Day 1: Walking Tour of York City. York has always played a key role in the history of Britain but it is not always realized the huge influence this single city has had on the shape of modern Europe and the "New World". For almost 400 years at the beginning of the last millennium, York was the foremost city in what was then known as Britannia Inferior, the furthermost province of the Roman Empire. The secrets of this ancient city - its visible spectrum of living history - are revealed as we make our guided walking tour. Our tour will include all of the major sites and a visit to the acclaimed Jorvik Viking Center, where we can walk through a reconstruction of Viking-Age streets.
We have an impressive view of the city from Clifford’s Tower which stands in a prominent position atop the "motte" built by William the Conqueror in 1068. After the tour we will have time to wander through the "Shambles", Europe’s best-preserved medieval street where 15th century buildings lean over the cobbled pavement so that their roofs almost touch in the middle. These bustling streets at the very heart of the city house a variety of shops, restaurants and businesses. It is a short walk from the Shambles to our hotel. Dinners while staying in York are not included in the trip price. There is a wide variety of options to choose from here and whatever your taste it will be possible to find something just right in one of the city’s many restaurants.
Day 2: Visit to Fountains Abbey and walk through Studley Royal Deer Park and Water Gardens. This morning we make the short journey to visit one of the most important historical sites in Europe. Fountains Abbey is Britain’s largest monastic ruin, dating from 1132. It survived Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries remarkably intact and it was declared a World Heritage Site in 1986. A local historian guide will bring the abbey to life for us and we will also enjoy a pleasant walk through the 822-acre grounds of the landscaped Studley Royal Gardens and deer park. Returning to York we take a guided tour around the York Minster, one of the finest gothic cathedrals in Europe built in the 13th century. We have another opportunity to wander the lanes of York or perhaps enjoy a drink by the river before dinner.
Day 3: Walk the coast path from Robin Hoods Bay to Whitby. Leaving York after breakfast we make a scenic drive across the Yorkshire Moors to reach the North Sea coast at Robin Hoods Bay. This is a picture postcard 15th century cliff-top town with tightly packed houses and narrow cobbled lanes running up and down the steep slopes reaching down to the sea. We put on our walking boots here and set out on the most spectacular section of the Cleveland Way. We follow a rugged coastline of high cliffs, wide sandy bays and wooded "wykes" for 6 miles to the port of Whitby. This ancient fishing port was the birthplace of the 18th century explorer Captain Cook and in his day Whitby was the main whaling town in the North of England.
Today its quaint charm of red roofed houses, maze of alleyways and narrow streets, overlooked by the Gothic ruins of St. Hilda's Abbey high on the East Cliff, is a welcome sight at the end of the afternoon’s walk. Nearby, the church of St. Mary, one of the finest examples of Anglo Saxon churches in the country, was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s, Dracula. We have some free time to explore Whitby before meeting our transport for the 1½ hour transfer to our hotel in the Roman town of Corbridge. Here we check into our accommodation, which will be the base for our explorations of Hadrian’s Wall over the next three days. Tonight we will dine in one of the area’s best restaurants.
Day 4: Walking Hadrian’s Wall. Brocolitia Fort to Once Brewed. Hadrian’s Wall was the greatest defensive structure in the Roman Empire, stretching for 73 miles across England from the mouth of the River Tyne on the North Sea to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea. Everything to the north of the Wall was Barbarian, everything within was Rome! In the central section, where it crosses the upland moor and escarpments of the Pennine mountains, this almost 1900 year old monument is remarkably well preserved. Today we will see the Wall at first hand as we put on our hiking shoes for the beautiful walk across the Whin Sill escarpment. The morning starts with a visit to the remains of Chesters Fort, the best preserved example of a Roman cavalry fort in Britain. Our first day of walking the Wall begins 3 miles west of Chesters, at Brocolitia Fort.
We soon join the Great Whin Sill, a dramatic outcrop where two geological plates meet and overlap. Passing turrets and milecastles we climb up across Sewingshields Crag where King Arthur reputedly hid in a cave with Queen Guinevere. Passing Housteads Fort which has well-preserved foundations of the central headquarters building, commanding officer's house, barracks, hospital, latrines and granary, we traverse magnificent scenery across Hotbank Crags and Highshield Crags rising above the blue waters of Crag Loch. From the rocky heights of the Highshield, the Wall plunges dramatically to the Sycamore Gap featured in the Hollywood story of Robin Hood. It rises again to cross Steel Rigg and we end the day’s outing at Milking Gap and the hamlet of Once Brewed where we rejoin our transport to return to Corbridge.
Day 5: Visit to Vindolanda, walk Hadrian’s Wall from Once Brewed to Carvoran Fort This morning we visit Vindolanda, a Roman Fort predating the wall. On the site stands a full size replica of a section of Hadrian's Wall in both stone and timber, which will give us a true idea of the impressive might of the monument. Within the garden of the museum are full sized reconstructions of a Roman temple, a Roman shop, Roman house and Northumbrian croft. The excavations of Vindolanda in 1973 have provided some of the finest Roman artifacts in Britain including the Vindolanda letters - unique documents providing a vivid picture of life in Roman Britain. Having immersed ourselves in the wall’s history and discovered something of the lifestyle of the people who lived beneath its battlements, it is time to walk the next section of this impressive trail.
Returning to Milking Gap we begin a truly spectacular section of the Wall climbing first to its highest point atop the Winshields Crags. From here we are treated to fabulous views to the east and west along the length of the wall as it snakes its way over the escarpment. Throughout today’s walk, our elevated position on the Whin Sill means that we have extensive views over the surrounding countryside and today the mountains of the Lake District at the western end of the Wall can be clearly seen. We finish the day’s walk at Walltown Crags and the fort of Carvoran where there is an excellent Roman Army Museum. Here we can find out everything we ever wanted to know about the Roman solider, his training, pay, living quarters, amour, weapons, and off duty activities, all explained in an entertaining and informative way. Leaving the Wall we return to our accommodation at Corbridge. 6 miles walking. Our last evening in this attractive village and we have a final Corbridge dining experience.
Day 6: Walk Carvoran to Birdoswald, visit Carlisle Castle, drive to Ambleside. We have a shorter walk of around 4 miles today to complete the central section of Hadrian’s Wall. During today’s hike we finally leave the Great Whin Sill descending first to the ruins of Thirlwall Castle, a motte and bailey Keep which was built in the 12th century using stone from the Wall. We pass through the hamlet of Gilsland where in Roman times a substantial bridge carried the Wall across the River Irthing. There is a short uphill walk followed by an excellent section of the Wall to Birdoswald Fort, unique among the Wall forts in that it shows evidence of unbroken occupation of the site from Roman to post Roman times.
At Birdoswald we pick up our transport and continue to follow the Wall which now runs parallel to a country lane, for a further three miles to the turret at Banks. This marks the last significant remnant of Hadrian’s Wall traveling west. From Banks turret we drive down to the flood plain of the river Solway and then follow the approximate line of the Roman Stanegate into the city of Carlisle.
Carlisle was an important Roman garrison in a strategic position to police the Empire’s borders and in fact there has been a stronghold of some kind here from the first century right up to the present day. We make a visit to the Castle, a medieval fortress built in 1092 on the site of the original 1st century Roman Fort. Carlisle Castle has housed many distinguished guests in its time including Mary Queen of Scots who was held prisoner here in 1568 by her half sister Elizabeth I.
To complete this full day we head south to the mountains of the Lake District, the most scenically beautiful part of England and its premier National Park. Driving beside the shores of Thirlmere, and across the Dunmail Raise, we pass through Grasmere William Wordsworth’s home, to reach Ambleside, a picture perfect market town situated close to the shores of England’s longest lake, Windermere. Here we check into our hotel which will be our base for the next three days. Ambleside boasts many fine restaurants and we will select one of these for our evening meal.
Day 7: Hike to Loughrigg Fell Top above Ambleside. Today’s hike to the summit of Loughrigg Fell will enable a bird’s eye view of Ambleside, an important military base for the Roman Army during the first and second centuries. The outline of the fort of Galava close to Lake Windermere can still be seen when viewed from the slopes of Loughrigg. The virtues of this lovely walk are much more than a view of Roman history. It would be hard to improve on the summation made by the famous and much loved Lakeland commentator Alfred Wainwright, who said, "no ascent is more repaying for the small labor involved in visiting its many cairns, for Loughrigg has delightful grassy paths, a series of pleasant surprises along the traverse of the summits, several charming vistas and magnificent views, fine contrasts of velvety turf, rich bracken and grey rock, a string of little tarns like pearls in a necklace, and a wealth of stately trees on the flanks'. There are sublime views indeed over Wordsworth’s Grasmere and beyond to the higher mountains of the district. Starting and finishing at our hotel we shall make a complete traverse of this little mountain, a hike of some 7 miles with approximately 1000 feet of ascent. A good day out deserves to end with a good dinner and we will sample another of the town’s excellent restaurants.
Day 8: Drive across the Hardknott Pass to Eskdale. Walk across Muncaster Fell to Ravenglass. We begin the day with a stunning drive following a Roman Road through the mountain heart of Cumbria. We cross the wild reaches of the Wrynose and Hardknott passes between Eastern and Western Lakeland. This was an important trade and supply route from the natural harbors on the Cumbrian coast, and the Romans built Hardknott Fort here to guard the passes. It is definitely the most strikingly sited Roman Fort in the whole of Britain, perched high upon a rocky spur overlooking the Valley of the River Esk and with a superb view westwards towards the Irish Sea. The spectacular stone defensive circuit is complete with gateways, corner and interval-towers and the buildings of the central range and bathhouse are all evident. After visiting the fort we descend to the tiny hamlet of Eskdale Green where we will start today’s walk. Setting out on a rough track we ascend gradually through a small forest of silver birch to reach the open moorland of Muncaster Fell. The views back to the nestled dwellings of Eskdale Green surrounded by resplendent mixed woodland and rocky crags are picture perfect. The rocky summit crowned by a column of stone marks the high point of the day’s walk and from here we are treated to extensive views over the Cumbrian coastline.
The patchwork quilt of fields and copses is dissected by the meandering courses of the Rivers Esk and Mite leading to wide estuaries where the rivers meet the Irish Sea. To the north and east the soaring whaleback hills lead the eye to Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. Our way now descends bracken covered slopes past a small tarn, to reach Muncaster Castle surrounded by impressive woods and gardens filled with rhododendron and azaleas. This 14th century castle was built on the foundations of a Roman Fort. We take a stroll through the beautiful castle grounds before climbing to open fell once more. With the coast just below us we make a final descent to the fishing village of Ravenglass. This was the Roman’s regional naval base for almost 400 years and the road we followed earlier today began here at the fort known as Glannaventa. Today only the bathhouse walls of Glannavanta remain. From Ravenglass we return to Eskdale Green by steam engine along a narrow gauge railway running beside the river Esk. From here we retrace this morning’s route back to our hotel in Ambleside.
Day 9: Morning walk from Tarn Hows to Elterwater, afternoon transfer to Chester. No visit to the Lake District would be complete without a visit to Tarn Hows, one of the most famous and popular beauty spots in the National Park. Set high in the hills surrounded by native pine woods this quintessential mountain lake is the start of our final Lake District walk. The walk today is short being approximately 5 miles, and is mostly downhill and of tremendous scenic quality. Following an excellent trail beside the tarn we walk through very typical Lakeland scenery with pastoral order below and rough slopes of bracken crossed by dry stone walls, leading to high hills and rocky ridges above. Meeting up with a babbling brook we follow its course as it tumbles down the fell until suddenly we are confronted with the tumbling falls of Colwith Force set in beautiful mixed woodland. Beyond the falls the wild wood becomes tamed as we encounter walled lanes and farm buildings. We now follow the River Brathay, passing another waterfall known as Skelwith Force to reach Elterwater, a beautiful lowland tarn which perfectly reflects the majestic heights of the Langdale Pikes in its blue waters.
A little way beyond, along a meandering stretch of the Great Langdale Beck, we arrive at our destination in the tiny village of Elterwater. The Britannia Inn beside the village green is one of the Lake District’s great little pubs and here we can take a liquid reward for our efforts. Afetr our picnic lunch we drive out of the Langdale valley and make the 2 hour transfer to Chester, a walled city whose architecture reflects almost every occupier of the city from its Roman founders to the present day, and which gives the place a rare charm which can only be appreciated by being there. We check into our hotel close to the city center. While staying in Chester evening meals are not included in the trip price. As in York there is a very wide range of restaurants cafes and pubs serving excellent cuisine.
Day 10: Walking Tour of Chester. This morning we will make a thorough tour of this fascinating compact city where every corner turned brings fresh surprises. Chester is truly amazing in that so much of its history is still on show. The city has the most complete set of City Walls, and the largest uncovered Roman amphitheatre in the country. In the town center the buildings have retained their unique character with some of the oldest shop frontages in the world. The city is utterly charming with a wide river running through its heart and a narrow canal abutting the magnificent medieval walls built right on top of the original Roman battlements. After walking the walls we visit the amphitheatre where excavations of Roman history are still taking place. We can take lunch in one of the cities wide range of restaurants or in a riverside pub and the afternoon is free for shopping or further sightseeing.
Day 11: Transfer to Manchester Airport. For those taking a flight out of Manchester we have a transfer after breakfast to Manchester Airport a journey of approximately 40 minutes. If you are traveling to other parts of the UK, Chester Railway Station is just a short taxi ride from the hotel.
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