Hadrian’s Wall – Steel Rigg to Housesteads

Walk date – 1st June 2021

Distance – 6.7 miles

Weather – sunny, light breeze, light cloud layers


We crossed the border from Cumbria into Northumberland for today’s walk along a section of Hadrian’s Wall. As a calm dry day was on the cards and the Bank Holiday weekend was over and done with we decided that today would be as good a day as any to go further afield, particularly as J had not been to Hadrian’s Wall before. From home it was just an hour’s drive to Steel Rigg car park where just a few cars were already parked up. The usual pay and display machine was there (bring plenty of pound coins!) which everyone struggled with as the numbers and letters on the key pad were worn away and the info screen faced east which didn’t make things any easier as the bright morning sun landed on it. Anyway we eventually managed to get the thing to dispense a ticket to display and to get under way. The wall runs between the east and west coasts for 75 miles (or 80 Roman miles) so there are plenty of opportunities to walk sections of it anywhere along its route. We chose this section as its relatively close to where we live and because its a particularly scenic part of the route. The weather stayed dry and very warm so the occasional light breeze was more than welcome. A lovely walk which you can make as energetic or as gentle as you wish and one which a good number of people were enjoying doing today.


Steel Rigg car park – Steel Rigg – Peel Crags – Sycamore Gap – Highshield Crags – Hotbank Farm – Hotbank Crags – Housesteads Crags – Housesteads Roman Fort – return to Hotbank Farm – public footpath across Peatrigg Plantation – Steel Rigg car park

Looking across at the route ahead as we follow the path from the car park over to the Hadrian’s Wall path.

Peel Crags on Steel Rigg, this will be the first of the many ups and downs along the route as we follow the wall over to Housesteads Fort.

The paved path taking walkers up on to the top of Peel Crags. Its only a short climb with a couple of steepish sections. There is a very narrow, i.e. single file only, rock passage to get through just before you emerge on the top but there’s no exposure and nothing scary about it. A family group just ahead of us stop for a breather.

Looking east from the top of Peel Crags towards the Twice Brewed Inn.

Looking ahead at the route alongside Hadrian’s Wall from the top of Peel Crags. No navigational skills required just follow the wall.

That smidgeon of blue is Crag Lough coming into view.

Reaching the end of Peel Crags now and below us is Milecastle 39. A well preserved example of the milecastles, or small fortified gateways, which were built after every Roman mile and which often protected weak points along the wall. One such weak point would be here where there is a natural depression between the  cliffs. Having taken a look at the cliffs below us when we got down there it would still be very difficult to mount a successful attack on the milecastle.

Minecastle 39 sign on the fence by the entrance.

We carry on from Milecastle 39 over to Sycamore Gap. Before dropping down to the gap I took this shot of the next section of the route over Highshield Crags with a partial view of the well known Sycamore tree which has established itself there.

Sycamore Gap, the renowned tree and the wall rising up Highshield Crags.

The classic view of Sycamore tree. Many of the people out walking along here seemed to make this their end point and lots of them were sitting at the bottom of the hill behind me. The walk became much less busy from this point on.

Another short steep climb brings us out onto Highshield Crags from where I took a look back at the tree in the gap and the route so far. The car park is in the stand of trees over on the right.

The view down to Crag Lough as we walk across Highshield Crags. The wall is now on our right and the path runs close to it. The crags are almost vertical and there are plenty of steep drops so take care along here.

A close up of one of the steep drops. Almost a mini version of the Screes and Wast Water I thought. As its a close-up I’m not as near to the edge as it may seem but J hangs on to my pack straps nevertheless!

The slight breeze ruffles the surface of Crag Lough, which is all that remains of a glacial lake. The vertical colunns of cliffs all along Hadrian’s Wall are part of the Great Whin Sill, one of the natural features of the north Pennines. Major outcrops of it also occur at High Force in Teesdale and High Cup Nick on Dufton Fell. It also appears at Bamburgh Castle and Lindisfarne Castle among other places.

The view back to Crag Lough and Highshield Crag as we reach Hotbank Farm. The stand of trees containing the car park is about two miles away at this point. We make a stop around here for J to change longs for shorts and feel a bit more comfortable, the temperature is rising and the breeze is intermittent.

The path from the farm rises and leads us over Hotbank Crags. The body of water in the distance is Broomlee Lough.

Another depression as we reach the end of Hotbank Crags and prepare to climb Housesteads Crags. If you don’t want to negotiate all the ups and downs along the way over on the right of the shot is a much gentler grassy path, we used that on part of our return leg. If you want the views then the ups and downs are part of the deal.

Plenty of ups and downs as we cross over Housesteads Crags. The blocks of stone used to construct that old sheepfold just beyond the wall look very much like the blocks of stone in the wall. Once the Romans had gone and the wall left to fend for itself there would be little point in leaving perfectly good stone blocks just lying around doing nothing would there? Might as well use them for something else in that case, sheepfolds, barns, houses. People in the past obviously did just that because it is believed that the original wall was twelve to fifteen feet tall which isn’t the case now.

Looking west from Milecastle 37 and the remains of its arched entrance. What happened to Milecastle 38 you may be wondering. Well, its back at Hotbank Farm and we forgot to look out for it, we were probably talking and not paying attention.

Here we are at one of the gateways to Housesteads Fort …..

….. and the same gateway from another angle. All fenced off and no chance of just walking in and viewing the site. We walked down the hill and around to the main gate entrance only to find that ‘because of the current regulations’ entry was by pre-booking only (£9 each!) and nothing would be available until about three o’clock. My late sister and brother both lived in Northumberland at various times in the past so a visit to Housesteads was usually on the cards whenever I visited them. Then you could just walk around the site at will, pretty much as you still can at the Roman fort at Hard Knott Pass, have a picnic and generally enjoy your day out. That was decades ago though and before English Heritage took over. Anyway we weren’t allowed in without the pre-booking and we weren’t going to wait until mid afternoon and pay £9 for the privilege so I don’t have any photos of the inside layout. If you’ve been to the fort at Hard Knott then what you’ll see at Housesteads is more or less the same thing. We took a lunch break at Housesteads as there are excavated foundations outside the fort walls where you can sit and take a break. After our break we completed the walk around the external walls and then began the walk back to Hotbank Farm.

We used the gentler grassy path for the walk back to the farm just to vary the route a little.

From Hotbank Crags a view along Crag Lough and Highshield Crags.

From Hotbank Farm we followed the public footpath through the farm and the fields beyond it …..

….. across the area known as Peatrigg Plantation on a very warm afternoon. A little build up of cloud ahead of us but …..

….. the skies are still clear as I take a look back to Hotbank Farm and the walkers following on behind us.

Highshield Crags and Crag Lough from Peatrigg Plantation …..

….. and, at the end of Highshield Crags and the beginning of Peel Crags, is a different view of the tree in Sycamore Gap. Lots of people dotted along the skyline as they follow the wall.

Ewe and lamb keep an eye on us as I stop to take a shot looking back to Hotbank Farm.

Highshield Crags, now with some sunlight on them.

Almost back at the car park now so all we have to do is follow the track to the gate in the wall …..

….. which leads us nicely out on to the lane and the short walk back up to the parking area in that stand of trees. When we got there the car park was full and so was the overspill area, and folks were still struggling with the pay and display machine. A lovely day out with plenty of views and a bit of history thrown in for good measure, all of it very interesting and very enjoyable.