The wild side of north-east England: wonderful walks, beautiful beaches and cool campsites and perfect pubs


Best walks with views

Simonside Hills, Northumberland

Lordenshaw rock art
Photograph: Sarah Banks

This justifiably popular summit has panoramic views of the Cheviots and the Northumberland coastline. The land is steeped in legend and the Simonside Duergars, malevolent fairies of folklore, are said to reside in the wild, windswept hills. The area’s spiritual importance to bronze age people is evident by the number of burial cairns on the slopes and crags. From Simonside Forestry Commission car park, follow the track through woodlands to a clearing before Simonside, now it’s a steep ascent to the summit at about 430m. Follow the ridge to explore the peak of Old Stell Crag, which stands on an ancient stone barrow, then it’s three miles on to Dove Crag for some fun bouldering. Another mile on, seek out Thompson’s Rock, a huge stone with a mysterious hole that is said to align with the midsummer sunset. Just beyond it is Lordenshaw’s rock art, great slabs peppered with patterns dating to the bronze age. With more than 100 cup-and-ring-marked rocks, it’s possibly the largest concentration of rock art in the UK. Return via forest to the car park.

Garrigill to Ashgill Force, north Pennines

Ashgill Force waterfall.
Ashgill Force waterfall. Photograph: Sarah Banks

For me, some of the finest waterfalls in England are found in the north Pennines, and there is a pleasant three-mile circular ramble from Garrigill along the River South Tyne that takes in one of the most dramatic: Ashgill Force. From Garrigill (there’s layby parking south of the village), take the road south and after a few hundred metres a footpath on the left leads across Windshaw Bridge to the South Tyne Trail. Follow the river upstream for one mile, passing small waterfalls and plunge pools, until you reach the spectacular curtain waterfall, which you can walk behind, by way of a rocky shelf, when not in flood. It’s in a beautiful deep gorge with pools for a paddle and a dip as dragonflies skitter across the water. Many smaller waterfalls are downstream with deeper pools. Return along the footpath through fields to Windshaw Bridge with views across the valley along the way.

Ravenscar to Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire

Cinder Track, Ravenscar.
Cinder Track, Ravenscar. Photograph: Sarah Banks

There’s roadside parking along Raven Hall Road in Ravenscar (11 miles from Whitby) and the Cleveland Way is clearly signposted. Follow signs through woodland and to the coastal path for a walk with sweeping clifftop views towards the pan-tiled rooftops of Robin Hood’s Bay (about 3.5 miles away). The route passes the ruins of a once-thriving alum works industry. Depending on tide times, there is an option to drop down to the beach at Boggle Hole (with its excellent YHA, and Quarterdeck cafe) and walk along the sands to Robin Hood’s Bay. Alternatively, continue on the coastal path. Return the same way or along the Cinder Track, the old Whitby to Scarborough rail line.

Best hidden beaches and coves

Rumbling Kern, Northumberland

Rumbling Kern.
Rumbling Kern. Photograph: Sarah Banks

This concealed sandy cove has fascinating geological features and is also a coasteering spot with leaps and jumps from vertical sandstone walls – as well as there being stacks and caves to swim through. It’s reached by following a track along the coast from Seahouses Farm, from where it’s a five-minute walk to the sea.

Hawthorn Hive, County Durham

Hawthorn Hive Beach.
Hawthorn Hive Beach. Photograph: Sarah Banks

Hawthorn Hive is a remote sand and shingle bay at the end of a steep-sided coastal dene that is reached by paths through the ancient woodland of Hawthorn Dene and species-rich calcareous grassland. The meadows are awash with colour in July and August. It’s a 30-minute walk if you park in Hawthorn, with steps down to the beach beyond a railway track.

Thornwick Bay, East Yorkshire

Thornwick Bay.
Thornwick Bay. Photograph: Sarah Banks

There’s clifftop parking above Thornwick Bay with views over the shingle and pebble cove beneath. The chalk cliffs hide smugglers’ caves that are best explored by kayak or paddleboard. At low tide, walk round to Little Thornwick Bay and discover a natural amphitheatre and “rapids” to swim through and plenty of rock pools. Thornwick Bay cafe (open spring to autumn) serves drinks, meals and snacks.

Best remote pubs

The Star Inn, Harbottle, Northumberland

The Star Inn, Harbottle.
The Star Inn, Harbottle. Photograph: Sarah Banks

This stylish and relaxed-feeling country pub serves Italian-inspired food, including pizzas from its courtyard kitchen. It dates back more than 200 years and was used by drovers crossing the England-Scotland border. It is near the ruins of Harbottle Castle in Coquetdale, on the edge of the moors of the Northumberland national park. It’s a great place to refuel after a hike to the Drake Stone and Harbottle Lake. It also serves as the village shop.

Birch Hall Inn, Beck Hole, North Yorkshire

Birch Hall Inn, Beck Hole.
Birch Hall Inn, Beck Hole. Photograph: Sarah Banks

The Birch Hall Inn is a small pub with two bars, hand-pulled cask beer and a sweet shop in the hamlet of Beck Hole, which is at the base of a steep hill in the wooded valley of the Murk Esk, in the North York Moors national park. Butties and pies are served alongside its fabled beer cake. It is also the base for Beck Hole’s 19th-century Quoits Club.

Crown & Anchor, Kilnsea, east Yorkshire

Crown and Anchor, Kilnsea.
Crown and Anchor, Kilnsea. Photograph: Sarah Banks

Yorkshire’s most easterly pub is at the tip of the windswept Holderness. Its picture windows actually face west over the Humber estuary and Spurn, which is why it has such great sunset views. Good food and real ales.

Best camping and glamping sites

Langley Dam Glamping, near Hexham, Northumberland

Langley Dam Glamping.
Langley Dam Glamping. Photograph: Peter Atkinson Photography

Six longboat-style cabins are beside the Langley Dam reservoir and have superb views across the water and moors beyond. It’s a short drive from Hadrian’s Wall and within walking distance of Allen Banks and Staward Gorge. Cabins sleeping four from £100 a night

Kielder Campsite, Northumberland

Kielder Campsite, Northumberland.
Kielder Campsite, Northumberland. Photograph: Sarah Banks

Tucked away in Kielder Forest, there’s no mobile signal and limited wifi at this site with a choice of pitches for tents and caravans or campers, along with four pods (up to three adults), and two family pods. It’s in a dark sky park, so is perfect for stargazing. The Kielder Observatory is nearby, too. Also on the doorstep is the 12-mile Kielder Forest Drive, a scenic journey on unsealed forest road between Kielder Castle and Blakehopeburnhaugh. Decent pub grub can be had at the Angler’s Arms.
Pitches from £12. Pods £45 a night, family pod £70 a night

Gumboots and Wellingtons, near Pickering, North Yorkshire

Gumboots and Wellingtons.
Gumboots and Wellingtons.

Choose from a shepherd’s hut or a Skandi-inspired garden den at this rustic retreat in a valley close to Ellerburn, on the edge of Dalby Forest in the North York Moors national park. The welcome basket of breakfast supplies includes granola, locally pressed apple juicewith toast and jam. There are riverside walks and forest bathing to savour, and evenings can be spent beneath star-studded dark skies.
Shepherd’s hut and cabin, sleeping two, from £117 a night

Wild Guide North East England by Sarah Banks is published by Wild Things Publishing (£18.99). Guardian reader can receive 25% off and free p&p using the code Guardian23 at