A geological masterpiece! A wild and rugged region of diverse landscapes steeped in industrial heritage, the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is home to spectacular wildlife and wonderfully welcoming communities. It's a truly magical place!
A vast area, tracing Hadrian's Wall from just outside Carlisle towards Newcastle in the north and spanning from Penrith to Barnard Castle in the south, the North Pennines AONB incorporates open moorland, dense woodland, craggy outcrops and lush valleys. It also has UNESCO Global Geopark status, one of only seven areas in the UK to be recognised for its outstanding geological interest, and just happens to be packed full of interesting and exciting things to do, making it a fabulous destination to visit!
The North Pennines are famed for their dark skies, so much so, that the area has an annual festival dedicated to it! Taking place over twelve days in October and November, the North Pennines Stargazing Festival hosts talks, exhibitions, workshops and film viewings as part of an engaging programme of events. If you visit when the festival isn't on, take a trip to Tan Hill Inn, Britain's highest pub and a designated Dark Skies Discovery Site. There are 16 sites in total across the region including Allen Banks, Pow Hill Country Park, Burnhope Reservoir and Millsheilds.
If you're in search of a road cycling adventure, then look no further. There is a reason why the North Pennines stars in the Coast to Coast Cycle Way, the Walney to Wear National Cycle Route and the Pennine Cycle Way. Its endless quiet country roads and traffic-free trails make it an idyllic destination from cyclists. If off-road is more your style, Hamsterley Forest is a must. The Forestry England-managed centre offers leisurely forest trails and adrenaline-pumping single track for mountain bikers, as well an excellent range of walking and horse riding routes, family experiences and a café.
Immersing in wildlife
Now a National Nature Reserve, the ancient oak forest set in the heart of the Derwent Gorge is home to an abundance of rare plants and incredible wildlife. A gentle stroll allows you to spot willow warblers, yellowhammers, skylarks, linnets and much more, as well as unusual plant species. Other excellent areas for wildlife encounters include Baldersdale for spectacular hay meadows, Blackton Reservoir, home to a variety of waders and wildfowl, Dufton Pike, offering an ideal habitat for buzzards, and Hayberry Nature Reserve, a former sand and gravel quarry that is now home to a varied array of interesting flora and fauna.
Walking and the great outdoors
Walking routes abound in the North Pennines, with the Pennine Way National Trail and a vast network of shorter, less challenging, circular routes on offer. For something different, enjoy a woodland stroll around Teesdale to take in High Force, England's highest waterfall. High Cup Nick is another favoured walk in the region. In a hike to the summit of this dramatic scar, you can wonder at the spectacular geological formations, glaciated valley and grey-blue dolerite crags. If walking isn't your thing, the area has plenty of excellent centres for climbing, horse riding, fishing and water sports, too. You'll also find England's longest ski run at Yad Moss near the village of Alston! Read more about adventures in the Lake District.
Heritage and industry
Head to Weardale to unearth the story behind Frosterley Marble, not really marble at all, but a type of limestone bound with fossils that, when polished, gives it a unique marble-like quality. For an underground adventure that sees you journey back in time, visit Nenthead Mines near Alston. Most of the valley surrounding Nenthead has been designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument due to the remains of the lead and zinc mining industry. The Mines at Nenthead offer mine trips and open days throughout the year and own an extensive mineral collection. Bowlees Visitor Centre provides information and exhibitions on the geology, landscape, wildlife and communities of the North Pennines. Killhope Lead Mining Museum is housed in a restored Victorian lead mine and offers an immersive experience of the life and work of the lead mining families.
Exploring village life
A visit to the North Pennines isn't complete without a stop-off at some of its lovely villages. Blanchland is known as one of the most attractive villages in the North Pennines, Alston is a lively community packed with independent shops and eateries and Melmerby is a picturesque fellside village set around a traditional village green. Not far from the village of Melmerby is the awe-inspiring viewpoint and café at Hartside Pass, where Helvellyn, Skiddaw and other Lakeland fells can be spotted, as well as views across the Solway to Scotland. Allendale is a small village with a big heart: it has twice won the title of Village of the Year for All England and is renowned for its festivities, which include its New Year and May fair celebrations.
Delve into the culture
Arguably one of the finest medieval castles in England, Raby Castle has been in Lord Barnard's family since the early 1600s. Today, it offers an excellent day out for the whole family, with access to the house, gardens and deer park complemented by children's adventures and a calendar of family-friendly events. Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle was built in the 19th-century and today is one of the most exquisite museums in England. Its extensive exhibits are accompanied by guided tours and family activities, making it a must-visit attraction. For a day-trip with a difference visit the unique Garden Station at Langley-on-Tyne, a restored Victorian railway station surrounded by lush woodland. The history of the railway combines with sculptures and artwork as well as well-kept gardens, a plant sale and a café, to make a truly magical place to explore.
Take to the rails
Mix heritage with spectacular scenery when you board a locomotive on the South Tynedale Railway, a narrow-gauge line that winds its way from Alston into the South Tyne Valley. More than just transport, this experience offers an opportunity to absorb the history at its Discovery Centre and viewing gallery housed on the restored station at Alston. For another railway experience, the Weardale Railway Trust is a volunteer-led organisation that operates a 16-mile seasonal heritage service between Stanhope and Bishop Auckland. Passengers can take in the magnificent landscape and take part in the themed events throughout the year.
Many of our North East self-catering holiday cottages are in or near the North Pennines, browse our holiday cottages today.
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please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.