If you’re looking for something to do with your little ones this Easter holidays or just fancy a walk off the beaten track, I highly recommend a walk around The Simonside Hills. The Simonside Hills are a fabulous place for walkers with miles of footpaths taking you through woodland and moorland to wonderful viewpoints that stand tall over the picturesque village of Rothbury. There are few routes to choose from including a family route, which is shorter if you have teeny tiny ones in tow or those who aren’t used to a longer walk. Walking boots on, picnic packed we headed into deepest, darkest Northumberland and it did not disappoint. We’re quite lucky to have such beauty not too far from our doorstep, also having family myself who live further north of Rothbury, I’m blessed to be have the option of leaving the hustle and bustle of busy city life and driving just over an hour to the quiet and calm of my Grandma’s home (you can’t even get phone signal there, it’s brill).
The Simonside Hills are approximately 3 miles of Rothbury and can be easily found via SAT NAV. There is a free car park situated at the starting point of the Simonside Hills walk, which can be found by following the brown signs on the main road. At the beginning of the hike, you are greeted by an information board giving you information of the Simonside Hills and surrounding conservation areas. The beginning of the hike is rather steep and Leki walking sticks would be a good idea for those who would need an extra help on the way up. This is the most difficult part of the walk if I’m totally honest so it’s quite good to get that part over and done with. From the car, the hills don’t look particularly high but when you make your way up, you now know that isn’t the case with the car park slowly but surely becoming a tiny dot in the distance.
Making your way up the path, the path splits slightly – if you take the left turn this is the more family orientated walk but we turned right, as we wanted a bit more of a challenge and see more of what the Simonside Hills had to offer. Walking up the fell sandstones of the Simonside Hills, the views are breath taking – it literally did take my breathe away of was that just me being not a my physical peak?! The sandstones here were deposited from a river delta around 330 million years ago. Weathering and erosion have lead them to be a dominant aspect throughout the hills. The first site you visit is the remains of a Bronze Age cairn of The Beacon and this is just the first of many stops of your way along the hills.
You’ll pass many interesting rock formations, rocky outcrops and acres of forest as you make your way through the wildly beautiful area of the Northumberland National Park. Simonside has been an intergral part of people’s lives for thousands of years and is steeped in forklore. Archaeology has uncovered prehistoric flint tools, bronze swords, pottery and ornaments as well as burial cairns from the Bronze Age, not forgetting rock outcrops and caves that were once used as shelters. Ancient cairns mark the summit of the ridge and below, in the forest, there is a Bronze Age cemetery. The beacon of Simonside was used to warn of Scots invading during Tudor times. The rocky ridge that stands above the town of Rothbury is said to be home of dangerous dwarves, known as the Duergar, who target the wayward traveller, especially those who get caught in the bogs between the rocky outcrops. The stories have been retold and recounted for generations, mentioning of the Duergar coming out after dark to target travellers still out on the hills as night falls. Stories, also, tell of the Duergar appearing when visibility goes for the hapless wanderer, as low cloud descends or fog engulfs the moorland. Thankfully we didn’t bump into them on our visit.
Simonside is famed for its beautiful purple moorlands but, considering we visited in February, we were too early to see this. I can imagine in the Summer this would make the walk even more breathe taking, if that is even possible. The walk offers extensive views across Coquetdale with the Cheviots forming the skyline and enables you to fully appreciate the understated beauty of this part of the Northumberland National Park. The ridge from Simonside does continue to Tosson Hill, which is an additional 3 miles to walk. After we reached the summit, we decided to make our descent down the steep ridge. Take this with caution, as some of the rocks are loose and slippy. It goes without saying walking boots are highly recommended during the walk as you will need the extra grip and protection, not to mention when walking through the bogs – which are paved with slabs.
Look out for wildlife on your walk. Simonside is legally designated a European Special Area of Conservation for it’s special habitats of heather moorland and blanket bog. These areas support a range of species of bird such as Curlew, Lapwing and Red Grouse. Birds of prey such as Buzzards and Kestrels can be seen circling above. In the forest, you may catch a glimpse of the shy Roe Deer or Red Squirrel. The final walk takes you through a beautiful forest which is teaming with wildlife, here I would say keep your dogs on a lead as the occasional sheep can be seen wandering a stray.
This walk took us approximately 4 hours and was 8 miles in total, which wasn’t too bad considering we had a 5 year old in tow. There were many children on the walk and it is such a great few hours out. Just be aware there are no facilities at all in the surroundings areas, Rothbury being the closest place for anything so just make sure you use the loo prior, take plenty of fluids and pack some snacks or a picnic. I can highly recommend taking a picnic and sitting at the Simonside Ridge for lunch. The 360-degree views are something to be savoured and taken in slowly as there’s so much beauty to be taken in.
After our walk we headed to Rothbury and treat our self to tea and cake at Tomlinson’s café, who always do the most amazing homemade cakes and biscuits. The perfect ending to the perfect day and we were so lucky that the weather was so amazing and sunny given the time of year. If your wanting a walk in the Northumberland National Park with ample scenery and wildlife, then this one is for you. The little ones will love it to and my son loved hearing about the tales of the Duergar… which no doubt spurred him on to walk faster and not lag behind…