AMBITIOUS plans to attract tens of thousands more tourists to enjoy the North-East’s natural beauty spots have been announced, heralding a multi-million pound boost for the region’s rural economy.

Promising better stargazing, cycling, walking and food experiences, the Northern Lands project has secured nearly £750,000 and is expected to bring an extra 30,000 visitors to the area’s “protected landscapes”.

An electric bike hire network will be created, new cycle routes and mountain bike trails set up, new stargazing facilities opened and existing destinations upgraded and new locally produced food “trails” established.

Hamsterley Forest, in County Durham, is earmarked for a Go Ape-style high wire attraction, the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Northumberland National Park will tap into “dark skies tourism” after Kielder was made England’s first Dark Sky Park and Durham’s Heritage Coast will be key to the electric bike venture.

Further afield, a new 100-mile cycle route, known as The Sandstone Way, to link Berwick-upon-Tweed and Hexham and Kielder, in Northumberland, will get new cycle route investment.

People working in tourism will get training in helping visitors enjoy their stay under the A Sense of Place initiative and small-scale food producers will also get more support.

The project has secured £463,000 from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and £286,000 in cash and in-kind support from Durham and Northumberland county councils.

Further contributions are expected from rural businesses, who are invited to get involved.

Melanie Sensicle, chief executive of Northern Lands co-ordinators Visit County Durham, said: “We are delighted that we have been able to help bring this investment into the North-East.

“Our protected landscapes are some of our most important assets and we want visitors to discover and enjoy them.

“Each landscape has its own characteristics and qualities and Northern Lands will bring these to the attention of many more people.

“The projects will develop the landscapes in a responsible and appropriate way and will help sustain our rural communities who do so much to look after these special places.”

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