Newcastle, England

Newcastle, England – otherwise known as the most failed trip I’ve ever taken.

I’ve been living in England attending grad school this year and I really only had two main tourist goals: Canterbury Cathedral and Hadrian’s Wall. I know they don’t sound like much, but I’d already seen London and been up to Scotland, so those were the two things I really wanted to see this year.

I leave England in 3 days – needless to say, I failed on both counts. However, I gave it my best go to get to Hadrian’s Wall and I’ve learned a good deal that will hopefully help out anyone interested in checking it out someday.

I began by checking out the Hadrian’s Wall website. It was full of gorgeous photos and I would’ve been happy to see any of those spots. I’m also not all that much of an outdoors person and tend to hate hiking, so I thought I’d just aim for a 3 day section of the wall with a 24 mile hike (spread out over the 3 days) instead of the full wall hike, which is a 7 day adventure. I was also planning on doing this trip by myself.

This was where I encountered my first problem. I had no real understanding of how long it takes to walk anywhere and where to stay and how to get there, so I ordered the free brochure off the Hadrian’s Wall website. I tried to plan that trip several times and just never felt confident or comfortable. The free brochure arrived with several pamphlets about different tour groups that offered assorted walks, but I didn’t want to pay over £300 to walk next to a wall for 3 days. I tried to sort out my own version of their described walk but got nowhere. In the end, I decided I would go to Newcastle and sort it out from there.

Upon arriving in Newcastle, I spent several hours trying to figure out how to get to Hadrian’s Wall to no avail. I wound up staying in a hostel in Newcastle called Backpackers Newcastle, which actually ranks pretty high on my hostels list. The room was clean and secure, as well as a comfortable temperature. There was a room with a TV, video games and lots of books. They even had free internet, which wound up really helpful while I was trying to figure out what to do.

By the time I had checked in, I’d largely given up hope of getting to Hadrian’s Wall and decided I’d focus on exploring Newcastle. Perhaps this could’ve been done better, but I really found the area pretty boring. I walked past a theatre on my way to the hostel and opted to buy a ticket for the show that evening, The Full Monty. The review I’ve linked to there was clearly written by a guy on crack though, it was the most awful production I’ve ever seen. I seriously wanted to claw my eyes out. Their sound tech should be shot – there was so much feedback. The best parts were when the lead actor got tangled in his microphone, ripped it loose and it took two songs for someone to fix this issue, the police radio the wireless mics picked up for a good thirty seconds and the woman sitting in front of me who went into labor, which was actually a far more interesting show.

From this excellent start, the next day I mostly just wandered. I found the Castle and explored it. There was a nice view from the top, but really, I think after a while almost all of the castles start to look alike. I shopped a little and sat for a long time by a big statue in the middle of the city, listening to the buskers and preachers and all the various lunatics that those sorts of areas call to.

Then I renewed my goal to see Hadrian’s Wall. Screw hiking it, I thought, I just want to take a single bloody picture of this wall. So I got a bus ticket and headed out to Hexham, which I heard had a lovely abbey and I thought, for whatever crazy reason, was right by the wall. It was not by the wall, but the abbey was rather pretty. I got back on the bus heading back towards Newcastle and decided to disembark in Corbridge, which is actually a really lovely little town.

I saw signs in Corbridge for ancient Roman ruins. This made me think that the wall would be nearby, so I walked maybe 3 miles outside the town to the Roman ruins and explored. I particularly liked these ruins because I could climb all over them. I then asked the lady working at the counter how I could get to the wall. She told me there’s an excellent bus, called the Hadrian’s Wall Bus, that would essentially take me everywhere I wanted to see. However, the bus didn’t start to run for the season until a week after I was actually in Newcastle. So that is my big tip for all of you, when in search of Hadrian’s Wall, apparently they mean it when they say to wait for late spring or the summer. To walk to Hadrian’s Wall from the Roman ruins would’ve been 15 miles until I reached a point that looked like the wall.

I dejectedly headed back to Newcastle, caught the next train back to Sheffield and wrote the entire weekend off as a loss. I’ve learned it’s really not much fun to travel alone. The one thing I wish I’d managed to see, but somehow overlooked was The Angel of the North, some big, honking statue right outside of Newcastle. I’d say maybe next time, but I think I’m more likely to just give the whole area a pass.

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