Cycling and mountain biking in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders
Perhaps the perfect way to see the Northumberland and Borders countryside close up and at your own pace is from a bike.
Whether you fancy a freewheeling trip with the gentlest exercise or the exhilaration of a tough mountain-biking trail, you’ve come to the right place.
This landscape might have been made for cyclists. Trunk roads aside, it is hard to think of anywhere uncongenial for them. There are old drove roads and pack horse routes, former waggonways and many disused rail lines. The more urban south-east is well served by cycle paths.
Toned muscles can take you to the sky-high hills where you’ll have Cheviot sheep and curlews for company. For a gentler experience, explore the coastal plain, with the charm of hedgerows, leafy riverbanks and a stunning coastline that seems to go on forever. Professional cyclists agree. The Grand Depart for the eight-day 2011 Tour of Britain took place in Peebles on September 11.
An ideal playground for those on two wheels is Kielder Water & Forest Park. Britain’s largest forest around Europe’s largest lake, with 27 miles of shoreline path, is considered one of the country’s best mountain-biking areas.
There are 13 way-marked trails, including the highest man-made mountain bike track in the country. Deadwater Red Trail climbs to 1,900ft with views that make it worthwhile while the Up and Over Black Trail is extremely challenging. In contrast, the Kielder Forest Border Railway Trail is a low-lying, flat route of seven miles. Be ready for midges in some areas in summer.
Other choice places are Hexhamshire Common, south-west of Hexham, with a good base in Allendale; and in the Cheviot Hills south-west of Wooler, with bases in Alwinton and Harbottle in Upper Coquetdale.
Excellent mountain biking can be found in many Forestry Commission Scotland forests, including Newcastleton, Glentress, Swinnie, Craik, Elibank, Yair and the celebrated Traquair, which has hosted the Scottish Downhill Mountain Bike Championships.
Three national cycle routes pass through Northumberland or the Borders.
- The Coast and Castles Route (South) – Route 1 – covers the 200 miles from Newcastle to Edinburgh via the Northumberland coast and the rolling countryside of the Borders.
- The Pennine Cycleway – Route 68 – travels through the National Park on the way from Haltwhistle via the Cheviots and Tweed Valley to journey’s end at Berwick.
- Hadrian’s Cycleway – Route 72 – hugs the line of the Roman Wall.
Among other routes are: the Reivers, between Tynemouth and Whitehaven, which visits Kielder Water; the C2C from Irish Sea to North Sea, which follows the Tyne Valley and the Three Rivers route, which begins on the Tyne and includes day rides from Hexham and Wylam.
Among Borders routes are the Tweed Cycleway, 4 Abbeys route and Borderloop.
Free cycle maps and routes can be downloaded from the websites of Northumberland County Council, Northumberland National Park, Sustrans, North Pennines AONB and www.hadrians-wall.org, and for the Morpeth area, www.tyneandwear.ltp.co.uk.
The National Park site includes Mid-Tyne routes (six to 25 miles) and Wark Forest (five to eight miles). Routes near Borders towns can be downloaded free from the Scottish Borders Council website. Short and family cycling guides can be downloaded at VisitScottishBorders. A cycling map can be downloaded on the county council website here.
One of the Northumberland County Council site routes, Coast and Countryside, is a loop of up to 31 miles from Belford, half way between Alnwick and Berwick. It says: “Two of the real highlights of this ride are the views that you get at the top of the long climbs. The first, starting from Belford itself, takes you to a point just over half way to Chatton where there are splendid views of the Cheviot Hills set out in a panorama to the south-west. Chatton is an attractive stone-built village with a pub and a village shop. Chillingham is famous for its wild cattle and also for its majestic castle, poised on the hill above the rare herd’s grazing grounds.
Next comes a tough climb up to Ros Castle, which is rewarded with some of the finest views in Northumberland. The road has a real ‘roof-of-the-world’ feel to it and the occasional gate means that traffic is absolutely minimal. The route then heads for the coast, coming close to the popular town of Seahouses before turning north up to Bamburgh and the imposing sight of the castle.”
Riders hiring cycles at Alnwick Adventure Northumberland can head from the shop on to a disused rail line and quiet country roads to join National Cycle Route 1. The firm also offers mountain bike skills courses for novices and intermediate cyclists. There is even electric bike hire to explore Alnwick.
Cycles are also hired and/or sold at:
Amble, Breeze Bikes (Sale, Hire) Pedal Power (S)
Ashington, Two Wheel City (S)
Bedlington, Jim’s Cycles (S) Gerrard’s Cycles (SH)
Berwick, Wilson Cycles (S)
Blyth, Two Wheel City (S)
Corbridge, Activcycles (S)
Cornhill-on-Tweed, Heatherslaw Cycle Hire (H)
Cramlington, Scotts Sports (S)
Hexham, The Bike Shop (SH)
Kielder Water and Forest Park, The Bike Place (SH)
Newburn, Newburn Activity Centre (H), KB Cycles (S)
Prudhoe, Bicycle Repair Man (S), Economy Cycles (S)
Seahouses, Seahouses Cycle Hire (H)
Wooler, Haugh Head Garage (SH).