This is a fantastic route, which three of us cycled in three days in September 2019. As the beginning and end are both major stations on LNER, it’s an ideal break from London.
Day one was bikes on early trains to Newcastle (courtesy of LNER – oddly you still have to book the bikes by ‘phone as the website can’t cope with the concept), and then straight down to the Tyneside to start alongside the bridges at about ten in the morning. First mile or so is fabulous sequence of bridges and riverside sights, then you start to weave through the back of Newcastle on an old railway line up above the Tyne. Views of the old Roman Fort at Wallsend on one side, and the old Tyne Yards on the other. Quite a lot of light industrial, but then the route breaks out beautifully at Tynemouth where the route climbs onto the cliffs and starts north. Stretches of promenade interspersed with dunes and houses all the way to Seaton, then into Blyth. The new route through Blyth is apparently an improvement, but the lack of a crossing to North Blyth and Cambois forces a long dogleg inland. After that, it just gets better and better, with a long coastal stretch from Lynemouth along Druridge Bay and into Amble. The Harbour Fish Bar in Amble (corner of Broomhill Street) is a great chippie, from which you can coast down to the harbourside, demolish your chips, and admire the view north, where the castles are starting to come into view. Full of chips and ice cream, roll on to Warkworth, below the castle (very fine Percy fortress, restored by Salvin if you have time), then along the dedicated cycle route (full marks to Sustrans for this stretch), all the way to Alnmouth. We were pressed for time, so skipped what is a lovely little port on this occasion, but it would make a good stop if you are taking longer over the route. Then to Boulmer, we stayed on the coastal “off road” route, which is slow going in places even on hybrids, but worth it, not least for the magical little cove where Howick Burn meets the sea. Missed our route at Craster (great views to Dunstanburgh though) so stayed with the C-Road via Dunstan to Embleton (where there is good village shop for sugary stuff) and then we cut the corner, staying on the B-Road and lanes West of Seahouses, to rejoin the main route for the fabulous run into Bamburgh, where a quick climb to the seaward side of the Armstrong-restored castle (arrive at sunset for the full red sandstone effect), with a stunning view over the bay and the Farne Islands, is a highlight of the trip. From there, inland to Belford, crossing the main line and the A1, and a long steep pull up to the northern end of the village. As we were staying at the campsite/bunkhouses in the southern end, we then coasted downhill again! Dinner at the very hospitable Black Swan (we arrived five minutes before the kitchen closed apparently, but they ignored that and fed us mains and proper puddings without a blink), several beers and then to the bunkhouse at Bluebell Farm, fine for biking lads. Amazed to find the Co-Op in Belford opens at seven am even on a Sunday, so breakfast was sorted as well. Eighty or so miles, day one.
Day Two started at the Belford Co-Op, (just needs a coffee machine and it will be perfect!), then North (back up the hill which starts the day with a warm-up) towards Lindisfarne, with fine views from the high road to the west of the A1. Crossed the A1 at the Lindisfarne turning, where the A1 café behind the Esso Station is a gem – finally a coffee (damn fine latté), and bacon sandwiches comprised second breakfast. Down to the Lindisfarne causeway, where the festival was just dispersing, then north along the coastal dykes, past old RAF bunkers and through a links golf course towards Berwick. The stretch over the cliffs to Berwick again slow on hybrids (slightly “yompy”), but this is a glorious stretch of cycling with the east coast main line for occasional company. Swoop down onto the promenade at Berwick then followed the Tweed round to the bridge, and into the old town. Once across the bridge, turn immediately left up Bank Hill for “The Loovre”: specialist coffee and sticky cakes sold from a converted Victorian toilet, if the weather is as good as it was for us, you can sun yourself against the retaining wall opposite below Meg’s Mount, and revel in a serious coffee and sugar hit. Once sugared and caffeine’d up then it’s up the hill out of town and away from the Coast, but not yet the Castles. The Union Chain Bridge is too photogenic to be real, Norham Castle is a little gem, and then you track west on silent straight country lanes, cutting occasionally across a busy A-Road running north-south until, in our case, Kelso for lunch. Greggs in Kelso is great. The Abbey looks good too, but we were very hungry. On to St Boswells, via the second supermodel of a suspension bridge at Dryburgh, and over a privilege of a cycling road (closed to cars) across the edge of the Eildon Hills into Melrose and Galashiels. At Galashiels we stopped at the Kingsknowes Hotel, a Victorian Scottish Baronial house nicely converted into a hotel, slightly tucked away at the back of a housing estate. Due to the evil looking A-Roads which join up here, we doglegged into Galashiels and back out, had we but known, we could have followed the cycle route alongside the Tweed to Netherbarns, where a short sharp climb brings you onto the A7 (with a pavement cycle route), a mere five hundred yards from the Hotel. Kingsknowes hotel brilliant if you’re on this route or just in the area. Staff fantastically friendly and helpful, garages for bikes, comfy rooms, serious showers, nice bar, and good food. Seriously haggis-rich menu (dinner and breakfast in my case). 70 odd miles. Day Two.
Day Three a damp start, but with a good breakfast, we set off along the Tweed towards Innerleithen. We stayed north of the Tweed as far as Peel (rain and the forestry track of the alternative route sounded too slow and risky as we were on a hard deadline for trains home), but crossed to the southern bank at Peel, and followed the lovely lane through the forestry on the southern slopes as far as Walkerburn, whence the new cycle path across the meadows to Innerleithen. There we turned north (with clear directions from a friendly postman), into the Moorfoot hills. This is a superb stretch, wild, exposed, a gradual steady ascent, (rain had eased to a pleasantly cooling breeze), a fast descent into the saddle, another climb to the second, higher, summit, and then the drop off the north side, touching 40 mph on loaded tourers as we raced down. The last few miles into Edinburgh felt a bit scrappy in comparison, as it fights to stay on the cycle paths the route “dog legs” through Dalkeith and out towards Musselburgh, but then it all straightens up along the old railway route into the middle of town. Greeted by a cyclist, “where from - Newcastle two days ago - good stuff lads”. Then up to the New Town to finish (worrying about traffic and thinking of a helmet for the first time in three days). Beers and a late lunch, then onto the train to London, arriving just before nine in the evening. 60 miles or so.
A brilliant three days. With more time, there are the Castles, Lindisfarne, Berwick, the Monasteries at Kelso, Melrose, Dryburgh, whilst the highlights in cycling terms are the sparsely beautiful coastal run north of Lindisfarne, and the wilder stretch from Galashiels to Innerleithen and through the Moorfoot Hills. Starts and Ends are a bit so-so (most routes into cities seem to be so/so because of suburbs and light industry), so if you’re taking longer over it, we’d advise putting the extra days days in the middle between Amble and the Moorfoot Hills, so you can wallow in the beauty of the Northumberland Coast and the Borders.