Northumberland: North of the Wall

As I write this blog, we are just home from an incredible week in Northumberland, where we stayed near Wooler. None of us (dogs included) have moved a muscle all day as we are so exhausted from all of the walks we managed to cram in! We have ventured up to Northumberland quite a few times before, but never this far north, and never for a whole week. And what a world we have been missing out on! Previously our knowledge of Northumberland centred on Hadrian’s Wall and Kielder Forest – however, north of Hadrian’s Wall, the Cheviots and Northumberland National Park offer a huge expanse of wild and un-peopled wilderness, just waiting to be explored.

Following the Pennine Way from Windy Gyle

Yeavering Bell

As Wooler was only a few hours drive from home, we had time to do a quick walk before arriving at our home for the week, Kypie Cottage (more to come later). Yeavering Bell literally means ‘Hill of the goats’ and is one of the places where you can spot the feral goats which roam the Cheviots. We did spot a few in the fields on our way but only one on the hill itself. Yeavering Bell is also the largest Iron Age hill fort in Northumberland so is a great walk for history lovers – you can combine your visit with a trip to Ad Gefrin, home to a Royal Borough in Anglo-Saxon times, where you park at the start of the walk.

The route we followed was from our trusty Pocket Mountains guidebook. It was easy to follow and not too strenuous – after the fairly gentle ascent we took, we felt pretty smug seeing other people climbing up the steeper way on our way down! If you don’t have the Pocket Mountains book a similar circular route is available on the Northumberland National Park website. Parking is free in a lay-by next to the Ad Gefrin monument. To avoid walking down the road to get to the start, you can go through the gate by the monument, and follow the track down to the corner where you pick up the public footpath,.

This is a great walk if you just have a morning or an afternoon but still want to get completely away from it all. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of autumn colour but wading through the sea of bracken to start the climb up the hill was pretty spectacular!

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. There is livestock throughout this walk so dogs should be under close control or on a lead. However, this is a lovely quiet walk, and we didn’t see any other dogs which was perfect for Coal. We did see lots of grouse so we had a very alert spaniel all of the way around! There is no water on this walk so you will need to carry extra for your dog. A big bonus for us on this walk was that all of the stiles had gates next to them – so there was no need to heft a 25kg Labrador over any fences, hooray!

Bamburgh

No trip to Northumberland would be complete without a trip to the coast – and those who have been following this blog for a while will know how much I love the beaches here in particular! If you haven’t already read it, you can read more in my blog about the Northumberland Coast.

Bamburgh is famous as a the historic capital of the kingdom of Northumbria – the same kingdom which had a royal borough at Ad Gefrin! Many Anglo-Saxon finds of international importance have been unearthed in the area, but visitors today are drawn to the magnificent castle which overlooks the village and beach.

Bamburgh castle itself is dog friendly, but we just popped over for a walk along the beach at the end of a rainy day, and didn’t visit the castle itself. It was actually surprisingly busy on the beach, but this might have been as the tide was coming in, so there was less space for strolling! There are a few car parks in Bamburgh, the castle car park is £3 (cash), or alternatively there is a large car park just over the road from the castle where you can pay by phone. There is lots of useful information about car parks and parking charges across Northumberland on the Northumberland County Council website.

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. The beach here is dog friendly and there are bins in the car park, so no need to quadruple bag poos and take them home with you, as you can pop them in the bin! I’ve just knocked off a point as the beach was pretty busy when we went with lots of people and dogs. It did drop off remarkably once it got to four o’clock (about fifteen minutes after we arrived) as people started to head home. I’m not sure why as the sunset sky here was amazing so they all missed out on a treat!

Alwinton to Kidland Forest

Alwinton is a great place to head out into the National Park. We did a circular walk which we found on the Ordnance Survey app which took us across the Kidland Forest, where there are plenty of Forestry walking trails. If you are lucky you may also spot a red squirrel! We didn’t really do more than skirt the edge of the forest before following the river back to Alwinton. I can’t find the route we followed online but there is a nice route on the Northumberland National Park website which covers a similar area.

There is a national park car park in Alwinton with toilets, or you can park for free (considerately) in the village. The village was pretty quiet when we visited but this may have been as it was very, very windy – not for fair weather walkers!

Dog friendly rating – 3.5/5. Similarly to many countryside walks there may be livestock for much of the walk. However, Kidland Forest (if you venture that way) offers miles of trails which are perfect for sniffs, or if you follow the route along the river Alwin, there is the opportunity to dogs to have a paddle! Either way there is something for dogs to enjoy on these walks. Please pick up poos and dispose of them responsibly.

St Cuthbert’s Cave

St Cuthbert’s Cave is a hidden gem that I can’t believe we hadn’t visited before! St Cuthbert was an Anglo-Saxon monk who lived in the 7th century and who was buried on the island on Lindisfarne. As the island increasingly came under attack from Viking raiders, the monks who lived there sought shelter on the mainland, journeying across the north to eventually settle at Chester-le-Street. Believe it or not the monks carried the remains of St Cuthbert with them, and St Cuthbert’s Cave is said to be one of the places they stopped to rest on their journey.

From the reviews on Tripadvisor it sounds like this can be fairly busy in school holidays, as the cave is easily accessed from a small car park about half a mile away. This car park was not the easiest to find – the Sat Nav took us to Holburn, but you need to carry on a little further, about halfway down the road between Holburn and North Hazelrigg.

There are plenty of options if you want to extend the walk to take in more of the stunning countryside around this area. We followed a seven mile circular walk from our Ordnance Survey pathfinder book which took us past the cave and on to sections of forestry, then up to higher ground for fabulous views over to Holy Island (pictured), finishing off with an easy climb up Greenshin Hill for panoramic views. It’s worth keeping an eye out along the path away from the cave for the impressive sandstone boulders which are casually at the side of the path! If you don’t own this book there is a similar route description on Northumberland Walks, but this doesn’t take you to the summit of Greenshin Hill, and you will need to pair this route with a map. This really was such an enjoyable walk with so many great views for so little effort!

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. There are ample opportunities for off-lead running around on this walk. Ours loved the woodland sections and were bouncing off the walls around the cave trying to sniff out all the smells as fast as possible! The open sections did involve crossing a few fields with cows and sheep in but they took no notice of us whatsoever – it’s always worth being cautious around livestock, especially cows, and putting dogs on a lead. This was another walk where we didn’t have to clamber over any stiles – the best kind!

Windy Gyle

The Cheviot Hills are peppered with a motley collection of fantastic hill names. Ogre Hill, Bloodybush Edge and Beefstand Hill are just a few of the wonderful appellations guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. We ventured up the very aptly named Windy Gyle for a marvellous walk of around seven and a half miles, again from the Ordnance Survey Pathfinder book (alternative online route available on Walk the Way in a Day).

This was probably the toughest walk we did in the whole week – the wind battered us, the path was 75% bog and there was a fair bit of steep climbing at the start! The views more than make up for the effort though and I would recommend spending a day in the Cheviots to anyone visiting Northumberland. The highlight of the day was definitely coming across around twenty feral goats as we came off the summit and joined the Pennine Way!

Feral goats on the Pennine Way

Parking for this walk was free in a lay-by (please park considerately, if someone is already parked there you can park further down the road at Wedder Leap car park). Wrap up warm before you head out on this walk as it was a balmy two degrees up on the ridge compared to eleven degrees when we left the car! This was by far the most remote walk we did and we didn’t see another soul apart from a farmer fixing some fencing on our way back down to the car. Perfect!

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. We kept ours on leads for the entirety of this walk as there could be livestock/feral goats at any point. There’s also no water apart from the odd boggy puddle so make sure you take some water for your dog to drink! Ours were also scared of the goats so this is something to bear in mind if your dog is usually fine with livestock – those horns can look pretty menacing if they’re on an animal five times your size!

Doddington Moor

Northumberland is absolutely heaving with history, and Doddington Moor is no exception. Northumberland is a great place to come and explore prehistory, but this doesn’t begin and end with Hadrian’s wall. The walk we followed from our Cicerone guide took us past two sets of Neolithic cup and ring marks, two hill forts, the remains of ancient settlements (invisible to my untrained eye) and the remains of a stone circle – all in just shy of two hours! A similar route can be found online on the Walking Britain website.

We parked for free in the small village of Doddington and found this to be a really pleasant easy walk. There is a short section along the road to begin with but we didn’t see any cars at all, and it is all on tracks and across moorland for the majority of the walk.

The path was refreshingly dry after our day out in the Cheviots with no prolonged steep sections. We did still however get wonderful views throughout this walk, especially the view of The Cheviot which you get from the summit of Dodd Law (the highest point on Doddington moor). Navigation was largely straightforward with a few diversions to the first cup and ring marks (into a cow field – which I braved to see them, it was worth it!). The final way marker as you come down from the high ground is almost completely obscured by overgrown gorse, so you might need to use GPS or refer to your map to re-join the road.

Dog friendly rating – 2.5/5. This was another walk where we kept the dogs on leads for the entire walk. The enclosed track has signs up asking for dogs to be kept on leads, which makes sense as it leads you straight onto the open field where there are sheep. As mentioned before, the diversion to the cup and ring marked rocks takes you into a field of cows – they weren’t bothered by us but they were on the other side of the field! Merry did drag me into an extremely prickly bush trying to chase a grouse. This resulted in us having to stop for a quarter of an hour so I could pick all of the prickles out of my trousers – not impressed! There are a few stiles on this walk which aren’t in the best condition – most can be avoided though by walking along the fence and sending the dogs through holes underneath it.

Embleton Bay

We really love Embleton Bay. We visit nearly every time we go to Northumberland and we pop up for the occasional day trip too! Dunstanburgh Castle is, in my eyes, the most photogenic castle you will ever come across, and the dog friendly beach stretches for miles in either direction.

We usually park in Craster and walk past the castle to reach the beach, however, we were just stopping off for a quick walk this time so parked at Low Newton for quicker access to the beach. Parking is about £1 per hour and if you don’t have cash you can pay on your phone. There is free parking in a lay-by not far from the car park but this was full by the time we arrived.

Given how many cars were in the car park and parked down the road we were surprised by how empty the beach was – plenty of space for social distancing! It looked like the majority of people who had parked up had gone to the Ship Inn for lunch – it was very busy outside so we didn’t stop.

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. Our dogs love this beach and it’s not hard to see why! The sea is perfect for splashing in and the vast expanse of sand means that zoomies can stretch for hundreds of metres without pestering another dog walker. There were a fair few other dogs on the beach but only one came over to say hello so it wasn’t too stressful for Coal. An added bonus was the amount of seaweed sticks lying around for fetching!

Thrunton Woods

This walk was not what I expected. At all. It was a thousand times better! As the Cicerone route description we used points out, when you think of a woodland walk, you do not think of it being airy and spacious. And yet that’s exactly what this walk is!

The route we followed was just over eight miles long and I loved every second of it – I was sorry to see the car (and normally after anything more than six miles I am very happy to see the car!). You begin and end in the woods, but the middle section of the walk climbs to higher ground, with breath taking views to the Cheviots, Simonside Hills and the coast. If you don’t own the Cicerone guide a slightly shorter route is available on the Happy Hiker website.

Parking for this walk was free at the Forestry Commission car park which is sign posted from Thrunton village (our Sat Nav took us to a trout fishery). This is a four hour walk so take a packed lunch – the cairn on Hard Nab was the perfect place to sit out of the wind while still enjoying the view!

The paths on this walk were a bit hit and miss. In the woods themselves the paths were well maintained and dry, whereas up on the higher ground, it was very boggy and the paths were badly eroded in places, especially on the walk up Long Crag. That didn’t put us off though – is it a proper walk if you haven’t nearly stacked it at least twice!

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. How could I give this walk anything other than 100% dog friendly rating! Ours absolutely loved bombing around the woods off their leads and it was so nice to be able to relax without having to worry about any livestock. We did see a few horse riders so we popped the dogs back on their leads for this and moved off the path, and didn’t have any problems with them barking at the horses. We did keep them on their leads for the open sections as there were a few steep drops but they were so tired out from haring around the woods that I don’t think they minded at all! Be prepared for your dog to get very muddy on this walk through a combination of exploring in the woods and walking through bogs on the higher sections – I have actually now invested in a Mud Daddy because of the state my car got into after this walk!

Where we stayed

We stayed at the gorgeous Kypie Cottage which is located about ten minutes north of Wooler. I honestly could not recommend this cottage more – it had everything you could ever want and more! There were so many little touches that really showed just how much thought and effort the owners have put into making this gem of a cottage a home away from home.

We especially loved the log burner which was perfect to curl up in front of at the end of a chilly walk. The welcome hamper was exceptionally generous and had all of the basics that I’d forgotten to bring – milk, bread and butter included, as well as a whole heap of other treats including jam, wine, popcorn and much more! The interior of the cottage is beautifully decorated (I actually downloaded the Dulux colour matcher app to try and copy their paint colours in our house but alas the app isn’t very good).

Dog friendly rating – 5/5! 10/10! 100%! This cottage is ideal for people who want to bring their dogs with them. Our welcome pack included dog treats and tennis balls, there is plenty of space in both the living room and kitchen, and the garden is enclosed so no need to stand out in the rain while you wait for that last wee! Ours absolutely loved the log burner and spent every evening passed out on the rug after a fantastic day’s walking.

I also just want to mention how brilliant Canine Cottages were during our holiday. The day after we arrived (Saturday) the second lockdown was announced to start on the Thursday – they got in touch within 24 hours to let us know our options and made the whole thing much less stressful – we’ll definitely book with them again!

We are still recovering from such a busy week – but there’s so much more remaining to see and do that we’ll definitely be back soon! If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog today make sure you subscribe below:

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