Cycle touring in Northumberland
'How about a cycling trip round
Northumberland?' asked Moira, my regular cycling companion. The
idea appealed, particularly after checking that the map contours
along the coastal plain south of Berwick-on-Tweed were encouragingly
A month later we were on the train heading north to Berwick with
our bicycles in the guard's van. We were booked into a bed and breakfast
in Belford, about seventeen miles from Berwick, leaving us with
a three-hour ride along the cycle-way between the two towns. The
term cycle track was a little misleading as we started on a very
off-road coastal headland route only previously trodden by sheep.
But it did improve to gravel track which criss-crossed its way back
and forth over the main North-eastern railway line and was therefore
pleasantly flat until a steep hill announced our arrival in Belford.
Resuscitation, with Northumberland shortbread and tea, was gratefully
received from our bed and breakfast hostess.
The next day we decided to visit Holy Island, or Lindisfarne as
it was originally known. Holy Island is linked to the mainland by
a tidal causeway and old newspaper photos of cars stranded on the
causeway, and accounts of rescue operations, made us check the tide
tables closely. The threat of the tide together with our lack of
cycling fitness meant that we could allow just three hours on the
island if we wanted to be spared the embarrassment of being hauled
out of the sea on bicycles. We therefore decided to stay overnight,
abandon the bikes and explore the island on foot.
There were plenty of visitors on the Sunday, but at three o'clock
the tide turned, the car parks emptied and a snake-like trail of
traffic wound its way back to the mainland. The island was soon
surrounded by the sea and a sense of peaceful isolation. We walked
out to Lindisfarne Castle, which stood, imposingly, on a high crag
near the sea. In former times it was a site of strategic importance
in war efforts against the Scots. Now it is run by the National
Trust. From the tower there were far-reaching views of the island-studded
coastline, sea and sky.
Priory is the spiritual center of the island. It was built in memory
of the life and teachings of St. Cuthbert, who spread Christianity
from Holy Island to northern England in the seventh century. Wandering
around the quite extensive ruins gave a sense of the priory's resilience
in the face of repeated assaults over the years. In the late evening
light, cut off from the mainland and with only a handful of visitors,
it was a place of serenity.
Seahouses and Bamburgh
The following day we cycled on down the coast to Seahouses via Bamburgh.
The village of Bamburgh is the ancient capital of Northumbria and
is famous for its castle, which dominates the village from a vantage
point high on a hill. In its time the castle protected the land
from coastal invaders. A quick tour confirmed its grandeur and opulence
full, as it is, of armoury, artworks, furniture and historical archives.
Seahouses, in marked contrast, was originally a small fishing
community famed for its crabs and kippers. It is now more often
visited as a small-scale seaside resort, complete with amusement
arcades and fun rides. Its fish and chip shops and cafes are renowned.
The harbour is still busy and hot kipper rolls, fresh crab and shrimps
are on sale from kiosks lining the harbour wall. However, most of
the boats heading out to sea were full of binocular-carrying tourists
off to the Farne Islands to the sea bird breeding grounds. June
is the main nesting season and prime time for a visit.
checking in to one of the numerous bed and breakfasts in the town
we donned fleeces and cycle helmets (a necessary accessory we were
warned) and bought tickets for one of the boat trips. We sailed
to the outer islands getting close to sea stacks packed with sea
birds: guillemots, kittiwakes, shags and cormorants all jostling
for position on the stack ledges. The air was thick with their shrill
cries and the stench of guano.
Landing on Little Farne was a quite extraordinary experience.
We threaded our way over ground heavily burrowed by puffins. Arctic
terns swooped onto our heads to protect their newly hatched young
from the threat of attack and the cycle helmets, though somewhat
absurd looking, offered us some protection. Peering over the sea-cliffs
we could see tiers of nests full of furry chicks with mouths open
in anticipation. It was a scene of constant frenzied activity and
deafening noise, a race against time to fatten up the young before
Our final day of cycling took us inland through verdant low-lying
farming country with the Cheviots misty in the distance. We cycled
up and over sheep-grazed Chatton Moor and onto Wooler, an old wool
town, where we had a well-deserved coffee stop. The town was busy
with morning shoppers and delicious smells of cooking pies and sausages
wafted down the street from the local butchers.
We then headed north, through the pretty castle villages of Ford
Etal and Northam. Crossing the River Tweed announced our arrival
in Scotland and made us feel we had really covered some distance
that day. We cycled close to the river, heading towards the coast,
until finally the distinctive bridge of Berwick came into view and
we were nearing the end of our tour.
That evening we reflected on how much we had done and seen in
just three days. For the moderately fit and environmentally friendly
holidaymaker, cycle touring is a perfect way to see this unspoilt
and beautiful part of Northumberland.
for information on Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island
and the Farne Islands
Northumberland County Council's Holy Island Tide Tables,
which provide the official safe crossing times to the island.
Sustrans National Cycle Network. Due to be officially
opened in May 2002, Northumbria's Cycling Kingdom includes
300 miles of the National Cycle Network in Northumberland
and Tyneside. This covers an area that includes Hadrian's
Wall, the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, Northumberland National
Park and Holy Island. In addition to this, local cycle circuits
are being developed with communities in Northumberland to
encourage cyclists to explore the less well known parts of
Day boat trips to explore the Farne Islands.
Related travel-quest sections: cycle
touring, mountain biking,
Recommended guide books:
Bike Guide: Northumberland
Towns and Villages
the Borders and Hadrian's Wall Walks
Island: Pilgrim Guide
Priory and Holy Island
© Ann Tonge and travel-quest 2002