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One of my favourite walks in all of Northumberland is the Sycamore Gap walk from Steel Rigg along the historic Hadrian’s Wall.
The Sycamore Gap is an iconic ‘dip’ in the landscape and has a lone Sycamore tree that grows in the foundations of the Roman wall in Northumberland National Park.
It’s an iconic landmark of England and one of the most photographed trees in Great Britain. It’s also famous due to being a filming location in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner.
Here is a complete guide for Steel Rigg to Sycamore Gap walk with what to expect on your visit.
2023 update: the poor tree at Sycamore Gap has been tragically felled :( it’s currently under investigation. They are going to find a way to commemorate this much-loved landmark.
What is Hadrian’s Wall?
If you weren’t already aware, Hadrian’s Wall or the Roman Wall is a huge defense line that was built during the Roman Empire between 122 and 128AD.
It’s called Hadrian’s wall as it was ordered to be built by Emperor Hadrian to ensure that his territories were protected from the rebellions of the North.
The Roman wall is 73 miles long and stretches from the east to the west coast of England. It starts at Wallsend at Newcastle-on-Tyne near to the North Sea and ends at Solway Firth on the Irish Sea.
Along the wall, there were multiple auxiliary forts, temples, and milecastles built and it’s thought that this wall had around 5,000 infantry stationed here to protect the borders!
Today, only 10% of the original wall still remains in England and what’s left is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But, you can follow the entire Hadrian’s Wall trail here in Northumberland.
There are many excavations still taking place in this area that reveal long-lost secrets of the Roman Empire from many moons ago.
One of the most popular places to experience Hadrian’s Wall would be the Sycamore Gap walk from Steel Rigg car park.
It’s a prominent dip in the landscape that has a lonely Sycamore tree growing in the foundations of the wall and is now an iconic landmark and photography location!
How old is the Sycamore Gap tree?
Although Hadrian’s Wall was built nearly 2,000 years ago, the lone tree that sits beside it is nowhere near as old as that.
It is believed that the Sycamore Gap tree is several hundred years old and is in pretty good shape for its age!
The National Trust who protect the tree, says that Sycamore Gap, Rapishaw Gap, and Milking Gap in the landscape here took place over thousands of years.
Although this Sycamore tree has probably seen many chapters of history, it now has the nickname ‘Hadrian’s Wall Tree’ or ‘Robin Hood Tree’ as it’s become famous due to starring on the Hollywood screen!
Sycamore Gap Robin Hood Prince of Thieves filming location
This lone tree on Hadrian’s Wall is famous in its own right but another reason why it’s so well known is that it featured in the movie Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991) starring Kevin Costner, Alan Rickman, and Morgan Freeman.
In the movie, you see multiple scenes of Kevin Costner as Robin Hood speaking to Morgan Freeman who plays Azeem on Hadrian’s wall with the spectacular views of Steel Rigg as the backdrop.
Later, they climb over Sycamore Gap and the steep ruined wall while planning their return to Robin’s Loxley estate. That’s why this tree often has the nickname ‘Robin Hood tree’!
I’ve loved this movie since I was a kid, so it felt surreal to finally be able to see this filming location for myself.
Where is Sycamore Gap or the Robin Hood tree?
Sycamore Gap and the lone tree can be found along Hadrian’s Wall in Hexham. This area falls within Northumberland National Park in the North of England.
You’ll find the Hadrian’s Wall tree tucked amongst the hills between Steel Rigg and Crag Lough.
Despite this tree being in quite a remote location, it sees thousands of visitors walking the Roman Wall to visit it every year!
How to get to Sycamore Gap
The only way that you can visit Sycamore Gap would be to walk there as there is no parking directly near the Robin Hood Tree.
The closest place to start would be the Steel Rigg Car Park and from there you can walk over to Sycamore Gap in around 45 minutes to an hour.
The easiest way to access Steel Rigg would be to drive along the B6318 road to the car park as Northumberland National Park is quite remote. You’ll find a well-marked tourist sign marking a turning for Steel Rigg Car Park on this road.
However, there are regular bus services to The Sill Discovery Centre and attractions such as Vindolanda from Newcastle and Carlisle.
Where to park for Sycamore Gap?
There are many places that you can park to take the Sycamore Gap walk but the closest car park would be Steel Rigg Car Park.
This is a relatively small car park on a hillside so I would recommend getting here early for this walk.
Steel Rigg parking prices are £3 for 3 hours. After that, every additional hour is £2 up to a maximum of £10 for the day. But, you could easily get the Sycamore Gap walk done in 3 hours!
Another alternative would be to park at The Sill Discovery Centre. It’s £2 for 2 hours and then every additional hour is £1 up to a maximum of £5 for the day.
If you are planning on visiting a couple of places along Hadrian’s Wall they do have a day parking pass that is valid in all of the Northumberland National Park car parks. They cost £10 for the day.
How long is the Sycamore Gap walk
The walk from Steel Rigg Car Park to Sycamore Gap should take you around 45 minutes to an hour so to get there one way. Maybe less if you’re a really fast walker!
The walk is up and down steep hills or ‘gaps’ and so you may need to take your time when climbing Hadrian’s Wall.
I would personally leave around 2-3 hours for your visit so you have enough time to get to the Hadrian’s Wall tree, explore the area, and get back in time before your car parking ticket runs out!
If you’re heading to Sycamore Gap from The Sill Discovery Centre or the Twice Brewed Inn. I would leave a little more time as you’ll be walking around half a mile longer from those starting points.
Steel Rigg to Sycamore Gap Walk directions
So, if you wanted to visit the Hadrian’s Wall Tree in Northumberland, it is relatively easy to do from Steel Rigg Car Park.
Here are some Sycamore Gap walk instructions for your visit and what to expect!
1. Park at Steel Rigg Car Park
To start this walk, you’ll need to park up at Steel Rigg Car Park. This is a popular viewpoint for Steel Rigg but also the closest place to access Sycamore Gap.
Parking here is £3 for 3 hours which will leave you plenty of time to walk to Sycamore Gap and back.
The postcode for Steel Rigg Car Park is NE47 7AN
2. Head through the gate and down the hill
Once you’ve walked to the back of the car park, you can follow the path until you reach a kissing gate to lead you into the countryside.
From here, you’ll need to head down a gradual hill until you reach the pathway that will lead you to Hadrian’s Wall.
You’ll probably see by now that the first hill is quite a steep one with many rocks to climb over to get to the top.
It does look quite intimidating but it’s easy enough to climb. Once you reach the top, you’ll be walking flat for a while.
3. Climb up the first set of steps up the hill…then 3 more
Once you reach the top of the first incline next to the wall, you’ll pass through another gate. Then, you’ll follow a flat trail alongside the wall.
The views from up here are fantastic already and you can see for miles over the countryside. Then, you simply follow Hadrian’s Wall along the ridge until you reach your next ‘gap’ in the hills.
Once you’ve walked up and down the first ‘gap’. There will then be one more. This is the point where you will see one of the best views in Northumberland National Park over Steel Rigg to Crag Lough!
If you’re a fan of Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, this is the iconic viewpoint where Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman are talking before they descend down to the tree. So, I would definitely get your cameras out before you descend down the second hill.
It’s good to note that you will be climbing up and down 3 hills like this in total before you reach Sycamore Gap with the tree in the middle! So, prepare for your legs to ache.
But, there are lots of notable things to see along the wall like the Milecastle 39 that still stands here.
4. Hike up and down again for Sycamore Gap
I didn’t do my research before I set out on this walk and I had no idea that I would be climbing up and down 3 steep ‘gaps’ with only cobbles and stones for a pathway haha!
So, every time that I got to the top of a hill and I was expecting to see the tree in the gap, I was disappointed. But, after the third time, I let out a little cheer when I could finally see the tree at the bottom of the last steep hill.
All that was left was to descend down the steep rocky pathway and I finally made it! Woohoo!
You’ll probably feel the exact same way once you finally get to the Sycamore Gap tree and you can let your legs rest a while on flat ground.
Exploring the Sycamore Gap Robin Hood Tree
So, once you have finally made it to Sycamore Gap all that’s left is to explore the area and see the Robin Hood Prince of Thieves filming location for yourself.
Although it is ‘just’ a tree, you can see why it fascinates visitors as it grows in the foundations of a wall that was built almost two thousand years ago!
There’s not a lot to do here save admiring the tree, taking a few photos, and climbing on the walls a while. But, I thought that the walk to get here was worth it to finally see this famous tree for myself.
I definitely had a little jig to the Robin Hood Prince of Thieves theme tune as well whilst no one was looking haha!
Sycamore Gap photography tips
Did you know that Sycamore Gap is one of the most photographed trees in the whole of the UK?
So, it will be no surprise if you find a lot of photographers’ here trying to capture an image of the Hadrian’s Wall Tree in amongst the two rolling hills it’s sandwiched in!
There are lots of places to take some photos here but by far the best views you can get are found on the opposite side to the Sycamore Gap tree.
You can climb up on a small knoll and the height allows you to get a perfect composition of the tree in the gap!
If you were coming here for photography, I would always recommend arriving early in the morning to avoid as many people as possible. I got here around 8 am and didn’t see another soul until at least 9.
Many people also come here at night to take some photos of the tree in amongst the stars. Northumberland National Park is famous for its Dark Sky Reserves!
Where to after Sycamore Gap?
Once you’ve had fun exploring the Sycamore Gap tree and taken some photos of it – You’re probably thinking, ‘where to next?’
Well, you could head straight back the way you came to the Steel Rigg Car Park. Or, you could head onward towards Crag Lough.
It will be another steep hill away, but the views overlooking the lake are worth the climb! You could then carry on towards, Housestead’s Fort and the Mithras Temple along Hadrian’s Wall.
The Hadrian’s Wall trail is huge with lots to explore in this area. You could spend an entire day hiking along the wall until you get tired.
Personally, once I got to the top of the cliff overlooking Crag Lough, I headed back to Steel Rigg Car Park to carry on my adventures in the national park. I was pretty happy with that!
Heading back…the easier way!
If you didn’t want to walk over the massive hills again to get back to Steel Rigg Car Park there is a way that you can avoid some of them (not all of them).
If you head away from the Sycamore Gap tree, you’ll find a flat pathway that will lead you over the countryside towards Steel Rigg.
Eventually, you’ll meet the trail nearest to the first ‘peak’ that you climbed over and that can limit having to hike all 3 peaks on the way back.
My tops tips for the Sycamore Gap walk
- Bring a good pair of shoes – This walk is very steep and uneven with large cobbles marking the hillside trail most of the time. I would make sure you have a good pair of ankle supporting shoes for this walk. Also, these hills can get slippy and muddy in the rain so take care!
- Be prepared for the weather – I was extremely lucky that I had a sunny morning for this walk but Northumberland is normally known for its endless rain! Make sure you have a waterproof with you or spare layer.
- Come early – this walk is extremely popular in Northumberland National Park and the Steel Rigg Car Park fills up fast. Also, in peak season the tree can see a lot of visitors. So, I would arrive earlier rather than later to guarantee a parking space and a more peaceful visit.
- Bring water and snacks – there are limited facilities on this walk. So, come prepared with water and snacks and everything you’ll need for the trail. The Sill Discovery Centre has a small shop with supplies if you forgot.
- Toilets – There are no toilets at Steel Rigg Car Park. It’s a very small space. The nearest loos would be at The Sill Discovery Centre which is a short drive from there. I would recommend using those first before you set out!
Is Sycamore Gap worth it?
100% YES! The Sycamore Gap walk is a little tiring but in my opinion, it is definitely worth the effort. In fact, I would go as far as to say this walk was one of my favourite walks that I have done in the UK!
It is a little steep and uneven but the views you can get from the top of Steel Rigg overlooking the countryside and Crag Lough are outstanding
Also, being able to walk through history alongside Hadrian’s Wall and visiting the Sycamore Gap Robin Hood Prince of Thieves filming location was just incredible.
If you’re looking for a way to experience Hadrian’s Wall and see some incredible landscapes in the process – the Sycamore Gap walk is it!
Can you see Sycamore Gap from the road?
YES! If you didn’t fancy a long hike through the countryside, then you can actually see Sycamore Gap from the roadside on the B6318 Road in Hexham.
The road stretches alongside Hadrian’s Wall and through the countryside and you should be able to see it briefly as you drive towards Steel Rigg and The Sill Discovery Centre.
Of course, you can’t stop on this road as it’s national speed limit and there are no lay-bys to park in to take a photo either. But, you can see definitely see the Hadrian’s Wall Tree as you drive along!
Where to eat on the Sycamore Gap walk
There are no cafés or facilities in the Steel Rigg Car Park or at Sycamore Gap itself. The trail is very much left natural and protected which is a great thing.
If you were looking for a café to get a coffee and some breakfast before your walk, I would recommend The Sill Discovery Centre café which has an amazing one. Or, you could head into the Twice Brewed Inn pub for some lunch and real ales.
If you plan on spending the day hiking, I personally recommend bringing your own lunch and snacks with you on this walk.
There are lots of places to sit awhile by the wall with amazing views, especially around Crag Lough. Just remember to take all your rubbish with you as there are no rubbish bins on the trail.
Exploring The Sill Discovery Centre & Café
After the Sycamore Gap walk, I would highly recommend making your way over to The Sill Discovery Centre which is near to the Steel Rigg Car Park.
After my early morning walk, I was in dire need of a coffee and some breakfast and so I made a beeline for The Sill Café.
They had a gorgeous outdoor seating area that overlooked Steel Rigg and the countryside and their bacon butty was just the ticket!
As well as the cosy café, they have an information centre so you can learn more about Hadrian’s Wall. Plus, a gift shop that you can browse for locally made souvenirs from local artisans. It’s well worth stopping by in Northumberland National Park.
Nearest Hotel to Sycamore Gap
The area around Steel Rigg and Sycamore Gap is quite remote in Hexham and so there are limited places for travellers to spend the night.
But, as there are many walkers who like to take on the Hadrian’s Wall Trail, The Sill Discovery Centre has a modern YHA hostel that backpackers can sleep in.
The YHA Sill at Hadrian’s Wall has a mix of clean dorm rooms or private rooms that you can book and it’s right next to the trail for the Sycamore Gap walk.
You also have lots of facilities onsite, including the cosy café and a shop with everything you may need for your stay.
Looking for more places to visit in Northumberland National Park?
After your visit to The Sill, there are lots of attractions that you can visit in this area of Northumberland National Park.
Many of the attractions centre around Hadrian’s Wall and the Roman history that can be found in this area. Here are some of the most popular attractions you could visit to extend your stay;
- Vindolanda & Roman Army Museum – These are two award winning museums and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s an old Roman auxiliary fort. Here, you can see lots of Archaeological excavations and items found along the wall as well as learning Roman history in their interactive museums! Make sure to stop at the Walltown Crags nearby.
- Housesteads Roman Fort – Another Roman auxiliary fort, Housesteads will transport you back to the Roman Empire. It’s an English Heritage site and you can wander around an old army barracks, see the hospital and even some really ancient toilets!
- Temple of Mithras – If you were into you Roman mythologies then you’ll love the Temple of Mithras. It’s a FREE attraction that’s part of Carrawburgh Roman Fort. You can visit a temple dedicated to the Roman God Mithras who captured and killed a sacred bull in a cave. You’ll see three recreated altars here with Roman carvings. Click here to read my complete Temple of Mithras guide.
Find even more Robin Hood Prince of Thieves filming locations
If you were looking for more Robin Hood Prince of Thieves filming locations there are quite a few that you can find in Northumberland and Yorkshire after your visit to Sycamore Gap.
In Northumberland, you can head over to Alnwick Castle that featured in the movie. In fact, Alnwick Castle is a very popular place for movies and TV shows. Here, they filmed Harry Potter, Downton Abbey and more. Hulne Park is also another Robin Hood filming location in Northumberland.
In the Yorkshire Dales, you’ll find the might Aysgarth Falls which is where Robin Hood fights Little John. Or, you can visit Hardraw Falls to see where Robin went swimming in the nude with Maid Marian sneaking a peek!
Malham Cove was also another filming location which is a spectacular and unique limestone pavement suspended on a cliff face overlooking the dales. This is also another Harry Potter filming location from the Deathly Hallows.