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North East Northumberland, God's Own Country - Part 3 (North Tyne Valley)

The North Tyne is off the main tourist beat and gets few foreign visitors. Many British tourists only manage a day visit. This is a shame as the area warrants a longer stop.


There are lots of ideas in this guide to the area There is information about walking trails here. Kielder is also the site of an impressive sculpture trail.The area suffers little light pollution at night and is now a Dark Sky Park with an observatory. If you have never seen the wonders of the Milky Way, this is the place to visit.

Either take the A68 or A696 to Otterburn and then cut across to Bellingham. Alternatively take the B6320, a lovely drive as the road winds its way up the North Tyne Valley, stopping to have a look at Simonburn Church.

There are miles and miles of forest roads for walking or cycling.


You will need a copy of OS Landranger 80 for these. It is possible to get lost in the forest, even with a map. Count junctions and watch out for new roads which may not be marked on the map. There are lots of ideas for walking here.


 (pronounced Bellingjam by the locals) is the main service centre of the North Tyne Valley. It is a thriving small town and far enough from the Hexham to retaining a shopping parade with bank, butcher and bakery. It feels like stepping back in time, although that is changing as traditional family run shops have closed and no one has taken them over. Shopping is still a leisurely and enjoyable experience. On a Saturday morning, people queue patiently to be served with conversations going up and down the line.

St Cuthbert’s Church 
 has a vaulted stone roof, built so it couldn’t be burnt by Scottish raiders. This is Border Reivers country. In the churchyard is a mysterious grave slab known as the Lang Pack and the source of a local legend. Below the church is St Cuthbert’s Well which is reputed to have healing properties and whose water is still used for church baptisms.

The railway line closed in the 1960s, a casualty of the Beeching cuts. The old station building is now a Heritage Centre with enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff. The Carriages Tea Room is highly recommended.

Walk off your homemade cake with the delightful walk up the burn to the small waterfall of Hareshaw Linn.
 In the C19th this was the site of a small ironworks and you can still see the remains of spoil heaps. This is a lovely walk climbing through natural woodland, and criss crossing the burn. Keep your eyes open you may see the elusive Red Squirrel. The North Tyne is one of the few places it can still be found in England.

Keilder Forest and Kielder Water
From Bellingham, follow the signs to Kielder. If you feel like living dangerously, follow the old road to Falstone and do a detour into Falstone village. Then rejoin the main road near the dam. You will need a map for this. At Lanehead, turn right then left to drop down to Redmire. In 2km, take the left fork at Rushend and follow your nose. The road gets little traffic, is gated and has grass growing down the centre. You will see a completely different view of the valley. The view up the valley as you drop down to Falstone is one of the best.


Tower Knowe Visitor Centre
 is probably the first point of call for most visitors with its information centre, exhibitions about the area and a cafe. There are toilets, a cafe, information centre and small exhibition. It can get VERY busy. Book your cruise on Osprey here. If you want to avoid the worst of the crowds, drive across the dam and park in the large car park at Hawkhope. This booklet gives ideas for walks from the car park.


Leaplish Waterside Park has self catering accommodation, restaurant, water activities and Bird of Prey Centre.

Kielder Castle Visitor Centre Centre is housed in an C18th hunting lodge built for the Duke of Northumberland. As well as an information Centre, there is a small exhibition and cafe. There are several pleasant way marked walks, cycle trails from here and an orienteering course. Go and find Kielder Viaduct on the old North Tyne Railway. Duchess and Duke’s trail are nice easy walks. For the more energetic there is Deadwater Fell. (details found here). This is reached along forest roads and the view well repays the climb. Take a sweater with you. It is very exposed, and even in summer, the weather can change suddenly. It is possible to head across the moors to Peel Fell. This is only recommended after a prolonged dry spell as it is VERY wet.

The forest drive is well worth doing. Watch it on YouTube. Starting from near the main Kielder Castle car park, it takes you up the valley, past East Kielder Farm and climbs up over Kielder Moor before dropping down into Redesdale. The road is paved to East Kielder but beyond is a forest road - fairly narrow and a bit bumpy. Average speed 20mph. You won’t want to go any faster! There is a pleasant parking area in an old quarry beside the river just before East Kielder.

Lewisburn and Bloody Bush
Do try and find time to include this. It is one of the nicest parts of the forest and, best of all, gets few visitors.


The car park is reached along a forest road off the main road to Kielder. It is not well signed and easy to miss. Coming from Bellingham, it is the left hand turn just after the right hand turn (signed) to Matthew Linn. It is just BEFORE the large bridge across the Lewisburn. It is a very pleasant 2km drive up the valley to a large open car park. Continue on foot along the road to The Forks (2 houses). Take the left hand fork and follow the Lewisburn as far as you can past the pack horse bridge.


The track peters out a bit further on. The OS 1:50000 map shows a footpath going up a ride to a top road. This does not exist. Retrace your footsteps. At the Forks, continue up the main valley (now the Akenshaw Burn) to the bridge. For a short walk, cross the bridge and look for a footpath back through the trees on the opposite side of the burn. This will take you back to the car park. Allow 1-2 hours for this. Details again here.


If you have time, it is worth continuing up the valley, (take a map with you) following the old toll road to the Scottish border at Bloody Bush with its huge pillar with a list of tolls on it.

Bloody Bush.jpg

This was the old pack horse route across the Larriston Fells between Lewisburn in Tynedale and Dinlabyre in Liddesdale and was used to carry coal from collieries at Lewisburn and Plashetts to fuel the woollen mills of the Scottish Borders before the railway was built.

This is part of one of the Cross Border Mountain Bike Trails, details here. You will need to allow 4+ hours for this, depending on how fast you walk. This is Kielder at its best!

Sidwood and the Border Reivers
Again, this takes you well away from the main tourist areas and into a very different part of the forest. From the 14th to the 16th century, the Reivers were the riding and raiding families on both sides of the English/Scottish Border. Back then, no man could sleep safely and no cattle could be left unguarded. They lived by stealing and the enemy was anyone outside one’s own clan. Centuries of warfare between the two countries had created a lawless society where people just tried to survive.

Riders, raiders, guerrilla fighters, and gangsters, the Border Reivers gave the words ‘bereaved’ and ‘blackmail’ to the English language. All that remains now are there fortified bastles and peles.

From Bellingham, drive to Lanehead. Turn right following signs to Greenhaugh. Take the next two left turns and then next right to Redheugh. Either: 1) Park under the trees just inside the forest, and follow the footpath along the river with the deciduous forest to Sidwood. We’ve seen barn owls and foxes along this stretch OR 2) drive along the road and park in the large grassy area near Sidwood. This is the start of the Tarset Bastle Trail, a lovely way marked walk along the river banks to Waterhead to Barty’s Peel. On the way back, you are signed along the road at Waterhead to the remains of Black Middens Peel.

Black middens.jpg

Beyond, there is a big bend in the road. Take the footpath across the field which crosses the river and picks up the footpath back to Sidwood. This is another cracking walk and, chances are, you won’t see anyone on it. Allow about 4 hours for the whole walk. If you don't have a lot of time, the walk from Redheugh to Sidwood and back takes less than an hour.

This is one of a series of Travel notes on Northumberland:
part 1 - Overview,
part 2 - Hadrian's Wall,
part 3 - North Tyne Valley,

part 4 - Castles and Stately Homes.

I spent 6 years in Durham in the 1960 and fell in love with the north east. Since then we have spent many happy holidays in the area and have walked most of the North and South Tyne valleys. The pictures have been scanned from photographs and slides, hence the poorer quality.
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