Cycling in Durham and Tees Valley
The windy, remote hilltops of the county’s west offer altitude fans England’s two highest road ‘mountain passes’ (Killhope Cross on the A689 and nearby Harthope Moss, both reaching 627m or 2,057 feet). But down in the well-populated east, over a dozen railtrails thread their level way through the former mining and industrial towns and communities.
It’s a contrast familiar to anyone who’s cycled the C2C from Whitehaven to Sunderland, which finishes on a grand long descent down to the coast along the Waskerley Way railtrail (part of NCN7, and that wind is usually, mercifully, behind you).
There’s plenty more of this in County Durham: a long railtrail (part of NCN1) runs from Stockton to Durham; another (part of NCN14) links Stockton with Darlington; another (more of NCN14) Hartlepool with Durham; yet another (NCN70) Bishop Auckland with Durham. Don’t expect smooth tarmac everywhere, though; and if you decide the road alternative is preferable, it’ll turn hilly sooner or later, usually sooner.
Hamsterley Forest, southwest of Durham, is one of England’s best-known mountain bike centres, with trails for everyone from child beginners to experts. Other challenging cycle routes include the South Durham Orbital, a 54-mile loop mixing railtrails with roads, and the 25-mile circuit linking Consett and Chester-le-Street mostly off-road.
The county’s largest town is Darlington, which has an active everyday-cycling scene. Durham itself, with its fine old town and wonderful cathedral, is the county’s cultural and tourism centre. Despite a few local bike routes, utility cycling levels are low, though: tour it by bike and you may feel a little conspicuous.
Cycling groups and clubs in Durham and Tees Valley
CTC Teesside Group (Teeside)
Road cycling club offering a variety of rides for a range of fitness levels
Beamish Odd Sox (Beamish)
TTB club supporting all forms of riding, from entry level to pro
Durham County Council BUG (Durham)
Hamsterley Trailblazers (Hamsterley)
Enthusiasts aiming to make Hamsterley Forest a centre of excellence for mountain biking
Ferryhill Wheelers (Ferryhill)
Road racing, track racing and pottering around the lanes
Aycliffe Velo (Aycliffe)
Tees Valley YMCA Bike Club (County Durham)
Darlington Cycling Club (Darlington)
Up to six club runs a week of 15-20 miles with a coffee stop for entry level road riders
Thirteen Care and Support (Stockton on Tees)
Cleveland Wheelers CC (Middlesbrough)
Road cycling club offering coaching for children aged 5 and over
Middlesbrough Sports Village (Middlesbrough)
Bike Stop Darlington (Darlington)
Summerhill Country Park (Hartlepool)
Cycle East Durham (Durham)
Houghton Cycling Club (Durham)
Cedrec Cycling Club (Chester-le-Street)
What to take with you on your ride
The only thing you really need for cycling is a bike. And maybe a phone, and credit card: in Britain you’re only a call away from any service you might need.
But unless money is no object, it’s wise to take a few things with you on a day ride. A saddlebag, panniers or bikepacking bags are best for carrying stuff. A front basket is second best. A rucksack is third best. Your sweaty back will soon tell you why.
Cycling short distances in jeans and t-shirt is fine, but on a long or strenuous ride – over ten miles say, or in hills – those jeans will rub and the t-shirt will get damp and clingy. Shorts or, yes, lycra leggings and padded shorts will be much comfier, and merino or polyester cycling tops wick away the sweat, keeping you dry and comfy. (They don’t have to be lurid colours.)
If rain’s in the air, pack a rainproof top. If it might turn chilly, take a fleece or warm top. But the thing you’re most likely to forget is the sunblock.
It’s remarkable how often you enjoy being out on the bike so much that you suddenly realise it’s getting dark. So take lights (which are legally required at night). They’re price of a sandwich, take no space, are easy to put on thanks to tool-free plastic clips, and the batteries last for ever.
Take a puncture repair kit (with tyre levers) and pump. Make sure it fits your valves, which will be either ‘Presta’ or ‘Schraeder’ – realising they don’t match is a very common roadside discovery! Carrying a spare inner tube (make sure it matches your tyre size) makes puncture repair much easier: mend the old one back at home. If you do get in trouble, some kindly passing cyclist will probably stop to help.
Using a helmet is a personal choice – they’re not legally required.
Cycling makes you thirsty, so take lots of water. Long-distance riders talk about ‘the bonk’ – a sudden loss of energy rendering you almost stationary. It’s miraculously and instantly cured by eating something sweet. On short rides you’re unlikely to run out of energy, but just in case, take a snack like flapjack, banana, chocolate or jelly babies.
Taking a packed lunch or picnic will save you money, though that hot drink and cake in a cosy cafe could yet prove very tempting!
Your phone GPS could be invaluable for showing where you are when lost; you can download free detailed UK maps and GPS software before your trip.
Paper maps are still useful, though, so take one: no power source or wifi signal required, and they’re great for suggesting possibilities or changes of plan.