About the Reivers Route

The Reivers Route opened in 1998 and is 173 miles long. It is also known as the ‘Return C2C’ as it takes you from the end of the west-to-east route all the way back to the start of the C2C. It is a great route in its own right – in some ways superior to the C2C – but it has not had as much attention and money spent on it. It is now part of the National Cycle Network and the route between Tyneside and Kielder Reservoir is now properly signed. Beyond Kielder the signage is still a little erratic but we are delighted that this beautiful and isolated stretch of northern wilderness is not getting the attention it deserves.

Thanks here go to the cycle route management unit set up to work closely with local authorities along the length of the Reivers, in close co-operation with Sustrans. Despite the horrors of summer 2008 and the grim July and August Britain experienced in 2009, the route is once again busier than ever. As with the C2C the gradients along Reivers work in the cyclist’s favour. The route winds its way through some of the wildest and most untouched countryside in the UK. It starts at the mouth of the mighty River Tyne, finishes on the Cumbrian coast and along the way, riders follow the shores of Kielder Water – Europe’s largest man-made lake – before crossing the Border for a brief foray into Scotland. Emerging from the post-industrial and partially regenerated suburbs of Newcastle, the route quickly threads its way into the first gentle then rugged countryside of the Northumberland National Park.

There are fine views across to the towering Cheviots before you become immersed in the forest tracks around Kielder, where there are many options suited to mountain bikers and day tripper alike. After the Borders, Carlisle and down through the Lake District This is truly isolated terrain. You could be up in the fastnesses of Sutherland or Ross-shire. But unlike up there, you will stumble across such gems as Hesket Newmarket, with its own excellent micro-brewery, Newcastleton just into Scotland, or Cockermouth and Bassenthwaite. There is a lot of satisfaction to be had from such discoveries.

Though I provide some basic mapping in this book, and there is some waymarking along the way, you should still get the official route map from Footprint (see right) or from www.baytreepress.com. If you don’t mind bulk and cost, the new OS Landranger maps have full route details, though the older ones may not have Route 10 marked. OS Landranger maps: (1:50,000) 88, 87, 80, 79, 86, 85, 90 & 89 (in east to west sequence).

Waymark

The route is now waymarked with a red NCN direction sign complete with the word REIVERS and the route number. These are posted at junctions and other strategic spots. Occasionally the road surface is signed; sometimes there are just little plastic stickers stuck to gates and lamp-posts. Signage is not always brilliant, but with sharp eyes and the use of a map you should not get lost. Having said that, sections at the beginning and end have much improved since it became part of the NCN, despite the trashing and snaffling meted out by vandals and souvenir hunters.

Reivers History

Tales of blood and guts

As you will probably know, the word Reiver means plunderer. The route is named after the murdering bandits who ran a medieval equivalent of Cosa Nostra. This was the Chicago or Sicily of its time, when marauding clans terrorised both the English and Scottish sides of the Border for 350 years, right up to the 17th century. They lived by cattle rustling, kidnapping, extortion, arson and murder. The route passes many castles like Bew Castle as well as a number of fortified farmhouses like Askerton Castle, all of which reveal the defensive needs of the area as well as its rich heritage.

Despite the cosy thematising that has been perpetrated by tourism to give the past a false appeal, there is nothing remotely quaint or faintly honourable about Reiving; many of the families were happy to swing both ways, fighting for the English if the price was right, or vice versa. One family, the Grahams, were so infamous that their surnames were banned by law, so the Grahams changed them to Maharg (Graham backwards), which later also became McHarg. Indeed, the word ‘blackmail’ comes from the Reivers: a farmer paid ‘blackmail’ – rent in the form of cattle instead of the legal ‘whitemail’, which was paid in silver, to a powerful Reiver who would give him ‘protection’ in return.