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Spotlight on…The North Pennines

The North Pennines is one of England’s most special places – a stunning landscape of open heather moors and peatlands, attractive dales and hay meadows, tumbling upland rivers, wonderful woods, welcoming communities, intriguing imprints of a mining and industrial past, distinctive birds, animals and plants and much, much more. Find out what we love about this area and step into the remote and magical world with these iFootpath walking guides…

pennines outline map

The North Pennines is one of the most remote and unspoilt places in England. In recognition of its special qualities the area has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) as well as a UNESCO Global Geopark – highlighting its globally important Earth heritage. It shares a boundary with the Yorkshire Dales National Park in the south and extends as far as the Tyne Valley, just south of Hadrian’s Wall, in the north. Parts of the North Pennines AONB are in the three counties of Cumbria, Durham and Northumberland.

It is a stunning landscape of open heather moors, dramatic dales, tumbling upland rivers, wonderful woods, inky-black night skies, close-knit communities, glorious waterfalls, fantastic birds, colourful hay meadows, stone-built villages and intriguing imprints of a mining and industrial past. The North Pennines has some of the darkest skies in the country, a result of the area being one of the most remote places in England. It sits away from the large urban cities of the North East making it a great place to make the most of the dark night skies.

pennines fact fileThe North Pennines supports an unusual and special type of flower-rich grassland – upland hay meadows. These meadows have evolved through generations of traditional farm management and, when in full bloom, they are a feast for the senses. Each year the different plants create a subtly shifting kaleidoscope of colours. The white of pignut blends into the yellow of meadow buttercup; this then slips through to the pink of red clover, wood crane’s-bill’s deep magenta and the soft lemon of hay rattle; the season ends with the blood-red blooms of great burnet and the delicate dancing heads of the grasses. Less than 900ha of upland hay meadows remain in the UK,  with 40% of these found here (350ha).

The area is famous for the variety and profusion of plants and animals found here, from red squirrels and otters to the large numbers of wading birds that breed here. 80% of the AONB benefits from traditional farming practices, which means that large tracts of the area are still a haven for wildlife. In spring and summer the moors, pastures and woodlands are alive with bird songs and displays. The grasslands support good populations of curlew, lapwing, redshank, snipe, skylark, wheatear, grey partridge. If you are walking alongside the rivers and streams look out for dipper, goosander, grey wagtail, common sandpiper, oystercatcher.

lamley viaductThe North Pennine moorlands cover more than 90,000 hectares of wind swept and remote landscape, making them the biggest continuous peatland in England. It is home to world-famous waterfalls, including the spectacular High Force, whilst the rewarding Pennine Way national trail gives access to some of the best areas of walking.

The North Pennines is excellent for walking, from the wide open, rolling views of the moorlands to pleasant riverside, meadow and woodland routes, there is something for all to enjoy. Here are some of the best walking areas and our recommended walks…

The Allen Valleys form the heart of a once thriving lead mining industry. About 12,000 people live in the North Pennines today – less than half the number who lived here 150 years ago in the heyday of the lead mining industry. The rise and fall of mining has left an indelible imprint on the landscape, not just in terms of the physical remains but also in the pattern of local settlement.

Discover this area with our walking guide, Allenheads and Byerhope Bank

The South Tyne Valley is a gloriously undiscovered place – the tumbling river fringed with ancient woods, leading the eye to the wide, open moorland beyond. These are large and spectacular landscapes that put the stresses of everyday life firmly back into perspective.

Discover the joys of this valley with our walking guide, Lambley Viaduct and Featherstone Castle

The countryside around Alston, England’s highest market town, provides some of the area’s finest walking country. Alston itself is well worth a visit, with plenty of small shops and eateries. The walking here doesn’t have to be challenging – the handy South Tyne Trail follows the trackbed of a railway meaning you can enjoy this dramatic landscape without having to build up a sweat.

Stroll through the high moorland with our walking guide, South Tyne Rail Trail: Alston and Kirkaugh

baldersdaleTeesdale is the most southerly of the Durham Dales. The sweep of the moors and crags of the upper dale have an unrivalled drama which many visitors come back to savour time and time again. Raby Estate’s white farmhouses and barns are a distinctive and memorable element in the landscape of Upper Teesdale and the stunning spectacle that is England’s biggest waterfall – High Force – adds a vibrant natural beauty to the mix

Enjoy the high moorland and meadows with our walking guide, Baldersdale Reservoirs and Moorland


Discover the River Tees and its famous waterfalls with our walking guide, Teesdale Three Waterfalls

Weardale was once the hunting ground of County Durham’s Prince Bishops. The poet WH Auden loved the North Pennines, especially the area around Rookhope. It was here in the lead mining landscapes of Weardale that he first felt his creative juices flowing.

Find out what Auden loved about the historic lead mines with our walking guide, Rookhope and the Lead Mines

waterfallJust on the outskirts of the AONB, there are plenty more gems just waiting to be discovered. Don’t miss the beautiful woodland slopes of Hamsterley Forest, County Durham’s largest forest, and the beautiful market town of Barnard Castle.

Enjoy abbey ruins and a classic market town with our walking guide, Barnard Castle and the River Tees


Get lost (not literally, of course!) in the woods with our walking guide, Hamsterley Forest Three Becks Trail

For more information about finding accommodation and visiting this wonderful area head over to

You may also like to visit the iFootpath Accommodation Directory for the north east.

22 June 2018

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