We love exploring the different sites along Hadrian’s Wall – it really captures the 5yo’s imagination, and we’re so lucky to have so many amazing kid-friendly sites on our doorstep! Plus, he is always especially happy to investigate a Roman-sword-stocked gift shop. Over the Easter holidays we decided to venture a bit further afield for a few days to explore some parts of the wall we hadn’t been to before. After a month stuck in the house together in March with a seemingly never-ending case of family Covid, the fresh air and open fields were definitely calling!
We don’t drive, so getting around rural areas can sometimes be a bit tricky. The Tyne Valley railway line from Newcastle stops at several useful points for getting out to explore the Roman past in Northumberland. A good stretch of the Wall also has its very own bus service, the AD122 (get it!? The Emperor Hadrian ordered the building of the wall in AD122!) which is especially handy if you’re not quite ready for a mammoth hike between sites or you have a small person in tow. It runs daily between April and October, and the timetable is fairly regular. We got the 3 Day Travel Pass so we could hop on and off when needed, which made things really easy. And naturally the 5yo quickly became best friends with the bus driver.
Another great feature of the AD122 bus route is that it stops right by the entrance of Herding Hill Farm, a beautiful family-friendly camping spot. The 5yo was keen to go camping, so as a slight compromise on lugging around a tent we booked ourselves in here for a couple of nights in one of their glamping pods. It was LOVELY! It is only a couple of stops outside of Haltwhistle but it feels pleasantly remote and has beautiful views over the hills. The site itself was amazing: really child-friendly (the lovely lady at reception asked the 5yo to check us in, which he was extremely pleased about!) with plenty of amenities including a shop and a shower/kitchen block with family bathroom. But perhaps most importantly of all, Herding Hill has a petting farm and a ROMAN FORT play-park! Okay, okay, so the latter might have been one of the main reasons I booked it.. 100% worth it!
Each of the cabins is named after a site along Hadrian’s Wall – we were in Ravenglass – and there are a few different options to choose from depending on what you need. There’s also space for pitching your own tent or parking caravans. We opted for a running water Wigwam cabin (kitchen sink plus WC) but no hot tub, though I have to say I regretted that choice a bit when we got there and saw the hot tubs in action! The pod had one double bed as well as a sofa bed, and you can add on extras like bedding, crockery, fire pits to save you carrying everything with you (especially useful if you are car-less) – though obviously the 5yo insisted on bringing his own sleeping bag!
On our first night we had a little barbecue, and then got the fire-pit out as the sun was setting for the obligatory s’mores. It was such a dramatic view over the hills! The site quietened down after 10pm and we all slept really well – we had planned to stay up to do a bit of star-gazing, but we were all fast asleep by the time the stars came out.
The next day we headed off bright and early, catching the AD122 out to The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre. We spent a good bit of time exploring their exhibitions – there were lots of great activities for kids to try out, and lots of different types of information (astronomy, geology, history, religion, farming, art…) for visitors. There’s also a lovely cafe with great vegetarian/vegan options, and a very well-stocked gift shop.
From The Sill, we followed a slightly adapted version of the Hadrian’s Wall Country ‘Vindolanda and Housesteads’ walking route, taking us up Peel Crags and along to Milecastle 39 and Sycamore Gap. After a rest, we then walked along past Crag Lough and across a few more crags all the way out to Housesteads. It was a pretty strenuous hike for three novices! I was sure the 5yo would refuse to walk any further after about a mile, but he was striding ahead of me pretty much the entire time. We were in no rush to get anywhere by a specific time which helped – we could take breaks when we needed to, and we had brought plenty of water, snacks, and sun-cream. Walking along the remote and blustery parts of the Wall was so dramatic, and the line of sight across the surrounding landscapes was pretty awe-inspiring. We chatted a lot as we walked, making up lots of silly stories about Roman auxiliaries stationed along the wall, getting used to their new home on the wild northern frontier. Once we’d finished our trek, we caught the AD122 back to The Sill for some late lunch (and a celebratory bun!) and a tub of stretchy snakes from the gift-shop. If you were feeling energetic, it’d be easy enough to continue on the path out to Vindolanda instead and explore the site there too.
We then caught the AD122 back up the road towards the campsite. We had planned to grab dinner at the Milecastle Inn, but it had been such a long day we were all pretty keen to get back to our cabin (and take our shoes off!) Luckily, we discovered that one of the fish and chip shops in Haltwhistle delivers up to the campsite for a small delivery fee, so not long after getting back from our expedition we had a gigantic pile of proper chippy chips to enjoy! We all slept extremely soundly that night – and nobody stayed up for the stars, again. Sorry stars!
On our final day at the campsite, we spent most of the morning at the play-park and saying goodbye to all the lovely animals – especially the two friendly pigs! Then we hopped on the trusty AD122 out to The Roman Army Museum for our final bit of exploring.
This museum felt like a little hidden gem – much smaller than Vindolanda, obviously, but with plenty of intriguing artefacts on display and some great innovative interactive exhibitions, though my son was slightly scared of the Roman schoolteacher! (“Is he a REAL person!?”) There was another lovely little cafe, and the NICEST bathrooms I have ever been in. If you ever go to this museum, make sure you take a trip to the facilities – they are Roman themed, complete with Latin graffiti! The gift-shop is small but has plenty of Roman treasures – including some of Potted History’s beautiful replicas! – and we somehow acquired a giant bendy rainbow rubber (a classic choice) along with a gladius pillow.
We were only away for a few days, but it was definitely worth it! It was such a great little family adventure – not too complicated or stressful in terms of getting around, plenty of well-thought amenities, and lots of friendly people. I’m already plotting our return to Herding Hill Farm, and this time there will definitely be a hot tub. It’s what the Romans would have wanted.