The North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a landscape of vast heather-clad moorlands, contrasting with dramatic dales; upland meadows, many of which contain rare wild plants; rushing streams and waterfalls and picturesque stone-built villages and small towns.
The peace and tranquillity of the woodland walk from Forest-in-Teesdale towards the River Tees is broken by the sound of a distant rumble, an indication that the path is getting close to High Force. As the waterfall comes into view, the background noise becomes deafening, and the power of the water is breath-taking as it thunders dramatically into the river below.
High Force is the best-known natural feature of Teesdale, the most southerly of the Durham Dales, sitting beneath Weardale to the north.
Together they form part of the North Pennines, which 25 years ago was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – and as any visitor to the region will agree, the title is more than justified. Ten years ago the area became Britain’s first European Geopark, an internationally-recognised status which acknowledges the importance of the area’s geological heritage – which includes High Force, created by the erosion of the rock over millions of years.
There is plenty to explore here, and there are several ways to travel. Roads link the main centres, but to stick to the road network alone is to miss out on the remote beauty and sense of tranquillity that the Durham Dales and North Pennines AONB can offer. For a real sense of freedom the best way to explore is on foot, or on a bike.
Two wheels, two feet
Three major cycle trails cross the Durham Dales and North Pennines AONB. The C2C meanders across the moors, entering Durham just after Allenheads, before passing near Stanhope to Consett and then on to Sunderland.
Not for the faint-hearted on account of its steep hills and dramatic dales, the Walney to Wear route crosses into the county near Bowes before passing through Hamsterley Forest and Durham City on the way to its destination on the coast at Wearmouth.
The Wheels to the Wild Cycle Route is a 70-mile circular trail which begins and ends in the Weardale town of Wolsingham, passing Stanhope and Middleton-in-Teesdale on the way.
Of the major walking trails in Durham, the Pennine Way stretches from Middleton-in-Teesdale along the valley of the River Tees and then towards Cauldron Snout. The Teesdale Way covers this same stretch, but continues east through Barnard Castle and to the south of Darlington before it reaches the coast.
The Weardale Way runs from Cowshill in Upper Weardale, as far as the mouth of the Wear in Sunderland.
Where to stay in Durham
Durham has a host of accommodation options which provide facilities for cyclists and walkers. Click here for a few highlights.
To discover more of Durham’s great outdoors, visit thisisdurham.com/outdoors