Northumberland has some amazing, isolated wilderness riding. It's got expansive moorland views, deserted forests, unpopulated trails and tracks. It's very far from the chattering crowds you can get further west, in the Lake District, or in some of the tourist honeypots of Scotland. Riding here is huge; epic. Lord of the Rings epic. Ancient history, stone circles, old trading routes. Massive skies. Long, hideously wonderful climbs and equally long, gloriously wonderful descents. And yet, there's hardly anyone here.
Well, let's not beat about the bush, Northumberland is a long, long way from most places. From a geographical point of view, it's as far north as Carlisle, or Dumfries, or even (at the very northernmost end) Peebles and Galashiels. It's not well served by motorways (the A1(M) stops at Newcastle Upon Tyne, and it has the lowest population density of anywhere in England. All that solitude? All those hills? It's a little shaving of mountain biking heaven right here.
We've put together a selection of trails from up and down the county; each of them has a different feel; some of them are easy bimbles (hello, Rothbury) and some of them, such as the trail that starts out at Wooler are – somewhat less so. But they all have common features. Huge, huge skies. Rolling, tussocky hills, acres of history and amazing views. Mountain biking in Northumberland is a vastly enriching experience.
If you're heading up for a few days, places to aim for vary. If you're keen on the routes in the North Pennines or the southern half of the Northumberland National Park, Hexham or Haydon Bridge would be good places to consider. Further north Wooler or Rothbury would allow relatively easy access to the northern Tours here. The best way to get there is to get in your car and head north. There are a few train stations (Haydon Bridge for example) but the area as a whole is unfortunately very poorly served by trains.
But Northumberland’s relative inaccessibility is part of the reason it’s such a special place to ride; it might take a while to get there, but it’s absolutely worth the trip.
This is a fine, remote ride, with some truly excellent moor-top singletrack along some very, very old paths. The majority of the ride is across open moor – so either pick a sunny day or your finest waterproofs. And there's often quite a lot of wind, which can occasionally work in your favour. It's a remote ride too; it's not uncommon to complete the whole thing without seeing anyone on the fells at all. Half of the ride actually crosses over into County Durham.
Starting from Blacnhland, the route heads northward, up across Blanchard Moor towards Slaley Forest. The track here is wide, smooth(ish) and easily navigable. If there's poor weather the forest at the end provides a little relief. Not for long, though!
The next section is another ancient road, the Carrier's Way - although this one is narrow singletrack and everso slightly downhill - it's an indecent amount of fun. And if you schlepped all the way up the moor into a headwind, you'll be enjoying the wonderful warp-speed tailwind.
Birkside fell is next on the list, dropping down to Baybridge down a very steep road. And then it's time to gird you loins for a spot of road-based unpleasantness (unless you really, really like road climbing).
The singletrack across Buckshott Fell, Chop Hardy (what a fantastic name) and Edmondbuyers Common is truly a fine reward though, as it streaks you slightly downhill into Edmundbuyers, and spins back along the road.
Blanchland is the best place to start from; it's a beautiful village a short drive from Consett, and it straddles the Northumberland Durham border. There's also accommodation and a pub.
If you look at a map of Northumberland, you'll no doubt notice that the border with Scotland is but inches away. They're pretty hilly inches, though, and so are stuffed with fun places to ride a bike. It's mostly open moor, so it's worth packing appropriately.
From Alwinton the route heads north up Clennell Street, an ancient drover's road. It's wide and clear, so it's a fairly good way to gain some height (and distance).
Eventually (you'll be on Clennell Street for quite a few miles) the route drops down to a junction beneath Hazely Law, and climbs steeply up to the border.
Along the border can get boggy, but fortunately there are packhorse slabs which take you up to Windy Gyle, which is home to many ancient burial mounds. If the weather's good, the view here is fantastic.
From here, the trail drops back to the previous intersection and heads down to Barrowburn, back up to Fairhaugh and then along the superb river run along the Usway Burn before bringing you back to the start.
Alwinton is a small place, but it's blessed with places to park, and a good pub. This is a pretty remote ride; there's nowhere else in the ride that's easily accessible by car, and the nearest train station is absolutely miles away. But for that reason it's well worth seeking out for its tranquility and solitude.
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This is something of a classic loop. Sure, there's a fair amount of road work involved at the beginning, but it's all worth it for the delicious trails you'll find once the road has been dispatched.
From Wooler, the road trundles southward towards Ilderton Moor, and then the off-road fun begins. Firstly, it climbs up to The Dod and into Threestoneburn Wood (keep an eye out for the stone circle) before dropping down to Harthope Burn.
A sharp climb follows up Hawsen Burn before the trail heads northwards and then east through the woodland by a Burn. All too soon this ends, though, and another climb begins which runs over Wooler Common and over Kenterdale hill and back to the start.
If you're short of time, weather or temper, you can just cut off the first section, ride up the road next to Harthope Burn and pick up the trail just before Langleeford.
Wooler is a comparatively big town (without a train station); there are plenty of accommodation options including campsites, and there are plenty of places to eat and drink.
This is quite a long ride, but it’s not a particularly technically challenging one. Having said that, there are plenty of hills to get your teeth into, and a few tasty singletrack morsels – as well as some of Northumberland’s finest scenery.
From Ingram, the route follows the road to Hartside, before heading off road to Alnhammoor. After this, its joins up to a bridleway over the north side of Shill Moor before dropping down and under it, eventually arriving back at Alnhammoor once again (if you need to make the ride shorter, then this is an obvious loop to omit.
From here, the route drops south past Cobden Sike and hits the Salter’s Road before reaching the hamlet of Pellylaws. After a quick spot of roadie action, the route heads up past Shotton’s Dean and winds it way back to Ingham over the hill, and some quite wonderful views.
Ingram, there’s no point denying it, is tiny. There are car and bike parks, though - and there’s the all-important cafe for refreshments. There really isn’t anywhere else suitable to start the ride from unless you’re keen on long rides before you’ve really started. It’s unsurprisingly best reached by car.
A reasonably straightforward – if long – Tour, this one, but what it lacks in full-on technical riding it makes up for in scenery. Hayden Bridge itself is very picturesque, nestled as it is at the very northernmost tip of the North Pennines – even poet Philip Larkin was very fond of the place (mind you, he usually lived in Hull).
From Hayden Bridge, the route strikes out across the hills to the south on tracks and quiet roads, making its way past Langley’s old train station and climbing up to Catton. Yet more climbing from here sees the route finally leaving the road to embrace the glories of Greenrigg Moor and the fabulous Anchey Rigg trail.
After a while, the route drops back down to the road and ambles over to Elrington, and a very entertaining track down to the Light Birks Bank Plantation where it rejoins the outgoing route and heads back to the start.
Haydon Bridge is the natural point to start this Tour – there are pubs, accommodation, shops and even a train station with real running trains! It’s a very pleasant place to pass a little time while you allow your legs to recover.
This is a fine, easy spin around the trails and trails north of Rothbury, with some magnificent scenery. There is a little climbing, but not a great deal, but it's a great way to give you a taste of the county and it's many charms.
From Rothbury, there's a short tread along the river to Thrum Mill, before climbing up the road for a short spell (it gets a little steep in parts, but it's not for long), in between Debdon and Tumbleton Lakes.
At the top, the trail splits off the road and heads down to Primrose Cottage, before heading around the hill (and some magnificent views) and working its way towards Addycombe. The old carriage drive here is a gorgeous way to descend back through the woods to the town.
Rothbury has everything you'd need – there's parking, food, drink, accommodation, and it's a very pretty little town built along River Coquet.
This is one of those rides which wends its way around an enormous forest, with lots to see on the way. You’ll pass loads of Bastles, which are essentially farmhouses fortified against the many skirmishes and raids that used to occur from across the Scottish border in centuries hence. It’s a pretty good ride to do if the weather’s looking sub-optimal, as for the most part it’s pretty sheltered. The going’s good for the most part too, although the descent from Black Belling can get a little claggy.
From Falstone, the route heads out on easy roads until it takes a sudden left turn north onto a track. This gets progressively rougher, heads over the very entertaining Slaty Ford and heads further east, before the route heads off towards Tarset Burn and the forest.
Here, the trail wanders through the trees (keep and eye out for the many Battles dotted around – the most well-known one is the Black Midden Bastle) slowly gaining height until it reaches the appropriately named Highfield, after which the trail begins to drop. After that, it’s plain sailing, until the brief but wanders climb up to Black Belling and the descent to Fasltone.
Falstone itself is a small but pretty village at the foot of the Kielder Reservoir dam. It’s not large, but there are places to park, and there’s a pub and a tea room. If you’ve finished the ride and you’re still aching for more, at Keilder just up the road at the other end of the reservoir there are plenty of purpose-built mountain bike trails.