8 forest walks near Sunderland: the best woodland trails a short drive away - from Jesmond Dene Park to Chopwell Wood

The whole family will enjoy these spectacular and wholesome walks

Walking has become much more popular as a result of the pandemic (Shutterstock)
Walking has become much more popular as a result of the pandemic (Shutterstock)

No matter where you live, exploring the local outdoor area is one of those wholesome activities that never gets old.

Whether that be going for a lunchtime stroll while working from home, taking a drive to a new destination at the weekend, or packing your boots and waterproofs for an afternoon hike, there’s no arguing that fresh air and exercise is a cure for many of life’s stresses.

The pandemic seems to have slowed life down a little bit, allowing us to actually stop and appreciate nature, and walking and hiking became much more popular during the first lockdown as pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops closed.

As England entered its second lockdown on 5 November, there’s no doubt the walking trend will rise again - and thankfully travelling to take exercise has been classed as “essential”.

We’ve compiled the eight best forest walks near Sunderland that the whole family is guaranteed to enjoy.

Plessey Woods Country Park

Located between Bedlington and Cramlington, the drive to Plessey Woods from Sunderland is 40 minutes - but the mini road-trip is absolutely worth it for a beautiful day out.

You’re able to meander through the towering trees, through no less than 100 acres of woodland.

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Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, as woodpeckers and nuthatches are common, as well as red squirrels, roe deer and foxes.

It’s a dog-friendly location, and the walking is relatively easy with a few steep steps and grassy inclines in places. A full circuit of the woods is around one and a half miles.

There’s picnic tables near the visitor centre, so you could easily spend a full afternoon exploring here.

Jesmond Dene Park

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While this historic park lies in the heart of suburban Newcastle, it makes for some great woodland walks for those coming from further afield.

A half-hour drive from Sunderland, it won’t take long to get to this ever-popular spot and there’s a range of walking routes to choose from that will suit every age.

Wander through the woods next to the riverside and take in the famous waterfall along with the ruins of the 14th century water mill.

It’s easy to see why locals - and tourists - love this place.

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Gibside Estate

Nestled in the sweeping Derwent Valley is this grand, 600-acre historic garden, a 40-minute drive from Sunderland which you won’t grudge when you get there.

There’s a plethora of walks to enjoy here in the woodland, which is lined with picture-perfect trees that look absolutely glorious in the autumn months especially.

It’s a great place to get up close to nature and to spend a full day out with the family. There’s even a kids’ play area if they’re not so keen on walking!

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Thornley Woodlands

Also found within the ancient woodlands of the Derwent Valley is Thornley Woodlands Centre, a 30-minute drive from Sunderland.

A favourite spot among bird-watchers, the area is home to great spotted woodpeckers, nuthatches and sparrow hawks, with an observation hide located within the woods.

All walking routes are clearly marked, with the most popular being a short circular route that takes you past intriguing animal sculptures carved from tree stumps.

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Car parking is free, and there’s a visitor centre which, if open, will give you all the walking information you need.

Rising Sun Country Park

If the movie-like name of this park doesn’t make you want to go, then the beautiful views will.

Pack a picnic and set out on the 35-minute drive in the morning to spend a full day in the 400-acre area.

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Simply choose a walking route and follow the colour-coded arrows through the woods.

A good path leads towards the organic farm, where you can see various animals depending on the time of year. Stags are also known to inhabit the area.

Kids will love the country park, which has a natural adventure play area and a pond, too.

Chopwell Wood

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Ask any local and they’ll recommend a trip to Chopwell Wood for some unbeatable forest walks.

There’s miles of paths and an old colliery railway track, making the place perfect for a breath of fresh air, whether you’re a walker or a cyclist.

Choose from four walking trails of various lengths, suitable for all ages, and if you’re a mountain biker there’s a notorious red-graded trail which is renowned in Northern England.

It’s 360 hectares of mixed woodland which looks spectacular whatever the season.

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Set right on the edge of Gateshead, it will take you around 50 minutes to drive here, but we promise it’s worth it.

Hedley Hall

Expect ancient woodland, meadows and peat bogs at this spectacular spot in Gateshead.

Walkers of all abilities can enjoy a variety of landscapes, habitats and wildlife, and there’s even a sculpture trail to explore.

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There’s a network of paths here, including part of the Tyne-Wear Trail.

From Sunderland city centre, the drive will take you half an hour, and you can enter the wood from the car park which is just off Hedley Lane.

Land’s Wood

Last, but by no means least, is Land’s Wood in Winlaton Mill, Gateshead.

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The ancient woodland site is home to a variety of trees - oak, birch, birch and beech to name a few - making it an interesting and tranquil place to visit.

There’s an extensive network of paths where you can spot a number of different animal species from deer and badger to squirrels and newts.

Walking the perimeter of the woods takes around 35 minutes, and it’s relatively easy except from a steep slope uphill at one point.

The paths can get extremely muddy in the winter and spring, so wear wellies or walking boots.

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The drive to Winlaton Mill will take you 35 minutes, and access to the wood can be gained by walking across the field from the public car park.