How to walk Saint Oswald’s Way
Route overviewThis 97-mile (115 kilometres) route links places associated with St Oswald, a 7th century king of Northumbria, who had close ties with the monastic community on Lindisfarne. The route follows the stunning Northumberland Coastline, before heading inland along the river Coquet and the charming town of Rothbury before heading south to Heavenfield, linking with the famous Hadrian’s Wall long distance walk, close to the market town of Hexham. It ends on the beautiful Holy Island of Lindisfarne. The route can be walked in either direction, in 6 – 8 days. I would recommend a 6 day walk from Holy island and 7 days to the island, to allow planning around crossing the Lindisfarne Causeway. This short guide provides basic information on each of the 6 recommended daily stages (each between 13 and 19 miles in length) of the walking route from south to north.
A more detailed map for this route and other routes that visit Holy Island can be found here.
How to get to the start of the routeThis route can be accessed at Hexham and Berwick-upon-Tweed railway stations, which are a 45 and 35 minute train ride from Newcastle, respectively. Hexham station is located on the Tyne Valley Line between Newcastle, and Berwick-upon-Tweed station on the East Coast Main Line, serving destinations between London and Inverness, including Edinburgh and Newcastle. There is also railway access close to this route at Alnmouth station, also located on the East Coast Main Line, between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Newcastle.
Stage 1 – Heavenfield to Knowesgate (18.5 miles)This first stage starts at the battle site of Heavenfield, along Hadrian’s Wall, until Carr Hill Farm, between Milecastle 20 and 21, where the path then heads away from the wall, north through the Northumbrian farmland. The route visits a number of small villages, including Great Whittington, Little and Great Bavington and Kirkwhlepington before reaching Knowesgate, where there is accommodation. Please note: there are no facilities until you reach Kirkwhelpington where there is a post office. There is a pub in Matfen, off the route from Great Whittington. Places to visit en-route are:
- Heavenfield battle site – a wooden cross and church (St. Oswald’s) marks the site of the battle where St Oswald was victorious, and the start of St. Oswald’s Way
- Hadrian’s Wall – the famous wall, sharing the initial part of the St. Oswald’s Way, was built by the Romans can be walked along and provides a vantage point with views out over the Northumberland countryside. There are also milecastles along the way to explore
- Matfen – A village with a pub approximately a third of the way along the stage (1.5 miles off route)
- Kirkwhelpington – a small, pretty village, close to the end of this stage with a post office.
- Knowesgate – a village with some accommodation options, as well as a local pub for food
Stage 2 – Knowesgate to Rothbury (14 miles)The second stage heads through further countryside and then goes through some small settlements and farms. The latter half of this stage goes through Harwood Forest, followed by the Simonside Hills for a number of miles. Eventually, you will reach the small town of Rothbury, where there are many places to eat and sleep. Please note, there are no facilities between Knowesgate and Rothbury.
- Harwood Forest – a large conifer planted forest which the route goes through
- Simonside Hills – a set of hills with amazing views out across the Northumbrian countryside and as far as the North Sea and coast to the east
- Lordenshaws – you will find the remains of a double-walled iron fort and burial mound, as well as ‘cup and ring‘ rock marks just off-route in the Simonside Hills
- Rothbury – a small town situated on the river Coquet, with shops and amenities for a night’s stay including hotels, B&Bs and pubs, cafes and restaurants
Stage 3 – Rothbury to Warkworth (18 miles)The third stage follows the River Coquet out of Rothbury, through the villages of Wheldon and Felton (both have pubs for a stop-off), before heading away from the river through the Coquet Valley to the old town of Warkworth, which is built around the beautiful Warkworth Castle. Warkworth has all the amenities required for a night’s stay and is very pretty. Places to visit en-route are:
- Cragside – the beautiful house of Victorian engineer, Lord Armstrong, the first to powered by hydroelectricity. The grounds surrounding the house are stunning at any time of year. (1 mile off the route and outside Rothbury town)
- River Coquet – a pretty river, which the route follows for much of the day
- Brinkburn Priory – comprising a pretty 12th century church, previously part of an Augustinian Priory, which was restored in the 19th century, and an abandoned manor house (on other side of river Coquet, 1 mile off route)
- Felton – a village with a pub with accommodation, a coffee shop and a gallery. A great place to stop, halfway along this stage, and have a break.
- Warkworth – a pretty small town, set in a loop of the River Coquet, with a castle, pubs, cafes and accommodation. A great place to spend an evening or a few hours.
Stage 4 – Warkworth to Craster (13.5 miles)The fourth stage leaves Warkworth and heads towards the Northumberland Coast, which it follows for most of the day to the pretty harbour village of Craster, famous for its smoked kippers. On the coast the route passes the pretty town of Alnmouth as well as beaches and cliff-side walks with stunning views over the North Sea. There are amenities in Alnmouth as well as a pub in Boulmer for a rest and some food. Craster has some food and accommodation options. Places to visit en-route are:
- Alnmouth – a seaside town, with great views, and plenty of amenities for visitors, including accommodation, pubs, cafes and a beach.
- Boulmer – location with a beach and great views out to the North Sea.
- Rumbling Kern – a tiny beach set behind small cliffs and overlooked by a Bathing House.
- Craster – a small seaport, with places to stay and eat and great views over the harbour and sea. A great place to try out the local smoked kippers.
Stage 5 – Craster to Bamburgh (14 miles)Stage Five continues along the beautiful Northumberland Coast, an area of outstanding natural beauty. The route passes Dunstanburgh Castle as well as a number of small coastal villages with pubs or cafes including; Low Newton, Beadnell and Seahouses, you can even walk on the beach for most of the route, instead of on the clifftops, if you prefer. The route finishes at the beautiful village of Bamburgh, overlooked by the famous and huge Bamburgh Castle, Oswald’s capital of Northumbria. Here, there are hotels, cafes and places to eat – a great place to stop for the night.
- Dunstanburgh Castle – a stunning runined castle set on a promontory overlooking the North Sea. Managed by the National Trust
- Lower Newton – this location has a great pub and beach with views over Embleton Bay towards Dunstanburgh Castle in the distance
- Beadnell and Benthall – small twin villages with a harbour and popular as a holiday location. Has amenities including a couple of pubs and many places to stay.
- Seahouses – a small town, with all amenities, including a high street with shops, pubs and places to stay. Great views out over the harbour. It is possible to start a trip to the Farne Islands from here to see all the birdlife living there, including puffins
- Bamburgh – a village dominated by the huge Bamburgh Castle and a stunning beach with dunes, with views out to the Farne Islands. There are places to stay and eat here, as well as a museum dedicated to Grace Darling, the Victorian Heroine who saved lives at the nearby Farne Islands
- Farne Islands – an archipelago, where there are large bird colonies that you can see over spring and summer, as well as seals. The islands can be accessed by boat trips from Seahouses.
Stage 6 – Bamburgh to Fenwick (13 miles)This stage initially follows the north Northumberland coast, before heading inland to the small town of Belford and then north passing close to St. Cuthbert’s Cave and to the small village of Fenwick, where there is some accommodation. The only amenities between Bamburgh and Fenwick, can be found at Belford, as well as a hotel at Waren Mill. Pubs can be found a few miles away at Lowick and on the A1 at West Mains (where there is also accommodation, if required). Locations that can be visited en-route are:
- Budle Bay – a stunning bay with views over to Holy Island and lots of birdlife to spot.
- Belford – a small town with food (pubs and cafes) and accommodation options.
- St Cuthbert’s Cave – an alleged stopping point for the monks who were moving St. Cuthbert’s body from The Holy island of Lindisfarne to Durham, where he is now buried. Worth a visit.
- Kyloe Hills – a set of hills providing panoramic views across to Holy Island and north Northumberland Coast, close to the end of this stage.
- Fenwick – the final stop on this stage, with bed and breakfast accommodation.
Stage 7 – Fenwick to Holy IslandThis final stage runs through farmland, then across the causeway to Holy Island, the final destination for this pilgrimage/walk. You can either follow the causeway road, which is tarmacked but shared with car traffic (there is no pavement) and can be crossed at low tide, or if the tide is receding you can follow the Pilgrim’s Path across the sands to Holy Island. Only cross if it is safe to do so (red our article about crossing the Pilgrim’s Way and minding tide times) If not, accommodation can be found at West Mains (10 miles), a 1 mile detour each way from this route, where the approach road to Holy Island meets the A1 main road. If unable to cross the Lindisfarne Causeway, toilets can be found at the petrol station at West Mains on the A1. Locations that can be visited en-route are:
- Beal – a small hamlet on the road to Holy Island, where there is a café and bar, where you can stop for a rest and some food. There is accommodation a mile from here, back at the A1, if required and the tide is blocking the road to Hoy Island.
- Lindisfarne Causeway – the beautiful access to Holy Island, shared with car traffic.
- Pilgrim’s Way – a pedestrian-only path across the sands to Holy Island. This should only be crossed on a waning tide.