Sycamore Gap and the "Robin Hood Tree" on Hadrian's Wall

Update: It is with great sadness that I have to add to this post that the beautiful Sycamore tree that stood in the gap was felled sometime during the overnight on Thursday, September 28th, 2023. Needless to say there has been an outpouring of both sadness and rage all over the world at the senseless and cruel loss of this iconic tree and I am right there with them. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to visit it when I did.

Nestled within a gap along the Great Whin Sill, Sycamore Gap is a natural amphitheater located on Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland, England between Milecastle 39 and Crag Lough, about 2 miles west of Housesteads Roman Fort.

This section of the 73-mile wall follows the edge of a cliff and has several sharp dips in it caused by melting glacial waters - the tree occupies one of those dips. The wall and adjacent land, including the site of the tree, is owned by the National Trust and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area not just for its fascinating history but also for its dramatic views of the surrounding countryside.

Sycamore Gap - which is visible from the roadway though at a pretty good distance - gets its name from a towering sycamore maple estimated to be over 300 years old. Actually I'm rather impressed with the following photo that I took from a moving car! 

Located in the middle of the dramatic dip in the landscape with Hadrian's Wall rising up on either side, the tree’s roots have grown around the stones of the wall which predates the tree by about 1400 years.

The name “Sycamore Gap” was coined by a National Trust Employee when asked if the previously unnamed spot had a designation during a remapping project of the area.

Described as one of the most photographed trees in England and probably the most photographed point in all of Northumberland National Park, the Sycamore Gap Tree is also known as the “Robin Hood Tree” as it was featured in scenes from the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner. 

The tree was also featured in the music video of Bryan Adams’ power ballad “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" - the lead single from the film. Side fact: the song went on to become one of the biggest hits in British chart history spending 16 consecutive weeks at number one on the UK singles chart.

In 2016, the tree was voted England’s Tree of the Year in a competition put on by the Woodland Trust. Receiving 21% of the nearly 12,000 votes cast by the public, the prize was a £1000 grant which was used to survey the health of the tree and to carry out work to protect its roots which were becoming exposed due to the high volume of foot traffic passing over them. 

Located on Hadrian's Wall Path, a long-distance walking path that follows the course of Hadrian's Wall, Sycamore Gap is a popular spot for hikers and cyclists as well as for picnics and photography. Lots of photography! 

The area is well-signposted, and there are several trails that lead to Sycamore Gap from nearby car parks. From Steel Rigg car park the hike is about 1.5 kilometers (9/10ths of a mile) and from Once Brewed car park it’s closer to 2 kilometers (1.25 miles.) The walk is fairly easy - depending on your definition of easy! -  but there are some steep sections and when they say ‘steep’ they really mean it! 

See what I mean about "steep"? That's steep! Well, unless you're from the UK then that's nothing but a regular old stroll! They wouldn't call this a 'hike', this would just be a 'walk' and probably not much of one either! Makes me wish I took more after all of my British ancestors! 

There were 80 milecastles - guarded gates - along the length of Hadrian's Wall. The milecastles guarded a gate between the wall and had a turret on either side so that the soldiers guarding the gates could see anyone approaching. This is Milecastle 39, also known as Castle Nick, which was believed to have been occupied until the late 4th century and was excavated in 1908-11 then re-excavated between 1982-1987. 

A beautiful view to the east from the top of Hadrian's Wall looking down towards Sycamore Gap. The photos from up here were taken by my son Michael as he and my UK friend Claire took the steep way to Sycamore Gap while I cut through some farmer's property as I didn't think my knee was going to be able to handle the upper route. If it was private property then I sincerely apologize, I didn't see any signs saying not to go that way. 

With views like this, I really wish that I had tried the upper path but instead, that's me standing down below talking to two other Americans (New Yorkers, actually!) who were hiking along Hadrian's Wall. Both Mike and Claire assured me that it was tough going so I'm glad I took the smarter route though I'm still bummed about missing the views! 

No sheep but I did get to meet a couple of the local residents while taking my flatter route! Does it look like she was judging me? 

Not sure if that was a look of disdain or understanding! Hey, it wasn't all easy going, I did have to climb over a gate that was surrounded by a very large puddle! Honest! 

In summation, if you're planning a visit to Northumberland, Sycamore Gap is definitely more than worth a stop and the hike to get to. The views are simply stunning, and the tree itself is a sight to behold. It's a truly unique place, and it's sure to leave a lasting impression on all who visit! 

Now for a couple of hopefully helpful tips if you decide you want to visit the "Robin Hood Tree": 
  • The best time to visit is during the spring or fall when the weather is mild and the crowds are smaller. This is not a hike you want to make if it's strangely warm in England! 
  • Be sure to wear comfortable shoes with a good grip as there is some walking involved to get to Sycamore Gap and some of it - as I mentioned - can be pretty steep. If you have walking sticks, all the better! 
  • If you have the time, bring a picnic lunch to enjoy in the stunning surroundings. You'll probably work up an appetite making the trek out to the tree and why rush the trip back when you can sit and enjoy this beautiful tree and the surrounding countryside a bit longer? 
  • If you are planning to hike or cycle to Sycamore Gap, be sure to check the weather forecast and pack appropriate clothing. During our walk to the tree it was both sunny and rainy at the same time!
  • As Sycamore Gap is a popular tourist destination, be prepared for crowds even though it looks like you're out in the middle of nowhere. 

No crowds here, just me and the tree! 


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