History lovers beware – aside from the endless fascinations of Hadrian’s Wall itself, there are many monuments, ruins, churches, priories, forts and grand homes to visit in this part of the world. You may need some extra time but this 2000-year-old story is worth it!
See Carlisle Castle, built on a formerly Roman site in the late 11th century and the scene of many bloody battles thanks to its close proximity to the border - the city walls aren’t there just to look nice. Stick with Cumbria for a visit to Wetheral Priory Gatehouse, a 15th century building that has survived exceptionally well and was previously a Benedictine priory.
If you’re eastward bound, the castle of Newcastle is a must. Comprised of the Castle Keep, England’s finest Norman Keep, a fortified stone tower, and the Black Gate, a fortified gatehouse, the castle is built where the Pons Aelius, Hadrian’s bridge across the Tyne, once stood. Just a few miles upstream on the Tyne, Prudhoe Castle is another early Medieval monument built to guard against the threat of Scottish invasion. One of the most popular and peaceful non-Roman sites along the frontier is Lanercost Priory. Set in a stunning patch of rural Cumbria, this 13th century church is built of Roman stone and parts of it survive to its original height.
As well as the monuments themselves, the towns and villages scattered along the Wall offer a warm welcome to visitors, along with plenty of local history. Market town Hexham buzzes with cafés, shops and restaurants, plus a hearty dose of heritage. Hexham Abbey’s history winds back to the 12th century, while its Old Gaol, as the oldest purpose-built prison in England, offers a spine-tingling insight into medieval crime and punishment. By contrast, the charming settlements on the western coast offer an entirely different set of experiences. Bowness-on-Solway is a real highlight. Built on the Roman site of Fort Maia, this pretty coastal village is complete with a Norman church and lies in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Further west still, the father of Robert the Bruce, the famous son who defeated the English at Bannockurn, is buried in the recently restored Home Cultram Abbey.
Hadrian’s Wall is the spine of history and heritage that defines this wonderful stretch of landscape but beyond the Wall, there’s much more to do and discover in this frontier land.