Durham Heritage Coast
The Barn at Easington
This is a wonderful find: an eco-friendly, informal campsite in middle-of-nowhere farmland set back from the sea near Hawthorn Dene. It’s a 15-minute walk to the beach and despite the distant views of the sea, it feels more of a countryside site than a coastal one. Facilities are fairly basic but that’s half the appeal and you’ll find you’re either camping alone or among just a few others. For a step up from sleeping under canvas, you can hire an unfinished camping pod (£45 a night), wood cabin (£75) or one of two caravans (£60). Retreats and educational and arts events are held throughout the year so best to phone ahead to check availability.
The Derwent Valley
Low House YHA & campsite
This is a great little hostel in the old village of Edmundbyers – a low-rise run of three 18th-century cottages complete with its own quirky pub and rear campsite. Whenever I’ve paused on my travels here, it always seems to be overflowing with cheerful cyclists and walkers crammed into the diminutive pub, The Baa, with a cobbled floor. The hostel, affiliated to the YHA, has six rooms with bunkbeds and four family rooms. All clean with all the usual facilities including a dry room. Order pizzas from the Baa pub or enjoy free food on a Friday evening on a first come, first served basis.
Starlite Camping & Caravanning
This basic campsite started as a pop-up venture on a secluded lane about a mile west of Castleside and the A68 but has become more established over the last few years and now has a shepherd’s hut for hire that sleeps two. For tent campers (or those in campervans or caravans) don’t expect much in the way of facilities, but there is a toilet block and shower, a flat, grassy pitch and friendly welcome. The picturesque site, with rural views all around, is on the edge of the Pennines between the Waskerley area and Consett (Coast-to-Coast cyclists take note) and is a great little find for walkers and cyclists exploring the upper Derwent Valley and Weardale.
West Wood Yurts
Glamping on National Trust land has become popular in recent times and this yurt ‘village’ and nearby camping pods and shepherd hut (pods and hut each have private wood-fired hot tubs) makes for a fun alternative to staying in a Trust cottage. Located on farmland adjacent to the National Trust’s Gibside estate, the two sites (the yurts are located in a more wooded area and the pods and shepherd hut are next to the farm) enjoy access to the 18th-century parkland, ruins and chapel out of normal opening hours where several miles of walks through woods or along the famous two-mile avenue from the Palladian chapel to the old stable block are yours to explore.
The hilltop views from the two sites through the Derwent Valley are beautiful with farmland all around and beckoning hills beyond. Depending on the season, there are opportunities to get up close to the farm animals, particularly during the lambing season in early spring. All accommodation options are cosy with beds and sofa beds, kitchen areas, log burners and separate access to toilets and a shower. At the time of writing, the yurts were being refurbishment and are due to reopen in 2024. The pods and shepherd hut are unaffected during this period and cost just under £300 for a two-night stay.
Hidden Retreat Glamping
Nestled by the wooded banks of the Derwent on the edge of Shotley Bridge, this pleasant glamping site on grassland offers two modern huts, each sleeping four (one double room with a bathroom; one double sofabed in the living room/kitchen area) and are larger than your average camping pod and better equipped too with an oven, hob and fridge, outdoor seating area, fire pit, private hot tub and bathrobes. Expect to pay £400 for a two-night stay. Walk direct from the glamping site along the Derwent by way of footpaths.
Chances are when you arrive at this delightfully informal independent hostel run by a lady called Val – a real character – you will find cheery cyclists saddling up outside, this being a popular stopping point on the Coast-to-Coast cycleway. Rookhope is a stunning spot, high in the hills with plenty of walks direct from the village. The bunkhouse is next door to the Rookhope Inn (sadly closed at the time of reviewing) and began life in the 19th century as a purpose-built school before becoming a village hall.
Inside, the Barrington has many old corners and exposed stone walls and, though not the most modern hostel in Durham, it is equipped with everything you need for a comfortable overnight stay. Plenty of good vibes and chatter thrown in! Rates are reasonable at £24 per person including breakfast or £14 for tent campers in the little garden area (£10 without breakfast).
Carrshield Camping Barn
West Allen Valley
No-frills overnight stays at this wonderfully restored two-storey 19th-century mine shop in rural surroundings just over the border in Northumberland, not far from Allenheads. Enclosed by Pennine hills dotted with historic relics from the lead mines of long ago, this bunkhouse may have few modern conveniences besides running hot and cold water (no mattresses, no bedding, no kitchen, no shower), but it is set in stunning countryside with walks in every direction and is a useful stopping place for Coast-to-Coast cyclists. The three rooms each have raised wooden sleeping benches and a wood-burning stove and sleep four, six or eight. There’s a separate room where you can cook on your own stove and a compost toilet. Pay for the room (£40, £50 or £60, or the entire bunkhouse for a little over £100).
Mill Cottage Bunkhouse
By the side of an old lead mine, now a heritage site, is this welcoming independent bunkhouse sleeping six in ship’s cabin-style bunkbeds (each with a charger and curtain for privacy). The single dorm is snug and guests also have access to a separate kitchen and bathroom. It’s perfect for a fairly inexpensive overnight stay for cyclists and walkers at £20 a night and the location is wonderfully peaceful nestled amid old lead-mining fells with only the sound of running water and upland birds. Set foot direct from the front door to see the old lead mine or visit a nearby waterfall. The bunkhouse adjoins an old mill and is a short walk from Nenthead, a convivial and remote Pennine village on the Coast-to-Coast cycleway. In the centre, there’s a great new community café in the old Methodist chapel and, a short drive away, Killhope Lead Mining Musuem.
High Side Farm Camping
Mark and Helen opened their smallholding to guests some years ago and have maintained the campsite as a small operation for adults only. Situated on a hillside not far from the quaint village of Mickleton, the views from the camping field towards Grassholme reservoir are stunning: flower grasslands divided by drystone walls and plentiful birdlife in evidence (even a barn owl kept me awake on one visit). The night sky is pitch black over Lunedale’s fells and astronomy enthusiasts may like to combine their stay with a visit to the Grassholme Observatory a couple of miles away.
Small and immaculately kept (with a wonderfully warm and clean shower room), the site – a terraced slope with individual level pitches – is perfect for tent campers or those touring in campers or caravans and looking for a quiet spot to spend the night. There’s also a glamping timber cabin for a bit more luxury with views across the valley.
Langdon Beck YHA
This is a very special place to stay. The interior is pretty standard for a YHA and the bedroom walls are paper thin, but the kitchen is very well equipped with at least two of every appliance and the lounge cosy with an open fire and board games, but you haven’t come here for the interior styling. It’s what’s outside that makes this low-cost, eco-conscious hostel set back from the main road through Teesdale so appealing – specifically the birdlife, fells and walking opportunities in this wild corner of England. Wake up to a cacophony of bird calls in spring and set foot across grasslands to the likes of Widdybank Fell, Cronkley Scar, Cow Green Reservoir and Cauldron Snout waterfall or join the Pennine Way for a ramble along the Tees. Besides walking and nature watching, there’s very little else to do here unless you travel down through the valley to Bowlees to enjoy more waterfalls and visit the little café.
For more information, see Gemma Hall’s guide to Durham: