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Hike Northumberland's heavenly coast and wild heart — St Oswald’s Way

Michael D Beckwith (CC0 1.0)

Hike Northumberland's heavenly coast and wild heart — St Oswald’s Way

Hiking Collection by Dan Hobson

7-14

days

3-6 h

/ day

103 mi

5,275 ft

4,550 ft

St Oswald’s Way is a long-distance hiking route that explores two very different sides of Northumberland; from its heavenly coastline to its wild and remote heartland.

The 103-mile (166 km) route is deeply entwined with religious history and classed as a pilgrimage. St Oswald, the King of Northumbria in the early 7th Century after whom the Way is named, played a major role in bringing Christianity to Britain. After his brutal death, the king was venerated as a saint.

The trail leads past medieval castles and architecture, Iron Age hillforts, Bronze Age burials, and art created by our ancient ancestors. It concludes along Hadrian’s Wall, which was built in AD 122 as the Roman Empire’s northern frontier.

It’s not just history, though — the diverse and spellbinding landscapes on this route alone make it a worthy expedition. The trail begins on Holy Island, a beautiful place dominated by a 16th-century castle and crumbling priory that was built in AD 634. Upon crossing to the mainland, you hike south along the length of the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), right on the shoreline for the most part.

At Warkworth, a medieval town with another mighty castle, you hike inland along the Coquet Valley to Rothbury. You then head through the eastern edge of Northumberland National Park before winding south through remote farmland to Hadrian’s Wall, which you follow west to the end of the trail in Heavenfield.

There is much wildlife to observe on this hike. The coastline is renowned for birds including puffins, shags, kittiwake, guillemots, black-headed gulls and three species of terns. You can also spot seals, dolphins and whales. Inland, you might glimpse red squirrels, wild goats, roe deer, grouse, adders, lizards, and many species of wildflowers and insects.

In this Collection, I split the route into six challenging stages, as per the official itinerary. Stage lengths range from 13.4 miles (21.6 km) to 20.2 miles (32.5 km). I have given advice on how to split any stage that is longer than 15 miles (24 km). Of course, you can divide the Collection into as many days as you are comfortable with or walk any single stage. The choice of which direction to walk the route is entirely up to you.

Accommodation and facilities are relatively plentiful on the coastal part of the trail. The inland sections do get remote, however. Every stage in this Collection finishes near some accommodation. If you would like to split the latter stages, forward planning and some pick-ups will be required.

The walking can be challenging on this hike, especially on the last few stages. As such, a good level of fitness and ability is required. As the trail explores some remote landscapes (again, mainly the latter stages) preparation is vital. Make sure you have the correct clothing, enough food and water, navigational equipment, first aid, torch, and so on. Civilisation can be a long way away at times on this trail.

To get to the start by public transport, you can catch a train to Berwick-upon-Tweed and then take the 477 bus to Holy Island. As mentioned on Stage 6; as Heavenfield has no transport links, your best bet is to extend your hike into Wall village, where you can catch the 680 bus to Hexham and then board a train into Newcastle upon Tyne.

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St Oswald’s Way

104 mi

5,450 ft

4,750 ft

Last updated: November 9, 2021

Plan your own version of this adventure in the multi-day planner based on the stages suggested in this Collection.

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

    Stage 1: Holy Island to Bamburgh — St Oswald’s Way

    Difficult
    08:34
    20.2 mi
    2.4 mph
    950 ft
    925 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Mighty castles, historic religious sites, red squirrels and stunning coastline all combine on the first stage of the St Oswald’s Way.

    

    The lengthiest hike in the Collection, Stage 1 is a challenging 20.2 miles (32.5 km) with 950 feet (290 m) of elevation gain. (For suggestions on how to split the route

    by Dan Hobson

    View
  • Difficult
    05:44
    13.9 mi
    2.4 mph
    300 ft
    325 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This coastal hike affords fine views of the Farne Islands, explores more magnificent castles, and finishes in a fishing village that’s famous for its traditional oak-smoked kippers.

    

    After a tough start to the Way, Stage 2 eases up slightly with 13.9 miles (22.4 km) of distance and 300 feet (91 m) of

    by Dan Hobson

    View
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  • Difficult
    05:36
    13.4 mi
    2.4 mph
    450 ft
    450 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The final coastal hike of the St Oswald’s Way winds along the stunning shoreline to the historic town of Warkworth.

    

    With 13.4 miles (21.6 km) of distance and 450 feet (137 m) of climbing, Stage 3 is the last easygoing hike before the intensity increases significantly for the remainder of the Collection

    by Dan Hobson

    View
  • Difficult
    08:05
    19.2 mi
    2.4 mph
    900 ft
    600 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This stage departs from the coastline and heads along the Coquet valley, which affords a wonderfully-fresh perspective on the Northumbrian landscape.

    

    After two leisurely hikes, the testing nature of this trail is once again revealed on Stage 4, which is 19.2 miles (30.9 km) long with 900 feet (274 m

    by Dan Hobson

    View
  • Difficult
    07:35
    17.1 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,625 ft
    1,225 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The penultimate stage explores the eastern tip of Northumberland National Park; a wild and remote landscape sculpted by ice ages and ancient civilisations.

    

    Another challenging hike, Stage 5 is 17.1 miles (27.5 km) long with 1,625 feet (495 m) of uphill and 1,225 feet (373 m) of downhill. (For a suggestion

    by Dan Hobson

    View
  • Difficult
    08:23
    19.6 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,050 ft
    1,050 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The final stage winds through picturesque rolling countryside and makes an epic finish along Hadrian’s Wall.

    

    A tough finish to a challenging trail, Stage 6 is 19.6 miles (31.5 km) long with an equal 1,050 feet (320 m) of uphill and downhill. (For a suggestion on how to split the stage, read on).

    

    You begin

    by Dan Hobson

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    6
  • Distance
    103 mi
  • Duration
    43:57 h
  • Elevation
    5,275 ft4,550 ft

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