The middle of the Coronavirus pandemic is not the time to go cycle touring but there can’t be many of us who are not using some of the lockdown time to plan future trips, especially in the UK. So here’s a couple of ideas based on some rides I did last autumn in Northumberland. It’s a perfect area for touring with wild moorlands, forests, empty beaches, castles and rolling hills. It also provides a perfect way to start a trip into the Scottish Borders.
There are a number of Sustrans routes that criss-cross the area so it’s easy to use these as a guide to some of the best areas to ride and to link sections of them together. The Coast and Castles route is the most well-known and rightly so, following the coast from Newcastle to Berwick upon Tweed and then offering the option of continuing along the coast to Edinburgh or heading inland through the Scottish Borders, again finishing in Edinburgh.
I started the Sustrans Coast and Castles route in Morpeth as this is a way of avoiding the section of the route that goes through Newcastle and its satellite towns. From Morpeth there are cycleways most of the way to Lynemouth where the Coast and Castle route is picked up. It’s not the most exciting section but only 15 km and then you are on the wonderful Northumberland coast.
A mixture of lanes and cycleways takes you for the next 70 km through coastal villages, past the castles of Walkworth, Dunstanburgh, Bamburgh (plus Alnwick if you take a bit of a diversion) and beautiful beaches along the way.
After Bamburgh, if the tides are right, you can ride across the causeway to the holy island of Lindisfarne with its priory and castle. From Lindisfarne cycleways or lanes take you into the border town of Berwick upon Tweed. It all really enjoyable riding, with few hills, and plenty of campsites, pubs and cafes.
For an alternative route to Berwick upon Tweed, which takes you through some of the remote inland areas of Northumberland, you can start in Carlisle. Following the Hadrian’s Wall cycle route (Sustrans Route 72) from the centre of Carlisle you soon leave the suburbs and commuter villages and get into more open country, with distant views to the hills and moors to the north.
After about 50 km you reach Haltwhistle. A few miles past Haltwhistle there’s a campsite at the wonderfully named Once Brewed and a pub – the Twice Brewed Inn– just a few hundred metres away. From here pick up the Sustrans Route 68 – the Pennine Cycleway – and start heading north.
You head first to Bellingham. The map shows the road running out as you reach the forest – which it does – but the forestry track is rideable on a touring bike (or trike!) and after a few miles you again join lanes to head into Bellingham. This is wild empty country with plenty of steady climbs and fine views. From Bellingham you follow the eastern edge of the Cheviot Hills with plenty of climbs, good descents and plenty of rivers before arriving in the market town of Wooler.
From here the land starts to flatten out and Route 68 eventually follows the River Tweed into Berwick. From here there is a choice – continue north to Edinburgh or head south and follow the Coast and Castles southern section along the coast back to Newcastle, as described earlier. This would give a flatter and equally enjoyable ride back.
From Berwick the Coast and Castles northern section continues to Edinburgh and it gives two options – continue along the coast through Eynemouth and Dunbar before heading west to Edinburgh or taking a slightly longer and hillier inland route through the Scottish borders. I chose the Borders route which takes an undulating route first following the River Tweed and then through rolling moorland hills and forests.
It’s varied riding and finishes in the centre of Edinburgh. I took a diversion from the town of Coldstream to Kirk Yetholm (best known for being the end of the Pennine Way) and then on to Kelso. This is well worth the extra effort for the great views over the rollings grassy hills at the end of the Pennines.
From Kelso you continue through small Borders towns and finally a long but steady climb takes you north and then descend into Edinburgh.
Another Northumberland route is the Reiver’s route, often used as a return route after finishing the Coast to Coast (C2C) cycle route in Newcastle. The Reiver’s route heads north west from Newcastle, passing through Bellingham into the Kielder Forest before heading south west to Carlisle and on to Whitehaven. I’ve not ridden it but it would provide another option for linking with some of the routes described above.
Very good access by train. Mainline stations at Newcastle, Berwick upon Tweed, Edinburgh and Carlisle. Local trains (and occasional intercity) trains to Morpeth.
Sustrans maps for the Coast and Castles, Pennine Cycleway and Reivers Route give all the details you need. There is a Coast and Castles website that give a range of info about the route but is a bit patchy about accommodation.
There are plenty of campsites but as with other areas it’s difficult to find information in one place as may listing sites rely on businesses to pay for their listing. The tourist office has a list but seems to favour larger sites. A Google search in the area you are in is probably the easiest way to find sites. There are a number of hostels in the area Listings in the Independent Hostel Guide and YHA