How Not to Walk Hadrian’s Wall


Hadrian's Wall from above

You may have noticed I’ve been a little quiet on my social media channels over the past couple of weeks.

The truth is: I’ve been embarrassed as hell.

Ten days ago, I laced up my hiking boots, stuffed my backpack full of energy bars, pulled on my rain jacket, and began to walk.

It was supposed to be an easy, enjoyable stroll across the width of the United Kingdom. I’d be following the length of Hadrian’s Wall over the space of six days, stopping in at pubs for meals and bunkhouses for sleep, and celebrating my six year travelversary along the way.

Hadrian’s Wall Path is the easiest of the National Trails in Britain, and almost everyone who starts the walk finishes it.

I didn’t.

Hiking shoes in the trash

I thought I was doing everything right.

I bought highly-rated hiking shoes specifically for the walk. All over the internet, women were gushing about how these shoes were the most comfortable they’d ever owned for long-distance hikes.

One of the downsides to living in Portugal is the lack of options when it comes to outdoor gear. So even though the insides of the shoes felt weirdly hard and uncomfortable, like I was stomping on a picnic table as I walked around the store, I bought them. They were the only waterproof shoes I could find in Lisbon, and I spent two months attempting to soften them up.

I bought a new backpack for the hike, and thermal underwear, and a fleece, and a rain jacket, and a walking guide. I spent the months leading up to the hike walking long distances in Lisbon and climbing a volcano in the Congo.

Hadrian's Wall from above

Prior to this trip, the furthest I’d ever walked was around 25 kilometres. On our first day on Hadrian’s Wall, we expected to rack up 26 kilometres, but totalled a whopping 32 after detours.

Thirty-two kilometres.

Twenty miles.

Forty-five thousand steps.

Eleven hours.

It was 20 miles on an entirely paved surface, which acted like a meat tenderiser on the soles of my feet.

My toes were throbbing by the end of the day, but I was hit by a walker’s high and confessed to Dave that I could see myself walking the Camino de Santiago one day. That I was going to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Maybe I could walk across Russia!!!!

I was infatuated with walking and couldn’t wait to see what the second day would bring.

Lauren with Hadrian's Wall

Day two gave us a 33 kilometre walk that we’d originally expected to be 26. While it was on grass paths rather than tarmac, the damage had already been done on day one. From the first step I took, my soles were aching.

The final two hours of the day were excruciating. I felt nauseated from the exertion. When I sat down to rest, the vibrant green grass started spinning around me, and I could feel my pulse in my head. I broke down in tears at one point.

But I’m stubborn and there was no way in hell I wasn’t going to make it. I contemplated crawling to the finish line.

By the time we reached our bunkhouse, I had eight weeping blisters and one of my toenails had turned black. My ankle was so bruised from my shoes that I couldn’t even take them off without yelping.

“Unpopular opinion:” I announced to Dave that evening. “Hiking shoes do more harm than good.”

Poppy in the UK

Day three was a short one: just 15 predicted kilometres that ended up being 22, with the added bonus of a howling gale and sideways rain. At one point, I burst into delirious tears of laughter because I couldn’t comprehend how it was possible for my feet to be in so much pain. By the end of the day, I was walking with my heels out of my shoes because fuck those fucking shoes.

I got to my bunkhouse and my black toenail was now dangling from my skin at a right angle, like a baby tooth that was ready to be pulled. Blister count: 11.

I suspected my shoes to be the painful culprit, and this was confirmed when I slipped on my flip-flops and literally skipped my way to the local pub that evening. I jogged. I jumped. I ran. I felt no pain. It wasn’t that my feet were sore, it was that the shoes were agonising.

I was in desperate need of a new pair of shoes — almost anything would do — but I was in a village that consisted of one pub, a hostel, and a couple of farms.

Hadrians Wall in the rain

As I sat in the pub at the end of day three, surrounded by laughing hikers who looked like they were nowhere near an 8 on the pain scale, I realised everyone else was finding it easy.

Day four.

I had toyed with the idea of quitting the day before, but walking has a way of getting under your skin. Each evening, I would swear I was over it and dropping out, but by the time the sun was rising, I was motivated to walk another day.

This day would be another long one. Twenty-six kilometres that would undoubtedly end up being more like 30 once you factor in the detours. My feet were feeling better and I was already at the half-way mark of the walk, so I knew I could make it to the end. Pain is transient. This too shall pass.

I carefully wrapped my bleeding toes with band-aids, stuffed a wad of sheep’s wool into the bottom of my shoes, and took a double dose of painkillers. Squeezing my throbbing feet into my Death Shoes had me wincing and I wasn’t even standing yet. Jesus Christ, my ankles were bruised.

I stood up and whimpered. I took a step but couldn’t complete it, my foot hovering inches from the ground. My ankles were so sore that I couldn’t walk without my knees buckling. It took me five minutes to make the fifty metres to breakfast that morning.

Lauren at Hadrian's Wall

So, I quit.

I had to, really.

Even Dave said it would be foolish to continue.

Even if I was determined to walk through the pain as best I could, I couldn’t see myself managing thirty kilometres before nightfall. I could either wear the shoes and end up even more broken, or I could opt for flip-flops and end up with no skin left between my toes.

I wanted to murder my shoes.

Dave continued the walk and made it to the sea three days later. He told me those days were some of the best of any hike he’d done. I holed up in nearby Carlisle and tended to my feet and pride.

Hadrian's Wall signpost

I’ve spent the past ten days unsuccessfully attempting to overcome my shame and embarrassment. It’s rare for something like this to beat me. I love physical challenges and leaving comfort zones and didn’t I scale a freaking volcano last month?

Why couldn’t I do it?

I’ve read memoirs by hikers and walkers who wrote about how they pushed through the pain when their toenails were falling off and their feet falling apart, and I beat myself up over why I hadn’t been able to find the strength to do the same. I thought I was strong.

Hadrian's Wall Marker

I’d like to give you some kickass tips for dealing with failure here. To tell you about the lessons I learned and how you can apply them to your own life. To share my newfound belief that admitting defeat and giving up is sometimes far harder and more impressive than sticking with something you’ve committed to. But that would feel disingenuous.

I’m still sad and I’m still embarrassed that I failed to walk one of the easiest long-distance hikes in the U.K. And even though I think I’d have been able to complete it had I not had the Worst Shoes Ever slowly destroying my feet, it doesn’t make me feel better.

So rather than lying and pretending I’ve gained wisdom from my failures, I’m admitting that the only thing I learned was that if your shoes don’t feel like they’re made for you, they’re not the right ones.

This isn’t the end of me and Hadrian’s Stupid Bloody Wall.

I’m stubborn and I’m determined, so I’m going to face it down again to show myself that I can do it.

This time next year, I’m going to lace up my different-and-very-comfortable hiking boots, stuff my backpack full of energy bars, pull on my rain jacket, and begin to walk.

This time next year, I’m going to be celebrating walking the length of Hadrian’s Wall.

My Advice for Walking Hadrian’s Wall

I learned a lot from my painful time on the wall, so I want to give some advice if you’re contemplating tackling it yourself.

Carefully consider whether you want to walk east or west. I walked to the west and I believe that was my biggest mistake — I wish I’d hiked from the west instead. When you walk from east to west, it’s generally a prettier walk. Rather than spending your last day walking through the suburbs of Newcastle, you’ll instead finish by walking through countryside to the sea in Solway. Most people walk in this direction, so I decided to as well, without giving it much thought.

I recommend walking east instead. I found that trekking through Newcastle on that first day destroyed my feet because I had to walk 30 km on entirely paved surfaces. Pavement acts as a meat tenderiser to the feet when you walk, so you’re going to be starting with the toughest day, and it might set you up for failure if you end up blistered and sore. Additionally, the prevailing winds will be at your back if you’re walking to the east, which makes the hiking easier. Having walked through a day of sideways rain where the wind was in my face, let me say, you’ll totally be grateful for this if you encounter any bad weather.

If you’re going to walk to the west, consider a pre-walk to Newcastle: If you’re going to walk Hadrian’s Wall and you’re going to walk to the west, you’ll likely spend the night before in Newcastle. Because the walk starts 8km to the east of the city, you’ll have to take the train out to Wallsend that morning and then trek your way back through the city.

If I could have done anything differently, I’d have taken to train to Wallsend and walked into Newcastle the afternoon before starting my hike. It would have been an easy stroll of 8 km to get started, and would have made that first day so much easier by cutting the distance on paved surfaces down to two thirds of what it could be.

You should definitely buy the Trailblazer guideThis guidebook is one of the best I’ve ever encountered for hiking, and I can’t stop singing its praises. It covers absolutely everything you’d need to know about walking Hadrian’s Wall, and the hand-drawn maps are incredible. It’s worth buying for the maps alone, which are highly detailed, easy to follow, and good for morale. I view this book as an essential for walking Hadrian’s Wall.

Prepare for longer walks than anticipated. There’s little accommodation on the wall itself, so you’ll often have to come off the trail to get to your bunkhouse for the night. Be aware of this when planning your walk — I found it easy to be like, “oh, well, it’s just another mile — no big deal”, but ended up regretting this when I was walking and could have done without said extra mile. Also, take into account nearby food options. It was devastating to come off a long trek and still need to walk half a kilometre to the nearest pub for dinner.

I recommend planning out your walk before you start booking accommodation, so that you can try to get an even spread of walking distances across the week and ensure you’re not getting too far off the trail. This was our chosen route:

Day 1: Wallsend to Heddon-on-the-Wall, 31km
Day 2: Heddon-on-the-Wall to Green Carts Farm, 33km
Day 3: Green Carts Farm to Once Brewed, 22km
Day 4: Once Brewed to Walton, 29km
Day 5: Walton to Carlisle, 20km
Day 6: Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway, 24km

And here’s where I chose to stay on the walk, along with my thoughts about each place:

Rooms Inn, NewcastleOne of the cheapest hotel rooms in Newcastle that still received good reviews. Recommended!
Houghton North FarmA lovely farm with a basic bunkhouse. Great breakfast in the morning and peaceful surroundings. The only downside was the 10-minute walk to the nearest pub to grab dinner.
Green Carts Farm
A good option if you’re not going to be staying here over Friday or Saturday nights. Got a bit chilly in the night but the beds were comfortable. 
Winshields Farm:
This was my favourite place I stayed on the walk. The bunkhouse was modern and clean, there was a room to dry your clothes, and the nearby pub (Twice Brewed) had delicious food on offer. 
Florries on the Wall:
I didn’t stay here, but my boyfriend named it his favourite accommodation on the wall. The owner was friendly (he even offered to refund my stay when I didn’t make it), the food was fantastic, and the bunkhouse fabulous. 
Arkale Lodge:
One of the best budget options in Carlisle, Arkale Lodge is conveniently located by the bus and train stations, and offers warm, cosy rooms for tired hikers. It was the perfect way to finish off our hike, and we stayed a second night after Dave finished his final day on the wall. 

 

How have you dealt with failure on your travels?

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98 Comments

  1. Rachel Taylor
    July 23, 2017
    Reply

    I love your honesty Lauren. Sometimes you can’t complete what you set out to do but it isn’t a failure but sensible though pride takes awhile to recover. I am already looking forward to your story about completing it next year!

    • Lauren
      July 29, 2017
      Reply

      Fingers crossed I make it next time around or I’ll be convinced I’m just not meant to walk!

  2. Natalie
    July 23, 2017
    Reply

    I think you did the best thing for now. I walked (mostly) my first marathon. I foolishly thought that because I had a job where I stood all day that I wouldn’t have an issue. I did finish, but I was in pain for several days after.

    Then, I ran a half marathon on a previously injured foot. That was also not the best decision. I was part of a relay team and I couldn’t start until my teammate make the halfway point. When I started, I was the last person on the course and I had to run what I previously had planned to walk. I didn’t want to be removed from the course! Luckily, my shoes were good, but I wore different shorts and chafed the hell out of my thighs. But it was all just one day – and I don’t think I could’ve continued another if I’d had to!

    There is definitely a high you get from that type of activity. It’s so awesome. I feel more interested in hiking than running at this point in my life, but I haven’t embarked on any type of training for it.

    Shoes will make all the difference. And maybe some short two and three day test hikes. You have the determination. Most of it is mental, but physical, excruciating pain is definitely difficult to overcome.

    You also wrote so beautifully about the experience! It’s tough and unglamorous, even at best. Also, now I have yet another reason to get my behind to England. For me, it’ll be a Harry Potter and Doctor Who themed trip and maybe I’ll think about walking part of Hadrian’s Wall. Maybe.

  3. Jeff
    July 23, 2017
    Reply

    Another fabulous, well written, funny & honest story Lauren. You don’t need to write another book–you’ve already got one with your collection of traveler’s essays. Should really consider it and get these published!

    • Lauren
      July 23, 2017
      Reply

      Ah, thank you so much, Jeff! :-)

  4. Mao
    July 23, 2017
    Reply

    I am glad you took care of yourself first, nothing to be embarrassed about. Thanks for sharing and good luck completing it in the near future!

    • Lauren
      July 23, 2017
      Reply

      Thanks for the kind comment, Mao! :-)

  5. Rachel @ Better LIVIN
    July 23, 2017
    Reply

    I know how frustrating it can be to not finish a goal like that but you want to enjoy the experience and those shoes were NOT going to let you enjoy anything! Especially after a couple of days, they should have started to break in more. I hope you find a better pair and try this again!

    • Lauren
      July 31, 2017
      Reply

      As I said in the post, I’d already spent months trying to break them in, but something about this hike just destroyed my feet.

  6. Geoffrey Dobbs
    July 23, 2017
    Reply

    Love your honesty hear Lauren but you did right looking
    After you feet Heath first as you say you can always do
    The walk again another time did you get to Edinburgh?
    Will you and Dave do the Scottish walk through glenco up to fort William think it starts nr Glasgow not sure what it’s called I saw parts of it on a day trip up to fort William
    Amazing views

    • Lauren
      July 23, 2017
      Reply

      Yes, I’m in Edinburgh right now! It’s cold and rainy, but such a beautiful city. I’m all walked out for now, so we’re just staying here, but might get to it at some point in the future :-)

  7. Katie
    July 23, 2017
    Reply

    Your toe nails may fall off on a long distance walk – but not after two days! It was definitely the shoes – don’t beat yourself up about it, stuff like this happens and it wasn’t your fault.

    • Lauren
      August 23, 2017
      Reply

      Yeah, so frustrating! Next year I’ll make it :-)

  8. Simon
    July 23, 2017
    Reply

    Shame you didn’t make it, but yeah damn straight get back and get it done next year! But I reckon, don’t be doing it in “new-and-very-comfortable hiking boots” – instead, buy them now. Really, properly wear them in between now and then. You’re going to Japan right? Take them with you and do a bunch of hikes in the hills around Kyoto.

    Personally I actually prefer to hike in hiking shoes (Merrell) rather than hiking boots i.e. without the raised ankle. Increases the risk of an ankle injury should you stumble, sure, but I’m way happier in them so accept the trade-off. Perhaps you could give that a try too.

    • Lauren
      July 23, 2017
      Reply

      Ah, I guess I meant different rather than new. Will definitely make sure to break them in! I thought I had worn these shoes in pretty well — wore them non-stop for two months and went hiking and volcano climbing in them — but they never really felt comfortable. After experiencing so much ankle pain with them, I think you’re right and shoes are the way to go in the future :-)

  9. Carol
    July 23, 2017
    Reply

    It would be a much nicer read if I didn’t have to read Jesus’ name being used like that. If that’s a regular thing with your writing I’ll have to take a pass.

    • Ja
      July 24, 2017
      Reply

      Don’t be so ridiculous.

      • Lauren
        August 16, 2017
        Reply

        :-)

      • Julie
        February 25, 2020
        Reply

        It’s not ridiculous. Sort of like reading a piece where profanity is added for no good reason. It’s offensive to use it as a swear.

        Other than that, great piece! I wonder if it might be advisable to carry a pair of sneakers for the paved sections? Planning to do this next year, but maybe over 10 days rather than 6. Thanks for the excellent travelogue.

    • Lauren
      July 28, 2017
      Reply

      It’s probably for the best ;-)

  10. Kaitie
    July 23, 2017
    Reply

    Love your honesty, and it sounds like it was the best decision to postpone (not quit! ;)). I was pretty out of shape during the Inca Trail and cried the whole first day. My shoes were great, and served me well there and on many hikes in Colorado where I now live. Never once got a blister– maybe they’re worth researching!

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00E0GN8PO/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    • Lauren
      July 28, 2017
      Reply

      Thanks so much for the recommendation! I’ll try them out if I see a pair in a store somewhere :-)

  11. Helen
    July 23, 2017
    Reply

    Oh gosh I know this feeling too well. Congratulations on getting to day four in that much pain. I’m glad you didn’t carry on and destroy your love for walking. I can’t wait to read about you doing it again next year. Because yep,the wrong hiking boots can destroy you!

    • Lauren
      July 28, 2017
      Reply

      Thanks so much, Helen! I haven’t given up on long walks yet :-)

  12. Melissa
    July 24, 2017
    Reply

    You did the right thing by cutting it short. Better to injury your pride than to continue injuring your feet.
    Trust your instinct when trying on shoes. If they’re not comfortable in the store, they’re not going to be comfortable on the trail. And I agree with the comment earlier, give shoes a try instead of boots. Unless you have a previous ankle injury that requires extra stabilization, boots are probably overkill for most walking.

    • Lauren
      July 28, 2017
      Reply

      Yeah, I have about a dozen previous ankle injuries. I have weirdass feet with no arches, and one suffers from pronation and the other supination. But agree — I thought they’d soften up over time, but they just remained so hard and uncomfortable.

  13. Alissa
    July 24, 2017
    Reply

    Aw, I’m sorry to hear that this didn’t work out how you wanted it to. But it’s always better to stop and take care of your body, first and foremost! And as you mentioned, you’ll be able to walk it next year, now with the wisdom of which shoes work and which shoes don’t. Maybe try going on a long day hike (or a couple of long day hikes) with the next pair before attempting again, to make sure they’re really broken in. Good luck, and I hope your feet feel better soon!

    • Lauren
      July 28, 2017
      Reply

      I actually did that with this pair. I walked 25 km a week before doing Hadrian’s Wall, and also climbed 2,000 metres up and down a volcano in the DRC. Also, wore them for my regular (probably 20+) 10km walks during the two months before I started it. No idea why they suddenly became the worst shoes in the world on this walk. I blame the tarmac.

  14. Andrea
    July 24, 2017
    Reply

    Hi Lauren, I love your honesty and I loved this post.

    Have you considered hiking in sandals? Crazy, right? A recent post on reddit goes over this: https://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/6ozwsp/i_dont_know_who_this_guy_is_but_i_hope_he_sees/

    TLDR: hiking in sandals makes you more mindful of your steps and decreases the risk of injury.

    • Lauren
      July 28, 2017
      Reply

      Considering how many times I’ve twisted my ankle wearing sandals on flat surfaces, I don’t think they’d be right for me.

  15. Verislav
    July 24, 2017
    Reply

    I laughed so much on this story i feel guilty now :D
    Shoes thingy sounds like an excuse but from personal experience i can agree they were the problem.Never go on a long walk / run with a brand new shoes. Look for trail runner shoes,they are usually light and very comfortable so you wont have those type of problems.
    I’m looking forward for the next great story,I hope it will be with a happy ending this time :)

    • Lauren
      July 28, 2017
      Reply

      It clearly wasn’t an excuse. And they weren’t brand new shoes, either — my boyfriend walks for 30+ days straight every year when he does a Camino, so I knew not to wear new shoes, etc.

      • Verislav
        July 31, 2017
        Reply

        No , I know it’not an excuse, everybody who has read about your adventures (and misadventures) should be aware you are a tough girl and don’t makeup excuses.I’m sure you will finish it next time and who knows, maybe you’ll join your boyfriend on Camino after that :)

        • Lauren
          August 16, 2017
          Reply

          Right.

  16. Caroline Eubanks
    July 24, 2017
    Reply

    I struggled on the “easy” volcano in Guatemala and felt full of shame about it, part of it inflicted on me by the tour company. But I know it wasn’t just that I couldn’t do it and there were other factors. It’s okay to struggle or quit!

    • Lauren
      July 28, 2017
      Reply

      That sucks that the tour company shamed you for it. Ugh.

  17. Esp
    July 25, 2017
    Reply

    I had a similar thing with worn in hiking shoes – i wore them in all sorts of short trails and hikes during a 2 month trip to South America where they fit like a second skin. So comfortable!

    Then I took them on a 3 day trip to sweden -lots of walking on the flat and a few hilly day hikes. By the end of day 2 I could barely walk – my soles were tender, my arches felt like they were strained and flattened,and I couldn’t walk more than a few paces without a good degree of swearing.
    I couldn’t fathom it so your story is strangely comforting to me (sorry!). Good luck for next years attempt at this walk- you’ll kill it I’m sure! ?

    • Lauren
      July 28, 2017
      Reply

      That sounds exactly the same as my experience! I really felt as though I’d worn these boots in and they’d given me few issues on previous walks, but man. Something about Hadrian’s Wall destroyed my feet.

  18. Rosie
    July 25, 2017
    Reply

    Oof, I feel your pain! You write so compellingly about it though – thanks for your honesty. And you tried so hard!

    When you come back next year, which I have no doubt you will, might i suggest doubling the amount of time you’re allowing for the journey?

    Feel free to ignore if this isn’t right for you, but you know your body’s capable of walking for 11 hours a day (admittedly it’d be easier in the right shoes). What if you aimed to walk for not more than 5 or 6 hours each day? You’d be able to enjoy all the diversions more, and could take a few rest days along the way to catch up with reading, photography etc, if you allowed yourself two weeks rather than one.

    Personally I’m a very slow walker – I enjoy the journey, but I’m never going to cover vast distances without it becoming a slog. I would be interested in doing Hadrian’s Wall some day – perhaps in sections rather than end to end!

    Take heart, and keep on inspiring us with your stories – you’ll get there eventually, and appreciate it all the more!

    • Lauren
      July 27, 2017
      Reply

      The problem with Hadrian’s Wall is that accommodation is super sparse, so there isn’t much in-between those six days of walking unless you want to call taxis to take you off the trail and back again the following morning. But I’ll consider it! Or at least see if there’s a way to make it seven or eight days. Just eliminating those 30+ km days would have made such a difference.

  19. Dominique
    July 26, 2017
    Reply

    Man, it’s so unlucky you were wearing such uncomfortable shoes. I’d like to believe I could walk a trail like that one day, although I myself have had no training whatsoever. Hang in there, one day you walk the full trail! :-)

    • Lauren
      August 16, 2017
      Reply

      Fingers crossed! I’m sure I could have walked it had I had better shoes, because it really didn’t feel like a fitness limitation. Although man, 30+km a day is tough to bash out.

  20. Shandos
    July 26, 2017
    Reply

    Ouch!! I’ve been lucky to always find hiking boots that fit very comfortably and have never gotten a blister. (Ballet slippers or pumps on the other hand…) Definitely buy a new pair of hiking boots where there’s a decent selection, such as the U.K. And go for lighter weight if you’re not climbing mountains on rocky ground (much). Best of luck for your next attempt! And remember you only need 100km to get the Camino certificate.

    • Lauren
      July 27, 2017
      Reply

      Ha! My boyfriend would not be impressed with me if I only walked 100 km of the Camino — he walks a full one every year and is all about doing the entire walk :-)

  21. Stephanie Craig
    July 26, 2017
    Reply

    You made it halfway in the worst conditions-you’ll get it next time.

    • Lauren
      July 27, 2017
      Reply

      I hope so! :-)

  22. Dee
    July 27, 2017
    Reply

    Those shoes should be embarrassed – and you are incredibly brave.

    • Lauren
      July 27, 2017
      Reply

      Ha! I really don’t know why they didn’t work for me. I’ve never had this problem with hiking boots before, and they receive such great reviews! Ah well, into the trash they went!

  23. Mary
    July 27, 2017
    Reply

    Thanks for your honesty. No advice from me, seeing as you didn’t ask for any, but I have no doubt you’ll return next year and walk the entire trail.

    • Lauren
      July 28, 2017
      Reply

      I appreciate that, Mary!

  24. steve
    July 27, 2017
    Reply

    Lauren, sometimes the bravest decision is the one to ‘walk away’ and then return at a later date. That is not defeat; it is common sense. I’m a mountaineer, traveller and dinghy cruising sailor…….there have been many a time when I have turned around; walked away; retreated to live another day. When you complete the wall next year, the sense of achievement will be greater. You didn’t need help; there was no needing an ambulance or rescue team; you took care of yourself; you didn’t inconvenience or endanger others. You learned lots about yourself and future planning to tackle it again next year. Sometimes what we feel are ‘failures’ are actually the strongest and best decisions. A brilliant read; love your style, wit, empathy. Thank you.

    • Lauren
      August 16, 2017
      Reply

      Cheers! Glad you enjoyed the read.

  25. Maggie
    July 30, 2017
    Reply

    Dude – you walked through 3 days of intense pain! You should be proud of yourself, because foot pain is no joke. I once did a really long walk with a friend through Austin, when we were in town for a conference and we had a spare day. We went all the way out of town to the Botanical Garden area – probably all told 10 miles. I was fighting blisters at the time, and it was excruciating. I kept having to stop to readjust my socks and whatever bandaids I had with me. It was probably 7 years ago at this point, and I will never forget how much it hurt. And you did twice that for 3 days in a row with far more discomfort than I had.

    You also made a smart decision not to push – as I said on FB, I walked around with a sneaker (which had been perfectly fine before) putting pressure on my toes. It became quite painful, but we were at Disney, and I was with a group and couldn’t really stop or slow down… so I put up with it. And the pain never really went away. When I finally went to a podiatrist, it turned out I had given myself a neuroma – basically I irritated the nerves in my toes/foot to the point where they were swollen. They gave me a bunch of shots over the new few months, and it took a year for it to go away totally.

    So you really can do long-term damage sometimes by pushing. I think you can be proud that you pushed for as long as you did, and then made the smart decision not to push further.

    Also, I thought it was pretty clear from your post that you had broken in the boots by wearing them on multiple trips – obviously brand new shoes would be a bad idea and that was clearly not the case here. Sorry you have to keep explaining that.

    Anyway, don’t feel bad – I think trying new stuff and accepting the possibility of failure (and that success is sometimes not always in your control) is so important. If we only ever tried easy things, or let fear of failure stop us from stretching ourselves, we’d have less rich lives.

  26. Amy
    August 2, 2017
    Reply

    No need to feel embarrassed, it sounds like it would have been crazy to continue, and you can always complete the trek another time, right? I had a similar yet less severe experience on the Everest Base Camp trek a few months ago and I still have a black toenail from it, luckily mine didn’t come off though, I’m just waiting for it to grow out. You’re right though, there’s something so addictive about trekking, even if it is super painful!

    • Lauren
      August 16, 2017
      Reply

      Oh man, that sucks! Yeah, I read it takes 18 months for toenails to fully grow back/out.

  27. Ted
    August 2, 2017
    Reply

    Last year I reversed a trek I took along England’s North Downs Way some time before. My shoes are Merrell Moab GTX’s. The trek was very muddy and the Moabs are not made for that, but I followed some so called expert hikers instructions and he didn’t know his right from his left (not to mention the UK’s lousy signage). I ended up actually running out of adrenalin in freezing cold and managed to reach a restaurant where I phoned a friend to come pick me up. At first I felt a failure, but knew that stopping in the sub-zero temperature was more dangerous than hobbling back a few miles to the eatery.

    As for shoes, I am very fussy. You have to feel really good in them and test them out prior to a hike. Once you find a good manufacturer and stick with them. Long hard hikes, I have a bit of neoprene under the heel of the insert to absorb the shock. That way I can walk mixed terrain and not cause ankle or knee damage. The nicest – Asic Marathon shoes with gel heels (ideal for the Camino de Santiago – regardless of what anyone else says. It’s a 500 mile, very hard stroll in the park)

  28. Fran
    August 3, 2017
    Reply

    This is so surreal reading this, I live in Wallsend and walk part of the route every day on my way to work! I also love Hadrian’s Wall. Did you make it past Sycamore Gap? Good on you for giving the walk a go!!

    • Lauren
      August 4, 2017
      Reply

      Hahaha, that’s so cool! I loved that part of the walk :-) And yep, I made it to Half Brewed — saw Sycamore Gap in the middle of a storm with sideways rain :-)

  29. Victoria @The British Berliner
    August 5, 2017
    Reply

    Great read Lauren!

    I wouldn’t consider this hike a failure at all, but rather bravery and courage of knowing when to say “No!” which is the most difficult thing ever. So well done you!

    I went hiking on Mount Batur in Bali a few years ago, and even though I completed it, I considered it the worst thing ever. I wept and cried, and the poor guide even had to carry my daypack as I couldn’t carry it myself! Meanwhile, everyone else was skipping along and I felt like such a loser, but I did it, and then wrote a piece admitting that it wasn’t the best idea. And worse, I realised it, after just 5 minutes!

    Here’s what I wrote if it’s alright. If not, just take off the link!
    https://thebritishberliner.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/the-beginners-guide-to-going-up-a-volcano-because-going-up-a-volcano-isnt-for-everyone/

  30. Izy Berry
    August 6, 2017
    Reply

    Gaaahd! I had one blister from working out once, ONE!! And I refused to go back to the gym for an entire week. YOU ARE STRONG!! And absolutely yes to next year! Also, stupid shoes! Could they have been fake? :(

    • Lauren
      August 12, 2017
      Reply

      Hahaha, thank you! I don’t think they were fake — I bought them from a legitimate outdoor store here in Lisbon, and they were fine on other hikes, like climbing a volcano, before this.

  31. Danae B.
    August 8, 2017
    Reply

    Next time you are in the US and if you still need hiking footwear then, I would definitely recommend hitting up an REI store. I like being able to try on the shoes before buying them, but really the best thing about REI is their amazing return policy and the fact they are a co-op. I have a pair of hiking boots too, but ever since I got trail running shoes I haven’t worn them as much. The trail shoes are lightweight and better fitted to my feet. Downside is that gravel gets in more easily than a boot with a high ankle, but they’ve otherwise made a huge difference for me!

    Very sorry this hike didn’t pan out, but it really does sound like it was your shoes here and nothing to do with your ability to stick with an experience. Any hiker who trudges through the pain probably only does so because they’re in a remote location and can’t access a store easily…otherwise, that’s insane! You did the right thing by your feet, seriously. Knowing what you know now, you’re going to crush it next time.

    Out of curiosity, is one allowed to camp along the wall, or do you have to turn in at the next town? Just wondering about those kinds of policies in the UK. I know in Norway you can pretty much just camp anywhere you like, and it almost feels that way here in WA state too (though some places do require permits, they’re pretty easy to get).

    • Lauren
      August 8, 2017
      Reply

      Oooh, I love REI! And I’m actually heading to the US in just over a month. Will definitely check out a store while I’m there.

      You’re not allowed to camp along the wall — you’d have to stay in campsites. Although whether anyone would catch you…

  32. Amy
    August 10, 2017
    Reply

    Have you read Wild? Cheryl Strayed had the same problem with her hiking boots so you’re in good company! I’m from the North East, so hope you make it back to Hadrian’s Wall one day and maybe manage to explore the area a bit more.

    • Lauren
      August 12, 2017
      Reply

      Yes! That was part of the reason why I was beating myself up for not finishing — if she could do it, I wanted to do it, too!

  33. Ellie
    August 13, 2017
    Reply

    The walk will still be there, but your feet won’t if you had carried on! You did the right thing. Walking long distances every day is hard enough, you definitely want the right shoes for it. I haven’t walked the wall yet, but I imagine it’s easy enough terrain? In which case, go for whatever shoes are comfortable, hiking boots or not.

    I had the opposite experience with these shoes, I got them 2 days before a month long trip to Peru, hoping that they’d be ok! Lots of hiking and they were fab.

    And the hiking thing definitely gets easier the more you do it, so keep up the practice for next year! My first big hike (5 days) was torture, but I had to keep going (you could only camp in certain places and the daylight hours weren’t many!). Fast forward a few months and a similar hike felt easy.

    Your pictures are inspirational, I’m hoping to do this trail with my mum sometime. Maybe see you there next year!

    • Lauren
      August 23, 2017
      Reply

      Yeah, the terrain was pretty easy. Lots of hills, but nothing major. The hardest part was dealing with the weather! If you do decide to do it, I’d recommend walking from west to east, or you’re going to spend the entire time walking into the wind.

  34. Nicole
    September 5, 2017
    Reply

    Great piece. I am always drawn to stories about long distance hiking, having big dreams to hike the Camino and several mountains in the future. Your piece was real and honest and I loved it. It serves as a reminder that we can sit at home and fantasize about these things but you have to remember they will still be a challenge and there may be situations out of your control but as long as you remain determined to push forward, regardless of the outcome, and keep positive I am certain you will achieve your goal, whether its on your first try or your 50th. I was considering my first longish distance hike being the 100 mile wilderness portion of the Appalachian Trail but now I am intrigued about Hadrians Wall. I look forward to reading about your success in the coming year.

  35. Barb
    September 11, 2017
    Reply

    Hi Lauren,
    It is crazy how the most worn in, expensive, comfortable boots you’ve hiked a hundred or more stress free miles in can suddenly becomes the boots from hell when you ‘get serious’ about a long distance hike. My friend and I recently walked the Camino. Her boots were 2 years old, at least, and she regularly walked 21km – 26km hilly hikes with a back pack and loved those boots, On the third day of the Camino she had humongous blisters on one heel and a couple of days later had humongous blisters under the first blisters and these ones were bloody….. ugh….
    I, on the other hand, threw my nice boots out on the first day – within 20 minutes! I’d worn them for months and they had been fine but on the first uphill of the trail my ankle started hurting. I turned around, entered the first sporting goods store I found and bought a pair of hiking sneakers – Salomans – and set out again. Surprisingly they worked for me after getting a little blister on my little toe which never became serious.

    Don’t feel bad – it happens. It is uncanny how many times I heard a story similar to yours and nearly always from those wearing high quality boots. Usually the wearers gave up long before you were forced to. Looking forward to hearing how you completed Hadrian’s Wall next time you pull those boots on.

  36. Ken Taylor
    March 28, 2018
    Reply

    My love for ancient history aroiund the world brought me today to search for Hadrian’s Wall which I discovered on a tv program on the History Channel here in America. I’m not anything close to being a hiker at age 55 and 270 lbs but I have done some surprising exploring around the globe. I found your photo in the search results page of Google photos and seeing a beautiful young woman one must investigate further. Your story hit me. I know it’s a little later now but I feel i must comment. I don’t have time now to read all comments left by others and wish to leave mine just in case I can not find it again.

    Your story is not a failure but a victory. There have been so many, many, many more failures than success in everything. You learned your weakness and you have learned what to fix to enable success in the future. I think I would need enormous exploration time to complete your goal. I would break it up into different sections and explore some now, come back in 6 months and explore more and continue until I did complete it 100% Not everyone can complete the exact same goals as others who are the same size, age, race, gender. Your inside body is unique in many ways and how you life was before has effects today. If you lived in a city and relied on public transportation would affect your muscles compared to a farm girl who walked to school, chopped firewood or stuff similar. The effects will be different of both girls trying to do as you did. I’v always been big since being young. I was a firefighter paramedic for 28 years, I was big, I passed every test required throughout my career. I surprised every member of my department for more than 5 years by having the fastest time in our blackout search maze than any other member twice a year required test. I could not compete with the younger guys and girls joining. I knew it was time to hang up my helmet and allow the younger kids the opportunity to live their dream and when I had doubts about my continued ability to drag out my fellow team members if we came into a bad situation. My passion now is ancient history and WW2. I do apologize if I repeat other comments but I think you are great, keep going and don’t give up on anything you want. If you fail, get up and start again another time. You don’t have to be number 1 to anyone other than yourself so pace yourself and you will always be a winner…. You have inspired me!

  37. Diana
    April 9, 2018
    Reply

    Hi Lauren,

    I enjoyed your story, and your honesty. I hope you find the right shoes and socks for your next attempt. Looking forward to your victory lap!

    • Lauren
      April 26, 2018
      Reply

      Thank you so much, Diana!

  38. Jerome
    April 17, 2018
    Reply

    I’m going this coming Saturday and I’m sure it will be raining.

    • Lauren
      April 18, 2018
      Reply

      Fingers crossed your walk goes better than mine! :-)

  39. Esther
    May 28, 2018
    Reply

    What new shoes did you find that were very comfortable, that you would recommend?

    • Lauren
      June 4, 2018
      Reply

      I’m still searching for them :-)

  40. Kyle
    July 9, 2018
    Reply

    Sounds like a great journey, sorry you did’t finish. Great post.

    • Lauren
      July 10, 2018
      Reply

      I’ll get there one day!

  41. Alex
    August 13, 2018
    Reply

    I finished Hadrian’s Wall yesterday on a 6 day trip between Bowness and Newcastle. In a new-ish pair of boots I thought I had broken in. I was wrong, too. I finished with them on day 5, blisters on both feet. Day 6 (Hedden on the Wall to Segedunum) I did in trainers. No increase in blisters, but not enough support, so aching feet by the end of the day; at least I know what decent boots are for, now!

    I totally feel your pain. I loved the walk, but ended up hating my boots! I’m now trying to work out how to get a pair that will work with a custom orthotic that will work with my (currently) throbbing Morton’s neuroma! The search is on for day trip boots, and multi-day boots, with custom/comfortable insoles.

  42. Anthony J Vera
    October 21, 2018
    Reply

    Well? It’s been a year. Did you complete it? I’m just planning a trip now, but intend to take at least ten days, and do it solo so I’m not beholden to any tour constraints or deadlines. I also plan on doing it in some traditional Roman Legionary garb. Maybe make a charity fundraising event of it.

  43. Dave
    October 30, 2018
    Reply

    My wife and I completed the walk in early September 2018, agreed the walk from the wall to the B&B can add up the miles, with visiting the museums etc along the way our 84 mile walk finally clocked up 120. We walked West to East, on the two days bad weather we had we were so pleased we had chosen this direction, hoods up the wind behind us we kept dry, we passed so many people walking into the driving rain, faces soaked and looking cold. We saw lots of people walking/limping, people walking in flip flops feet covered in blisters, whatever footwear you wear they need to be well broken in and waterproof, you spend a lot of time walking on grass/mud, as well as up and down the higher ground in the middle a day either side of the sycamore gap, I had covered over a 1000 miles in my footwear before I wore them on my wall walk.

  44. Gareth
    November 24, 2018
    Reply

    Lauren,

    Thanks for your interesting and honest account of your Hadrian’s Wall Walk in 2017. Have you since gone back and completed it?

    Sounds to me like you have identified the main issue, your boots/shoes have to fit and yours were too small. I walked The West Highland Way in hiking boots which were too small and my feet suffered badly. Here are my tips for buying new boots/shoes:

    1. When shopping for shoes/boots take the socks you hike in and shop for them around mid afternoon. Your feet swell during the day and a boot that fits perfectly in the morning will be too tight come lunchtime when you are walking.

    2. When walking in your boots (in the shop) your heels should not shift about in the boot.

    3. Make sure that there is space between your toes and the front of the boot. This becomes very important when walking downhill and on uneven ground. Not enough of a gap equals no toenails!

    4. Ensure that the shop assistant knows what they are doing. Even the most experienced hiker doesn’t buy boots/shoes that often. There are many stores where the employees really don’t know much about what makes a good fitting boot. Shop around and if you don’t feel confident in the assistant, then don’t buy the boots. I went to a number of different stores for my recent purchase and waited 2 months before buying my next pair of boots.

    I hope that this is useful and well done on soldiering through the pain. Don’t be too hard on yourself, many people wouldn’t even lace up there boots to attempt an 85 mile hike let alone bear the intense pain that you endured. Well done….ultimately we always learn more from the painful mistakes than our easy successes.

    Regards

    Gareth

  45. Paul D.
    December 12, 2018
    Reply

    Just think of Edison when asked about the light bulb experiments that hadn’t worked yet. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Of course he eventually found the solution.

    You only found one way not to do that hike. Keep trying. :-)
    Attitude with a smile.

    • Lauren
      January 8, 2019
      Reply

      Next time I’ll make it for sure! I know what not to do for my second go-around now :-)

  46. Ian P
    December 26, 2018
    Reply

    I think the real moral of the story is finding the right boots/shoes. It sounds like you did 8ncredibky well to get as far as you got, but the only real answer us to get shoes/boots properly fitted at a proper walking shop. I often see folks on a Facebook asking if anyone can recommend hiking boots. It’s a silly question because the chances of your feet being the same shape as the bloke/girl recommending those fantastic “whatdyacall them GTXs” in which they’ve “never had a blister…feel like I’m treading on cotton wool…etc” are slim at best. The only real answer is to go to a shop, get your feet properly measured and try a few pairs on – then wear them around the house for a while (if they’re not dirty and they don’t seem right you can likely return them), then short walks outside. I realise that may be difficult in Lisbon!
    If your rucksack doesn’t quite fit, you can generally cope; if your waterproofs aren’t as waterproof as you’d like, you’ll get a bit damp. BUT if your boots aren’t right you’ll most likely not cope – feet are vital!

  47. Jim Horak
    January 2, 2019
    Reply

    Lauren,

    Great article. My wife and I walked the Wall in late April 2018. We chose the East to West directions due to our flight from the US into Newcastle, and our exit from the UK using the ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam. We were well warned about about the first leg from Wallsend to Heddon on Wall. We are both 60 and chose to use Sherpa with our bags as we had 30 more days to travel in the EU). When we did get to Heddon on Wall (great hostess – Paula) on the first day, my wife’s feet were trashed, however we were prepared with an very extensive blister kit (antiseptic, tapes, clean sewing needles, different types of moleskin, foam padding, liquid skin, …..). I did play foot physician each lunchtime and night – especially watching for infection. I only had one small blister for the trip, chalk the difference up to a better choice of shoes, and much more experience hiking. We too thought we were prepared, as we practiced up to eight miles on paved trails, three times a week prior to the wall “walk”. And ….some might consider this an easy hike NO! . If you are not seriously prepared – the potential of wind, sun, rain, temperature changes, length, and rugged terrain (some parts), could make the wall walk into a hazardous adventure.

    And what – no mention of the millions of sheep and cow flops to hop over, lots of gates and climb overs, lack of water points on the trall, and a dearth of sanitary facilities ….. And we would both do the Wall again !!! Congrats on the intent and passing the information.

  48. John Murray
    February 8, 2019
    Reply

    It certainly sounds like your choice of footwear made the venture virtually unachievable, so no shame in that. If I may add some advice, what many people fail to appreciate is the importance of good socks and a good pair of footbeds.
    I always recommend Bridgedale socks, and I’ve also found Rohan to be excellent. In most outdoors shops you’ll see footbeds hanging beside the footwear. I see many people look at them and see the £30-odd price tag and dismiss them as an unnecessary expense.
    The footbeds supplied in walking boots and shoes are okay, but upgrading them makes a big difference when it comes to sustained distance walking. Whereas I have no loyalty to any particular brand, my wife prefers Superfeet.

  49. Nicky
    February 21, 2019
    Reply

    Can you please not use the F word and take Jesus’ name in vain? Totally turned me off an otherwise good blog!

    • Lauren
      February 21, 2019
      Reply

      Sorry! I swear in my writing and I don’t want to censor myself on my own blog.

  50. ANNA MACHIAL
    June 2, 2019
    Reply

    I have tried many different hikers and walkers and have found that for tarmac and cobblestones trail runners are the best. When I walked the Camino Primitivo I packed runners and wore a light weight hiker that I loved. After walking on tarmac I developed hot spots on my feet. After that I wrapped my toes in duct tape to reduce the friction and switched to my runners for any hard surface. My feet were fine. When I reached the Camino Frances I saw many walkers in flipflops and sandals and carrying their hikers. I have since switched to trail runners for all walks because the regular runners did not have enough traction on steep roads.

  51. Fred Heighton
    June 6, 2019
    Reply

    Gel socks are your friend !

    • Lauren
      June 6, 2019
      Reply

      I’m not sure how they would have helped in my situation.

  52. Fred Heighton
    June 13, 2019
    Reply

    They act as a barrier between your boots and your feet, thus preventing rubbing and blisters. My new walking shoes gave me blisters in 10 minutes, but the gel socks stopped that permanently. Obviously, you need to wear them before you start walking.

    • Lauren
      June 13, 2019
      Reply

      Ah, ok. It wasn’t the blisters that caused me to drop out — I can walk through the pain of them — it was bruising of my ankles from wearing boots, but yeah. For future walks, I can see that gel socks could be a good idea. I’ll try them out, as I’m going to be walking a Camino in a couple of weeks.

  53. Denise
    August 28, 2019
    Reply

    We (4 Australians) walked west to east because I wanted “the wind to my back”. We found the first day the hardest even though we were all prepared and by the end of Day 2 I had serious blisters. If only I had known about Compeeds. And also not to change from thick woolen socks to thin cotton ones. I limped the rest of the trip but as soon as we finished I couldn’t walk. Edinburgh – on a chair at the pub. Inverness – in the car. Isle of Skye – in a garden. By the time we reached Ireland I could finally walk but that was 10 days later.

  54. daniel law
    September 12, 2019
    Reply

    Understand your issue with the shoes – changes soles of my Swiss Army boots and 1 week later did the walk from Montreax to Gros Van, which on maps looks not far (only 33.2 km’s), but add in the climbs, you soon reach between 7 – 11 hours depending on your condition.

    After 3 hours found that my feet were soaked so planned a short rest to empty my boots…a deep red liquid ran out.

    However it was grit teeth and finish the walk as the tent site was near the top, the next day was a further day in red liquid and raw feet, but the walk had to be finished – bearing in mind that 6 onths before I did my annual military service in the area with the usual 10, 20 and 30 kms marches

    Since then I am very careful what kind of soles my boots have and if they broken in.

    It pays to pick the right boots or shoes

  55. Paul davies( Hoofit)
    February 2, 2020
    Reply

    Hi there tenderfoot, I mean Lauren, I read your post as I am intending to hike Adrian’s wall next May/June and was looking for some ideas about where to stop along the way and some of the more memorable parts of the hike. The title grabbed me, nice one. I should let you in on the fact that I have hiked over 2000 miles of the AT, so I know my way around foot issues!
    Or so I thought…..to be honest with you, I was mocking you somewhat , your failed attempt at less than a hundred miles of relatively moderate hiking, with pubs along the way! How tough can that be? So , after reading about your trials and tribulations, I went back to your story to see what I could discover and there they were…………….Ultras!Aaahhhhh!Down to the last 200 miles of the AT, I was determined to finish my hike and the glory at the end, Katahdin, Maine’s highest peak and a very tough climb in itself but more importantly, the northern terminus of a 2200 mile mountain hike, months and months of living the wild life, ( something I truly love …xxxx… but back to my story…my personal favorite hiking shoe has been Keens, super comfy out the box and great for my wide foot with a roomy toebox.. But, the AT travels through the ‘100 mile wilderness’, a mixture of woods, knarly tree roots, stream and river crossings and plenty of moose! So, I changed my boots about to Ultras, zero drop , but more importantly, air holes in the front to let water escape on the many stream crossings. Well, I missed the advice that came on the back page of the little info booklet in the shoe. So I didn’t wear them bit by bit , a few hours at a time. Having waited all year to hit Maine in August /September to avoid Maine’s state bird, the ominous Blackfly, I travelled north from my home in Florida and started in where I had left off, an posing group of mountains known as the Wildcats. By the end of the first day,due mainly to lack of support and a thirty pound pack,I had torn some ligaments under my right foot…being a foolsome fellow with a tough guy attitude, I continued the next day, thinking that, maybe, I could walk it off….baaad mistake! By the end of the second day, I had done so much damage that I had to return home, defeated, sad, demoralised and really mad at myself for not following the recommended break in period. It is now a full 5 months later and I still am in the late stages of foot recovery..so, to finish up before you fall asleep, you have my sympathy and respect, not just for attempting a long walk but being smart enough to get off before you did any permanent. My Ultras sit in the closet under the stairs, a reminder of the common sense needed when it comes to footwear….one shoe dies not fit all, just because they are lightweight with air holes! I will finish the AT, this year or next and will be in another pair ofKeens Targhee 2’s….they work for me so I’m gonna stick with them. All the best , may you have much sunshine and happiness in your life xx

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