When we came to Northumberland for the first time last summer, one of the things we wanted to do was see some of Hadrian's Wall. We initially assumed this would be relatively easy to do, but it turned out to be surprisingly difficult and on our first trip we failed to track down any of it at all. On the way back from our Scottish islands trip in September, we were more successful and visited a section of the wall by Cawfields quarry. When I was researching things to do this weekend, I realised that the cottage we are staying in is really close to some of the sites along the wall and in particular to Housesteads Fort, so that was where we planned to visit today.
Slightly confusingly, Housesteads Fort seems to be owned by the National Trust, managed by English Heritage and have a carpark owned by the Northumberland National Park. In practice, this means that you can get in for free with a National Trust card, but you need to pre-book your slot on the English Heritage website and pay £3 for parking before you leave. It doesn't seem to be the most popular of National Trust destinations; it only occurred to me to book a few days ago and there was still plenty of availability for mid-morning slots.
We were booked to arrive at 11am, so we had a leisurely start to the morning, enjoying the local bacon, eggs and bread which the owner of the cottage had left for us. Then we jumped in the car for a short 4-mile drive towards the fort. We arrived, parked and found that it's actually a 0.5 mile walk from the carpark to the fort itself.
A 0.5 mile walk up this hill
We made it to the top, slightly out of breath, and found a small museum. It was open, but didn't look wildly exciting, so we decided to give it a miss.
Instead we climbed slightly higher to the fort itself, which we entered through the south gate.
Housesteads Fort was built in 124 AD.
There are quite a lot of visible remains here, including houses, barracks and latrines.
We also had a good view of Hadrian's Wall itself, leading up to the fort.
Although it was a bank holiday weekend, it wasn't terribly busy here.
And although I'd been expecting it to rain, the weather just about managed to stay dry.
The National Trust website had suggested a walking route from the edge of the fort, but initially we struggled to find our way on to the path.
In the end we had to climb down from the fort, go around this farm and back up again.
We found the path eventually
There were some beautiful views out across the countryside. We were right at the bottom edge of the Northumberland national park, so the views in this direction were towards the Pennines.
On the opposite side, the path was just below Hadrian's wall.
The path was a bit up and down at times.
The sun had come out now and it actually felt quite warm walking in the sunshine.
There were still some dark clouds on the horizon, though.
After a while the path led downhill, alongside the wall.
We passed a farm...
...and had a view down towards a small lake.
It's hard to see in the photos, but on the left hand side of the lake are Hotbank Crags, topped by trees.
Our route took us up to the top of the crags.
It should have been a really scenic path.
Unfortunately, there were lots of annoying black flies everywhere (all the black dots on the photo below are flies in front of my camera, not birds in the sky!)
From the crags the path led steeply downhill, back alongside the wall.
As we descended, we got a glimpse of what is apparently one of the most photographed trees in the UK.
This is Sycamore Gap, although from this angle it wasn't completely clear how the location gets its name.
Once we climbed further down and walked past the tree, it became clearer.
The sycamore tree is situated in quite a dramatic dip - or gap - in the landscape
We enjoyed the view for a while, before turning around to retrace our steps in the direction of Housesteads Fort.
The weather got progressively colder and windier as we did so, and we only just made it back to the carpark before the first rain drops started to fall.
It rained quite heavily for a while, so after a brief stop in the village of Haltwhistle to pick up some supplies, we headed back to the cottage for the rest of the afternoon. We were lucky that we managed to get such a scenic walk in before the weather turned