Join us on an exploration of the raw beauty and richly-layered history of this most distinctive English region. Few areas so large come to be defined by a single work of man, but the Wall Country has had a special character since the Romans first set this great work in trail over field, hill, crag and river nearly two thousand years ago. Today, we take you through a warm and welcoming countryside of ever-changing views, from bustling medieval market towns, through gentle farmland and craggy rocks strewn with tumbled Roman stones which give way to beautiful views of thick woods and wild loughs. On our Hadrian’s Wall tour the landscape itself inspires awe and is a character in its own right. It has drawn people from Romans through Anglo-Saxons and Vikings to Medieval Warlords, sinister Reivers and the Victorian Romantics who fell in love with it and its stories.
Our encounter with the long history of this region begins as the Romans, after forty years in the north, built their mighty Wall, marching mile after mile across the neck of Britain, disregarding hills, rocks and rivers and definitively marked the land to the south as Roman. Though there is much to see and say about the military side of the wall – the physical awe, the impressiveness of Roman military power and organisation – there is also another more human tale to tell. Everywhere behind the wall, there are stories of strange gods, civilian bustle, military order and the daily lives of thousands of men, women and children. It is a Roman landscape unique in Britain for its diversity and scale.
With the end of Roman rule after some three hundred years, the ruins of the Wall became the homes of farmers, strongholds of lords, hide-outs of thieves and the building material of churchmen, but always remained a powerful reminder of what had once been. Our story continues with the Anglo-Saxons and then the stretching north of the great kingdom of England, marking the landscape with beautiful churches and gripping it with castles. Here, for centuries, England contested the land either side of the Wall with Scotland, leaving a trail of wars and raids and forging a tough, self-reliant and independent people.
In time, the border was pacified, and the hazards earlier people faced became part of the magnificent tapestry of a border history which drew people to a now-peaceful but storied and beautiful country, inspiring Scott, Kipling, Turner and William Morris, and the perfectly-placed grand home of the ingenious Lord Armstrong.
This historical and archaeological tour of Hadrian’s Wall offers a wealth of experiences: a remarkable landscape, a deep history, the stern traces of Roman power, the fascinating contact with individual lives carved in stone or left in the organic finds at Vindolanda, the aesthetic beauty of Cragside or Lanercost priory, the reminders of its dangerous past and the fantastic local food and drink. There is no better place to begin an exploration of England’s long history, beautiful countryside and cultural richness.
Check out Paul’s evocative blog post about the Wall and its region.
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After a fine lunch, we cross the broad River Tyne to South Shields, and the unusual fort of Arbeia, entering through its imposing rebuilt gatehouse. A few carefully reconstructed buildings allow us to vividly imagine the original appearance of the other sites we’ll visit. And there’s a splendidly rich little museum with some of the most famous people of the Wall zone to encounter.
After a well-earned picnic lunch, we visit the nearby temple of Mithras at Carrawburgh, whose well-preserved remains have much to tell about this enigmatic saviour-god.
We begin at the village of Gilsland with our second hike along the Wall itself. This time, a much gentler walk past the exceptional milecastle at Poltross Burn brings us through attractive countryside to the Roman bridge at Willowford and over the intermittently turbulent river it once spanned. We’ll then climb the rise to Birdoswald fort, perched on a great and dramatic spur which sweeps down majestically into the Irthing Valley, and whose fort buildings were used through the Dark Ages and into Medieval times. New excavations here are revealing impressive new buildings and are poised to expand the Wall’s story hopefully in new directions.
After lunch at the famed Twice Brewed pub, we spend the entire afternoon at the extraordinary site of Vindolanda, one of the most important archaeological treasures in the entire Roman Empire. Here, the environment has preserved a bewildering array of everyday objects - personal letters, children’s shoes, combs, even wigs – that allow us to come as close to real Roman life as it is possible to do. The remains of the fort, and the civilian town outside would be among the most impressive on the Roman frontier, even if they were not continually changing with the excavations that will be producing new insights as we visit. In recent years they have revealed an extraordinary story of the site’s persistence long into the Dark Ages as a Christian centre, far beyond what had ever been expected. This will undoubtedly be one of your highlights.
We then head west to a site renowned for its beauty, which lays bare how the Roman Wall faded, was reused and became the stuff of Romantic adulation: the wonderful red stone priory at Lanercost. Now a restful ruin, it stamped English medieval civilisation on an area buffeted by conflict, and was home to Edward I on his last, fatal journey north. After falling victim to Henry VIII its aesthetically perfect dilapidation in a remote and peaceful location provided inspiration for a generation of Victorian Romantics, including decoration by the Arts & Crafts movement.
After lunch, we continue west to the city of Carlisle, Roman in origin, and in mediaeval times guard and sentinel on a dangerously vulnerable invasion route. We visit the superb museum collection at Tullie House to see some of the finest finds from the Cumbrian end of the Wall, and then take in the mighty rust-coloured Carlisle Castle, key to the English West March and prison – not always successfully! - to some of the worst of the Reivers.
You are free to choose a place to lunch and wander the charming streets of this attractive town so central to Border history. In the afternoon, we depart the genteel respectability of Hexham and return to the Wall at Chesters, here set in gently rolling riverside parkland. Beautifully framed by wooded low hills and the churning river, Chesters is blessed with a fine Edwardian museum filled with a mass of inscriptions and finds enriching our knowledge of the lives of the Roman-era inhabitants and the bewildering array of gods they worshipped, and the best Roman baths on the Wall.
After lunch, we travel through the hilly wilderness west of Bamburgh to Armstrong’s masterpiece, his house nestled in the forest at Cragside surrounded by sublime lakes and woods, tiered rockeries and gardens spilling down to a fine iron bridge spanning a pretty stream. The natural beauty of the site is brilliantly balanced by Armstrong’s ingenuity in the house, the first to use hydroelectricity, and filled with the paraphernalia of civilised and refined modernity. After a rich and rewarding day, we have our farewell dinner.
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Arrival and Departure Information
Arrival Airport – Newcastle International Airport
Departure Airport – Newcastle International Airport
Arrival Train Station – Newcastle Central Station
Departure Train Station – Newcastle Central Station
Our transfer vehicle will collect from Newcastle International Airport at 16.30, and Newcastle Central Station at 17.00, should you wish your arrival at your hotel to be organised by us. If you prefer to arrange your own arrival, check in time is set for 14.30.
Check out time is 10.30. We will arrange a transfer from your hotel to Newcastle Train Station and Newcastle Airport leaving from your hotel at 09.30.
The cheapest way to book flights to join this tour in the United Kingdom is directly with the airline online.
If you prefer to book with a travel agent, we are happy to recommend specialists in a number of countries around the world, please contact our office for more details.
We consider adequate travel insurance to be essential. You should ensure that you take out a suitable policy, to make sure that your trip is properly covered. Please be advised some insurers may require you to take out a policy within 15-20 days of booking your holiday to receive all of their insurance benefits.
If you are not from an EEA country you must have a valid passport to enter the UK. It must be valid for the whole of your stay. You may also need a visa, depending on which country you are from. You can check if you need a visa by using the link below.
If you are thinking of extending your trip to the United Kingdom to include visits to London, South-Western England, Wales or further afield, please contact our office for advice and suggestions for bespoke travel plans.