(many thanks to Andy Armstrong for this route)
I'm afraid this one starts with a climb. In fact, give or take the odd small hillock, the overall gradient profile of the ride is one big lump which at least means you finish on a descent. Starting from the car park on the south bank of the Coquet in Rothbury (NU 058015). Turn right onto the road and climb for roughly 500m. At the junction turn left, climb for another couple of hundred metres then turn right at (NU 057011) onto the track that leads up past Sharp's Folly. Apparently the Folly was built in around 1720 by local labour under the direction of the pastor, Dr Thomas Sharp, who conceived of the scheme as a way of providing employment. Evidently higher standards were required on 18th century job creation schemes than are now the norm, because it's still in one piece more or less.
Continue to climb to the farm at Whitton Hillhead (NZ 045999) keeping right at the one junction you pass. When we passed through the farm in mid August the farmer, who was leaning on a fence inspecting his domain, greeted us with a cheery 'hello', so take it steady through the farm and don't do anything that might put him off mountain bikers.
Continue through the farm using the gates that are marked with bridleway signs and then on to the west for another 500m to a gate into a field (NZ 041998). Turn left and press on south across the field. When we were there the field had been treated with a top secret anti-cycle preparation - essentially a wafer thin rutted crust over a soggy substrate - a bit like a very thick and heavy lemon meringue pie. Award yourself an extra apres ride beer if you manage to pedal all the way to the gate at (NZ 041995). If you're following this on the map note that the forestation that should be behind the gate has been felled. We missed the gate altogether, but you won't make the same mistake now you've been told about it...
Through the gate follow the track to a second gate at (NZ 040994) and through onto the road. Turn right and continue to the Simonside carpark at (NZ 037997). Back on trails now we can leave behind the picknickers who never get further than the carpark and continue the climb to the base of Simonside. Exit the carpark on the rightmost (northwest most) track and follow it up to the base of the hill, going left at the first junction (NZ 032997) and right at the second (NZ 031989).
Once at the base of Simonside pause to take in the view to the north west. If you're feeling particularly energetic you can enhance the view by scrambling up to the summit cairn (429m according to the O/S). Once you've had enough of that warm yourself up again by blasting over the next 4km of fairly undistinguised forest track. Embark to the south west staying on the main track staying right at (NZ 010969) and on to 'Chartners', a pretty white house (unless they give it a respray before you get there) at (NZ 001957). Turn right here and continue north bearing north west. After just over a kilometre turn right (NY 995969) and then on for around 200m to the edge of the forest at (NY 994970).
This next bit is the raison d'etre of the whole ride in my opinion: 3km of fast, slightly technical, descent ending in a fabulous run off across sheep smoothed grass. Take it steady - although it's mostly benign there are a generally a couple of surprises on the way down, and it changes from month to month so prior experience is of limited value. Navigationally it's easy peasy - just follow the track staying right when you get into the field at (NY 981985). Keep on to Hepple Whitefield taking the left fork at (NY 986994) and continuing back onto the road. Turn right and head north east back towards Rothbury. The map shows a bridleway that runs roughly 3km from (NT 996003) to (NU 019017) which might be fun although I've never tried it. If you try it let me know what you think. Failing that, follow the road all the way back to Rothbury and a steaming cup of tea or whatever takes your fancy.
andy armstrong, northumberland
Download GPS data in GPX format.