What are you interested in discovering? Click on the list below or use the interactive map to start exploring the special features of the North Pennines.
People have been leaving their mark on the North Pennines landscape since the first inhabitants arrived approximately 10,000 years ago; most visibly through the construction of buildings and other structures.
This built heritage is important from a cultural and historical standpoint because it illustrates how our society has changed and evolved. There are many examples of built heritage that can be seen throughout the North Pennines AONB dating from the Bronze Age to the present. Some of our most impressive built heritage includes Epiacum Roman Fort, Muggleswick Grange and the village of Blanchland, which is built on the site of a medieval abbey.
The special character of the North Pennines landscape has its foundations in the underlying rocks and the geological processes which have shaped it over hundreds of millions of years of Earth’s history.
Tropical seas, deltas, rainforests, molten rock, deserts and ice sheets have all played a part in creating the bare bones of our landscape. People arrived in the North Pennines a few thousand years ago, heralding a new stage in the evolution of the area – a landscape that is continually evolving through natural processes and human activity. Great places to see this geology include Low Force and High Force, Cauldron Snout, High Cup Nick and Ashes Quarry.
Over 40% of the UK's upland hay meadows are found in the North Pennines AONB! his is now a rare habitat throughout Europe and recognised as of European Importance.
The best upland hay meadows are very species-rich and differ from lowland hay meadows in having several characteristic northern species such as wood cranes-bill, globeflower, marsh hawks-beard and melancholy thistle. A special group of upland hay meadow plants called Lady's mantles are also found here, six of which are rare and three of which are found nowhere else in the UK.
Upland hay meadows are very important to breeding birds like yellow wagtail, redshank and lapwing and a feeding area for black grouse. The best upland hay meadows are now scattered across the dales in the AONB. The best examples are found in the upper parts of Teesdale, Weardale, and the South Tyne Valley, as well as parts of Lunedale, Baldersdale and East Allendale.
From medieval times, the North Pennines became one of Britain’s most important lead mining areas.
Mining was on a relatively small scale until the mid-18th century, but from this time until the early 20th century much of the area was dominated by lead mining and the landscape was transformed. Levels were driven miles underground to exploit the lead veins and the ground surface became stubbed with mine complexes, dressing floors and smelt mills. The hills were crisscrossed with leats providing water power to various sites, flues taking noxious gases away from the smelt mill to chimneys high up on the hills, and tracks and railways providing access to all the different sites. Aside from lead iron, coal and later fluorspar were also mined here. Elsewhere quarrymen extracted limestone, sandstone and whinstone from the ground.
After these industries went into decline in the late 19th and early 20th century these mines and quarries were closed, often leaving all their buildings and structures and equipment in situ. As a result the North Pennines has been left with a rich industrial heritage which is best appreciated at sites like Killhope Lead Mining Museum, Shildon Engine House and Ashes Quarry.
From the high summits of Cross Fell and the wind swept expanses of blanket bog on the plateau above Lunedale, to the high ridges between the eastern and northern dales, the moorland landscapes of the North Pennines are some of England’s wildest places.
They are home to some of our rarest and most charismatic wildlife and have an unspoilt sense of naturalness and remoteness found in few other places in our crowded country. A walk on the moors offers a sense of tranquillity and isolation that is difficult to find elsewhere in England. These peatlands have important environmental functions such as reducing flood risk, providing a source of clean drinking water and acting as carbon sinks. Peatlands also preserve important archaeological heritage and organic matter like pollen grains, which provide evidence of environmental change. This moorland is accessible through public rights of way and much of it is open access land.
There are several places to take in the stunning landscape of the North Pennines; either from a roadside viewpoint or from top of a fell.
From the viewpoint at the Hartside café there is a spectacular view over the Eden Valley and the Solway Coast and the mountains of the Lake District. The summit of Cross Fell offers expansive of the Eden Valley, while the moorland of Alston Moor can be seen from the Pennine Way leading from it eastern slopes to Garrigill. Stunning moorland views can be seen in Weardale and Teesdale from various points along the B6278 road between Stanhope and Middleton-in-Teesdale. There are also sublime views of Upper Teesdale and the Moor House National Nature Reserve from the viewpoint at Cow Green Reservoir.
The North Pennines provides waters from its reservoirs for many surrounding towns and cities; these reservoirs have become home to a range of bird and animal life, including otters and an important breeding population of wigeon.
Our reservoirs are also great places for fishing and sailing and their banks are popular with walkers and cyclists. There are some natural lakes found in the North Pennines such as Great Rundale Tarn and Tindale Tarn.
The world famous rivers Tyne, Wear and Tees all have the birthplace high in the North Pennines.
Our rivers are home to otter, water vole, brown trout and Atlantic salmon. Birdlife found here includes dipper, common sandpiper, kingfisher and grey wagtail, with gossander where woodland provides opportunities for nesting.
The rivers also have a diverse range of features, such as riffles, shingle banks and pools, which each support a range of plants and animals. Several North Pennine rivers have attractive and sometimes dramatic waterfalls, notably High Force, Low Force, Cauldron Snout and Ashgill Force. As well as being of considerable geological interest, they make an important contribution to a sense of place and are popular places to visit.
With its mixture of upland habitats the North Pennines is home to an amazing variety of wildlife.
The upland hay meadows and associated habitats support several species of breeding waders and are important feeding areas for invertebrates and bats. Moorlands are home to birds like red grouse, black grouse, curlew, golden plover, merlin, peregrine and short-eared owl. Adders are found in moorland and heath and wetter areas of moorland are also home to amphibians.
The headwaters of streams and rivers are particularly important wildlife habitats and support species not found in other parts of river systems. Many uplands streams and rivers of the North Pennines are strongholds for water voles. Otters can be found in lots of streams and reservoirs in the area. Some of the woodlands of the AONB support birds like migratory pied flycatcher and the wood warbler and red squirrels are found in several locations throughout the region.
Upland woodland was once a much more common feature in the North Pennines landscape, but the remaining woodlands are important for their contribution to the landscape and for the biodiversity which they support.
There are approximately 5,000 hectares of woodland in the North Pennines . There are 930 hectares of ancient and semi-natural woodland, much of which occurs in steep gills, which have been difficult to graze with sheep or clear for agriculture. Others are found along river valleys, particularly the Allen and South Tyne. Conifer plantations make up a substantial proportion of the woodland cover of the AONB, but there are also mixed ash, oak and wet woodlands. Some of the conifer plantations support red squirrel populations such as at Killhope Museum. Some great woodlands to visit include Derwent Gorge and Muggleswick wood, Allen Banks and Staward Gorge and Hamsterley Forest.