Walk: Peel Crags and Sycamore Gap, Northumberland
Embrace a romantic Roman hike along Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland National Park before returning to the Twice Brewed Inn for a hearty pub feast
What did the Romans ever do for us? Well, they built a very long wall, set among miles of lonely, surging hill country. And although they didn’t construct the Twice Brewed Inn, the pub is beautifully positioned just to the south of Hadrian’s Wall and is the ideal starting point for exploring one of its dreamiest sections.
This is a stirringly beautiful walk whatever time of year you visit. But in an ideal world you would walk this route on an early autumn evening, when the sun starts to dip and fill what feels like the whole of Northumberland with a burnished gold.
Follow our plotted 2.5-mile (4km) walking route along Peel Crags to Sycamore Gap in Northumberland.
Sycamore Gap walk
2.5 miles/4.1km | 1.5 hours | moderate
1. Unkindness of ravens
Leave the pub and walk with care for 100m east along the old military road (the B6318) before turning north/left up a lane by the minuscule hamlet of Once Brewed (more later) and Peel. The lane zig-zags up to the car park (grid reference NY751677). From here you head east following the line of Hadrian’s Wall – although rangers ask you to not actually walk on the wall but keep to the path.
This is a wildly romantic landscape. When I visited, ravens were cackling, hopping from stone to stone ahead of me and looking minded to gang up on any solitary walker. To the south were the layered ridges of Pennine dales; ahead, like a rollercoaster along a heaving ridgeline of volcanic rock, Hadrian’s Wall tumbled towards Housesteads Roman Fort.
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2. Sycamore proposal
There’s a steep climb up towards Steel Rigg, where the path cuts along the edge of the escarpment, the land falling away to boggy moorland. The path then lurches up and down to deposit you just east of Milecastle 39, at an exquisitely sheltered spot named Sycamore Gap. The name comes from the unassuming tree here that was catapulted to international fame when it featured in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. This has always been a popular place for marriage proposals – if an awfully long way from Sherwood Forest.
You can squelch manfully towards distant horizons if you wish – but perhaps that can wait for another day, as the call of the Twice Brewed Inn grows louder and you retrace your steps. This is anything but repetitive, as the views west are just as dramatic.
3. Fancy a brew or two?
The Twice Brewed Inn is long, thin and welcoming. The menu features spicy burgers hewn from vast Northumbrian sausages, and the ales are drawn from the area’s countless microbreweries. As John Scott, of the Hadrian’s Wall Trust, once told me, “the pubs around here know their audience – they lay on big fires, big meals and big beers”. That sums up the Twice Brewed perfectly.
There are also vague echoes of local history. The pub operates a wetland sewage system that filters its waste water and sewage into clean water that is returned to the local landscape via willow beds. The idea came after the discovery of a sewage system that pre-dated the Romans.
But what about the name? Pleasingly, there is no simple answer. Apart from the tiny settlement of Once Brewed you pass on the walk, there’s a miniscule community answering to the name of East Twice Brewed just down the road. The riddle seems to involve soldiers seeking stronger beer (brew it twice), a watchful and abstemious landowner (brew tea, once) and much else besides. You can try and unpick it all from the account by the pub door.
Sycamore Gap map
Mark Rowe is an environmental and wildlife journalist and author who has written for Countryfile magazine since its first issue and writes our monthly Behind the Headlines feature. He also writes for national newspapers and magazines including Geographical and the Independent. He is the author of three guidebooks for Bradt Guides - on the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and the Isle of Wight. He is also the author of the popular online guide Slow Wight. He still believes a paper map is superior to online versions & can often be spotted chasing an OS map across a windswept hilltop.