Things to do

There is a vast array of things for you to do in and around the North Pennines. Click on the list of activities below or use the interactive map to start your discovery.

Arts and craft

The landscapes of the North Pennines have a rich association with artists and writers past and present like J.M.W. Turner and W.H. Auden. There is now a wealth of artists  and craft workers producing paintings, photographic prints pottery, textiles, candles, wood and metal work in and around the AONB.

The best way to experience these artworks is by visiting one of the galleries dotted around the area such as the Allendale Forge Studios in Allendale Town and Alston Artspace in Alston both of which showcase local art. There is also a network of excellent craft shops throughout the AONB where you purchase a memento or gift or pick up craft supplies.


Bird watching

The North Pennines is a wonderful place to watch birds. The rich mix of habitats, wildlife and stunning landscapes in the AONB is unique in England. The thrilling swoop and cry of the lapwing during its breeding display and the ethereal bubbling song of the curlew are just two of the wonders to be found.

The moorlands of the North Pennines support a wide variety of birds such as the abundant red grouse, 80% of England’s black grouse and nationally important populations of golden plover, curlew, short-eared owl and merlin. Other breeding birds using the moors include dunlin, redshank, oystercatcher and meadow pipit.

Our woodlands support uncommon species like migratory wood warbler, pied flycatcher, redstart and tree pipit as well as a range of common resident species. The woodlands of Allen Banks and Staward Gorge are home to a population of the fish eating gossander. While upland hay meadows are of great importance to breeding birds such as yellow wagtail, redshank and lapwing.

Our bird walks will introduce you to the North Pennines, its special habitats and birds. Alternatively book a place on a wildlife tour or take part in one of the events at the Moor House-Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve and Geltsdale RSPB Nature Reserve.


Bushcraft and adventure

The North Pennines is ideal place to immerse yourself in nature, learn valuable skills, or try out an exciting new activity.

Bushcraft courses are available for all ages where you can learn useful survival skills like building shelters, finding food and water and making fire. Other adventurous activities available in the North Pennines include expedition training, first aid courses, ghyll scrambling, navigation training and mine exploration.

There are some excellent outdoor centres in the North Pennines like the Weardale Adventure Centre, the Robinwood Activity Centre at Barhaugh Hall and the Alston Training and Adventure Centre. There are also a number of qualified outdoor instructors offering a diverse range of activities and courses throughout the AONB, including rock climbing, canoeing and kayaking.


Canoeing and kayaking

Four major northern rivers, the Eden, Tyne, Wear and Tees, all have headwaters in the North Pennines. At certain times of year these rivers offer great sport for experienced kayakers. In addition, there are opportunities for canoeing at Talkin Tarn.  

Kayaking is allowed by permit from Raby Estates on the River Tees in Upper Teesdale. The most popular spot is between High Force and Wynch Bridge at Low Force but please be aware there are grade 4 sections here. Permits can be obtained from Raines Ironmongers and the Raby Estate Office in Middleton-in-Teesdale and the High Force Gift Shop in Forest-in-Teesdale.

The River Wear also has some challenging waterfalls, including a large one at Cowshill, and the river has a grade 3 rating for almost the entire length of Weardale.

On the River Eden there is a grade 2 (grade 3 in high water) run down from Lazonby to Armathwaithe. The River South Tyne can be kayaked from Tynehead to Hexham with grades ranging from 1 to 4. The lower sections of the River South Tyne are suitable for open canoes.

There are access agreements in place for all of these rivers with the exception of the River Wear. Canoes and boating opportunities are available at Talkin Tarn Country Park on the north western edge of the North Pennines. There are a number of organisations and businesses that offer canoeing and kayaking instruction throughout the AONB


Climbing

With fascinating geology, the North Pennines offers good opportunities for climbing. You will find quiet spots with challenging climbs. There are access agreements in place for some crags. 

Climbing in the AONB is mainly on three rock types: gritstone; limestone; and dolerite. Best known of the gritstone crags is Goldsborough in Baldersdale. Limestone is represented best at some of the more southerly locations such as Brough Scar and Windmore End, whilst dolerite can be enjoyed at Holwick Scar, near Middleton-in-Teesdale. There are indoor climbing walls at Barnard Castle Leisure Centre and Wolsingham Sports Hall.

Climbing is a permitted activity on Open Access Land. Visit the Natural England website for details of temporary closures. See the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) site and follow links to the Regional Access Database for up-to-date crag access information. The BMC also has volunteer Access Representatives covering the Eden Valley, Durham and Northumberland. Access arrangements for Holwick Scar have become a nationally important model for the reconciliation of access to ecologically important sites. It is really important that the published guidelines are followed correctly. Visit the BMC site for up to date details. Rock climbing courses in the AONB are also available from some licensed providers


Culture

The North Pennines has a distinctive culture which has developed as a result of the relationship  between local communities and the landscape. Artists and poets like J.M.W. Turner and W.H. Auden were inspired by the landscape of the North Pennines and contributed to the culture of the area through their acclaimed work.

Aspects of the past lives of lead miners are explored at Killhope Museum in Upper Weardale, from their daily toil to their mineral collections which are proudly displayed in spar boxes. The collections on display in the nearby Weardale Museum showcase what domestic life was like during the same period and documents the expansion of Methodism in the region. The Bowes Museum’s impressive galleries display examples of fine and decorative art spanning the 14th to the 20th centuries. There are numerous excellent agricultural shows which take place during the summer and the famous Tar Bar'l Festival which lights up the streets of Allendale on New Years Eve.


Cycling

The North Pennines abounds in two-wheeled excitement and adventure! If your passion is moorland tracks beneath your wheels then look no further! Alternatively if road routes are more your style - the AONB has quiet country roads a plenty!   

The area has some of the country's best cycling. Quiet country roads, a range of traffic-free routes, unequalled scenery and a wide choice of places to stay make it a great destination! The C2C, Pennine Cycleway and Walney to Wear (and Whitby) National Cycle Routes all pass through the North Pennines.

In Hamsterley Forest you will find a variety of trails provided by the Forestry Commission ranging from leisurely forest roads to technical singletrack. The North Pennines is also home to the Roof of England Sportive and the Ride the Reservoir race.

Several businesses offer cycle hire including North Pennine Cycles in Nenthead, Pedal Pushers in Brampton and Wood 'N' Wheels in Hamsterley Forest.


Fishing

The North Pennines boasts some of the finest upland reservoirs and rivers, renowned for the quality of their fishing. Fish in some of England's most spectacular landscapes with excellent opportunities for beginners as well as experts!  

Northumbrian Water maintains several well stocked and attractive upland trout reservoirs. Average catches are of between four and five fish. There are opportunities for coarse, fly and multi-bait fishing at Derwent, Cow Green, Selset, Grassholme, Balderhead, Blackton and Hury reservoirs across the North Pennines.

There are several excellent game fishing opportunities on rivers in the North Pennines including the South Tyne, Tyne, West and East Allen, Tees, Eden and the Wear. There are several fishing shops in and around the North Pennines. Northumbrian water has a shop at Grassholme Reservoir that sell rod licenses, bait, tackle, rod, reels and refreshments. There are other shops in Consett and Barnard Castle in Co. Durham, Hexham in Northumberland and Kirkby Stephen and Penrith in Cumbria.


Food trails

Whether you’re hiking, biking or riding, these food trails will help you find the best in fresh, wholesome local food along the way.

The 'On the Taste Trails' follow the course of old railway lines and rivers and venture onto the heather moorlands of the North Pennines. Two of these trails are on public bridleways so are suitable for horse riders and cyclists and the other two trails are on public footpaths. So you don’t grow weak on the way, some great places to eat a hearty local lunch, have a comforting cup of coffee or just a snack are highlighted in the On the Taste Trail  leaflets.


Horse riding

The North Pennines offers a range of opportunities for horse riding, from leisurely guided pony rides for beginners, to technical upland hacks across historic packhorse trails for the more experienced.   

Discover our networks of bridleways and quiet lanes rom the saddle. One of the best ways to enjoy horse riding in the North Pennines is through one of the area's six riding centres. These centres offer riding lessons and pony and horse trekking.

Our five 'do in a day' Packhorse Trail routes are ideal if you want to ride with confidence in the exhilarating landscapes of the North Pennines. The routes have been developed to help you to explore the area on horseback along some of our oldest networks, including improvements in surfacing, water crossings and gates, with horse riders in mind. The Packhorse Trails guidebook can be bought from the AONB Partnership office.


Information points

The North Pennines AONB has excellent information points where you can find people with a wealth of local knowledge and information to offer both visitors and local people.  

Information points are great places to find out more about the North Pennines. Knowledgeable and friendly staff are on hand providing a wide range of services. You will find lots of information on places to visit and local events, as well as where to stay and public transport options.


Nature watching

The North Pennines has wonderful wonderful wildlife owing to the variety of interwoven habitats that are found here. These habitats include moorland, upland hay meadows, woodland rivers and reservoirs.

There are many great sites in the North Pennines from which to see our important flora and fauna. The North Pennines is home to 40% of the UK’s species rich upland hay meadows. Some of the beautiful wildflowers found in these meadows include wood cranes-bill, globeflower, marsh hawks-beard and melancholy thistle. Our Hay Time meadow walks are a great way to see them.

There are a number of woodland walks in the AONB such as Derwent Gorge and the National Trust's Allen Banks and Staward Gorge, which allow you to see many of their characteristic species of plants and wildlife.

Several of the North Pennines Bird Walks take you to places to see moorland bird species and habitats like blanket bog and heather moorland, which turns a glorious shade of purple in August. The Pennine Way National Trail in Teesdale and the Weardale Way both closely follow the courses of the River Tees and Wear.  There are also wildlife hides at Derwent Reservoir and the RSPB Geltsdale Nature Reserve.


Outdoor education

There are several organisations and businesses in the North Pennines which provide quality outdoor education.

There are numerous forest school providers and outdoor centres which offer educational courses in the North Pennines. These courses are compatible with the national curriculum and allow children to have fun while they are learning in a safe environment. For example, Harehope Quarry near Frosterley is a venue for forest schools and offers its own courses on flora and fauna, geology and sustainable living. The providers listed which offer activities such as caving, climbing, trekking and watersports have been inspected and licensed by the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority.


Picnicking

There are many great spots to enjoy a picnic in the North Pennines with great views you can savour while you enjoy a bite to eat. Why not make your picnic extra special and sample some of the exquisite produce from our local food producers while you’re at it?

Enjoying good food outdoors is one of those rare pleasures in life. If you are in the mood for some alfresco dining you’ll be spoiled for choice in the North Pennines. There is one accredited Country Park, with picnic facilities, at Talkin Tarn. Elsewhere in the AONB picnic sites can be found in the historic market town of Alston, overlooking Cow Green, Tunstall and the other Teesdale reservoirs, and in numerous woodland locations like at Bowlees Visitor Centre and Hamsterley Forest. All of these sites provide parking, picnic tables, interpretation, with walking trails nearby and many have additional facilities like accessible toilets, shops


Running

With large areas of open access land and a huge network of footpaths the North Pennines is great for fell and trail runners who wish to explore somewhere new.

For the competitively minded, the North East Marathon Club runs an annual marathon through the fantastic surroundings of Hamsterley Forest. Shorter but no less challenging races take place from the Eden Valley like the Inov-8 High Cup Nick Fell Race. Teesdale Athletics Club hosts a 10K and 5K fun run on the beautiful grounds of Raby Castle.  A 268 mile ultra-marathon called the Spine Race also traverses the North Pennines on the Pennine Way National Trail. The lattice like network of public rights of way and the large area of open access land in the AONB also offer unlimited potential for you to create your own routes.


Sailing

The many reservoirs constructed in the late 19th and early 20th century provide the perfect venue for sailing within dramatic landscapes.

There are a number of different sailing clubs in the North Pennines based on Grassholme and Derwent Reservoirs and at Talkin Tarn. All are open to new members. Derwent Reservoir Sailing Club and Teesdale Sailing Club (based at Grassholme Reservoir) offer a variety of Royal Yachting Association approved sailing courses. Visiting sailors with the own craft are also welcome at both reservoirs provided they have third party insurance and they pay the day sailing fee.


Stargazing

Some of the darkest skies in England are found in the North Pennines.  Much of the area is remote, wild countryside with little development and the views of the night sky are second to none.

During the winter months (the best time for stargazing) the constellation of Orion can be seen in the sky from almost everywhere in the AONB. Clear views of the Milky Way can also be seen with the naked eye from more remote locations in the area.

In recognition of its spectacular dark skies, the North Pennines AONB Partnership has worked with Edinburgh Observatory to designate 16 official Dark Sky Discovery Sites - more than any other Protected Landscape in the UK. Each of these locations has been recognised as a fantastic place for amateur and professional astronomers to stargaze.  

More information on Dark Sky Discovery Sites can be found at www.darkskydiscovery.org.uk


Walking

The North Pennines has a vast rights of way network, including the Pennine Way National Trail, numerous circular walks and large areas of open access land making it a great place to go for a walk.  

From the challenges of the open moorland landscape of the fells, to the more intimate feel of the dales, if you're into walking you'll love the many opportunities that the North Pennines offers! There's everything from challenging long distance routes like the Pennine Way to gentle riverside rambles. You'll find a good network of Public Rights of Way, integrated with the expansive rights of open access.

The AONB Partnership produces a wide variety of themed, self-guided, walks booklets and leaflets and there are a large number of walking guides produced by others, available for the area. Many of these publications are available to download from this website. The towns of Brampton and Kirkby Stephen, just outside the AONB both have also been awarded the Walkers are Welcome status.


Winter sports

The North Pennines has some of the best winter sport opportunities in England, with well established ski tows in Weardale, Allenheads and Yad Moss. Both day skiing/snowboarding and annual memberships are available from the clubs. 

The North Pennines are one of the snowiest parts of the UK, with snow lying on the ground for around 2 months of the year. For those who wish to go off piste, cross country skiing and ski touring are permitted over open access land. Much of the North Pennines is ideal for cross-country within the broad dales and open high plateaus.

Experienced walkers venturing out during winter conditions in the North Pennines are in for an exhilarating day with glorious views.