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Planning your walk
Contents | Introduction | About Hadrian's Wall Path | Planning your walk | Using this guide | Sample route guide: Heddon-on-the-Wall to Chollerford
The trail guide (Part 5) lists a fairly comprehensive selection of places to stay along the length of the trail. You have three main options: camping, staying in hostels/bunkhouses/camping barns, or using B&Bs/guesthouses/hotels. Few people stick to just one of these options the whole way, preferring, for example, to camp most of the time but spend every third night in a hostel, or perhaps use hostels where possible but splash out on a B&B every once in a while.
Note that when booking accommodation, remember to ask if a pick-up and drop-off service is available (usually only B&Bs provide this service). Few of the B&Bs actually lie on the Wall, and at the end of a tiring day it’s nice to know a lift is available to take you to your accommodation rather than having to traipse another two or three miles off the path to get to your bed for the night.
The facilities’ table on pp42-3 provides a quick snapshot of what type of accommodation is available in each of the towns and villages along the way, while the tables on p40 provide some suggested itineraries. The following is a brief introduction to what to expect from each type of accommodation.
There are campsites all the way along the Hadrian’s Wall Path except in Newcastle and Carlisle, and towards the trail’s western end you may find yourself walking a mile or two off the path to find somewhere to pitch your tent. That said, few people choose to camp every night on the trail. You’re almost bound to get at least one night where the rain falls relentlessly, soaking equipment and sapping morale, and it is then that most campers opt to spend the next night drying out in a hostel or B&B. There are, however, many advantages with camping. It’s more economical, for a start, with most campsites charging somewhere around £5. There’s rarely any need to book either, except possibly in the very high season, and even then you’d be very unlucky not to find somewhere.
Campsites vary; some are just the back gardens of B&Bs or pubs; others are full-blown caravan sites with a few spaces put aside for tents. Showers are usually available, occasionally for a fee though more often than not for free. Note that none of the YHA hostels on the Hadrian’s Wall Path accepts campers. Note, too, that wild camping (ie not in a regular campsite) is not allowed.
Camping is not an easy option; the route is wearying enough without carrying your accommodation around with you. Should you decide to camp, therefore, we advise you to look into employing one of the baggage-carrying companies mentioned on p32, though this does, of course, mean that it will cost more and that you will lose a certain amount of freedom as you have to tell the company, at least a day before, of your next destination – and stick to it – so that you and your bag can be reunited every evening.
The term ‘bunkhouse’ can mean many different things, though usually it’s nothing more than a converted barn in a farmer’s field with a couple of wooden benches to sleep on. Sleeping bags are usually necessary in these places. While not exactly the lap of luxury, a night in a bunkhouse is probably the nearest non-campers will get to sleeping outside, while at the same time providing campers with shelter from the elements should the weather look like taking a turn for the worse. Some of the better bunkhouses provide a shower and simple kitchen with running water and perhaps a kettle, and occasionally pots, pans, cutlery and crockery.
There are a few YHA (Youth Hostel Association) hostels along the Hadrian’s Wall Path and if you haven’t visited one recently because the words ‘youth’ and ‘hostel’ still conjure up images of cold, crowded dorms, uncomfortable beds and lousy food all overseen by little-Hitler staff who take a sadistic pleasure in treating you like schoolchildren, we advise you to take a second look.
The YHA has, in fact, got some of the best-value accommodation on the route. Each hostel comes equipped with a whole range of facilities from drying rooms to televisions and fully equipped kitchens for guests to use. Many also have a shop selling emergency groceries, snacks and souvenirs and some offer wi-fi (£3 per hour, £5 per day) and/or internet access (£1 for 20 mins). Some offer breakfast, an evening meal and/or a packed lunch; several even have a licence to sell alcohol. They are also good places to meet fellow walkers, swap stories and compare blisters.
Weighed against these advantages is the fact that beds are still arranged in dormitories, some of them quite large, thereby increasing your chances of sharing the night with a heavy snorer. The curfew (usually 11pm) is annoying too. Nor is it really feasible to stay in hostels every night, for there are some areas where they don’t exist and where they do some are at least a mile or two from the path.
If you are travelling in April/May or September, at the beginning or end of the trekking season, you may find many shut for two or three days per week, or that they are entirely taken over by school groups, leaving trekkers shut out. Contact the YHA or the relevant hostel to find out the exact opening dates. Even in high season some are not staffed during the day and trekkers have to wait until 4 or 5pm before checking in. Furthermore, it is rumoured that most YHA hostels will save your booked bed only until 6pm, though to be fair, I never came across this rule on the route and if it does exist it doesn’t seem to be rigidly enforced. And besides, they will keep it until later if you phone to let them know when you’re due to arrive. Finally, the cost of staying in a hostel, once breakfast has been added on, is in most instances not that much cheaper (starting at £15 for members, though more usually around £20) than staying in a B&B.
Booking a hostel
Despite the name, anybody of any age can join the YHA. This can be done at any hostel or by contacting the Youth Hostels Association of England and Wales (% 0800-019 1700 or % 01629-592700, : www.yha .org.uk). The cost of a year’s membership is £15.95 per year (£9.95 for anyone under 26). Having secured your membership, YHA hostels are easy to book, either online or by ringing the YHA, or each individual hostel separately. The hostels also offer a booking service and will reserve a bed at the next stop on the path for you. You don’t need to be a member to book/stay at a YHA hostel but will be charged an additional £3 per night.
Bed and breakfast
Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs) are a great British institution and many of those along the Hadrian’s Wall Path are absolutely charming, with buildings often three or four hundred years old, and some even made with Wall stones! There’s nothing mysterious about a B&B; as the name suggests, they provide you with a bed in a private room and a cooked breakfast (see below) – unless you specify otherwise beforehand – though they range in style enormously.
Rooms usually contain either a double bed (known as a double room), or two single beds (known as a twin room) though sometimes twin beds can be pushed together to make a double bed. Family rooms are for three or more people; sometimes this means there is a double bed with (a) separate single bed(s), or bunk beds, but also it could be a single bed over a double bed, bunk-bed style. Rooms are often en suite but in some cases the facilities are shared or private, though even with the latter the bathroom is never more than a few feet away. Most rooms have a TV and tea/coffee-making facilities.
An evening meal (usually around £12-15) is often provided at the more remote or bigger places, at least if you book in advance. If not, there’s nearly always a pub or restaurant nearby or, if it’s far, the B&B owner may give you a lift to and from the nearest place with food.
B&B rates B&Bs in this guide start at around £24 per person (pp) for the most basic accommodation rising to over £40-45 for the most luxurious en suite places. Most charge around £30-35pp. However, some places charge a room rate based on two sharing. Solo trekkers should take note: single rooms are not so easy to find so if you are on your own you will often end up occupying a double/twin room, for which you’ll have to pay a single occupancy supplement. A typical supplement for a per person rate and discount for a room rate is around £10.
Rates are often discounted for stays of two or more nights.
Guesthouses, hotels, pubs and inns
The difference between a B&B and a guesthouse is minimal, though some of the better guesthouses are more like hotels, offering evening meals and a lounge for guests. Pubs and inns also offer bed and breakfast accommodation and prices are no more than in a regular B&B.
Hotels usually do cost more, however, and some might be a little incensed with a bunch of smelly trekkers turning up and treading mud into their carpet. Most on the Hadrian’s Wall Path, however, are used to seeing trekkers and welcome them warmly. Prices in hotels start at around £25-30 per person, though occasionally you can get some special deals with the larger hotel chains that can be as low as £19. Hotel and pub rates may not include breakfast.
FOOD AND DRINK
Breakfast and lunch
Stay in a B&B and you’ll be filled to the gills with a cooked English breakfast. This usually consists of a bowl of cereal followed by a plateful of eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes and possibly baked beans or black pudding, with toast and butter, and all washed down with coffee, tea and/or juice. Enormously satisfying the first time you try it, by the fourth or fifth morning you may start to prefer a lighter continental breakfast. If you have had enough of these cooked breakfasts and/or plan an early start, ask if you can have a packed lunch instead of breakfast. Your landlady or hostel can usually provide a packed lunch at an additional cost (unless it’s in lieu of breakfast), though of course there’s nothing to stop you preparing your own lunch (but do bring a penknife if you plan to do this), or going to a pub (see below) or café.
Remember, to plan ahead; certain stretches of the walk are virtually devoid of eating places (the stretch from Chollerford to Housesteads for example – save for a couple of vans that usually set up in summer along the way – and from there to Walltown Quarry) so read ahead about the next day’s walk in Part 5 to make sure you never go hungry.
Whatever you do for lunch, don’t forget to leave some room for a cream tea or two, a morale, energy and cholesterol booster all rolled into one delicious package: a pot of tea accompanied by scones served with cream and jam, and sometimes a cake or two. The jury is out on whether you should put the jam on first or the cream but either way do not miss the chance of at least one cream tea.
Pubs are as much a feature of the walk as moorland and sheep, and in some cases the pub is as much a tourist attraction as any Roman fort or ruined priory. The Robin Hood Inn to the west of Whittledene Reservoir, is one example, as are The Keelman at Newburn and The Hadrian Hotel at Wall (both just off the trail) and the historic Twice Brewed near Steel Rigg.
Most pubs have become highly attuned to the desires of trekkers and offer lunch and evening meals (often with a couple of local dishes and usually some vegetarian options), some locally brewed beers, a garden to relax in on hot days and a roaring fire to huddle around on cold ones. The standard of the food varies widely, though is usually served in big portions, which is often just about all trekkers care about at the end of a long day. In many of the villages the pub is the only place to eat out. Note that pubs may close in the afternoon, especially in the winter months, so check in advance if you are hoping to visit a particular one, and also if you are planning lunch there as food serving hours can change.
That other great British culinary institution, the fish ‘n’ chip shop, can be found in Newcastle, Carlisle, and towns off the Wall such as Haltwhistle, Brampton and Hexham; as can Chinese and Indian takeaways, which are usually the last places to serve food in the evenings, staying open until at least 11pm.
Buying camping supplies
There is a shop of some description in most of the places along the route, though most are small (and often combined with the post office) and whether you’ll be able to find precisely what you went in for is highly unlikely. If self-catering, therefore, your menu for the evening will depend upon what you found in the store that day. Part 5 goes into greater detail about what can be found where.
There are plenty of ways of perishing on the Hadrian’s Wall Path but given how frequently it rains and how damp the north of England is, thirst probably won’t be one of them. Be careful, though, for on a hot day in some of the remoter parts after a steep climb or two you’ll quickly dehydrate, which is at best highly unpleasant and at worst mightily dangerous. Always carry some water with you and in hot weather drink three or four litres a day. Don’t be tempted by the water in the streams; if the cow or sheep faeces in the water don’t make you ill, the chemicals from the pesticides and fertilisers used on the farms almost certainly will. Using iodine or another purifying treatment will help to combat the former, though there’s little you can do about the latter. It’s a lot safer to fill up from taps instead.