The Great Wall of Hadrian, done and dusted

We were lucky enough to have a beautiful early autumn day for our last stretch of Hadrian’s wall, from Newburn to Segedunum fort at Wallsend on Saturday.  The route lies mostly along the river Tyne, passing right through the heart of Newcastle, but is much greener than you might expect.  The mild weather means there are still plenty of late flowers to add a touch of colour and the Ed and Robert are still full of the joys of spring!

Dog rose(Rosa canina) and Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) by the river Tyne

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I only feel a slight twinge of guilt about missing my normal Saturday morning activity as we passed the rowing clubs on either side of the river!

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The Boathouse Inn, next to Tyne ARC, hosts a blue plaque commemorating the fact that George Stephenson ran the pumping engine at Water Row Pit on this site when barely out of his teens.  It also sports some scarily high flood markers on the wall, giving the lie to any idea that floods are only a recent problem.

Beyond Newburn the path runs above the river for a while to cut off the meander around Lemington.  When we rejoin it, near the Scotswood Bridge, we already feel we are approaching the city.

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The tide is well out and we watch ducks and waders feeding on the mud flats as we walk along towards the iconic bridges linking Newcastle to Gateshead.

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Lots of small maple trees have self-seeded on the embankment and their leaves are already turning glorious shades of orange and red, well ahead of the larger trees by the path which presumable spawned them.

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The leaf veins are the last to change colour as chlorophyll is broken down and the constituents returned to the woody parts of the tree for storage over winter.  When leaves turn yellow in autumn, it’s just because the masking effect of the green chlorophyll has disappeared and yellow carotenoid pigments become visible.  However the glorious red of these maple leaves is due to anthocyanin pigments which are actually made as the chlorophyll is broken down.   This seems a bit counterintuitive – why would the tree start making new compounds in leaves it is just about to shed?

One theory is that anthocyanins protect leaves from the harmful effects of bright light when combined with low temperatures and enable them to recycle nutrients such as nitrogen more effectively. Another is that the anthocyanins act as a warning to deter herbivorous pests such as aphids, or that they attract birds to eat berries and disperse their seeds.  Yet another idea is that, when the leaves finally fall, the anthocyanins reduce the germination and growth of seedlings nearby, reducing the risk of competition to the tree.  In truth, no-one really knows and there may well be a mixture of reasons.  For whatever reason, autumn colours are one of the special pleasures of this time of year!

We arrive in Newcastle proper in time for a late morning coffee and cake, finding a lovely little café called ‘Violets’ just off the Quayside.

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Suitably refreshed we set off again, and stop at a picnic table near the bottom end of the Ouseburn for lunch.  We enjoy the post-lunch walk through St Peter’s marina – it’s remarkably peaceful for somewhere so close to the centre of a large city.

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From St Peter’s the route lies along the river again nearly all the way to Wallsend – there are still plenty of signs of the area’s shipbuilding heritage.

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There are still plenty of flowers to enjoy along the wayside though, when we get to the Roman fort at Segedunum, it looks like the verges have had a little help from a packet of flower seeds!

We are hoping to celebrate the end of our walk with tea and cake but Segedunum closes at 4 pm so we stop here only briefly.  It seems slightly anticlimactic, so we jump on the Metro and head for the coast.  Apparently the wall originally ended at Newcastle (Pons Aelius) but was the extended to the east a few years later to protect the river crossing – you’d have thought they’d just have carried on to Tynemouth!

We find an excellent coffee shop at Cullercoats then walk down the beach towards Tynemouth in beautiful evening light – this feels like a much more fitting end to the walk.  We’re already planning next summer’s walk – the Weardale way is current favourite.  Watch this space!

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2 thoughts on “The Great Wall of Hadrian, done and dusted

  1. Thank you for telling us about your walk. Did you start in Newcastle and then go to the coast? Maybe I’ve missed the beginning. I’ll look back. I loved the photos and the description of why leaves turn red in autumn! I’ll have to read it several times to understand all the scientific vocabulary. I wasn’t planning on returning to the NE but your blog makes me think again. I’ll post it to my sibs in case they aren’t already friends on FB.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it Helen – we started in Bowness on Solway and walked to Wallsend (84 miles), but not all in one go! We did is as a series of one day walks between Easter and last weekend – the reason for the ‘Great Wall’, thing was that Martyn and his mum were in China visiting Ed when we did the first couple of legs. The rest of the walk is also on the blog with titles like ‘The Great Wall of Hadrian, Day 1’ etc – you can find them if you put that into the search box on the blog. It would be lovely to see you if you do come back to the NE 🙂

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