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This is Durham: Hamsterley Forest

This stunning setting is the perfect escape, whether you want to get active or just enjoy some fresh air

One of Durham’s most popular rural attractions is Hamsterley Forest which is managed by the Forestry Commission.

A thousand acres of woodland, streams, sloping valleys and high plateau between Teesdale and Weardale in the Durham Dales, in the heart of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

It is best-known for its stunning natural beauty and for the range of outdoor activities on offer.

Whether you are looking for a challenging mountain biking trail or a drink in the tranquil surroundings of the tea shop – or anything in between – Hamsterley is the place to go. The forest opens every day. For those on foot, entrance is free and the paths are always open; motorists pay £3 per car (£5 on bank holiday weekends) which allows all the passengers to spend the day in the woods until the gates close as darkness falls.

The four-mile Forest Drive, from the newlyrefurbished visitor centre to Blackling Hole, is a good starting point: part-tarmac road, part-woodland track, it winds through the Bedburn Valley and some of the forest’s most stunning scenery.

There are picnic sites throughout the area, and an adventure playground for children as well as several natural play areas; and at weekends there are often woodland-based activities to suit a variety of ages, from foraging for food to building a waterproof den.

The forest is ideal territory for anyone wanting a decent walk, or to ride a bike through attractive surroundings. Five hiking trails, each starting from a car park, meander through the forest. Some are easy, others provide more of a challenge, and they vary in length from a mile to four and a half miles. But all are clearly waymarked, and offer a stunning selection of scenery: steep slopes, streams and waterfalls, and an array of wildlife.

Walkers can follow specially-designated paths, while bikers can explore 33 miles of signposted trails as well as numerous other forest roads, which ensures there is something for every age and ability level, from absolute beginners to those experts who want the thrill of an extreme mountain bike ride.

Bike hire

Bikes are available to hire from Wood ‘n Wheels, which is located across the road from the tea rooms and is open daily during the summer, and at weekends throughout the year.

Prices start at £15 for two hours of hire (from £10 for children).

The shop also runs training courses and special events, can offer advice about suitable trails, and has an onsite repair shop.

Where to stay in Durham

Durham has a host of accommodation options which provide facilities for cyclists and walkers. Click here are a few highlights.

To discover more of Durham’s great outdoors, visit thisisdurham.com/outdoors