If you’ve followed this website for a while, you’ll have seen plenty of walking and hiking. So when I was given the chance to film the 6 Northern Saints Trails in the north of England I jumped at it.
The Northern Saints Trails are based on ancient pilgrimage routes, bringing fascinating stories of the region’s Saints to life. But they are far more than walks though history and religion. For me, they bring in some of the top highlights in the North East of England.
Walking the trails gave me a chance to explore a lesser know area of the UK. Sure, we have heard of Durham City and Newcastle Upon Tyne. But some of the countryside and historic houses or churches were breath-taking. Not to mention the amazing food I discovered along the way.
Furthermore, the trails don’t have to be done as one. You can dip in and out of them, walk a little bit or just pick a highlight from my article below.
This article is designed to touch on the main spots that caught my attention. I’ll drop in a few facts about the trail, and link to the official website where you can find more information, so pick out some spots and plan your next weekend away, walking the Northern Saints Trails.
And don’t forget to get your passport stamped as you follow the routes, a lovely and unique souvenir of the Northern Saints Trails.
The Way of Light
This Northern Saints Trail is 45 miles long and starts at the cute hill top Church of St Oswald and ends at Durham City, the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We start at the Church of St Oswald, the site of the Battle of Heavenfield. This church is so unique with the way it’s positioned in the middle of the field, with public access through the farmland. It’s also where the trail links to Hadrians wall hikes, should you wish to go further afield.
Hexham & Hexham Abbey
We then head south passing Ascomb to the market town of Hexham, sitting right on the River Tyne. The stunning centrepeice is Hexham Abbey a must see on The Way of Light.
Hexham Abbey is spectacular, and inside you’ll find treasures from Roman, Anglo-saxon, medieval and Victorian Britain. I recommend leaving plenty of time to explore.
Then we continue south along the Devil’s water to the village of Blanchland, an 18th century conservation village with stories about runaway monks and poets! You’re surrounded by history and nature.
Nowhere more so than the Lord Crewe Arms, where I stopped for lunch. You can also stay overnight at the Lord Crewe Arms. The detail and history in this building is staggering.
I also recommend dropping by the Blanchland Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin.
Derwent Reservoir and Pow Hill
We have also now entered the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and UNESCO Global Geopark, so feel free to detour and explore this incredible park, including the High Force waterfall.
Sticking to the Northern Saints Trail I dropped by Derwent Waterside Park, a beautiful spot for watersports and the chance to see red squirrels at Pow Hill Country Park. Yes these incredibly and endangered species of squirrel are regularly spotted here!
Sadly not only did I get bad weather here, I also did not see the red squirrels! Despite a good few hours trying. One of the photos below is a stunning shot of a Red Squirrel by talented local photographer Tracey Laing.
Ushaw: Historic House, Chapels and Gardens
Moving on to Ushaw: Historic House, Chapels and Gardens. Yes it has all three! The history here is amazing, along with the stunning landscaped gardens and beautiful chapels, there’s also an ever-changing array of art exhibitions. Make sure you allow a bit of time here to explore.
We finish (or start) The Way of Light at Durham’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, where you have so much to explore.
If it’s your first visit, start with Durham Cathedral. You can climb the tower for fantastic views of the city including the castle, find the Cloisters a filming location for the first two Harry Potter films. The real surprise for me was the spectacular new museum, with some amazing artifacts and collections, including the treasures of St Cuthbert.
The Cathedral is right next to the Palace Green library and Durham Castle. To explore the castle you need to book a guided tour.
Or just wander around the city and explore the medieval architecture. I highly recommend a walk along the riverbank and back across to the Cathedral and old town.
I stayed in the Radisson Blu, right in the heart of Durham City which had great rooms and a lovely breakfast. And I recommend eating at The Foodpit, a variety of street food styles, where you can pick and mix your dishes, all provided by local people.
The Way of Love
Next up is The Way of Love. This trail is 28 miles and runs from Hartlepool to Durham, and you can do it either way. It explores the influences of 3 key female figures in Christianity St Hilda, St Helena and St Mary Magdalene
I’d be starting this Northern Saints Trail at St Hilda’s Church in Hartlepool. From there you can explore Hartlepool as much as you like.
I started at the Headland and Heugh Battery, and popped over to the National museum of the Royal Navy before making my way north along the Durham Heritage Coast to the stunning north beaches. This walk towards Crimdon Dene beach is wonderful, allow some time to enjoy it.
Castle Eden Dene National Nature Reserve
The trail leaves the coastline and turns inland and north past the Church of St Mary Magdalene and to Castle Eden Dene National Nature Reserve.
I spent a bit of time walking the squirrel trail and enjoying the peaceful nature reserve, and grabbed a photo of Castle Eden Dene itself. I even took a small detour to fly the drone over the viaduct!
Sadly this was the trail I had the least amount of time exploring. However below you’ll find the two spots I would have loved to go to, before finishing in Durham City.
You then head east and pass another church dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, before passing St Helen’s Church and Cassop Vale Nature reserve.
You finish or start The Way of Love in Durham City. And this is where I’ll refer you to the above comments about Durham City, rather than duplicate it.
The Way of Life
The Way of Life trail is 29 miles long and crosses old churches and magnificent castles. It runs from St Mary’s Church in Gainford to Durham City.
Escomb Saxon Church
After Gainford the trail heads north all the way to the Escomb Saxon Church, one of England’s most ancient churches. It has pagan, Roman and Anglo-Saxon heritage, and is one of only three 7th century Anglo-Saxon churches surviving in England.
Then you’ll make your way to Bishop Auckland, passing the stunning Newton Cap Viaduct as you come into the town, one of the trail highlights.
Bishop Auckland has a fantastic regeneration project called The Auckland Project, bringing alive the history and providing jobs in tourism to the area. They have re-opened and restored many of the town’s historic buildings, making Bishop Auckland a top visitor destination with a collection of world-class attractions.
Start your trip at Auckland Tower, pick up your tickets, and take in the lovely views of Bishop Auckland and Auckland Castle from the top of the tower. Then I recommend an hour or two at the Spanish Gallery and Mining Art Gallery.
Next up we have the amazing history of Auckland Castle to explore, before heading to the castle’s ancient Deer Park. I also grabbed some delicious Tapas at the newly opened Tapas Restaurant at Spanish Gallery.
Then the trail heads north via Spennymoor and Sunderland Bridge, before you find yourself in Durham UNESCO World Heritage Site once again.
Please see the notes above about the fantastic UNESCO World Heritage Site of Durham City.
I recommend staying in either Thomas Wright House, a lovely guest house in Byers Green, or the Radisson Blu in Durham, located right in the heart of the city.
The Angel’s Way
The Angels Way starts on the coast at Seaton Sluice and heads 30 miles inland and south to Chester-le-Street passing Newcastle Upon Tyne and Gateshead and spending a fair bit of time Tyneside.
Seaton Sluice and Seaton Delaval Hall
I started this Northern Saints Trail in Seaton Sluice. The weather wasn’t kind to me in this quaint seaside village, so I headed to Seaton Delaval Hall, a baroque country mansion with a cursed past and a charmed present, so they say.
You’ll then head south to Newcastle and Gateshead but don’t forget to stop in Jesmond Dene, a lush bit of countryside right next to the city.
Newcastle Upon Tyne
And then you arrive in Newcastle. What a city! I’ve always loved this city and there is so much to try and see I don’t know where to start.
A good place is to start is the riverside. Soak up the atmosphere and take a stroll along to the Millennium Bridge and admire the iconic Sage music centre across the river.
On this visit I chose to visit the Baltic – The Centre for Contemporary Art housed in the Old Flour Mill. It also has hundreds of kittiwakes nesting on the side!
Then a must visit is the Newcastle Cathedral, England’s most northerly Cathedral. I highly recommend a tour up the lantern towers, a chance to go up the tower and admire the views. Then wander over to Grey’s Monument and read up on Mr Charles Earl Grey.
But before we depart Newcastle let me tell you my favourite eating spot By the River Brewing Co. An independent microbrewery in containers by, you guessed it, the River Tyne. The food was lovely and the beer tasted great. In the daytime you can get coffee and a bagel next door at Dot.
Saltwell Park (Gateshead)
Then we head south across the river and into Gateshead to Saltwell Park, known as the people’s park. So much to do here, it was lovely to see so many families enjoying the space.
Angel of the North
Not far south of that is a must see landmark, one of the most iconic sculptures in the UK; the Angel of the North. 177 feet wide and 65 feet tall, representing the past, present and future.
Please allow some time to enjoy this astonishing sculpture, I’ve visited a few times now and it never ceases to amaze me.
Beamish, The Living Museum of the North
The trail then continues south and my next stop was the world-famous open air Beamish Museum, which tells the story of life in North East England during the 1820s, 1900s, 1940s and 1950s.
What a fascinating place, such a good place to visit as a family. I really recommend you stop for lunch at the 1900s tea room and a pint at the 1800s pub!
St Mary & St Cuthberts Church and Chester-le-Street
Finally this fantastic Northern Saints Trail finishes at St Mary & St Cuthberts Church and Chester-le-Street, which could mark the start or finish of the trail.
From here you can pick up The Way of Learning via Finchale Priory all the way to Durham City.
I recommend you stay at Hotel Indigo in Newcastle, my lovely room had a balcony overlooking the city and there’s even a Marco Pierre White restaurant onsite.
The Way of the Sea
The Way of the Sea starts on the cost at Warkworth Castle and Amble and heads 35.5 miles south, hugging the coastline and finishing in Tynemouth. Don’t forget you can do these trails either way.
The Way of the Sea also connects to the Northumberland Coastal Path and St Oswald’s Way, and further north. So you could also add Alnwick Castle to that list.
Warkworth Castle & Amble
Starting at Warkworth Castle, you can’t miss this 12th century fortress overlooking the surrounding area. There’s a lovely beach here, and the charming fishing village of Amble. From here you can also head to Coquet Island and spot puffins (sadly it was not nesting season when I visited).
I then headed south to Druridge Bay a stunning long stretch of golden sand beach which went on for miles. What a beautiful spot, it doesn’t even feel like you’re in England.
My next stop was Newbiggin-by-the-Sea where you can enjoy the beach and the maritime centre, it’s also a great spot for fish and chips.
Following the coast down to Seaton Sluice (also part of The Angel’s Way). The weather wasn’t kind to me in this quaint seaside village, but I did see Seaton Delaval Hall, a baroque country mansion with a cursed past and a charmed present.
St Mary’s Lighthouse
Moving on to an iconic landmark of this area, St Mary’s lighthouse. You can walk to it in low tide, and it’s cut off at high tide. There is a bird spotting nature reserve nearby, and some stunning nature surrounding it.
Whitley Bay and Spanish City
Next the stunning seaside town of Whitley Bay, which has a beautiful beach and plenty of attractions. Not least is Spanish City, an incredible historic building which has been restored as a classy venue for afternoon tea and fish and chips.
Yes this restaurant was awarded the best fish and chips restaurant in 2020 and it’s a great place to admire the architecture of this amazing building.
As we head south we arrive in North Shields and it’s just a short walk to Cullercoats, a small sandy bay popular with artists. It’s a gorgeous and picturesque bay, so easy to see why. As the rain came in I got to experience a local hangout Cullercoats coffee, but the rainbow was worth the wait.
Tynemouth Priory & North Shields
This Northern Saints Trail comes to an end at the Tynemouth Priory and Castle ruins, perched on the cliff tops you can see an amazing view over the coastline and Long Sands beach. This is often a great area for dolphin spotting.
Where to stay
When it comes to hotels at the start of the trail I recommend The Amble Inn in Amble, or stay in heart of Newcastle at Hotel Indigo.
The Way of Learning
The Way of Learning starts on the coast at Jarrow Hall close to South Shields and runs for 38 miles meandering south, finishing in Durham City. From here you can pick up a number of other Northern Saints Trails.
My first stop is Jarrow Hall, home to an Anglo-Saxon farm and village and a Bede museum (Bede being a monk known as one of the greatest scholars of the Anglo-Saxon period). All of the animals were typical of Anglo-Saxon times but the real showstoppers were the baby Pigmy goats!
St Paul’s Church and Monastery
Jarrow Hall is also right next door to St Paul’s Church and the 7th century Monastery, the official starting point for The Way of Learning. This is where Bede honed his trade, and it’s incredible to see the ruins left here next to the church.
Seaburn & Roker
The trail heads to the coast now to a couple of spectacular sandy beaches in Sunderland. Who knew this area had such stunning beaches? Make sure to head out to the Roker lighthouse, and look out for dolphins which can regularly be spotted here too.
It’s also a great spot for kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding.
National Glass Centre
The next stop is the National Glass Centre, a one of a kind window into the glass industry that defined Sunderland for 13 centuries. It’s well worth a stop here and you can watch glassmaking demos there today.
The National Glass Centre is also a stone’s throw away is St Peter’s Church, another famous landmark and once twin monastery with St Pauls.
Northern Spire Bridge
From the historic to the modern now as you head out of Sunderland along the River Wear and across the Northern Spire Bridge. The stunning cable bridge only opened in 2018 and is already iconic in the area.
Not far from the bridge is one of the most eccentric monuments of the north, and a piece of Greece overlooking the stunning countryside; the Penshaw Monument. It was built in the 1840s and it’s a replica of Athens Temple of Hephaestus.
This really is a stunning area of countryside and right next door to the Herrington Country Park, with a lot of trails to explore if you have the time.
The trail crosses the countryside before heading west to Chester-le-Street, and the St Mary & St Cuthbert’s Church. If you have time I also recommend exploring Chester-le-Street itself.
We the head south to the spectacular ruin of Finchale Priory on the River Wear. This is a must visit spot! The route from Finchale to Escomb is also part of Camino Ingles, the English Way, which is an offshoot of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail!
The Way of Learning is another trail that finishes in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Durham City, please see the notes above about this beautiful city.
So there you have it, squeezing 6 trails into one article was always going to be a challenge. I wanted to give you a flavour of each Northern Saints Trail, to help you decide which trail you want to hiking on first.
Each trail has something different to offer, and highlights an area of the North East and United Kingdom you may not know existed. You don’t have to walk the entire trail, you can just pick out a few spots.
Have you walked any of these spots? Which was your favourite? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.