Sunday, 7 August 2016

Lovely things to do #2: Go for a walk up to Simonside

One of the happier facts about living in Newcastle is how quickly you can get somewhere lovely and interesting by heading out of town in all four directions. To the west, Hadrian's Wall, Sycamore Gap and Kielder. To the east, Tynemouth and the coast. Durham is to the south (as is Sunderland, but hey, every rule needs an exception). Perhaps the finest rural treasures however lie in the direction of the big point on the compass. We're intimately familiar with the pristine coast that leads up towards the border, but the walk up to Simonside, just south of Rothbury was somewhere we had neglected, until recently, and is the subject of today's lovely thing to do. Prepare to be lovelied!

We tried to do the walk years ago during winter, but the elements were against us; sheets of snow came down just as we emerged from the treeline making things a touch treacherous for comfort. At this time, things are considerably more favourable.

Access is dead easy- from Newcastle, head towards Rothbury and then to the free (keep those forests in public ownership, people) Forestry Commission Simonside car park. NE65 7NW in your sat nav will get you there. There are a couple of short walks signposted from the car park, but we wanted to get up to the crag. The route that gets you there and back is a loop of four and half miles.

The first chunk of it takes you through some lovely peaceful mixed species woodland. We spotted a red squirrel, great spotted woodpeckers and a woodcock as well as a bunch of less noteworthy nature. Just as you're getting warmed up the trees thin out as you hit an area which has been clear-felled and you get your first look at the majestic crags in whose direction you are headed.

Onwards and upwards
The views start to get really good. We stopped for a brew from the flask and took it in. At this point we started to hear some weird noises which sounded a bit like an irritable Jack Russell.

It turned out these were being made by the local population of Grouse, who were clearly unhappy that we were trespassing on their heathery scrub. Grouse is one of my favourite things to eat. Lucky for these guys the season hadn't started yet.

The steepest section is the 10 minutes or so which takes you right up to the crags themselves. You can convince yourself you're in a fantasy novel at this point, questing across the landscape. Until a luminously gore-texed hiker comes in the other direction and spoils the illusion.

From the top the views, at least on a clear day like the one we did it on, are truly first rate. It's an excellent spot from which to get a sense of the topography of the whole region. You can see the Cheviots, out to the coast, south back towards Newcastle and across to Kielder. We put a couple of stones on the cairn at the very top, and ate some sandwiches, legs swinging off the edge of a cliff as the grouse zoomed grumpily around below us.

I struck a pose and the light went a bit weird...
From the crags themselves, the path takes you through heathery moorland which bore the marks of having been recently burned, until you descend back down into the vivid greens of the forest.

At a total cost of zero pounds (not including petrol money and sarnie tax, obvs) this is just a sensational way to spend a chunk of your weekend, or any other time you might happen to have spare (teachers, I'm looking at you). The walk is long enough to feel rewarding but short enough to be well doable for even the more out-of-shape among us. Get on it!

Lovely thing to do rating: Got to be a 10/10. Notwithstanding the fact that we got a bit lucky with the weather, you'll get to feel good about yourself and (assuming you're from round these parts) reminded of how beautiful the region you've called home is. How much lovelier can you get than that? Pro-tip: defo bring a flask of strong tea and some good sandwiches.


  1. Oh wow how beautiful! We've finally bought ourselves a car which means we can get out on adventures, there are so many places that I still want to explore and this is definitely getting added to the list!

    1. Nice one, enjoy your car! Lots of new places for you to get to now.


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