Thursday, 15 Nov 2018

The Coaly Tyne. North-East England

They call it the Coaly Tyne, but that only applies to the river from Newcastle, where back in 1530 some canny merchants won the right to ship every scrap of coal from the whole of the north-east through the city. It’s where the saying ‘taking coals to Newcastle’ comes from. The coal industry is gone now and the lower Tyne is clean, while the upper Tyne is still as unspoilt as it always was.

The Tyne starts life as two rivers, the South and North Tyne, which meet just above Hexham, where this ride starts. The town is dominated by its abbey, and was a significant staging post in the low-level passage through the Pennines between Carlisle and Newcastle. This was created by the Tyne flowing east and the River Irthing flowing west.

The Coaly Tyne. North-East England - photo 1

The Coaly Tyne. North-East England

This is another ride that starts with a climb, but as compensation all of the tough work is over by halfway. There’s a haul of over six miles up the south side of the South Tyne valley, then a switchback descent into the Allen valley. This leads to a longer pull to the ride’s highest point on Willyshaw Rigg at 470 metres.

The climb tops out above England’s highest town, but you avoid Alston’s busy streets by following a steep but narrow descent into the South Tyne valley. You trace the valley floor north on an undulating road before coming to what is probably the hardest section of the ride.

The Coaly Tyne. North-East England - photo 2

The Coaly Tyne. North-East England

The hills around Featherstone Castle aren’t long but they are very steep, and five come in quick succession before a short stretch of the A69. They all have an average gradient of at least 10 per cent, and a couple have stretches more than twice as steep.

You now meet Hadrian’s Wall, which was built from AD 122 to mark the northern limit of the Roman Empire. It stretches from the Solway Firth in the west to Wallsend in the east, and much of it is still visible. It will be your ride partner for a long time, after a brief visit to somewhere very special.

The Coaly Tyne. North-East England - photo 3

The Coaly Tyne. North-East England

Hadrian’s Wall

Wark Forest is vast, remote and an oasis of peace. The route goes as far as the road goes, undulating gently into the middle of the forest. At first it seems an unremarkable place, hardly worth the effort, but Wark holds many secrets, notably the Irthing Gorge and its waterfalls, where peregrine falcons nest, and the derelict Blue Streak rocket site.

You get back into contact with Hadrian’s Wall at Gilsland and follow it for the next 18 miles before striking off into the North Tyne valley to Bellingham. Pronounced Bellingjum by the locals, this is a stopping place on the Pennine Way, so you’ll find plenty of cafes there if you are flagging a bit.

The Coaly Tyne. North-East England - photo 4

The Coaly Tyne. North-East England

Hadrian’s Wall

The journey back to Hexham follows the east bank of the North Tyne, crossing Hadrian’s Wall again at Low Brunton, where you can just see the remains of a Roman bridge. Take a few deep breaths now, because there’s a steep hill called Hill End to come. The good news is that from the top you can freewheel almost all the way to the finish.

Find the B6305 and head west then south-west to the A686 junction. Turn right to climb Willyshaw Rigg. Turn right just after the summit, take care on the steep descent, and turn right onto the A689. Turn right just after the sharp left bend at Lambley and head north through a very hilly section. Turn right onto the A69, then left and first right to Gilsland.

The Coaly Tyne. North-East England - photo 5

The Coaly Tyne. North-East England

Gilsland Spa Hotel

Turn right just after the Irthing Bridge and ride out to Churnsike Lodge and back. The Irthing and its gorge is east of this road, but you can see it at the Gilsland Spa Hotel, and at Horseholme and Butterburn. The rocket site entrance is at the first sharp right bend after the hotel. Turn left and left again back in Gilsland then right in Greenhead, from where there is a steep climb and a long straight ride to Walwick Fell. Turn left just after the Roman camp and Milecastle signs, following a sign to Simonburn.

Turn right to Townhead, then left on the B6320. Stay on this road right to the centre of Bellingham. Turn right to Redesmouth and right just after Redesmouth to Birtley. Turn left after Birtley then left at the next T-junction. Turn right just after Barrasford and right onto the A6079. Turn left at Low Brunton onto the B6318. Turn right at Milecastle 25, then take the next right and third left to follow signs back to Hexham.

The Coaly Tyne. North-East England - photo 6

The Coaly Tyne. North-East England

Gilsland Spa Hotel

Start + Finish: Hexham

Getting There: Hexham is next to the A69, 22 miles west of Newcastle city centre. There’s a regular rail and bus link with Newcastle, too.

Bike Shop: The Bike Shop, St Mary’s Chare

Cafe: Mrs Miggin’s Coffee House, St Mary’s Wynd

Local Delicacy: Pease pudding

The Coaly Tyne. North-East England - photo 7

The Coaly Tyne. North-East England - photo 8

The Coaly Tyne. North-East England

“Best 100-Mile Bike Routes”

Chris Sidwells

 

 

 

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