The Sandstone Way

The Sandstone Way is a 120-mile (193km) mountain biking route between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Hexham that runs along the sandstone ridge in north Northumberland, linking numerous sandstone features, crags, and outcrops, passing through an amazing ever-changing landscape, rich in history, geological features, and natural beauty.

The Sandstone Way has been designed for mountain bikers, using a mix of existing public rights of way, unclassified county roads, and a few quiet roads. The route also passes through several picturesque villages and small communities including Wooler, Rothbury, and Bellingham, each providing a range of accommodation and essential services.

Discover the Sandstone Way

From one end of Northumberland to the other the Sandstone Way traverses an ever-changing landscape which is rich in history, geology and iconic scenery.

Cycle route

Explore the 120-mile (193km) mountain biking route between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Hexham.

Route information

The route is bi-directional and is waymarked accordingly, but not in such a way that it can be ridden without a map. North to south makes the most sense of the hills, but it is against the prevailing wind. However, both directions provide a wonderful journey.

The Sandstone Way main alignment is the recommended route to follow, but there are some variations and shortcuts, which are way-marked. The official Sandstone Way map offers 10 optional loops that are not way-marked to make it possible to enjoy part of the main route and to return back to your starting point.

The official Sandstone Way map is published by Northern Heritage and can be purchased from the shop at The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre. A minimum £2 from every sale is re-invested in the Sandstone Way.

Route options

Click on the drop down links to reveal the various multi-day options for completing the Sandstone Way route.

3-Days (Option A)

Between Berwick upon Tweed to Wooler
Distance: 34 miles / 54.6km
Ascent: 81.7m
Descent: 17.5m
Level: 17.5km
Average Time: 6 hrs
Comments: Comfortably achievable

Between Wooler to Rothbury
Distance: 37 miles / 59km
Ascent: 1190m
Descent: 1185m
Level: 11.8km
Average Time: 6 hours
Comments: Comfortably achievable

Between Rothbury to Hexham
Distance: 49 miles / 78.5 km
Ascent: 1418m
Descent: 1543m
Level: 16km
Average Time: 8 hours
Comments: A long full-on day

Total: 120 miles / 193km

2-Days (Option B)

Between Berwick upon Tweed to Rothbury
Distance: 71 miles / 113.5km
Ascent: 2000m
Descent: 1952m
Level: 29km
Average time: 8 hours
Comments: A long full-on day

Between Rothbury to Hexham
Distance: 49 miles / 78.5km
Ascent: 1418m
Descent: 1543m
Level: 16km
Average time: 8 hours
Comments: A long full-on day

Total: 120 miles / 193km

4-Day option: Good for averagely fit mountain bike riders

3-day option plus a half day either at the start or finish i.e. travel to Berwick on Tweed on the first morning, then cycle to Belford in the afternoon, or Wooler if very fit then complete the rest of option Alternatively, cycle Option A then on Day 3 cycle only as far as Simonburn (advance booking necessary)then on Day 4 morning cycle to Hexham before travelling home in the afternoon.

Luggage transport & tour operators

Safety notes

The Sandstone Way mostly comprises a mix of easy-to-cycle tracks but there are some challenging sections which should only be ridden by suitably able and properly equipped riders in good weather conditions. We recommend the following planning and safety tips:

  • Carry food, drink, the route map, weatherproof clothing, tools, spares and a basic first aid kit
  • Consider planning an exit strategy should you find yourself running out of daylight
  • Mobile phone connection cannot be assumed throughout the route
  • All but one ford on the route has an adjacent footbridge. The only one without (mile 37.5) is rarely un-fordable.
  • Know where the bikes shops are located – there are not many, but some accommodation providers and visitor centres may carry basic spares
  • Know which taxi firms may be willing to come and rescue riders and their bikes
  • Read and follow the Sandstone Way good cycling code

The Sandstone Way good mountain biking code

Please follow this code, which is best practice to safeguard the environment, maintain goodwill and ensure safe enjoyable trouble-free cycling.

Always obey the Highway Code

  • File-out on road sections when meeting vehicles and allow them to pass
  • Be always considerate to other road users and acknowledge and reciprocate courtesy

Be courteous

  • Always exchange a friendly greeting with other trail users and anyone else you pass
  • Always pass people & animals considerately – you are an ambassador for cycling
  • Always give way to walkers, horse riders and all slow-moving people some of whom may be hard of hearing, visually or mobility impaired. Do not assume they have heard or seen you
  • Ring your bike bell or politely call out to warn of your approach
  • Cycle extra considerately on shared use ways and always slow down when passing
  • Thank people who give way to you; it may help to advise how many other cyclists are following

Be countryside aware

  • Follow the Countryside Code, in particular respect crops, livestock and wildlife
  • Close all gates you pass through unless found open. Groups – ensure the last person knows to close or leave open any gates
  • Avoid erosion by braking carefully and not skidding
  • Take all litter home including banana and orange peel which takes months to bio-degrade
  • Show goodwill to all engaged in rural industry – farm / forestry activities always take precedence
  • Expect to meet cattle, sheep and horses and behave appropriately

Look after yourself and others

  • Make sure your bike is suitable and in good condition
  • Plan your route and cycle within your limits
  • Take special care at junctions, when cycling downhill, round blind corners and on loose/wet surfaces
  • Wear a suitable cycle helmet correctly
  • Wear weather-suitable clothing which is conspicuous for safety reasons
  • Carry water, food, repair items, route map and spare clothing
  • Carry money, personal ID and do not rely on mobile phone reception
  • Avoid remote sections in bad weather or if insufficiently confident or competent
  • Use lights when needed but for goodwill reasons, PLEASE DO NOT CYCLE THIS ROUTE IN THE DARK

Meeting horse riders

  • Expect to meet them at any time! Be friendly and NEVER pass quickly or closely
  • Warn riders and horses of your approach preferably by politely calling out. A horse likes to know it is human coming up behind not a predator
  • Stop and back away from nervous horses or if asked to do so by the rider
  • Lay your bike flat if the horse is spooked by it until it calms down
  • Open / close gates for horse riders if sensible to do so
  • REMEMBER: Most horse riders live nearby and ride daily – you are probably just passing through

Care of the environment

  • Make every effort to travel to/from the route sustainably i.e. on public transport, by car sharing or bike taxi
  • Use support vehicles sparingly – do not ‘patrol‟ or block road sections or gateways; switch off the engine when parked; it is insensitive to supply food or drink to your group outside a tearoom or pub.

A geological journey

The Sandstone Way crosses a landscape dominated by sandstone rocks from the carboniferous period of Earth’s history. The rocks are approximately 330 million years old. They were formed when what we now call Northumberland was covered by a huge, braided river system. At that time the county lay within 5 degrees of the equator and these enormous rivers flowed into tropical swamps and seas to the south. The sands carried by that river system have, over geological time, become the sandstones we know today. Later, forces in the Earth’s crust injected molten lava (the Great Whin Sill) and tilted all the rocks gently to the east and south so that they sweep in a great arc across Northumberland. The characteristic landscape of north and westerly facing escarpments is a result of millions of years of erosion by water and wind and ice. Two million years ago, during the ‘Ice Age’, a sheet of ice more than one kilometre thick flowed over and accentuated those escarpments.

When you struggle and curse up the scarp slopes on your mountain bike you might like to distract yourself with the thought that with every wheel turn you are crossing a few thousand years of Earth’s history. You will cycle the length of Northumberland, across massive rivers, tropical swamps and equatorial seas, molten lava and icy wastes. Just 100miles and 330 million years!

Further information

Contacts and social media

E-mail: info@sandstoneway.co.uk

Facebook: SandstoneWay

The Sandstone Way community called ‟Sandstoners‟ are great at answering questions about conditions, tips etc always ask an enquiry to post a question on this page.