The walk to the most famous tree in the world (apparently) is a beautiful one and a good choice for families. Although there is a steep climb at the start (and descent later) it is a good introduction to walking for little children. Walking along Hadrian’s Wall you enjoy a remote scenery largely unchanged since Roman sentries looked out from Hadrian’s Wall over the wild areas – north to Scotland and south towards the Lake District.
Halfway along Hadrian’s Wall, in-between Wallsend to the East and the Solway Firth on the West, a lone tree stands in a dramatic gap in a grassy fissure. The Roman monument spans an 84-mile route from coast to coast. It’s possible to walk the length of the wall in a weekend, but let’s start off realistically with children! The tree at Sycamore Gap is not likely to feature in any CBeebies programmes, so your kids may not know it yet, but you will all enjoy the walk out to see it while singing the Bryan Adams song from the movie Robin Hood and the Prince of Thieves, which the tree featured in.
Park the car at The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre (get directions here) – up to two hours parking costs £2 and each hour thereafter costs an extra £1, to a maximum of £5. From here walk out of the carpark, cross the road and take the first road on the left. Follow the road up towards Steel Rigg, until you get to a building on your right, after which you cross over and enter the field towards the Wall.
From here it’s possible to take two routes – one slightly to your right and down, which then will veer upwards, or go almost straight ahead from your entry on the field and you’ll scramble up the Wall and up to the main path. We did this second option and came back down the other path.
After you’ve made it up this initial scramble, it is a fairly flat walk, with occasional dips and climbs.
It’s about one and a half miles to Sycamore Gap, which will take roughly 30 minutes, depending on who is in your party and if you stop frequently.
If you took the same route as us, you’ll approach the tree from above, and walk down towards it. Take photos, walk down the valley, and with the tree behind you, turn right. (If you’re up for more walking, with the tree behind you turn left, continue to the junction between the footpath and the next road, turn right, right again, and then head back to The Sill along the main road and you’ll get about another 50 minutes walk)
The path is well worn and it would be difficult to get lost on either route!
The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre
Back at The Sill you can explore the exhibits, which are definitely worth a look. During school holidays there are often activities for children (at February half term you could make some binoculars or a bird house, for example – check the website for details).
At The Sill we all enjoyed the very clever interactive landscape exhibit, including the virtual reality headsets. You can fly over the landscape you just walked, or out to the coast, and many other places. The boys were rapt. There are also boxes of sand with a difference – a light projector is shone onto the sand – you can move the sand around and the colours show the height of the hills and valleys you make! It’s really cool!
The Sill has a cafe upstairs (run by the same guys as those who operate BALTIC Kitchen and Six Restaurant), serving scones, cakes, and so on, as well as hot meals. All the food is sourced locally and the views from the cafe are fab. The boys had a picnic box each, which I think cost about a fiver each. On a par with National Trust places, I guess.
The walk from The Sill, towards Steel Rigg and Sycamore Gap is a lovely walk for families with younger children who are independent walkers.