Route 1. The Buttertubs Pass
This short 5 1/2 mile C road from Thwaite to Hawes has everything you need for an amazing driving experience; steep climbs, rapid descents, tight challenging corners and dramatic scenery.
In fact, it has been rated as “England’s only truly spectacular road” by none other than Jeremy Clarkson.
Starting in Thwaite just off the B6270 and heading south along Cliff Gate Road, the route climbs sharply over the first couple of miles.
Reaching the peak of the cliff side pass provides great visibility and some stunning views.
The name Buttertubs comes from the limestone potholes formed by the rock face. Local legend says that farmers would use them to store their butter during the summer en route to their local market.
Towards the end of the drive, you’ll pass through High Shaw and then Simonstone before reaching Hawes.
In total, the Buttertubs Pass should be one of the best 10 minutes of your driving life.
Route 2. Penrith to Alston and Haydon Bridge
Section 1: Penrith – Alston
You start from the roundabout linking the A6 and A66 on the outskirts of Penrith close to M6 Junction 40. From here you drive through a fairly flat forest, to Langwathby, crossing an unattractive ‘temporary’ single track, metal frame bridge that has been in place for 30+ years. It was supposed to be replaced for the Millennium, but never happened.
Through the pretty villages of Langwathby and Melmerby. From there the road climbs to Hartside Summit, all 1904ft of it! There is a cafe is on the summit which provides a good stopping place.
From there down into Alston, the highest Market Town in England, which has a nice Market Place, and a rather steep cobbled road, which can be treacherous in winter.
Section 2: Alston – Haydon Bridge
From here, heading out of Alston, you can see why it is one of the greatest drives as the road commands some spectacular views. Driving down some very steep gradients with some interesting old signs and milestones until the road reaches the A69 at a very poor junction just east of Haydon Bridge.
Route 3. Northumberland Coastal Route
Head North out of Amble and follow signs to the attractive village of Alnmouth. Built on a peninsula as the former port of Alnwick, it was described as “the most wickedest place in England” by John Wesley. Marine connections remain, the Schooner Inn being alive with maritime memorabilia.
Turn left at the end of the high street and the road takes you down a steep slope with a golf course on your right – it’s the fourth oldest in England, founded in 1869.
Double back (one way in and out) and take the coast road to Boulmer and the true glory of this route becomes apparent. The small, wooden Northumbrian fishing boats sit on the roadside, the sleek lines of which betray direct descent from the ships of 10th century Viking settlers.
At Longhoughton, you join the B1339 and the well signposted coastal route takes you along deserted, winding lanes. Turn right at Little Mill to discover the small fishing village of Craster, where the smoked kippers and crab sandwiches are a must.
To the north of the village lies the towering mass of Dunstanburgh castle, home to John of Gaunt and now administered by English Heritage. Its splendid decay under the wide-open Northumberland sky has attracted many artists, Turner in particular. A brisk walk will take you to the brooding ruin and back along the exposed coastal path.
Returning to the B1339 via Embleton and its tower built in 1395 as protection against the marauding Scots, you’ll reach the harbour at Beadnell, the only one on the east coast of Britain that has to be entered from the west. Huge limekilns dominate the harbour, with sand dunes stretching as far as the eye can see along the sweeping bay. In fact Northumberland has more protected dunes on its coastline than any other English county.
Three miles north lies the village of Seahouses. In high summer it’s probably best avoided, but it’s worth returning one day to take a boat to the Farne Islands. Not for nothing are these outcrops called “Europe’s Galapagos”, where eiders and puffins nest only feet away. Despite the tourists, Seahouses’ working harbour is fascinating, while Swallow Fish in its back streets sells some of the best fresh seafood you’ll find anywhere.
Continue along the B1340 to Bamburgh, dominated by the magnificent castle perched on the crags above. The Kings of Northumbria had a “burgh” here in AD574 and the Normans built the massive keep. The castle is the star of innumerable films – and it’s not unknown to find Scottish warriors or English knights having a lunchtime pint in one of the pubs. It’s worth buying the local butcher’s champion sausages, called Bamburgh Bangers, as well as pies and local cheeses.
Leaving Bamburgh, take the B1342 past the RNLI museum dedicated to Victorian heroine Grace Darling. The road hugs the vast expanse of Budle Bay, now an English Nature reserve and home to numerous species of wildfowl. Here is an place to pull off the road and scour the bay with your binoculars.
Head back towards the A1 for the jewel in Northumberland’s crown, the island of Lindisfarne – or Holy Island, as it is more commonly called.
The castle was built in the reign of Henry VIII and its walled garden, designed by Gertrude Jekyll, lies outside to the north. The Abbey lies in ruins, sacked so many times by the Vikings you wonder they didn’t get bored with it.
Here monks wrote the beautiful Lindisfarne Gospels, a copy of which is in the church nearby. The monks made their own mead, and you can try its descendant at the Lindisfarne Mead factory in the village. Made from honey, it’s where the word “honeymoon” comes from, as Norse married couples would drink mead for 28 days after their wedding to ensure fertility.