Home Cycling TypeGravel Riding The Story Behind: Northumberland Reivers Trails

The Story Behind: Northumberland Reivers Trails

Sublime singletrack and superb views – we can’t wait to show you our newest gravel riding creation exploring off the beaten track in Northumberland!

The Northumberland Reivers Trails is part of our exciting new range of gravel riding holidays. The wild and beautiful county of Northumberland is right on the doorstep of our Skedaddle HQ and we’ve spent many years exploring our local trails here.

Two gravel riders traverse the trees in Northumberland A gravel cyclist rides up a grassy hill at sunset

Our local Guide, Francis, has been leading on the development of this special gravel route. As a regular mountain biker, gravel and road cyclist for 30 plus years, Francis has spent lots of time exploring Northumberland and the Borders on his bikes.

“The Northumberland National Park has long been a destination for mountain bikers but as mountain biking progressed and moved to more techy trails, many of the old gravel trails lay forgotten. With the emergence of gravel riding, it feels like these trails have been revived and Northumberland reinvented as a new and exciting cycling destination.”

Skedaddle aren’t the only ones who see the potential for Northumberland to become a world class cycling destination. We’re excited to be involved with a community partnership between Kielder Forest, Northumberland National Park and Northumberland County Council developing a network of trails.

“The Reiver Trails are creating up to 350km of waymarked trails in Kielder Forest and the surrounding area to encourage cyclists, walkers and horse riders to enjoy this beautiful wilderness on adventures, large and small. By waymarking trails and providing gateways for people to start their adventure, we hope we can encourage everyone to come and explore this forgotten land and enjoy the fantastic vistas that stretch for miles across Northumberland. We also have ambitious plans in the longer-term to improve accessibility and open the area up to everybody.” Rob Aubrook, The Reiver Trails

A group of cyclists ride off road alongside Kielder Water

An incredible route to ride in summer…

As with every Skedaddle holiday, our own Reivers Trails were carefully recce’d. Francis, who already enjoys friendly competition with his pals to see who can come up with the best and new gravel riding routes, has been known to spend hours poring over maps and GoogleEarth satellite images. He shared a few of the challenges of route-finding in such a wild corner of the country:

“I was already familiar with many of the trails here but Northumberland is a remote county and there were still plenty of new sections to explore. It was an exciting project to work on! Anyone who has explored Northumberland on their bike will know that what’s written on the map doesn’t always translate to what’s on the ground. That was certainly the case for this recce. Some sections of bridleways and tracks simply didn’t exist or were unrideable, not to mention the ongoing changes and route diversions following the aftermath of Storm Arwen. It was a tough few days of pedalling in wet winter conditions but I’m really pleased with what we have pulled together with the improvements after the recce. The riding is excellent, and it will be an incredible route to ride in Summer!”

“One of the most rewarding things about guiding with Skedaddle is sharing routes with people and introducing them to places and trails they might not otherwise find.”

“There’s a sense that you’re about to embark on a real adventure”

Francis spoke enthusiastically about what we can expect from the riding on this adventure off-the-beaten-track:

“On the third day we descend some sublime singletrack across the moors to the gruesomely named ‘Bloody Bush Toll Road’. Here there’s a stone toll pillar inscribed with the charges for passing with livestock or coal. It’s believed that the name dates back to a battle that took place between a group of English raiders and a local warband. This whole area is shrouded in history.”

“Another highlight is the climb up to Blackhope Nick which rewards us with superb views across the forest to Kielder reservoir, Deadwater Fell and Bloody Bush. It’s always satisfying when you can see the route you have ridden over the past day or two.”

“One of my favourite days has to be the first day riding towards Kingswood Burn. As we leave Gilsland, we follow a narrow tarmac road that soon turns to gravel, which I’d rarely ridden prior to creating this route. It’s a prime example of why gravel riding is so good because you would never continue past this point on a regular road bike but with a gravel bike you can ride into the wilderness! There’s a sense that you’re about to embark on a real adventure.”

“Northumberland has already made a name for itself in the world of gravel riding thanks to the Dirty Reiver, the UK’s biggest gravel event. For me, what makes this tour stand out is that it’s very accessible. If you’re a keen mountain biker or road cyclist, then this holiday is the perfect introduction to gravel riding. It’s a chance to try something new in a remote and beautiful landscape. The area has a bit of everything in terms of history, culture and, of course, riding.”

Views across Northumberland and Hadrian's Wall A woman rides along a forest trail in the sun

A magical place steeped in history…

Northumberland is a magical place that’s steeped in history and there are many opportunities to uncover the past on this holiday.

Our journey starts and finishes at The Sill Discovery Centre next to Hadrian’s Wall. The 73-mile-long Hadrian’s Wall runs from the east coast to the west coast of England. It was built by the Romans 1900 years ago to divide the Roman Britannia from unconquered Caledonia and is recognised today as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Jump forward a thousand years and we find ourselves tracing the ancient routes of the Border Reivers. ‘The Debatable Lands’ was a lawless and bloody region that existed for almost 300 years. It was a sort of no man’s land that was too dangerous for either Scotland or England to take control of.

Bewcastle, in Cumbria, our lunch stop on the first day riding, is an isolated village shrouded in Roman and Border history. The church, farm, and castle sit on the site of a Roman fort astride the Maiden Way Roman road to Hadrian’s Wall 10km (6 miles) to the south. The fort was built around 122AD and occupied until AD 343. Later, much of the stone was recycled in the 14th Century to build the stone castle.

Local food and drinks to try…

Fuelling your ride is an important part of any cycling tour and, at Skedaddle, we’re passionate about sharing the very best local food and drinks for you to try along the way.

During your stay at Bellingham you can enjoy the outstanding food and hospitality at the award-winning Fountain Cottage, Trip Advisor’s Best Café 2021 and 2022 in Northumberland and Tyne and Wear. It’s also hugely popular with passing cyclists.

Just a short distance from here you can pop into local micro-brewery, the First and Last Brewery.

“We’re based in Bellingham in the heart of Northumberland and our beers are inspired by the wild, untamed landscape and dark night skies that surround us. We love hearing about the places people discover during their visits here and we’re excited to welcome Skedaddle’s gravel riders to our Tap Room and share our love for Northumberland over what we expect will be a well-earned evening pint.”

A group of Brewers stand in front of kegs at the First and Last Brewery

Explore the Reivers Trails in 2024!

Join us as we head off into the remote wilderness of Northumberland on our week-long gravel adventure. Learn more about our Northumberland Reivers Trails holiday and reserve your space on our 2024 trips departing in late May and July.

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