New, 120-mile Sandstone Way will create cycle tourism opportunities the length of Northumberland in 2015
11 December 2014
A brand-new, 120-mile (193 kms) mountain bike trail has been announced for the 2015 tourist season linking Berwick-upon-Tweed and Hexham via Northumberland’s most spectacular coastal and countryside scenery. The Sandstone Way’ will create opportunities for tourism services along its route in the way that long-distance walking trails have done for the area in recent years. It runs along the sandstone ridge in North Northumberland, linking numerous sandstone crags and outcrops along its entire length with many spectacular views . Between Berwick and Hexham it passes through numerous villages and small communities including Wooler, Belford, Rothbury, Elsdon and Bellingham, taking in the Simonside Ridge and other features of Northumberland National Park. Cyclists will experience a ride through an amazing, ever-changing landscape which is rich in history, geology and iconic scenery. The new trail is aimed at mountain bikers with as much as possible off-road and link sections on very quiet country lanes, and it has been designed to safely cross rivers, main roads and railway lines. It will appeal to riders of all abilities and most will take 3 or 4 days to complete it, whilst the ‘fit and the fast’ could possibly ride the route in 2 days. It’s almost certain some mountain bikers will try to do the whole route in a day but the organizers hope that families will be encouraged to ride safe, traffic-free sections of it with older children. The route is clearly way marked on the ground with the distinctive green and yellow “S” roundel, and ten optional loops are also offered to appeal to ‘day riders’ who wish to cycle back to their starting point or follow a more challenging option. Package holidays to cycle the Sandstone Way have already been developed by tour operator, Rich Rothwell, the 24-hour endurance mountain bike rider who tested the route earlier this year said: “I thoroughly enjoyed the day and I am sure that many people will enjoy this route – incredibly quiet roads and some lovely flowing off road sections with stunning Northumberland scenery.” The Sandstone Way is the brainchild of passionate cyclist, Ted Liddle, who designed the route building on a basic suggestion from Victoria Brown of Northumberland Joint Local Access Forum. It was seed funded by Northumberland National Park Authority, who has also dealt with the complex administration, and it has been developed in conjunction with the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Project, Northumberland County Council, Northumberland Tourism, , Tyne Valley Mountain Bike Club and Recreational Tourism Services. Funding for infrastructure has been provided by The Rural Development Programme for England through the Northern Lands Project.The Sandstone Way partnership will be conducting a series of training and familiarization sessions with tourism businesses in the area over the winter to help them make the most of the opportunities to welcome cyclists. Ted Liddle said: “The Sandstone Way was designed to link some of the best lengths of off-road track in Northumberland taking mountain bikers into Northumberland’s hidden corners on centuries-old tracks and historic byways. The route traverses magnificent unspoilt scenery and offers iconic views with the sensation of remoteness. Cycling the Sandstone Way really is an adventure which guarantees a truly memorable experience for all the right reasons.” Duncan Wise, Visitor Development Manager at Northumberland National Park added: “We are in the business of making memories, and those riding the Sandstone Way will have a wonderful excuse to stay longer in this beautiful part of the world. The more folk use local accommodation, shops and services, the more our market towns and villages will stay vibrant and sustainable.” Cycling tourism is on the increase in Northumberland with many visitors making the most of the county’s quiet and scenic roads and challenging hills.The boost has come about through a wide range of new events and facilities that have made it easy for people to bring their bikes north to enjoy challenging but unpressured rides. The information portal , which was launched in 2013 has created an easy point of contact for all things cycling in the area. In the last few years, the National Park has been sponsoring the Curlew Cup, an elite women’s road race in the Virgin Money Cyclone, whose challenge race runs through the National Park from Matfen. The massive success of the cycling challenges has given hundreds of cyclists a taste of the Cheviots and Glendale, and Kielder’s well-known forest routes are a magnet for MTB riders. 2015 will also see the Tour of Britain coming to the county, which will focus cycling-aficionados’ attention on Northumberland from across the World.The time is right for a new, county-long route that offers more than a day’s ride for the leisure cyclist and the Sandstone Way fits the bill on many levels: scenery, safety, challenge and welcome. It is planned to launch the new trail in the Spring and a new website is under way. Both Hexham and Berwick upon Tweed are served by rail, and there are bus connections along the coast and into the valleys of the National Park for those wishing to make a holiday of it and leave the car behind. The Sandstone Way uses existing Public Rights of Way for most of its length, including an interesting mix of double-width dirt tracks, sections of singletrack, unsurfaced lanes and bridleways of all types as well as byways and little known Unclassified County Roads (UCRs). There are linking sections of quiet minor roads and surfaced country lanes. A distinctive route map will be available in the early spring.