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, three pubs and a co-op
a fascinating and important history, and
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 has been 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.
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. Allendale is 18 km south of the Roman town of Hexham and 55 km to the est of Newcastle upon Tyne. The nearby village of Allenheads is one of the highest inhabited village 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.
There is so much to see and do here. 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.
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.
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. The mill, its quarry and ore smelter, and the grand buildings of Allendale are part of the archaeological infrastructure of lead mining that began in Roman times and eventually created a town large enough to have its own mayor.
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 centre 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.
A surge in global lead prices led to the collapse of the industry. The smelt mill ceased operating in 1896. The railroad to Allendale from Hexham was decommissioned. But apart from the smithies that disappeared from the market square, Allendale looks much as it does in maps from the late nineteenth century.
What to Do in Allendale Village
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Stone walls, solid beams and low ceilings, with wood fires and snugs, pubs are the lifeblood of northern villages. 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 three pubs in Allendale – ( The Golden Lion, The Kings Head Hotel and the Allendale Inn, and one at Allenheads (The Allenheads Inn). In the market square you will find that locals have a favourite and the crowd is slightly different depending upon the live music, Sunday roast or pool competition that might be occurring at each pub.
A middle-aged woman told me that after her husband passed a 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.
River Allen Walks
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. 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.
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.
Museum of Classic Sci-Fi
As tempting as it must be, the locals don’t just sit around all day at the pub (well, some do). 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 golfing. 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. 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 (the “Allen Dalek”). So far, so good. But then the local Council became involved and the locals are 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 have begun 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. It seems likely that the global outcry against the Council’s naff decision making will result a reversal of their decision. It may be that the Allen Dalek will be able to keep out of the snow during Allendale’s cold winters. It will also have a great view of the Tar Bar’l New Year’s Eve parade!
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, a cafe and a butcher’s shop. This is the heart of the village and its meeting place for all of its festivals and cultural events.
The three pubs have seasonal menus and are best known for their Sunday roasts. The butcher’s shop is a real find. It produces fresh read-made meals from locally sourced produce. Delicacies such as pies, minted-lamb sandwiches and triple cheese quiches are perfect to keep you well nourished on your hikes up on the moors and in the Pennines!
At the far corner of the market square is the impressive stone and slate church with its Lychgate; stone walls enclosing mature camellia trees and gravestones. 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.
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. 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.
The Tar Bar’l Festival
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. 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 carollers 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 made an appearance last year) and carry lit containers of tar upon their heads. In the past five 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.
Where to Stay in Allendale Village
Below are a few of my favourite 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) and breakfasts a little out of town (4.5 km away). Hiking, fishing and horse riding for guests is available on the farm itself and family rooms are available.
Langley Castle Hotel – 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!
The Golden Lion – the defacto village centre on the market square has rooms on its upper floors. You need to be ok to climb some rather steep stairs for these rooms with a great view.
The Kings Head Hotel -right next door to The Golden Lion pub The Kings Head similarly has accommodation up some steep stairs in the heart of the village.
Sunniside House – Adjoining the post office in the market square is this delightful self-catering cottage. Minimum stays of 7 nights and dogs are welcome. I love this place!
Getting There and Away
There are direct flights from 40 airports into Newcastle (NCL) (see my Ultimate Guide to Allendale Village page for a table of these airports).
There are an average of 5 flights per day from London direct to Newcastle, taking 1hr and 10 mins. British Airways, Southern China and Flybe all 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. Download a pdf of the timetable here.
Links for further information
Much more detailed information and links about Allendale Village is available in my Ultimate Guide to Allendale Village page.
More detailed information on how to book transport, airfares, accommodation and travel insurance is available on my Travel Resources page.
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