An inspiring view for the otherwise misty, blurred morning. We went out just after 7am, walking up to the ridge to see the chunky bits of the Wall and the sweeping views.
Stoked up by a hostel breakfast we rode off to Vindolanda, which turned out to be closed, so hacked back along narrow lanes to Housesteads. It was closed when we arrived but we filled in the time before it opened by exploring Cuddy’s Crags and the impressive almost-intact stretch of wall, overlooking the impressive shelf of Whin Sill.
The museum, reopened the previous weekend after a refurb, was pretty impressive, with clearly well-written panel text and a decent information film. We nosed round the fort itself and admired the latrines.
We regained Route 72 east with a helping-hand westerly behind us. Stanegate was a delight, long, straight gently undulating and predominantly downhill: an exhilarating freewheel for most of four miles.
Now down at river level, we cut into Hexham and its robust, handsome square, dominated by the splendid and imposing Abbey. Lunch and coffee in a little cafe opposite the Abbey proved just the job, a cheap fresh quiche, muffin, coffee and the right sort of newspapers.
The Abbey had a very impressive range of 15th-century artefacts: a Death Dance screen, the Frith Stool offering sanctuary for runaways, an Italian renaissance altarpiece painting, grotesques á la New College Oxford, and Passion Play panels (which are actually Stations of the Cross minus 3). There are also some discreetly helpful guides wandering around to offer advice. I celebrated by putting every penny I had in the donation box, though this was only 69p.
We were on the home stretch now, mostly flat and along the Tyne. There were some very pleasant bankside stretches, all untrafficked lanes. At Prudhoe we admired the curious, narrow bridge, no more than six foot six wide and seemingly improvised out of Meccano sometime in austerity Britain.
Shortly after, at Wylam, was the gloriously arched and girdered Hagg Bank Bridge. It was another for the post-Beeching collection, a railtrail affair that looked like the younger brother of Sydney Harbour or Newcastle’s Tyne bridge.
The railtrail ambled us past Heddon and [George] Stephenson’s Cottage, which Tim investigated. It rained, steadily, for our last seven miles into Newcastle back along the Quayside.
We celebrated the successful completion of the trip with a drink. Which was tea for Tim – he had 15 miles more to do tonight to stay in a bunkhouse in Rothbury; I however only had a few hundred yards to the train station for my journey back home to York, so I could be a little more adventurous.
Hadrian’s Cycleway: Conclusion
The route is enjoyable and certainly worth doing, but there’s less wall than you might expect for this route, which rather than shadow the masonry, links sites and ways known to the Pict-busting Roman emperor. Wall-huggers may want to detour.
The wall is invisible at the route’s start at Bowness, amid marshy flats. Near Lanercost, it finally appears in its lumpy grandeur for several miles. The most awesome sections, the last, are around Once Brewed hostel. After characterful Hexham and its fine abbey, lanes and rail-trails take you into lively Newcastle.
It’s not that hilly, certainly far less strenuous or spectacular than the C2C, and any tourer or road bike can handle it fine. Rush this and it’ll seem dull – it’s best enjoyed at leisure by explorers of history, psychogeography, and teashop towns.
Miles today: 30
Miles since Bowness: 78