Miles 0–15, Wallsend to Heddon-on-the-Wall

My walk began on the Newcastle Metro.
I’d spent the previous night at the Hadrian Lodge Hotel. I’d mistakenly thought that this tattered motel with an appealing name was located at the literal beginning of the Hadrian Wall Path. It is, in fact, a mile-and-a-half further down the road. Not wanting to extend my walk by that distance, I hopped the commuter train and rode to the suburb of Wallsend.

The path begins outside a remodeled Roman fort called Segedunum. Like everything in England, the fort does not open for visitors until 10am. Since I arrived at 9:45 and was eager to get the walk underway, I skipped it.

The first mile of the walk is above the river Tyne near shipyards, scrap yards and other heavy industry. It is not the most scenic commencement. Soon, however, the trail drops to the Tyne and follows a riverside path for several miles into Newcastle. Rotted pier pilings and warnings of river contamination reveal that this stretch was once the site of even more heavy industry. Over the past 100 years it has been suburbanized, cleaned up and turned into a pleasant place to stroll.

In the late-morning on a cloudy and cool Wednesday afternoon I encountered very few other people on this stretch, though just outside of Newcastle and walking the opposite direction I passed an elderly man trailed wearily by two teenagers. The old man looked at my big pack and wished me a hearty “good luck”.

Newcastle is known for the several bridges of various eras and styles that cross the river Tyne near its downtown core. It’s a relatively large city with a major college, a large retail center and several places to eat. As it was too early for a pub stop, I sat on a bench near the river and lightened my load with a snack of nuts, candy and water.

Out of Newcastle the path follows the narrowing river for a couple more miles. Old shipyards have been converted into modern riverside office parks. I received some funny looks from the suits staring out at me from picture-windowed conference rooms. I didn’t see any other people carrying as big a pack as I had on. “Stupid American,” they might’ve been laughing.

Turning away from the river the “path” is really just a glorified sidewalk. I walked near car dealerships, underwear billboards and a Costco (not bothering to stop for a 10 gallon jar of pickles).

In the suburb of Lepinham a group of four young kids stopped to talk to me about my walk and mock my American accent. I then encountered an elderly local couple sitting on a bench just outside the village of Newburn. They inquired about my journey and gave me a suggestion for a place to eat lunch. “Skip the Boathouse and eat at the Keelman,” they said. “They brew their own beer.” Well okay!

The sun came out so I sat in the large garden outside the Keelman pub and ate a lunch of steak pie, chips and steamed vegetables. With a pint of Keelman Brown Ale.

The pavement finally disappeared outside of Newburn, the path narrowing to a pleasant dirt single-track and rejoining the river. I passed a family of four from Memphis — a mother, father and two teenage boys who were walking the entire wall as well. One of the teenagers asked if I was camping. “We’re not cool enough to camp,” he said, taking a verbal jab at his parents.

Three miles out of Newburn the path turns away from the river, crosses a private golf course via a public footpath and ascends the first major hill of the walk. Cresting the hill and along the ridge sits the town of Heddon-on-the-Wall where, despite the name, there is only the tiniest remnant of Hadrian’s Wall.

The stones from the wall were long ago purloined by the locals who used them as ready-made building materials for farmhouses and barrier walls. I met an American tourist who told me, “You know, anyone around here named ‘Carter’ is descended from the folks who took stones from the wall and carted them away.”

I camped outside an old farmhouse which has been converted into the modern (Internet access!) and clean Houghton North Farm hostel. Out back in the garden is a small patch of lawn with adjacent shed that was all mine for the night. I pitched my tent, walked the half-mile into the center of town and had dinner and a pint at the Swan pub.

Next door to the pub are a small group of old stone homes named “Carter’s Cottages”. Thieves!


(Click on images for larger version.)
The beginning.
Tyne River warning.
Newcastle bridges.
Newcastle riverfront.
Suburban underwear billboard.
Lunch at the Keelman.
Tyne River path.
Houghton North Farm.
Campsite in Heddon.