For those who are looking to explore off the beaten track and be emersed by nature, without all the tourists, Allen Banks and Staward Gorge is the perfect place to visit.
Allen Banks for me was somewhere I hadn’t heard of until someone mentioned it. And then it kept popping up on my Instagram and Facebook as if it was a sign to go visit (if you believe in that sort of thing). So finally we gave in and drove up this weekend. And honestly, it was worth it!
Even though it is a national trust site, it feels as though it is sort of left alone. Not many people seem to know about it and because it has only basic facilities it is somewhere that more ‘experienced’ or ‘enthusiastic’ hikers would go as opposed to tourists on a day out. If you know what I mean!
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Parking at Allen Banks
There is a decent car park at Bardon Mill which is the best access point for Allen Banks. Since it’s a national trust site, parking is free for members. Otherwise, it is £4 for all-day parking. But since you don’t need to pay for entry to the site, this makes it a great ‘just pay for parking’ day out!
Postcode: NE47 7BP
The car park isn’t huge. We had no issues when we arrived at around 10, however, I imagine on a really sunny day during the holidays it’s a nightmare!
At the car park, you’ll find toilets. As well as a shelter with loads of information about the trail, including a map and paper leaflet versions you can take with you.
History of Allen Banks
The area was once owned by a woman called Susan Davidson who created the site into what it is today. At the time she planted lots of flower beds and laid the paths you can walk on today. Susan is known as Wonder Woman because she dedicated much of her life to the place. We have her to thank for this amazing National Trust site!
There is more to the history of the site, and who owned it before and after Susan Davidson, however, her efforts were the most important and therefore the only ones I wanted to mention here. But you can read more about it if you so wish here.
Walking Trails at Allen Banks
There are 4 walking trails you can follow at Allen Banks, all of which are different lengths. The shortest being 2 miles long, and the longest 5.5 miles. We followed the 5.5-mile Staward Peel trail which takes you past the majority of the main attractions here.
The main spots you want to see are:
- Morralee Tarn and Woods
- Raven Crag
- The various summer houses
- Plankey Mill
- Starward Peel
The only site the Starward Peel trail misses out on is the Morralee Tarn and Woods, but if you are in no hurry you could very easily add this one on.
When visiting, make sure to check the information at the entrance as some of the paths were closed due to landslides taking them away. There was even a suspension bridge that fell down due to flooding. So some of the trails are a little different.
Staward Peel Trail, 5.5 Miles (2.5 hours)
You start at the car park and follow the river bank. You can go up the hill to the Summer House on the right if you wanted to.
When we got to the point where the river turns a corner at Raven Crag there were many people in the river here swimming. So if you’re brave enough you could jump in too! But be careful when swimming in the river as that water will be colder than you think. A little further round from here you get a great view of the river and the fields beyond it.
You continue along this path following the river until you get to the bridge at Plankey Mill.
Plankey Mill is also a camping site which looks like it would be quite a nice place to camp by the river. You cross through the field with the tents, then through a field of sheep before resuming the path amongst the trees.
This part of the trail is the hardest terrain so if you don’t think you are able to, I wouldn’t recommend continuing from the mill.
The path winds once again up and down with sharp drops to the water below, and new reinforced wooden bridges replace parts where the trail has slipped away.
Further along here, just as you get to the Staward Gorge is a great vantage spot. There are two tree stumps conveniently placed on a corner with a clear view of the river below. This makes a perfect lunch spot or drinks break, one we took advantage of!
Just on from this, the path comes to a fork. You can go either left and up the hill, or right and continue on the valley floor. This is a circular route so whichever way you choose, you will come back the opposite way. We went left, and up the hill and based upon the difficulty this is the way I would recommend.
At the top of this hill is a truly fantastic site. This is the Staward Peel, the ruins of a stronghold built to defend against the Scots during the 1300s. Although there is very little left of this site, there are various vantage points along here that are worth the lung burn suffered getting up the hill!
The path continues and you eventually come to a fork in the road. To the left is a gate into a field and the right takes you downhill. You can take either path but if you go through the field, be wary of livestock and keep to the right-hand side of it to find the gate back onto the path.
From here the trail heads back downhill and you will come back to the point where you could choose left or right. This means you are on the path home and you simply follow the path all the way downstream to the car park.
Staward Peel Route Summary
All in all this trail was Moderate Difficulty.
It took us just over 2.5 hours, to hike the 5.5-mile route.
Because of the terrain, it is not wheelchair or pushchair accessible.
There were toilets at the car park but there is nothing else like this on the trail.
Things to do near Allen Banks
Allen Banks are in such a perfect location if you are visiting Northumberland as it is just off the A69. This means it is just a stone’s throw away from these other places you absolutely must visit:
As always, when visiting the countryside please take all rubbish home with you, this includes picking up after your dogs!
Thank you for reading this post and I hope it has inspired you to travel off the beaten track! As always if you enjoyed this post and want to read more then feel free to drop your email address into the box below to be notified of any and all my new posts.
Stay Safe and Happy Adventuring!
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