I first planned to walk the route of Hadrian’s Wall in May 2020, but the Covid pandemic put paid to those ambitions. At that time, the itinerary I had worked out for myself was to start in Newcastle and to finish in Bowness-on-Solway, effectively walking from the east coast of England and finishing on the west. I remember feeling disappointed that the various pandemic lockdowns were going to thwart my plans, but now I can look back with something like relief that my first attempt to walk the Wall was delayed such that I was able to revise my planning.
By the time I returned to the idea of following the Hadrian’s Wall Walk, it was late-September 2021. At some time during those intervening sixteen months, I had turned my proposed itinerary on its head and had decided to walk from west to east, effectively starting in Bowness-on-Solway and ending up in Tynemouth. And I’m so glad that I made the change.
For any walker of Hadrian’s Wall, the direction of travel is a prime consideration, and there is much debate over which direction is best. When I originally considered walking from east to west, I think that my principal reason was to get the long stretch of ‘urban’ walking through Newcastle’s suburbs over first, with the idea that once I emerged from the city I would have nothing but open countryside ahead of me. As a working hypothesis, it has some merits, but I now consider that these are greatly outweighed by the benefits of walking from west to east.
The chief advantage of walking from west to east is that you will normally have the prevailing weather conditions to your back. Britain’s weather is most largely influenced by whatever is blowing in from the Atlantic and, particularly at the time I was walking, late on in the season, this is likely to contain a fair amount of wind and rain. Hours of walking with a lashing gale to your back is bearable; having to face a persistent barrage of sleet and storm head-on can become quickly demoralising. Having said that, the weather for most of my walk was thankfully pretty clement.
Another consideration for me was that the guidebook I was using detailed the route from west to east. While it is of course possible to simply follow the written directions in reverse, I always find this stressful and I will invariably make a slip-up somewhere; go right when I should have gone left, or vice versa.
On the course of my walk, I met plenty of people who were following the route in the opposite direction to me––as a West-easter it is inevitable that you will meet more East-westers than the other way around––and all of them seemed perfectly happy with their choice of direction. But having plumped for west to east, I simply couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.
If I had one slight twinge of East-wester envy it was this. Arriving at Tynemouth, at the end of my walk, and filled with the exhilaration of finishing, I wanted to be able to share my experience with someone but, Tynemouth being a relatively large community, my own personal triumph was swallowed up amidst the general throng of beach-goers and day-trippers. Whereas to finish in Bowness-on-Solway, and to end up in the Kings Arms pub––as you inevitably will––you are met by everyone else who has completed the walk that same day, and there is an opportunity to talk about blisters, and heifers, and hiking boots, and rain showers––and even odd bits of Roman history––ad nauseam, over a well-earned drink.
Perhaps in the end it doesn’t matter too much which direction you follow Hadrian’s Wall, what is more important is just to do it.
© E. C. Glendenny
Despite what she says, E. C. Glendenny is secretly still a West-easter.
Check out some more of E. C. Glendenny’s travel writing in Easy on the Eyes.