North Pennines AONB

High Force, North Pennines AONB, England
High Force, North Pennines AONB ©

North Pennines – Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is located in the north of England. The area has been designated a AONB since 1988, the area covers close to 2,000 square kilometres making it the second largest AONBs in the UK after the Cotswolds. The area is located across two regions the north west and north east of England and is well know for being one of the most remote and unspoiled places in the UK. The landscape includes wild heather moorland, green dales, waterfalls and rivers.

The local population of approx 12,000 live mainly in small towns and villages located across the AONB such as Alston and Allendale Town. The area covered under the AONB designation in the North Pennines covers an area from close to Hexham in the north to Castleside in the east to Kirby Stephen in the south to Penrith in the west. The area is of national importance for nature conservation and includes of Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI), National Nature Reserves and Scheduled Monuments. It is also the first European Geopark in Britain in recognition to its heritage and the efforts being made to conserve it.

The key features and special qualities of the North Pennines AONB include the unspoilt landscape, rich history and natural beauty of the area. The area includes 40% of the upland meadows in the UK, 30% of the upland heathland in England and 80% of England's black grouse and there are a number of impressive geological sites including High Force, the highest waterfall in England. The key features combined with the peaceful, tranquil and remote nature of the area makes the it special.

The main industries in the AONB include farming, quarrying for limestone, mineral working and tourism. The area has witnessed a steady increase in visitors, it is popular for day trips, weekend breaks and longer stays. There are a number of scenic villages and small towns located in the AONB including Alston, Allendale Town, Allenheads and Whitfield. Main settlements located close by include the market towns of Hexham and Penrith and the cities of Carlisle, Durham and Newcastle.

The area is popular for outdoor activities including wildlife watching, day trippers, fishing, horse riding, walking and cycling with a range of routes and trails to explore. Visitors can enjoy a range of scenic landscapes and the great outdoors in one of the most unspoilt places in the UK.

Quick Facts

North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty:

Year of Designation: 1988

Population: 12,000 (approx)

Size in square kilometres: 1,983

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs): covers 36% of AONB

National Nature Reserves: 3

Conservation Areas: 16

Scheduled Monuments: 183

Main Settlements close by: Carlisle, Durham, Hexham, Penrith and Newcastle .

Located in: County Durham, Cumbria, Northumberland and North Yorkshire.


The North Pennines AONB is located in County Durham, Cumbria, Northumberland and North Yorkshire, across both the north west and north east regions of England. The AONB is the second largest in the UK after the Cotswolds and out of the 15 National Parks in the UK only the Lake District in England and Snowdonia in Wales are larger than the North Pennines AONB. The size of the area ensures visitors have a range of landscapes and scenery to explore.

The AONB includes relatively small settlements, peace, tranquillity offering an unspoilt wilderness in stark contrast to the traffic and congestion of the towns and cities. The AONB area itself is relatively sparsely populated compared to the population centres in the surrounding areas. There are no major towns or cities within the AONB boundary the largest settlements are Alston and Allendale Town, there are a number of historic towns and small villages full of history and character.

The North Pennines AONB has a rich history and includes a number of historic archaeological and historical sites for visitors to explore, the area is of national importance for its landscape, ecology and geology. Local towns including Alston, Allendale Town located within the AONB and a number of towns close to the border including Hexham, Middleton-in-Teesdale, Penrith and Bernard Castle provide convenient places from which visitors can tour the North Pennines AONB. The commercial development in the AONB area has been limited in order to protect the special qualities of the area ensuring visitors can still see one of the most unspoiled places in the UK that is not overly commercialised.

The location in the north of England means the AONB is easily assessable from across the north west and north east of England, the Midlands and East Anglia and much of Scotland. From Newcastle, Durham and much of north east England the area is 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours by car, from Leeds it is 2 hours to 2 hours 30 minutes by car, from Birmingham and much of the Midlands it is 3-4 hours away, from Liverpool and Manchester it is approx 2 to 3 hours. From Cambridge it is 4 hours to 4 hours 30 minutes hours and from London and much of southern England it is 5 to 7 hours away.

Tourist Information Centres and information points are located at various locations close by to the North Pennines AONB. The TICs are based Appleby-in-Westmoreland, Bishop Auckland, Brampton, Corbridge, Haltwhistle, Hexham, Middleton-in-Teesdale, Penrith, Stanhope and Upper Eden in Kirkby Stephen. The tourist information centres provide visitors with information, help, advice and tips on the AONB area and the surrounding areas.

Each of the centres has knowledgeable staff that can provide useful local knowledge on local attractions, places of interest, things to see and do, along with local advice and tips. A visit to the tourist information centres provides a good first port of call for visitors helping to better plan and organise trips in and around the local area, find out about local events and public transport options.

Local Accommodation includes a range of hotels including historic and contemporary, B & B’s, Guest Houses, Self Catering houses, holiday homes and cottages. Local accommodation is available Alston, Allendale Town and Westgate. Towns and cities located in the area including Hexham, Penrith, Bernard Castle, Middleton-in-Teesdale and Carlisle, provide good access to local facilities and accommodation from which to explore the AONB and the surrounding local areas in the south west of England.

The North Pennines AONB is a place where visitors can explore a number of historic towns, villages and hamlets, many of which retain their historic character and charm. History, tradition and heritage have been well preserved in a number of the towns and villages in the area, offering visitors an insight in to local history and culture. There are a number of local attractions and places of interest for visitors to explore further.

Local Areas include the Derwent Valley located in the north eastern corner of the AONB. It is one of the Durham Dales and is sometimes overlooked by visitors, those that do go can see the charming small village of Blanchland known for its honey coloured cottages, the village ha been described as one of the most attractive in the North Pennines. The village itself includes Blanchland Abbey, dating back to the 12th century, the site is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The village is built primarily from stone and includes a number of picturesque houses and buildings.

Derwent Reservoir is located to the east of Blanchland, the reservoir was built back in 1967 and is the second largest man made lake in Northumberland. Visitors can choose from a number of scenic picnic sites on the banks of the reservoir, other attractions here include nature reserves, bird hides and opportunities for fishing enthusiasts. There are a number of trails and walks along the north and south shores and across the dam.

Pow Hill Country Park is located on moorland overlooking Derwent Reservoir, the site is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and contains a number of specialised plants including cotton grass and ragged robin. The park includes heather moorland, woodland and grassland making it home to adders, red squirrels, common lizard, green hairstreak butterfly and more. Visitors can enjoy a picnic here in a scenic setting and enjoy panoramic views across the Derwent Reservoir.

Alston Moor and East Fellside is located in the central and western part of the AONB. Alston is located 28 miles south east of Carlisle and is well known for being the highest market town in England located at 1,000 feet above sea level. The town was once a mining area for silver, zinc and coal among others, visitors will find a number of small independent shops, galleries, craft, gifts and antique stores. There is a choice of food and drink options making the charming market town worth a visit. Visitors can enjoy some stunning views of the surrounding areas including the South Tyne Valley and surrounding fells.

Local attractions include the St Augustine of Canterbury Church dating back to the 19th century, the Town Hall also dates back to the 19th century and is noted for its neo-gothic architecture. The Hub Museum in the town showcases local history and transport with a collection of vintage bikes, cars and transportation. Whitley Castle is a historic Roman Fort located near to Alston, located 1,000 feet above sea level it is believed the fort was built back in the 2nd century AD and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Alston Moor includes the moorland around the market town of Alston, here visitors can enjoy a number of scenic walks taking in some of the best sites and sounds of the North Pennines. There are a number of walks to try including outdoor adventure, walks focused on geology and landscapes, history and heritage and much more.

South Tyne and Allen Valleys are located in the north of the AONB in the heart of the Allen Valleys, once a leading mining settlement. The largest settlement in the area is Allendale, the local economy is based on agriculture and tourism with he town being a popular country holiday destination with a number of holiday cottages located in the town and a caravan park. The town has a number of local facilities and amenities including village shop, gift shop, tea room and a number of country pubs and cafes.

South Tyne Valley is a place that includes ancient woods, wide open moorland offering visitors with a wonderful landscape that is among the most unspoilt in the area. Visitors can explore the scenic natural beauty and enjoy the area in one of the quietest and most undiscovered areas of the AONB, making it a great pace to visit for natural beauty, peace and tranquillity.

South Tyndale Railway is a heritage steam railway that goes through scenic South Tyne Valley from Alston to Lintley or Kirkhaugh. Visitors can enjoy a railway journey from yesteryear reliving the golden age of rail travel. The journey takes in some of the finest scenery in the South Tyne Valley, there is a cafes serving a range of food and drinks at Alston station and a gift shop for gifts and souvenirs.

Teesdale is located in the south of the North Pennines AONB, it is the most southerly of the Durham Dales. The area is well known for the moors and crags of the upper dale providing a fine spectacle for visitors to enjoy. The area includes Raby Estate's white farmhouses and barns adding an interesting and noteworthy element to the local landscape.

The area is also home to High Force, one of the biggest waterfalls in England located close to Middleton-on-Teesdale, the waterfall has a drop of 21 metres (over 70 feet). Visitors can take the Woodland Walk, a scenic woodland walk of approx 1/3 of a mile, there is a gentle gravel path for visitors to walk on and a number of resting places along the way. There is a gift shop open on site in the summer months with a range of gifts, souvenirs and mementos available.

Middleton-on-Teesdale is known as the 'capital of the upper dale and is located just outside the official boundary of the AONB. The location, facilities and amenities in the town make it an ideal place for visitors to base themselves from when exploring the area. Historically the town expanded when the headquarters of the London Lead Mining Company moved to the town in the 19th century, the architecture of the town is influenced by the days when it was a company town.

Weardale is located both centrally and to the east of the AONB area, it is one of the Durham Dales and historically was once the hunting ground of County Durham's Prince Bishops. The largest settlement in the area is Stanhope located in the Upper Weardale, the compact market town is located on the River Wear. The town is surrounded by moorland, local attractions include the Stanhope Fossil Tree in the churchyard and visitors can enjoy a number of scenic walks by the River Wear.

Weardale Railway is a heritage railway that runs from Stanhope to Bishop Auckland stopping off on stations along the way. There are a number of special events held here throughout the course of the year including steam services. At Stanhope station visitors can enjoy a choice of food and drinks at the cafe and there is a shop for gifts and souvenirs. The railway goes through scenic landscapes offering the chance for visitors to relive the golden age of rail travel in a splendid setting.

Weardale Museum is a compact folk museum located in the heart of the North Pennines between Stanhope and Alston. Established back in 1985 the museum aims to preserve the history and heritage of Weardale. Inside the museum there are a number of collections, exhibitions an artefacts showcasing the history and heritage of the area. Notable collections can be found in the Weardale Room, Weardale Tapestry and the Archaeology collection that looks at pre-historic Weardale and Weardale as a Royal Hunting Ground. The museum provides a fascinating insight in to the history, heritage and culture of the area.

Farmers Markets are held at various locations in and around the North Pennines AONB. Farmers markets provide a great way for visitors to meet local producers, growers and farmers and learn more about local products. There are a range of local foods and drinks available including meats, fish, vegetables and much more.

The Farmers Markets are usually monthly or once every 2 weeks, towns with farmers markets include Allendale, Bernard Castle, Brampton, Greenhead, Hexham, Middleton-in-Teesdale, Penrith and Stanhope. A number of towns have regular weekly local markets including Hexham, Penrith, Bernard Castle, Appleby, Stanhope and Kirkby Stephen where visitors can find fresh local produce from local suppliers.

Bowless Visitor Centre is located 48 miles south east of Carlisle close to Middleton-in-Teesdale. The visitor centre is located between Middleton-in-Teesdale and Alston, housed inside a former Methodist chapel that dates back to the 19th century. The visitor centre includes displays and information on local landscapes, geology and wildlife. There is a gallery with exhibition space for local artists and photographers that visitors can see.

The centre hosts a number of events throughout the summer months including guided walks and talks. There are activities for children available at the centre throughout the year. There is a cafe that serves a range of food and drinks and a gift shop offering a range of gifts, souvenirs and mementos.

Walking offers visitors a great way to discover more in the AONB and the surrounding areas, there are a number of popular walks in the area for visitors to try. The North Pennines AONB includes a choice of landscapes and terrain, with a number of footpaths and bridleways offering both shorter and longer walks for walkers of all abilities. The walks include Pennine Way, Mainwright's Pennine Journey, Teesdale Way, Weardale Way, South Tyne Trail, Isaac's Tea Trail and a number of others.

Cycling provides both a cost effective and environmentally friendly way to explore the North Pennines AONB. There are a number of quiet country lanes and more challenging moorland single tracks making the area suitable for cycling. There are a number of cycle routes in the area these include the C2C Cycle Route, the 140 mile route passes through the North Pennines. The Walney to Wear and Whitby Cycle Route, the route passes through beautiful countryside and the southern part of the AONB.

Visitors to the North Pennines AONB in the north of England will find a scenic area that retains its charm and historic character known for its moorland, waterfalls, rivers and tranquillity. Visitors can explore a number of historic towns and charming villages in and around the AONB. The area provides a place where visitors can get away from it all in a beautiful wilderness, isolated and unspoilt offering a fine place to enjoy the great outdoors and outdoor pursuits.

How to Get There

North Pennines AONB is accessible by both car and public transport.

By Car:

The city of Carlisle is located next to the AONB area, the city, provides a convenient located from which to explore the area with a choice of accommodation and local amenities. Located approx 315 miles from central London. From London take the A40 then the M40 until junction 3A. At junction 3A of the M40 take the M42 towards Birmingham (M6), then take the M6 (there is both a tolled and non-tolled M6 available). Continue on the M6 up to junction 42 and exit on the A6, continue along the A6 that goes to Carlisle. The approx journey time is 5 hours to 6 hours 15 minutes depending on traffic and time of day.

By Train:

The train station at Carlisle has regular services from London Euston station. The journey time is approx 3 hours 15 minutes to 4 hours 15 minutes, depending service, connections and time of day. From Carlisle bus station there are bus services available via the Reays coach service 95 that goes to Brampton. From Brampton there are bus services via the Telford Coaches service 680 that goes to Alston in the AONB, The journey time is approx 55 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes depending on time of day and service. From Carlisle there are train services available to Hexham on the edge of the AONB via Northern Rail services, the journey time is approx 55 minutes.

By Bus/Coach:

There are regular buses available from London Victoria Coach station to Carlisle in Cumbria. The approx journey time is 7 hours 30 minutes to 8 hours 30 minutes depending on time of day and traffic. From Carlisle there are bus and train services available to Alston and Hexham. Coach services to Carlisle are provided by services are provided by National Express

Contact Details

North Pennines AONB
Weardale Business Centre
The Old Co-op Building
1 Martin Street
Bishop Auckland
County Durham
DL13 2UY

Telephone: +44 (0)1388 528801

Website: North Pennines AONB


For Local Search and Directions see: North Pennines (AONB) Map

Tips & Other Considerations

The weather and climate can be unpredictable, there can be elements of all four seasons in one day. Ensure you check the weather forecast before you travel and have the correct clothing and footwear including comfortable walking shoes, fleece, raincoat and umbrella.

Follow travel advice and remain alert, vigilant and aware of your belongings at all times especially your wallet/purse and valuables and ensure they are hidden away from public view. If you have a bag try to use a shoulder bag with a good quality, strong strap, that is put across your shoulder not on your shoulder making it more difficult for anyone to take your bag.

If you are travelling by car to the North Pennines AONB ensure you are well prepared with maps and Sat Nav to aid your journey, particularly if you are not familiar with the local area and roads. Use the journey planner for door to door directions. Check traffic updates before you travel.

If you are looking for car parking in and around the AONB, ensure you fully understand the rules, regulations & charges for car parks and street parking. The rules & regulations can be complex & confusing if you are unclear, it is wise not to park there.

If you are travelling by public transport, check for service updates prior to beginning your journey for any delays, disruption or cancellations to services that may impact on your journey. Ensure you have the service timetables for the trains, trams, buses and coaches. Remember when the last services are and ensure you make it to the train/bus/coach stops well in time to avoid missing the service.

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