of it still exist today and bear mute witness to the impressive military architecture of the ancient Romans.

Around Hadrian's Wall there is a network of hiking and cycling trails, on which not only the imposing fortification wall can be explored, but also the fantastic landscape of northern England. Not much has changed in the wildly romantic surroundings of Hadrian's Wall since Roman times.

Routes along Hadrian's Wall

The best-known footpath on Hadrian's Wall is the Hadrian's Wall Path. As the path is largely on an elevated plateau, it is also an impressive panoramic route through the Scottish-English landscape. The Hadrian's Wall Path not only follows the imposing stone wall, but also connects all the important archaeological sites that remain from Roman times, such as the Temple of Mithras and the Shrine of the Water Nymph Coventina.

Museums and fortresses on Hadrian's Wall

Reconstruction of the Roman fortress of Vindolanda on the 113-kilometre-long Hadrian's Wall, Great Britain - © Jaime Pharr / Shutterstock
© Jaime Pharr / Shutterstock

Some interesting museums display exhibits found near Hadrian's Wall, giving visitors an understanding of the turbulent times on the borders of the Roman Empire. Numerous pubs, cafés, hotels and guesthouses provide accommodation and food after a long walk in the footsteps of the ancient Romans.

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Eight of the forts of that time still exist today, five of them in Northumberland, two in Newcastle and one in Cumbria. The best known of these are Vindolanda and Housesteads. The latter covered an area of 2 hectares and has been almost completely excavated. In the summer months, the forts are the scene of jousting matches, during which showmen in full armour re-enact the battles against the enemy tribes.

Cycling along Hadrian's Wall

Ruins of the former Roman fortress Housesteads on Hadrian's Wall, the former northern border of the Roman Empire in Great Britain - © Jule_Berlin / Shutterstock
© Jule_Berlin / Shutterstock

Those who are not so good on foot, or want to get around more quickly, can also switch to cycling. Hadrian's Cycleway starts at Fort Arbeia in the east and follows quiet roads and paths along the entire length of the rampart to Ravenglass on the Cumbrian coast in the west.

The almost 280-kilometre route leads in several loops through idyllic countryside, breathtaking viewpoints, imposing stretches of coastline, archaeological sites and picturesque villages.

The Hadrian's Cycleway can be cycled in both directions, the more popular one leading from west to east. If you want to get to know all the attractions of Hadrian's Wall by bike, you should plan 4 to 6 days for your trip. The route is not particularly strenuous, only in the middle of the Wall there are some hills to overcome, so a certain level of physical fitness is a prerequisite.

Further links:

Walks on and around Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Cycleway: cycle path along Hadrian's Wall

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