The scenic cycle route that runs from Newcastle to Berwick-upon-Tweed makes a great weekend break, passing beautiful beaches, pretty villages and dramatic castles as it winds along the coast
The northeast coast is one of the most scenic areas of England, with golden sands, lush farmland, cute Northumbrian villages, fish ‘n' chip seaside towns, mediaeval castles and traditional inns. It can easily be explored by bicycle, using the network of quiet roads and dedicated paths. Having the coast as a constant companion is the major attraction of cycling this route. It is a joy to be able to take a break from the saddle at an isolated beach and sit down for a picnic or simply stroll alongside the surf.
The presence of three of the UK's most impressive castles is another highlight. Warkworth Castle stands guard above the village of the same name. It dates back to the Norman Conquest and is mostly a ruin, but the keep is almost intact, and there is a lot of fun to be had exploring all the staircases, passages and rooms.
Next castle along the route is Dunstanburgh. This takes a bit more effort to reach, in that there is no direct road access and you have to walk one and a half miles across a field of sheep and cattle. It is a ruin with not much remaining, but it is very dramatic and the coastal setting is quite magnificent.
Bamburgh Castle is one of the most memorable sights of the entire journey - sitting on a rocky outcrop above sand dunes, it can be seen for miles around. Unlike the other two fortresses, this one is completely intact and consequently the most expensive to visit, as there are plenty of furnished rooms to explore and an aviation museum.
If you have time, there is an optional detour to another castle, Alnwick, which had a starring role in the Harry Potter films as Hogwarts. The detour is signposted from Alnmouth. Another reason to head to Alnwick is for Barter Books, one of the largest second-hand bookshops in England.
St Mary’s lighthouse, near Whitley Bay, is a worthwhile stop for the novelty of crossing a causeway at low tide and then climbing the 137 steps to the top of the lighthouse for the views.
Where to stay and eat
Alnmouth, ideal for the first night, is about 80km/50 miles from Newcastle using the cycle route. It’s a pretty coastal town, with the Hope & Anchor hotel and pub offering seven comfortable, if a little old-fashioned, rooms. The bar is the place to hang out, with several local ales to sample and a menu that won an award for using local organic produce. The famous oak-smoked Craster kippers for breakfast should not be missed. A twin room costs £90 with breakfast. Alnmouth has a station, giving you the option of making this a one-day cycle and catching a train in the morning.
Seahouses, about 35km/22 miles from Alnmouth, works well for the second night, leaving about 40km/25 miles to go until Berwick. Malabar Guest House (£27 to £30 per person per night) is a luxurious bed and breakfast with modern rooms and gorgeous en suite bathrooms with walk-in showers. You can expect a warm welcome, and the delicious slice of home-made lemon sponge cake in each room is a lovely touch. The recently opened Spice House Indian restaurant is a five-minute walk from Malabar, with the expected choices of kormas, baltis, tandoori dishes, madras and vindaloo. The food is delicious and reasonably priced.
When you are burning up this many calories, you can afford to indulge without feeling guilty. In the jolly village of Creswell, an ice cream shop called Creswell Ices offers all the classic flavours. Rum and raisin and pistachio are particularly divine, and the picnic benches out front are the ideal place to spend quality time with your purchase. The whitewashed Hermitage Inn in Warkworth offers tea and home-made scones, with the date and walnut variety highly recommended. The tea shop in Bamburgh Castle has a good selection of home baking treats.
National Cycle Network Route 1 is called, appropriately enough, Coasts and Castles. It begins in Newcastle and ends in Aberdeen. All you have to do is head down to the River Tyne in Newcastle and follow the blue signs with the bicycle symbol and red number one. These signs are posted at regular intervals so that it is virtually impossible to get lost.
The Newcastle to Berwick section of the route is mostly flat and on quiet roads with very little traffic. There are some dedicated cycle paths and some off-road parts on grass or very rough paths. This means that it will be tough going with a racing bike, and a hybrid bike is best suited. You are never far from the sea and in many cases you will find yourself riding alongside beaches or cliff edges.
The large choice of villages, with plenty of accommodation options, means that it is easy to pick and choose how far you wish to cycle each day and where you want to spend the night. This makes it ideal for a weekend getaway. The total distance is 155km/96 miles, meaning that it can be done in two to three days, depending on experience and fitness levels. I would recommend at least three days, so that you have enough time for the many sights and attractions along the way. To plan your route, the book Coasts and Castles by Andy McCandlish is worth getting hold of.
You can take your bike on the train to get you to Newcastle. There is no extra fee to transport a bicycle, but you need to book, as trains can only carry a limited number of cycles. The easiest way to do this is on the East Coast Trains website (/www.eastcoast.co.uk). It allows you to book your seat and bicycle at the same time, whereas other train booking sites require you to make a separate phone call to book the bike. This website also does not charge a booking fee or credit card handling fee and covers the entire rail network, not just the east coast, so you can use it to book wherever you are travelling from.
In most cases, taking a bike on a train is easy. My advice is to ask station staff in advance where you should stand on the platform to get on the correct part of the train for the cycle space, and to make sure you are the first off the train, so that you can get your bike off without any risk of missing the stop.