With the idea of isolation at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts, we’ve sought out the North East’s most remote and rural landscapes. From war-time crash trails to ancient cliff markings, these places, with their varied history and fascinating stories, came out on top. Keep these pages safe for when we’re able to get out and about again, and they can be your first port of call – with the best walks and trails that reward with panoramic views and horizons stretching as far as the eye can see.
The remote College Valley is in North Northumberland, where rolling hills, rocky outcrops and tumbling waterfalls make up a large part of the northern Cheviots. Spanning more than 12,000 wild and rugged acres (which lie within the Northumberland National Park), and with only 12 vehicle permits issued per day to potential visitors, the College Valley offers isolation in its truest form.
The 12,000-acre College Valley forms part of the legacy left by Sir James Knott, a successful businessman, politician and philanthropist. Sir James spent his early life as a shipbroker, but went on to run Prince Line Ltd – a shipping line which later became the world’s third largest, with 45 ships built in Tyne and Wear shipyards. He was also the owner of local coal mines, served as an MP for Sunderland, studied law and was called to the Bar. He died in 1934, and his eldest son, Thomas Garbutt Knott, inherited his title, but when he died in 1949, most of his estate was left to the Trust set up by his father, and in 1953 some of that fortune was used to purchase the College Valley.
During the Second World War the valley claimed the lives of several airmen whose planes crashed on Cheviot and its surrounding hills. These tragic accidents were thought to be due to the combination of bad weather conditions, their less advanced navigation systems and simple inexperience.
One crash, that of the B17 Flying Fortress, with its nine-person American crew, is famed for the now legendary story of a rescue by local shepherds, including John Dagg and his black and white collie, Sheila. Their heroism was honoured and Sheila received a Dickin Medal for Gallantry – the first ever civilian dog to receive the coveted medal. Her master was awarded the British Empire Medal.
Where to Walk
College Valley has more than 28 miles of paths and roads to explore, and with vehicle restrictions in place, chances are you’ll have most of the valley to yourself. There are introductory walking routes suitable for those who are simply looking to get out and about, and steeper trails to challenge the even the most experienced walkers. There are three individual valleys to explore: College Burn, Lambden Burn and Elsdon Burn, and many breathtaking hills to summit including Sinkside, Great Hetha and Blackhaggs – all of which reward with panoramic views. If it’s history you’re looking for, then follow the Crash Trails. Between 1939 and 1946 there were 19 crashes in the Cheviot Hills, and those interested in exploring the sites on foot can follow a dedicated Crash Trail using a series of routes available to download on the Viewranger app.
On the southern edge of Northumberland National Park lies Kielder, home to the largest man-made lake in Northern Europe and surrounded by England’s largest working forest. Voted the most remote village in England and with the area named as the fourth largest place in the world with Dark Sky Status, Kielder Water and Forest Park is theperfect place to get away from it all.
Initial plans to develop Kielder Water and Forest Park, which is owned by Northumbrian Water, began in the late 1960s. Once approved by parliament in 1974, building of the reservoir began with the purpose of helping increase water supply following the unexpected rise in demand for water from a booming industrial sector. Once completed, in 1982, the reservoir was officially opened by the Queen and filled with water over the two years that followed. To build the reservoir, which holds 200 billion litres of water, the Kielder Valley was flooded, sadly resulting in the loss of a school, railway and numerous farms and homes. The team here have always been committed to providing recreational facilities and improving knowledge of the natural environment, all of which is overseen by the Kielder Water and Forest Park Development Trust.
Where to Walk
There are trails galore to explore here, but we’d recommend heading for the less popular Cumbria-Northumberland border. You’ll find a remote area of blanket bog, known as Butterburn Flow, spanning 400 hectares. This Border Mire is the largest of 58 and there’s no real path to follow, just endless exploring to be done on the land which is bounded on two sides by the River Irthing, which itself forms the border between the two counties.
In an almost unbroken stretch from Teesside down to Thirsk, the Hambleton Hills form the western edge of the North York Moors. Merging with the Cleveland Hills in the north and Howardian Hills in the south, they
overlook the wide plains of the Vale of Mowbray, the River Rye Valley and the Vale of York. Along the edge of the hills are a series of limestone cliffs. Sutton Bank is often referred to as one of the most spectacular inland cliffs in Britain and with its near vertical drop from top to bottom of more than 450 feet, you can enjoy extensive views over the Vale of York and the Vale of Mowbray, and gliding and flying enthusiasts often make use of the spot as their take off point. Roulston Scar reaches over 900 feet and Whitestone cliff over 1,000 feet, and both overlook the mysterious (and reputedly bottomless) Lake Gormire. But, it’s Black Hambleton that marks the Hambleton Hill’s tallest point, rising to more than 1,300 feet at the northern end of the range.
The White Horse carved into the hills is perhaps one of the area’s most notable landmarks. Designed and funded by Thomas Taylor, a Victorian businessman, it was created in 1857 by 31 volunteers who deposited six tons of limestone in the shape of a horse on the naturally greyish rock beneath to whiten it. Having previously worked for a London merchant, Thomas had spotted famous chalk hill figures across southern England and wanted to create something similar for his home village, Kilburn. During the war, the horse had to be covered to prevent it from becoming a target for German bombers.
Where to Walk
There are a number of peaks to summit here. If it’s a real challenge you’re after then head for the trig point of the tallest, Black Hambleton – it’s a nine-mile route with an almost-400-metre ascent. For something more leisurely, seek inspiration from the National Trail. Their Hambleton Drove Road trail is short (around two miles), and follows the path which would have been used in the 18th Century by Scottish cattle drovers, who drove their herds of cattle from Scotland down south to various market towns – hence the name Drove Road.
The tranquil market town of Stanhope lies in Weardale, at the heart of the Durham Dales, and is surrounded by the moorland of the North Pennines – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The River Wear runs through here, and the ford is a popular spot where giant stepping stones cut across its path. The nearby Ashes Quarry is where, for more than 70 years, men worked by hand to dig limestone from the Weardale Fells. It now claims a mile-long hole in the ground and remains empty and untouched. To the south you’ll discover The Little Whin Sill, a unique component in the Whin Sill which forms a continuation of sills which
occupy around 4,500 square kilometres of Northumberland, Teesdale and Weardale.
Stanhope owes most of its former wealth to the lead mining era – quarrying and coal mining made significant contributions to the employment opportunities here. Lead mining was the dominant industry in Stanhope for more than 200 years, and as such it created employment and wealth which transformed a small market town with a thriving parish church into ‘the richest living in England’ due to the rent paid to the Rectors of Stanhope in return for the rights to explore and dig for lead.
Where to Walk
There are endless ramblings to be enjoyed in Stanhope and Weardale, but taking a stroll along the banks of the River Wear is a must. If you’re more inclined to go off the beaten path, then try the Viewranger route which begins in the market town of Frosterley and winds up in Stanhope. Taking in disused quarries, including the Forgotten Quarry, it’s an eerily quiet almost six-mile route that offers spectacular views and really takes you away from it all.