Walking in Northumberland

With Hadrian's Wall threading its way across the sparsely populated Cheviot hills, and miles of unspoilt coastline, this northernmost corner of England is a great place for a hill walking holiday.

Northumberland is a special place to walk in, as it literally has every type of walking you can imagine. Local tour guide and walking enthusiast Jon Monks outlines what's on offer.

Another reason this northernmost English county is such a great place for walkers is that it is the most sparsely populated county in the land: on a ramble through the hills you may not see another person all day. It is often called the land of far horizons - until you visit the area it is hard to understand why, but with its big skies (recently classified as the largest dark sky reserve in Europe), this just brings home what a special place it is to explore on foot.

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The Northumberland Coast
Northumberland is famous for its long white beaches and the castles that stand tall above this special section of North Sea coastline.

Bamburgh Castle, just one of many castles along the coast, was recently voted as having the best view in England. To the north is Holy Island (Lindisfarne), which can only be reached via a causeway when the tide is out. Walkers have their own route called the Pilgrims Route, following the giant poles across the sands. Lindisfarne Priory was a very important centre of early Christianity, as both St Oswald and St Cuthbert lived there in the 7th century before it was sacked by Vikings in the 8th century. As walkers, we now have both St Oswald’s Way and St Cuthbert’s Way that start/finish on Holy Island. Another attraction is the National Nature Reserve here, home to a magnificent array of birdlife.

The 67-mile Northumberland Coastal Path starts off at Beadnell in the south and stretches up to Berwick-upon-Tweed in the north. There are some fabulous walks to be enjoyed.


The Cheviots
Northumberland is not the most mountainous part of the UK, but the Cheviots are nonetheless a formidable range of hills. The highest point is The Cheviot itself, 2,674 feet (815 metres), while five other summits climb over the magical 2,000 feet (610 metres) mark.

But having said that, this cross-border area is second to none when it comes to scenery. With a number of valleys (Coquet, Breamish and Harthope) running up into the grassy hills, and with each of these being dead ends for vehicular access, you get a real sense of isolation in the area. The border fence (separating England from Scotland) passes through the Cheviots and gives another unique walking experience as you switch from one country to another.

Many people know the Cheviots as the last (long) day of the Pennine Way, with some walkers having stayed in some of the refuge huts that offer shelter along this exposed section of the route. This short introduction whets the appetite for many of them to return and explore the area more.


Northumberland National Park
Extending across an area of some 400 square miles, Northumberland National Park boasts some impressive credentials. It covers around one quarter of Northumberland, stretching from Hadrian’s Wall in the south to The Border Fence in the north, crossing and encompassing some very different landscapes in the process. From the Cheviots in the north, a large area of moorland gives way to Kielder Forest. Apart from Hadrian's Wall (the central section lies within the park) there are a few scattered Roman remains and the 14th-century ruins of Thirlwall Castle. The park is also home to some of the UK's cleanest rivers.


Hadrian’s Wall
The Roman frontier - stretching from Bowness on Solway in the west to Wallsend in the east – Hadrian’s Wall has become one of the most iconic images of northern England.

The middle section of the Wall that lies within Northumberland stands on the Whin Crags that run through the middle of the county. This dramatic upland landscape was the site for Emperor Hadrian to build his wall in AD122 to defend against the northern barbarians – and to mark the northernmost limit of the Roman Empire.

This 20-mile section of Hadrian’s Wall is one of the best-preserved sections, and is also home to Sycamore Gap – the famous sycamore tree that stands on its own in a valley bottom.

When visiting this area please do venture north and south of the Wall – you can get well and truly off the beaten track and explore a beautiful area which few people are aware of.
 
Yachts on Kielder Lake
Kielder Forest
Kielder is home to the largest man-made lake in northern Europe and, at over 230 square miles, is by far the largest forest in England.

This is a very different landscape to any you'll find elsewhere in Northumberland, with beautiful trails through the forest. A few years ago a 26-mile lakeside path was created, which is the route of the Kielder Challenge Walk that takes place every September for those who want to see Kielder Lake from every angle. as well as walking, Kielder is popular for a range of outdoor activities from mountain biking to watersports.

In 2013 Kielder was officially recognised as the best tourism experience in the country.

TOP 5 EXPERIENCES

1. Windy Gyle

If you only do one walk in the Cheviots, this is the one. Windy Gyle is right on the border with Scotland (the main ridge is just over the border, in fact, but we do like to claim it as one of ours!) It makes a fabulous walk in from either side of the border.

2. The Northumberland Coastal Path

The Northumberland Coastal path is one of the most enjoyable coastlines to walk in the country, but don’t stop at Berwick-upon-Tweed as 95% of the people do. Continue a few miles north into Scotland to St Abbs.

3. The Cheviot

The Cheviot is not the best summit in Northumberland, but as it is the highest it has to be on any walkers ‘to do’ list. The summit is actually flat and the triangulation point has been raised up so you can find it on the plateau.

4. Simonside Hills

Just south of The Cheviots, within Northumberland National Park, are the Simonside Hills. Being a sandstone range, the craggy landscape is quite different from the Cheviots with their volcanic geology.

5. Steel Rigg, Hadrian’s Wall

No visit to Northumberland would be complete without a walk along Hadrian’s Wall, and there's no better section to explore than that which lies east of Steel Rigg – high in the hills along the central stretch of Wall.

WHEN TO VISIT

Best times to go:

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There are some great walking events taking place throughout the year in Northumberland:

Berwick Walking Festival – The first Walking Festival in the region takes place in April and makes for a great location to explore north Northumberland. With its walled town Berwick is worth a visit in its own right, but what better way than to tie it in with the Berwick Walking Festival.

Rothbury Walking Festival – Every June the Rothbury and Coquetdale midsummer Walking Festival (to give it its full title) takes place. I personally believe Rothbury is one of the best bases for walkers when visiting Northumberland, so to attend a Walking Festival here is an experience second to none.

.• St Cuthbert’s Way Challenge Walk – For those of you wanting something a little more challenging the St Cuthbert’s Way Challenge Walk takes place in August every year. After checking in at Wooler the walkers get bussed to Morebattle in the Scottish Borders, then they pass back over the border and through the Cheviot Hills as they follow the St Cuthbert’s way back to Wooler. Just under 20 miles but worth every mile.

Go prepared
As much of Northumberland is so remote (especially The Cheviot Hills), go prepared. You will not come across shops and pubs as you do in other parts of the country so take equipment for all weathers and take food and liquids with you for your days walking. Plan ahead

Midges
The midges at Kielder between June and August are not the greatest experience, but during the shoulder months you will think they have never been there. Do not exclude Kielder from your visit, but just be aware of the midges over summer.

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