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Top 12 Things to do in Allendale Northumberland

Close to Hadrian’s Wall in the Northumberland borderlands is the fascinating and friendly Allendale Village (or Allendale Town). A staycation in Allendale is full of quirks, history, and scenic beauty. Here are the best 12 things to do in Allendale Northumberland, where to stay, and how to get there.

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Where to Stay in Allendale Village

There are no hotel chains in the village. There is a range of accommodation that is variable in quality. It ranges from contemporary to traditional and cozy. Below are two of my favorite accommodation options for this charming village.

High Keenly Fell Farm is a bed and breakfast on a working farm close to Hadrian’s Wall. The surrounding countryside has lovely views. The food and the accommodation are of good quality and it is (2.8 miles (4.5 km) out of town (4.5 km away). Hiking, fishing, and horse riding for guests are available on the farm itself and family rooms are available.

Langley Castle Hotel – is surprisingly affordable and only 3.7 miles (6km) from Allendale Village. This fortified castle dates back to the 1300s and is situated on beautiful grounds. A cocktail in the drawing room before dinner in the grand dining hall before retiring to one of 27 luxury rooms is just what you need in a northern British getaway!

An idyllic Northumberland village

Allendale Village is a traditional Northumberland village that has it all:

  •  baby lambs and ponies frolicking among daffodils in the spring sunshine
  • a babbling river flowing over ancient stones to the old mill
  • a market square with a tea house, two pubs, and a co-op
  • friendly locals
  •  a fascinating and important history, and
  •  a Dalek.
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Ponies in Allendale village

It’s all very British, these quirks, history, and scenic beauty. This little gem is not as perfect to look at as thatched house-style villages, but it is certainly handsome and was crowned by the Sunday Times in 2019 as the best village to live in England.

But you don’t need to live in it to fall in love with its charm and to be entranced with its history, traditions, and the locals themselves.

There is so much to see and do here in Allendale Village, in the heart of Northumberland. With Hadrian’s Wall, Langley Castle, and the Angel of the North all nearby, you can spend weeks hiking, cycling, walking, fishing, and exploring the moors.

Where is Allendale and why should it be your Northumberland base?

A 30-minute drive from Newcastle airport or two and a half hours from Edinburgh through spectacular Anglo-Scottish borderlands countryside brings you to a part of Northumberland known by cyclists and ramblers for its hospitality.

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Approach to Allendale from Hexham

Allendale is 18 km south of the Roman town of Hexham and 55 km to the west of Newcastle upon Tyne. The nearby village of Allenheads is one of the highest inhabited villages in England.

Both villages nestle within the deep green dales of the Pennine Chain, an ancient range of mountains and hills that stretch south from the Scottish border to the Yorkshire Dales.

Allendale is located on a spur above the River Allen in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Stone-walled fields line the slopes of the valleys that give way to the moorlands above. 

It is an ideal and obvious place to go for hikes, rides, and drives to see areas of outstanding natural beauty! Hadrian’s Wall, Langley Castle, and the Angel of the North are all nearby.

How to get to Allendale

  • There are direct flights from 40 airports to Newcastle (NCL).
  • There is an average of 5 flights per day from London direct to Newcastle, taking 1hr and 10 mins. British Airways, Southern China fly directly between the two cities.
  • The Carlisle-Newcastle line can be accessed by railway stations at Hexham (17km from Allendale) and Haydon Bridge (12km from Allendale village).
  • The A69 motorway is 16km away at Hexham. Newcastle is 55 km or 40 minutes away by car.
  • The 688 bus travels between Hexham, Allendale, Allenheads, and Langley.

Best time to visit Allendale Northumberland

Spring and Summer are wonderful times to visit the North Pennines and Allendale Village.

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Lambs at springtime in Allendale Northumberland

April is perfect because of the wildflowers and the baby lambs gamboling everywhere. Summer is your best chance of it not raining too much. I prefer the months with the lowest rainfall and May-June are great months for being able to get out and about.

The 12 best things to do in Allendale Northumberland

1. Observe local life in the village pubs

Market Square pubs

Stone walls, solid beams, and low ceilings, with wood fires and snugs, pubs are the lifeblood of northern villages.

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Golden Lion Pub, Allendale

In front of a roaring fire, playing pool, and perched on bar stools in these pubs you will find the residents of Allendale. They will be welcoming and charming as you drink beer from the local brewery while munching on cheese and onion crisps.

There are two pubs in Allendale, The Golden Lion and the King’s Head Hotel. There is also one at nearby Allen Heads, The Allenheads Inn. On Sunday evening at the King’s Head you’ll find bingo, a log fire, and Old Git’s Club! The Golden Lion has been a pub since 1839. It is undergoing upstairs renovations into a luxury apartment for rent.

In the market square, you will find that locals have a favorite and the crowd is slightly different depending upon the live music, Sunday roast, or a pool competition that might be occurring at each pub. The Allendale Brewery supplies its own ale to the pubs.

A middle-aged woman told me that after her husband passed away three years ago she had thought about moving “south” to her daughter. But she would not have had the courage to go to urban pubs or other venues alone. But not in Allendale. Here everyone eventually knows everyone else. The village pubs are small and welcoming. And that’s where she met her new husband.

The Allenheads Inn

Since 1770 the Allenheads Inn has been serving travelers on the Pennine footpaths and roadways. The pub is eclectic, loves dogs and has a separate dining room where the lasagna is good.

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Allenheads Inn

Allenheads is 8 miles from Allendale and can be reached by road and by local bus (the 688 from Hexham to Allenheads). It is on the National Cycle Route 7 and it is cycling groups that sustain the pub. It has mixed reviews for its accommodation.

2. Explore the chimneys and old industrial structures on the moors

All around Allendale you can find strange structures. Ruined and crumbling chimney towers silhouetted against the horizon, rising from the fells. Long tunnels or tubes that seem to be half-buried for miles. Horse-shoe-shaped tunnels up on the moors and drainage tunnels and grates beside the rivers.

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Old Chimney, Allendale Town

In the late 1800s, the population of Allendale was over 6000. That’s three times larger than its present size. Back then Allendale was the center of the most important lead mining production area in the world.

Lead chimneys dominated the horizons atop the moors and long flues carrying waste from the mine ore smelters ran to local rivers or vented poisonous fumes onto the moors.

And below the market square, on the banks of the River Allen, is an old stone mill. Unlike most stone mills this one serviced the lead mining industry – the source of old wealth in these now-forgotten parts of the North Pennines.

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The Blackett Level drainage tunnel on the Allen River

The mill, its quarry and ore smelter, and the grand buildings of Allendale are part of the infrastructure of lead mining that created a town large enough to have its own mayor. Today you can see the ruined chimneys of the lead mines on the horizon.

Plunging global lead prices eventually caused the industry to collapse. The Allendale smelt mill ceased operations in 1896. The railroad to Allendale was decommissioned.

But apart from the smithies that disappeared from the market square, Allendale village looks much as it does in maps from the late nineteenth century. Walking up onto the moors you can find the remaining lead smelter chimneys and much of the other structures left over from the time when Allendale was briefly the center of world lead mining.

3, Take yourself on a River Allen walk

It is hard to think of a better or more picturesque way to spend an afternoon than to walk down the Peth, past the Dalek and the Red Squirrels, and turn onto the path alongside the River East Allen.

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The River East Allen

This riverside walk runs below the market square and St. Cuthbert’s church, past lambs and ponies frolicking among daffodils and beside the stone walls of the fields abutting the village. The walk along the river passes a winding house and beside it, the Blackett Level, where lead effluent drained into the river system.

You can climb over stiles and make your way through the stone-walled fields to Catton or continue along the River. A stone-walled lane will take you back into Allendale village.

There are many paths to take and they are each charming and romantic, especially in the Spring. The river route walk to Catton, past farmhouses, and along the river back to Allendale is mapped out by Christopher Somerville. Click on the link here for his map.

4. Go further afield: Hiking and Rambling

Hiking and rambling can begin at the river but can continue out of the dales and onto the moors, and through the Pennines.

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Hiking signpost, Allendale Northumberland

A walk around the River East Allen and Allendale Town is well mapped out by the UK Ordnance Survey. It is a 6.5km walk taking 1hr 36 minutes. I find these maps very easy to use. The walk can be found here.

All of the walks surrounding Allendale mapped by the UK Ordnance Survey are considered “moderate.” The two exceptions are the Allendale Riverwalk and a Willimoteswick via Whitshields walk (12.2 km, 2hrs, 26 mins). These two walks are considered “leisurely.”

Ranging from 2 hours to 18 hours, the rambles, hikes, and cycling routes around Allendale Village and the Allen Valleys are unspoiled, wild, and sparsely populated. A list of routes and their detailed maps and directions can be found here.

5. Cycle through the Pennines

The North Pennines is one of the best cycling spots in England. Three National Cycles Routes pass through the North Pennines: The C2C, Pennine Cycleway, and Walney to Wear (and Whitby).

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Cycling to the chimneys on the moor above Allendale

In addition to these epic cycling, journeys are 10 cycle routes around Allendale village. The routes range from 14 km to 34 km in length.

Details, maps, and free downloadable pdfs of the routes are available here

5. Discover the Museum of Classic Sci-Fi

Daleks are part of British cultural history and are as much part of the fabric of our national heritage as a listed building.

Neil Cole, Allendale Northumberland

As tempting as it must be, the locals don’t just sit around all day at the pub (well, some do).

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Museum of Classic Sci-Fi, Allendale

Mostly they’re busy doing stuff like participating in all kinds of community groups (wine and cheese (free) film screenings, dancing, chamber music, and choir, community lunches and walks each week, and sports including angling, cricket, badminton, tennis, and golf.

They also get up to the odd spot of activism as well. The latest form of activism involves raising a Dalek army against the short-sighted rulings of the local bureaucracy.

In 2018 the tiny Museum of Classic Sci-Fi was opened by Neil Cole, an art teacher at the local primary school. The Museum of Classic Sci-Fi has over 200 items and is a “nostalgic” tour of the genre and of the “Dr. Who era.” It is open Friday through Monday and is becoming an attraction and reason to visit the village.

It is inside his house which is a Georgian heritage-listed terrace house on the road running beside the market square. Outside his house is a Dalek and a Dr-Who-tardis-car. The Dalek is, of course, called the “Allen Dalek.”

So far, so good. But then the local Council became involved and the locals were not impressed. The entrance sign to Allendale village now reads as Allendalek as local resistance mounts against the Council’s desire to evict the Allen Dalek.

The existence of the Allen Dalek, made by Neil Cole and local children over a five-year period, is not the problem. It’s the little shed that shelters the Dalek. It sits on the street in front of the Georgian terrace that Cole owns and where he has opened his museum.

Daleks began appearing all over the village in a show of solidarity with the Allen Dalek.

The Council relented and let Cole apply for retrospective permission for his Dalek shelter. The global outcry against the Council’s naff decision-making resulted in a reversal of their decision.

7. Channel your inner Reiver and go Bastle hunting

Around Allendale, there are forty buildings called Bastles. These are a kind of fortified farmhouse: a cross between a castle and a farmstead. The animals were housed on the ground floor of the Bastle and a wooden ladder led to a floor above where the family lived.

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Bastle in the borderlands countryside around Allendale Northumberland

In times of trouble, the ladder could be pulled up. Regular windows were replaced by arrow slits. The cause of all this fortification came from the Anglo-Scottish borderlands. The borderlands were the home of marauders known as Reivers.

Reiving means raiding or plundering. From the 1200s to the 1600s Border Reivers terrorized the folk of the Anglo-Scottish borderlands.

Centuries of English-Scottish wars left the borderlands a political and economic wasteland where your allegiance was to your family and by extension, your clan or tribe.

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England from the Scottish border

Arson and murder also occurred and farmers stopped planting crops because they would be burned by Reivers. Livestock was farmed and kept at night inside the Bastles.

James I finally got the area under his control in 1605 and hanged almost a hundred Reivers. Many of the remaining Reivers became soldiers or mercenaries and went to fight in European wars.

As you drive around the Allendale countryside you’ll be able to spot these interesting structures by their lack of a front door and by their narrow windows. They look more like sturdy barns than farmhouses.

8. Eat and Drink and Be Merry in the Market Square

The multi-story Georgian stone houses that line the market square are not only the location of the village pubs but also accommodation, tea rooms, a local co-operative, and a cafe. This is the heart of the village and its meeting place for all of its festivals and cultural events.

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Allendale Festival in the Market Square, Allendale

The tea rooms, like the rest of the stone buildings on the market square, date from the 17th century through to 1875.

Across the square are the Allen Forge (artist) studios, café, and gift shop. The grand old buildings around the square are available for short-term rentals. The King’s Head and the Golden Lion Hotel flank the north of the square.

The pubs have seasonal menus and are best known for their Sunday roasts – perfect to keep you well-nourished on your hikes up on the moors and in the Pennines!

The local co-op will let you pay at the end of the month for wine, lightbulbs, easter eggs, bread, brooms and flowers, and anything else you can find on their eclectic shelves. The village also has a post office, pharmacy, and gift shop.

9. Visit St. Cuthbert’s Church and Graveyard

At the far corner of the market, the square is the impressive stone and slate church with its Lychgate; stone walls enclosing mature camellia trees and gravestones.

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St. Cuthbert’s church and graveyard, Allendale

The interior has elaborate Italian marble and mosaic work and stained glass windows.

A church has stood in Allendale since 1174.

Many churches have been built and rebuilt on the current site. The most recent church, St. Cuthbert’s, was built in 1873 (except for part of the tower which is 1807) and is a Grade II Listed Heritage building.

The lovely lychgate is engraved with the names of those villagers who died fighting for England.

10. Buy local from Allendale Forge Studios

Next to the Allendale Inn in the market square are a small set of artists’ studios where local artists make and exhibit work.

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Close-up of ceramic mugs locally made

A former garage, it is attached to a cafe and gift shop. It is only a small space but it is possible to sometimes watch local artists at work.

11. Rug up for the Tar Bar’l Festival

You may want to time your visit to a festival or village celebration. There are a number of festivals, fairs, and sporting challenges that happen in and around Allendale. The most significant of these is the Tar Bar’l Festival that each New Year’s Eve night.

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Tar Bar’l Festival parade and bonfire

It is not, as is often stated, a pagan festival. But it is a silly one that causes a lot of merriment. Thought to have begun in 1864, the blowy winter conditions made it difficult for Christmas carolers to go from house to house, or inn to inn, without their straw torches being blown out. The idea was born of carrying a container of burning tar and setting it down each time the carollers wanted to sing.

This has evolved into a parade around the Allendale market square before midnight on New Year’s Eve night. “Guisers” dress in fancy costumes (Donald Trump has made an appearance over the last few years) and carry lit containers of tar upon their heads.

In the past five or so years, this festival has received considerable media coverage and it is important to book well ahead. It is also important to rug up well against the weather.

12. Take a Day Trip from Allendale

There are dozens of excellent day trips you can take from Allendale, but read more about two of my favorite things to see:

Hadrian’s Wall

The first is of course the magnificent Hadrian’s Walks. Read all about the best Hadrian’s Wall Walks, Tours, and Accommodation.

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Hadrian’s Wall, Housesteads Fort

Hadrian’s wall lies in the midst of stunning countryside and is a must-visit destination in the north of England. For almost 300 years this wall was the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire and of Britannia. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.

The 73 miles-long Roman-built stone wall runs to the north of Allendale village. There is much more at the main Hadrian’s Wall site than just the remains of the wall itself. The Housesteads Roman Fort and Museum is built on an escarpment and you can wander around and through the remains of this once vibrant Fort.

The Housesteads Roman Fort at Hadrian’s Wall is 7.8km away. The site is open daily, 10 am – 4 pm.

An Overseas Visitors Pass can be purchased online for a number of United Kingdom historical sites through Get Your Guide here.

Angel of the North

The second might seem strange but it’s no less impressive. The largest angel statue in the world watches over Newcastle and is an extraordinary and moving site.

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Angel of the North

Read all about visiting the Angel of the North statue at Gateshead, Tyne and Wear.

Get your English Heritage Overseas Tourist Pass here

 While you’re in the North of England, don’t miss visiting the UNESCO World Heritage site, Hadrian’s Wall. Read Best Hadrian’s Wall Walks, Tours, and Accommodation.

If you’re in the North of England during the Christmas period, don’t miss Newcastle’s Christmas markets.

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