A new 120-mile mountain bike trail which tracks the sandstone spine of Northumberland to take in some of the county’s finest scenery is to be launched next year.
‘The Sandstone Way’ will create opportunities for tourism services along its route in the way that long-distance walking trails have done for the area in recent years.
It will run between Berwick and Hexham along the sandstone ridge in North Northumberland, linking crags and outcrops along its length, with many spectacular views.
The route passes through Wooler, Belford, Rothbury, Elsdon and Bellingham, taking in the Simonside Hills and other features of Northumberland National Park in a landscape which rich in history, geology and scenery.
It will track the geological ridge, linking sandstone features such as the pink coastal cliffs at Spittal, St Cuthbert’s Cave, Bowden Crag, Simonside, Lord Armstrong’s carriage drive at Rothbury and Warden Law near Hexham.
It will be the first long-distance, linear mapped and promoted mountain bike route in England.
With a launch date around the end of June, it is estimated that there will have been 1,000 full route users by the end of the year, rising to 3,000 next year and 4,000 by 2015.
It is calculated that 5,000 cyclists a year would generate £2m.
The Sandstone Way is the brainchild of passionate cyclist Ted Liddle, who lives near Hexham and designed the route after the concept was suggested by Victoria Brown of Northumberland Joint Local Access Forum.
Ted said: “The Sandstone Way was designed to link some of the best lengths of off-road tracks, taking mountain bikers into Northumberland’s hidden corners on centuries-old tracks and historic byways.
“The route traverses magnificent unspoilt scenery and offers views with the sensation of remoteness. Cycling the Sandstone Way really is an adventure which guarantees a truly memorable experience for all the right reasons.”
It is planned to launch the new trail in the spring with a route map, and a new website is under way.
The route is also clearly waymarked on the ground with a distinctive green and yellow “S” roundel, and ten optional loops are also offered to appeal to day riders.
The new trail is aimed at mountain bikers with as much as possible off-road and link sections on very quiet country lanes, and it has been designed to safely cross rivers, main roads and railway lines.
It will appeal to riders of all abilities and most will take three or four days to complete it, although the fittest could possibly ride the route in two days. Organisers hope that families will be encouraged to ride safe, traffic-free sections with older children.
Package holidays to cycle the Sandstone Way have already been developed by tour operator, Saddle Skedaddle.
Rich Rothwell, the 24-hour endurance mountain bike rider who tested the route earlier this year, said: “I thoroughly enjoyed the day and I am sure that many people will enjoy this route - incredibly quiet roads and some lovely flowing off road sections with stunning Northumberland scenery.”
It has been “ seed funded” by Northumberland National Park Authority, which has also dealt with the complex administration, and has been developed in conjunction with the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Northumberland County Council, Northumberland Tourism, CycleTRAX, Tyne Valley Mountain Bike Club and Recreational Tourism Services.
Funding for infrastructure has been provided by the Rural Development Programme for England through the Northern Lands Project.
The Sandstone Way partnership will hold a series of training and familiarisation sessions with tourism businesses in the area over the winter to help them make the most of the route opportunities.
Duncan Wise, visitor development manager at Northumberland National Park, said: “We are in the business of making memories, and those riding the Sandstone Way will have a wonderful excuse to stay longer in this beautiful part of the world. The more folk use local accommodation, shops and services, the more our market towns and villages will stay vibrant and sustainable.”
Cycling tourism is on the increase in Northumberland with many visitors making the most of the county’s quiet and scenic roads and challenging hills.
The information portal www.cyclepad.org.uk , which was launched last year has created an easy point of contact for all things cycling in the area.
The national park has also been sponsoring the Curlew Cup, an elite women’s road race in the Virgin Money Cyclone, whose challenge race runs through the park from Matfen.
The success of the Wooler Wheel cycling challenges has given hundreds of cyclists a taste of the Cheviots and Glendale, and Kielder’s well-known forest routes are a magnet for MTB riders.
Next year will also see the Tour of Britain coming to the county, which will focus cycling-aficionados’ attention on Northumberland from across the World.
The Sandstone Way uses existing public rights of way for most of its length, including a mix of double-width dirt tracks, sections of single track, unsurfaced lanes and bridleways of all types as well as byways and little known Unclassified County Roads (UCRs).
There are linking sections of quiet minor roads and surfaced country lanes.
“The route traverses an amazing, ever-changing landscape which is rich in history, geological features and scenery,” said sustainable transport specialist Ted Liddle, who has developed the route on behalf of the Tyne Valley Mountain Bike Club.
“It will link some wonderful sandstone country and features and will be a significant economic boost to local communities as it picks up.”
It is estimated overnight stopping touring cyclists spend an average of £60 per day and day visit cyclists £17.50.
“Generally speaking, cyclists spend more per mile than motorists as they travel slower and carry less with them,” said Ted, who is regional co-ordinator for the International Mountain Biking Association.
“The route starts and ends at towns which are served by rail and where bikes can be hired.
“The route is an enjoyable journey down, or up, just about the whole length of Northumberland.
“Apart from its undoubted merit as a thoroughly memorable mountain bike experience, the Sandstone Way has a fascinating cultural, historical and geological tale to tell when all its aspects and features are stitched together.
“All who cycle any part of this route will want to come back for more.“