Cycling in Northumberland and Tyneside

Cycling in Northumberland and Tyneside

Holy Island - photo by Littlerich on Pixabay
The castle on Holy Island

Northumberland and Tyneside must have some of the best cycling in the country.

The area is blessed with flat family rides, longer routes into the hills and mountain biking routes.

You can always find quiet roads. There is coastal riding as well as the northern section of the Pennines and even the classic ride out to Holy Island.

The county is also home to some of the best waymarked cycle routes in the country, including sections of the C2C, the Reivers Route, Hadrian’s Cycleway and Coast & Castles South. Plus, there is the off-road waymarked Sandstone Way.

Below you will find sections on:

  • Suggested cycle touring and cycling holiday hubs
  • Gentle / family bike rides
  • Circular cycle tours
  • Guide books and maps for cycle touring
  • Waymarked long-distance cycle routes
  • Mountain biking / off-road cycle routes
  • Cycle-friendly holiday accommodation
  • Cycling maps and guide books, of which there is great range:

Suggested cycle touring and cycling holiday hubs in Northumberland

  • Alnwick is a really interesting town, full of shops and eating places, and is quite central to some very good riding. The castle is iconic, and the beach and village of Alnmouth just down the road.
  • Bamburgh is much smaller, but is a glorious village right on the coast and under the walls of the castle. It is on the Coast and Castles waymarked cycle route.
  • Rothbury makes a great place to stay to explore the quiet roads and off-road trails away from the coast. Rothbury lies on the off-road Sandstone Way trail. It is also not far from Kielder Forest with its off-road trails.

Gentle / family bike rides in Northumberland

The harbour at Amble

In the very south of the area, old railway lines and waggonways have often been converted into fabulous family-friendly cycle routes.

The guide book, ‘33 Cycle Rides in Northumberland and Tyneside‘ has one such: the Wylam and Newburn Rail Path Loop, 11.9 ‘easy’ miles on either side of the River Tyne.

Or you can use the C2C Footprint map to follow the river Derwent on cycle / walking tracks between Rowlands Gill and Hamsterley, within the Derwent Walk Country Park. There are two visitor centres with cafés and toilets.

Further north in Northumberland there are not generally the same off-road family-friendly trails, but the roads are generally reasonably quiet.

The Walkworth and Alnmouth Loop in ‘33 Cycle Rides‘ is 9 miles. It joins two fabulous villages. Walkworth has a fascinating castle, while Alnmouth has a wide and often quite empty beach.

The same guide book has a number of other rides, a bit longer, and on roads, but quite flat. An example is the Seahouses, Bamburgh and Lucker Loop at 18 miles. Perhaps not a route for small children, but older ones should enjoy it. Take care on the roads though.

Berwick-upon-Tweed to Holy Island is 10.6 iconic miles each way. It is a mix of roads and off-road trails by the sea, leading to the tidal causeway across to Holy Island. Don’t get caught out by the tides! Safe crossing times can be found at https://holyislandcrossingtimes.northumberland.gov.uk/. Again, this might not be a route for small children, but for older children, an amazing and memorable route.

Above the beach at Alnmouth

Circular cycle tours in Northumberland

You are spoilt for choice with circular cycle tours in Northumberland. Here are some examples:

  • The Alnmouth Loop (from the Sustrans North Northumberland map), following the Coast and Castles route northwards along the coast past Boulmer and Dunstan. Then returning on an inland route not far from Alnwick. 22 miles.
  • The Amble Loop (from the Sustrans Tyne and Wear map), including some loveley inland countryside followed by a coastal route back to the start. 22 miles.
  • Warkworth and Shilbottle Loop (from 33 Cycle rides). 15.5 miles of country lanes and easy off-road.
  • More of a challenge would be one of the cycle routes described in Lost Lanes North, a lovely well-photographed book. For example, Into The Wild, ‘a gravel road adventure from the pleasant pastures of the North Tyne into the rugged expanses of the Kielder Forest‘. The book has four routes within Northumberland (and one – Roof of England – including parts of Northumberland, Durham and Cumbria).

Creating your own tour in Northumberland

It couldn’t be easier to create your own cycle tour using the ‘Ultimate Planning Map for Cycle Touring in Northumberland‘. The map shows all the waymarked trails plus recommended routes to join the together.

Waymarked long-distance cycle routes in Northumberland

Northumberland is the start or finish point for several iconic long-distance cycle routes.

  • The C2C from the Cumbrian coast to the North Sea is the most well-known and well-cycled of the coast to coast cycle routes. Tynemouth and Sunderland are the end points.
  • The Reivers Route starts in Tynemouth and loops northwards before finishing back on the Cumbrian coast.
  • Hadrian’s Cycleway also starts in Tynemouth and runs not far from Hadrian’s Wall across to, again, Cumbria.
  • The Coast and Castles South route heads north from Tynemouth, passing Alnwick, Berwick-upon-Tweed and the Northumbrian coast to finish in Edinburgh.
  • The Pennine Cycleway comes all the way up from the Peak District through the Pennines to finish in Berwick.

All of the above are signposted and have specific maps to follow, though their Northumbrian sections can also be found on the map Cycle Touring in Northumberland. That would allow you to join parts of each together to make a circular route within the county.

Berwick-upon-Tweed

Mountain biking / off-road cycle routes in Northumberland

Northumberland has a wide range of off-road and mountain-biking routes.

There are two guide books which would help for day rides.

33 Cycle rides has ten specifically mountain-bike routes (in addition to its Waggonways and Bridleways routes). They include:

  • The circuit of Kielder Water, 24.5 miles, graded ‘moderate’
  • Hexham, Acomb and St Oswald’s Loop, 7.5 miles, graded ‘moderate’
  • Seahouses and Bamburgh, 12.7 miles, graded ‘easy’

The Northumberland Mountain Bike Guide has no fewer than 40 rides. They range from ‘sporting’, through ‘energetic’ and ‘strenuous’ to ‘expert’. Examples include:

  • Boulmer, 11 ‘sporting’ miles
  • Rothbury Carriage Drive, 7.8 ‘energetic’ miles
  • Alnwick – Coast and Country, 26.68 ‘energetic’ miles

The ‘Sandstone Way’ is a waymarked off-road 120-mile route between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Hexham. While it is a fantastic route to do in its entirety, the Sandstone Way map also lends itself to day routes. These include:

  • Berwick-upon-Tweed to Belford, much of it coastal riding and with just short stretches on road. A linear route, so 20 miles each way.
  • Two routes from Wooler, one a challenging one into the hills, and not waymarked.
  • Rothbury Loop through the Coquetdale valley and up into the Simonside Hills and Harwood Forest.
Hadrian’s Wall

Cycle-friendly Holiday Accommodation in Northumberland

This section is still to be completed.

The maps and guide books for cycling in Northumberland and Tyneside

The ‘Cycle Touring in Northumberland’ map and ’33 Cycle Rides’ give great coverage of the area.

For the Sustrans routes, the Sustrans Tyne and Wear and the North Northumberland pocket-sized maps between them cover the whole area and beyond. Or order the National Cycle Network route-specific maps, such as the Coast and Castles South map or the Pennine Cycleway North map, for more detailed maps.

Lost Lanes North is a lovely book, of coffee table quality, with great photography and description. A great gift (either for someone else or for yourself…)

For mountain biking, again 33 Cycle Rides is very good, and then there is the Northumberland Mountain Bike Guide with its 40 routes. While the Sandstone Way will give a wonderful challenge.

Whatever sort of cycling you are looking for, something below will help! Either pop your map or guide into the basket, or click on the link for more detail.

Cycling in Northumberland and Tyneside

Using the Ultimate UK Cycle Route Planner

Using the Ultimate UK Cycle Route Planner

by Richard Peace, cycling journalist, guide book author, map designer: https://richardpeacecycling.com/

UK Cycle Route Planner
The Ultimate UK Cycle Route Planner

As a cycle guide publisher we’ve done quite a few shows in the past, displaying our range of cycle books and maps to the general public and it’s always interesting to get people’s reactions. The good ones make you feel like you are doing something right but the critical are often just as helpful.

It’s been very noticeable at the shows that many people pick up our Ultimate UK Cycle Route Planner and once they have done so are extremely reluctant to put it down, studying it intensely and making ums and ahs of interest and enlightenment.

But why is it a different tale with some online reviews who occasionally criticise the map? Typical comments include ‘Not enough detail to follow correctly’ and ‘at best it is an indication of where cycle routes may be.’

So to clear up exactly what the planner is and isn’t and how it will hopefully keep on proving useful to buyers, here’s a bit more background about the contents and how it we envisage it being used.

1. The Scale

With a scale of 1:588,000 this is an overview map for planning your routes so you can see how all the UK’s main leisure cycle routes are interconnected. So it’s not meant for navigation as you ride along.

It’s simply not possible to fit all the UK’s major cycle routes onto one map at a great level of detail – if you tried you would end up with an unmanageably large sheet of paper.

1080mm x 880mm is the unfolded sheet size and is as large as we wanted to go – any larger and it becomes too much of a handful to inspect when unfolded, especially if outdoors in the wind.

It folds down to the size of an OS Landranger map and so will handily fit in the map pocket of an outdoor type coat.

2. What Routes are Shown and Who is it Aimed at?

Leisure riding
The National Cycle Network (NCN)

The UK Cycle Route Planner is aimed at leisure riders. The National Cycle Network (NCN) is shown in its entirety and stands out in bold red along. NCN route numbers are included. As the traffic-free sections (many are former railway lines converted to paths or upgraded canal towpaths) are amongst the most popular these are made to stand out in even broader red and white dashes.

There is more traffic-free info in the form of green numbers next to traffic-free sections. A separate box out names each numbered traffic-free section, allowing you to search out more detailed info online or in other guidebooks. There are 305 traffic-free sections listed and those that we know to be in rougher condition are indicated with red MB lettering to show that a mountain bike may be a wise choice on them, even though the gradients are likely to be unchallenging.

In addition to NCN routes the traffic-free numbering system also identifies easy going traffic-free trails that are not on the NCN but still legally cycleable, such as some sections of the Leeds-Liverpool canal or a route through the Forest of Dean.

More Challenging Routes

For those want more of a challenge the map also shows a selection of routes in dotted green lines. These are National Trails and other long distance off-road routes that allow bikes.

cycle maps and guide books
Southe Pennines and Peak District Off-road Cycle Map

Examples include the Pennine Bridleway and the Moors to Sea route in the North Yorks Moors. If you want to know more about the kind of track used by these routes see the BikeRideMaps blog here on the routes in the South Pennines and northern Peak District.

A selection of long distance classics are also indicated on the map including the C2C, the Way of the Roses and the Devon Coast to Coast. The map also shows 46 regional signed routes – these are also often multi day rides and fully signed on the ground but less well-known than the iconic long distance routes listed above.

Attractions En Route and Transport Links

To aid the ‘joining up’ of all the above routes the map also shows suggested minor road links and the lengthier sections of traffic-free route sometimes found alongside major roads.

The UK’s rail network and all stations are shown in full for those wanting to access their rides by train.

This allows you to make up your own bike tours; an almost infinite number of possibilities await…

Last but not least you can see where there are attractions on or near the cycle routes such as stately homes, castles, museums and many other historical sites.

3. So Just How Would You Use It?

We have had feedback from an End to End rider who said they took the map with them en route and found it invaluable. But it can also be used to discover day rides in your local area or a holiday area you don’t know that well or to make up your own multi-day rides.

As we always try and make clear to potential buyers, when out cycling you are likely to need a more detailed, larger scale map of the area you are riding in to aid you if you get lost en route.

Where the Planner comes into its own is allowing you to see easily and clearly at a glance all the many different types of route in any area of the UK you choose to look at.

That’s something we think no other publication will let you do.

Richard Peace is the author of many cycling guide books, including the best-selling C2C cycle guide, Cycling Northern France, Cycling Southern France and the Devon C2C cycle guide.

You can read more on the Excellent Books web page.