Cycling Hadrianís Wall

When the longest remaining stretch of Hadrian’s Wall appears over the horizon, it’s enough to stop the most serious cyclist mid-pedal. The low line of stones is a weathered marker of one of the Roman Empire’s northernmost frontiers. It rolls out for miles, draping over the crest of the Pennine Hills, with views of lakes, fields and slumped, long-gone volcanoes on either side.

Unsurprisingly, this panorama is one of the highlights of our Hadrian’s Wall cycling trip – and it’s not the only stop on the Hadrian’s Cycleway worth climbing off your bike for.

Riding the Roman route: Hadrianís Cycleway

Hadrianís Cycleway is a network of paths that roughly follows the route of Hadrianís Wall for 277km from Ravenglass in the Lake District to Tynemouth and South Shields in the east.

Itís an exciting chance to cross the north of England by bike, following a mix of quiet, well-maintained country roads and cycle paths through landscapes that range from sandy coastal estuaries and rolling moorlands to Newcastleís riverside path. And, of course, the remains of Hadrianís Wall stitch the whole cycle route together.

A local guide leads our small group vacations along Hadrianís Cycleway. Theyíll sort out luggage transfers and are an excellent font of stories and pub lunch recommendations. Theyíll also point out where to refuel on tea, cake or a pint, and suggest the best market towns for stocking up on local specialities like nettle cheese (tastier than it sounds), cinder toffee, ruby port and oatcakes.

Maps and route notes are provided, so you can choose to race ahead or stay with the group. Everyone is welcome to cycle at their own pace and stop off wherever they fancy. Weary legs will be rested at small, locally run guest houses and hotels, and you donít have to worry about transport. Thereíll be a support vehicle on hand, plus both ends of the route are on the train line, making this a largely car-free Ė and care-free Ė foray.

Riding through history: from Roman rulers to the big 19-00

While cycling Hadrianís Wall, youíll be treated to an immersive, entertaining history lesson of Britain. After all, Hadrianís Wall was a bustling military base of forts, houses, taverns and barracks for about 300 years.

The Roman army started building the wall in AD 122, as they pushed north from southern England. It was all at the behest of Hadrian, an emperor keen to defend against the tribes of unconquered Caledonia (modern-day Scotland), control the movement of goods and people, and show grumbling Britons that the Romans were there to stay.

What originally started as a mission to link up existing forts grew into the most heavily fortified Roman structure in the world, with 5m-tall walls, spiked ditches, forts and towers, plus thousands of troops posted along the route.

Hadrianís Wall fell into disuse when the Romans retreated in the 5th century, which meant all those quarried and cut bricks were up for grabs. And grabbed they were. Much of the material became what archaeologists call spolia Ė as in, spoils of war Ė and were used to build everything from the cottages and farm walls to the vast abbeys that youíll see while breezing through on your bike.
Pedal between Roman ruins, cathedral cities and monastery complexes, seeing how Hadrianís Wall quite literally laid the foundations for many settlements along the way.
These days, there’s not much of Hadrian’s Wall left intact. Some parts traipse along the hillside for miles, other bits sit like cairns on hilltops, while many stretches have disappeared completely.

That’s why the best cycling vacations along Hadrian’s Wall will never directly follow the route of the wall. They take a wider perspective, meandering between cathedral cities and Augustinian monasteries, so you can see how the wall quite literally laid the foundations for many of the settlements along the way.

And in a modern-day twist, Hadrian’s Wall has begun to grow again. Foundations are being unearthed all over the place. As recently as 2022, excavations for new university accommodation dug up the remnants of a Roman turret. Not too long ago, the turret would have been dismantled for building materials; now, the student housing will curve around the excavation site.

In the same year, Hadrian’s Wall celebrated its 1,900th birthday with a festival that kicked off a series of exhibitions, including a giant wind chime art installation. It turns out that Hadrian got his wish – Britons still haven’t forgotten the Roman Empire’s northern outpost.

How long does it take to cycle Hadrianís Wall?

The Hadrianís Wall cycling route is 277km long. Most vacations take about five days to complete it, cycling anywhere between 22-50km a day and factoring in time for rambles around Roman towns and admiring this scenic part of northern England.

Can you cycle the Hadrianís Wall Path?

No, the Hadrianís Wall Path is for walkers. Hadrianís Cycleway offers a smooth alternative route for cyclists that avoids eroding the fragile footpaths and moorlands of the countryside. It also reduces congestion on the Hadrianís Wall Path during busier periods such as weekends, July and August.
Travel Team
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Highlights of cycling Hadrianís Wall

Many landmarks along Hadrianís Cycleway come for free Ė freewheeling through the Pennines, for instance, or wandering around grand cathedrals, and the beaches and nature reserves of the Solway Coast. The Roman forts and museums, however, often have entry charges not included in the price of the vacation Ė but itís well paying for the diversion. Youíll get behind-the-scenes insights into ongoing archaeological digs, the chance to wander around parts of the wall fenced off for conservation, seasonal exhibitions, and Ė in the case of places like Birdoswald Ė a cafť with Roman burgers on the menu. Plus, your pennies go towards the conservation and preservation of Hadrianís Wall.

Solway Coast

The Solway Coast is usually the first stop on a Hadrianís Wall cycling vacation. Ride beside the swirling sands of the Solway Firth, on the border of England and Scotland, and a protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Continue parallel to the River Eden, following it inland to the cathedral city of Carlisle and finishing in the market town of Brampton.

Lanercost Priory

The 12th-century Lanercost Priory was dealt many a blow throughout the Anglo-Scots War. Robert Bruce himself even turned up to have a shot at it, thanks to its prime position close to Hadrianís Wall. It remains an impressive ruin and one of the best-preserved monasteries in Cumbria. Tiptoe through peaceful cloisters and peer up at arches with more tiers than a wedding cake. You can also search for stones ďborrowedĒ from Hadrianís Wall; the inscriptions of the Latin names of Roman armies are the giveaway.

Birdoswald Roman Fort

Itís a steep final climb to Birdoswald Roman Fort Ė but well worth the calf ache. This fort is home to the longest remaining stretch of Hadrianís Wall, where it rolls out across the Cumbrian countryside with views over the green Irthing Valley. Cast your bike aside for a couple of hours and explore the museum, 4m-high gatehouse, and a bridge over a river that has completely changed course since the Romans were around. Birdoswald is usually the first significant Roman site youíll see on a Hadrianís Wall cycling tour Ė a serious case of starting the journey as you mean to go on.

Vindolanda & the Roman Army Museum

Vindolanda is one of Europeís most important Roman sites. It marks the midway point of Hadrianís Wall Ė so by this point, youíll know that a steep climb always comes with a reward. This time, pedalling up Greenhead Bank brings you to the Roman Army Museum, where three galleries take you through what daily life wouldíve been like on Hadrianís Wall for everyone from civilians to the fortís Syrian archers. There are often archaeologists at work, giving you the chance to see whatís being unearthed next. From Vindolanda, itís an easy ride down to Haltwhistle Ė a pretty market town that intriguingly sits at the geographical center of Britain.

Hexham Abbey

Hexham Abbey was one of the first Christian monasteries in England. The first devotees wouldnít recognise the cathedral-like grandeur of its church and crypts, though Ė it was originally built as a small church in AD 674, and routinely demolished and rebuilt after raids from the Scots and Vikings. Check out the nave and crypt to see recycled parts of Hadrianís Wall that amazingly survived, including bricks with scrolling carvings and a huge tombstone of a celebrated Roman soldier.

Corbridge

Some of the oldest Roman treasures in Britain were discovered in Corbridge, just a few miles from Hadrianís Wall. The museum houses some of the original streets of this old Roman garrison town. Its current streets are just as interesting Ė a tangle of courtyards, cobblestones and olde-worlde pubs. The market cross isnít all it seems, either, set into the foundations of an old Roman altar.

Newcastle & the River Tyne

Your introduction to Newcastle will be along disused railway lines that have taken on a second life as cycle paths. Roll over Ovingham Bridge and through Wylam, where engineer George ďFather of the RailwaysĒ Stephenson was born. Cycling through Newcastle city center is a refreshing change of scene Ė count the seven bridges as you glide beneath and stop to admire the neoclassical theatre and shops of Grey Street.

Tynemouth

The seaside town of Tynemouth is the end point of most Hadrianís Wall cycling trips. This is your chance to dip your wheel in North Sea Ė or even dip yourself in, if youíre feeling brave enough. (Fair warning: the North Sea puts the ďreally bloody coldĒ in cold-water swimming and the waves have hosted surfing championships.) You might prefer to tip your bike aside and collapse on the bright gold sandy bay instead Ė the ideal spot to admire the priory looming on the headland overhead.
Photo credits: [Page banner: Robert Linsdell] [Food: Frank Smith] [Places: Joe Bloggs]