It may be far from being one of the most well-known racecourses in the country but in terms of picturesque views, there are very few that beat Hexham. Set in some truly stunning countryside, Northumberland’s sole racecourse provides a wonderful setting for National Hunt racing. The course, which is around 700m above sea level, features 15 meetings a year with many taking place outside the main jumps season.
As far as towns go, Hexham is on the small side with a population not much over 10,000. The town and surrounding areas do enjoy a healthy tourism industry though, largely thanks to its rich history, cultural attractions and the magnificent scenery that brings fantastic hiking opportunities. The racecourse is only one of things you can do here so extending your stay to try out Hexham’s other delights is never a bad idea.
There are two highly rated hotels within the very centre of Hexham, the Beaumont and the County. Neither are especially cheap but they do provide an excellent quality stay in a convenient location. If wanting to stay on more of a budget, the Station Inn, located beside the train station, is an option to consider. These three options are around a 35 to 40 minute walk from the racecourse but the journey is not too pedestrian friendly. Half of the journey has either no footpath or just a grass verge to walk on so this will not be for everyone.
Just Outside Hexham
Only a few miles outside of Hexham you have a range of additional options for an overnight stay. Just to the north you have the Queens Arms and the Sun Inn located in Acomb, while a stone’s throw away, beside the River North Tyne you have the Boatside Inn. To the east of Hexham, just 10 minutes away, you have the small town of Corbridge, which is home to the Golden Lion, Dyvels Inn, the Wheatsheaf, and the Angel of Corbridge.
In the opposite direction, Haydon Bridge has several highly regarded places to stay such as the Railway Hotel, Shafthoes Guesthouse, the Anchor and the Reading Rooms. All the places mentioned outside Hexham are no more than a 15 minute drive from the racecourse, so for those in a car, the choice is excellent despite the rural location.
Newcastle for a City Stay
There is much to enjoy about Hexham and the surrounding areas but a tranquil stay in the countryside is not for everyone. If you want somewhere with a much more vibrant scene then Newcastle is not too far away at all and has vibrancy aplenty to say the least. The centre of the city is around a 35-minute drive away and here you will find an abundance of different hotels. From cheap and cheerful stays to something a bit more luxurious, Newcastle can cater to all needs and budgets.
About the Racecourse
Located just outside the North Pennines, spectators at Hexham Racecourse enjoy plenty of fresh air, as well as some competitive racing. It may not strike you as a place that is well connected by public transport but you can easily get here without a car. For every meeting, the racecourse runs two free buses that stop off at the rail station and the bus station. These ‘first come first serve’ buses will take you directly to and from the racecourse at times stated prior to the meeting. Should you not fancy the bus, ‘Advanced Taxi’ specialise in taking spectators to every race meeting but this service needs booking in advance.
As for getting to Hexham in the first place, that is also relatively straightforward on public transport. From both Newcastle and Carlisle, you have the option of bus or train, with the latter usually being significantly quicker. Services are regular so you do not have to wait long to hop on the next train or bus should you miss one. Hexham train station is also served by direct trains from the likes of Whitby, Sunderland and Morpeth, making it easily accessible for anyone living in the north of the country.
Getting to Hexham Racecourse is even more straightforward for car drivers though with the course located just three miles from the A69 which connects to both the A1 (Newcastle) and the M6 (Carlisle). After turning off the dual carriageway there is just a simple drive through Hexham itself required before reaching the racecourse’s free to use car park. There is ample space here for all meetings so do not fear you will miss out on a spot if arriving late. To get yourself to the car park, use the post code NE46 2JP.
We have already mentioned what a picturesque course Hexham is but it is worth stressing it once again as spectators here enjoy lovely views while watching the racing. The views are enhanced because spectators find themselves on the top of the course, allowing them to see much more of their surroundings as well as the track itself. This does mean though that horses face a steep climb at the end of every race and this can easily catch out over-eager runners who do not leave enough left in the tank.
Although the rises and falls make Hexham a tricky place to ride, the fences here are regarded as being quite easy so do not pose too much of a test. You will still get the odd faller or unseated jockey though as this is not a venue that tends to attract a high calibre of horse.
Hexham states that their dress code is smart casual. Jeans fall within this providing they are smart (so no large tears or rips) and shorts do too, providing they are also smart rather than sporty. Football shirts are not permitted but racegoers can arrive dressed up in fancy dress providing the costume is not likely to offend others.
Many people like to dress to impress when visiting a racecourse and while Hexham encourages this, they do remind racegoers to dress for the weather. Things can get very cold in this part of the world, as well as very wet.
There is officially only one ‘stand’ at Hexham – the Ramshaw Stand – which is located just prior to the finishing post. The stand itself has three tiers, with the bottom two available to anyone with a Club Enclosure ticket (£20 as standard). The top floor, however, the place offering the best views at the racecourse, is where you will find corporate hospitality and private boxes. Sat beside the Ramshaw Stand is the Henderson Suite where racegoers can enjoy a four-course buffet overlooking the parade ring, usually for around £90, which is pretty good value all in all.
Keep heading westwards, past the parade ring and you will come across a fairly large structure containing the likes of the Pavilion restaurant, Bramble Tudor café and Shire bar. It is here where you can also enjoy a (very) small amount of overhead cover while watching the racing outdoors. This is the only outdoor space that is sheltered as the racecourse lacks a more traditional grandstand. The absence of this, plus the fact most other buildings are showing their age a little, is something reflected in the price. A standard paddock admission ticket costs just £12 for adults and £10 for over 65s.
Throughout the year Hexham hosts 15 days of racing. National Hunt (jumps) action typically takes place in the autumn and winter but here at Hexham you will find fixtures scheduled between March and December. The bulk of the meetings run in the afternoon but there are usually at least a couple of evening meetings and these twilight events often see bumper crowds visit Hexham.
The Heart of All England raceday in May is also worthy of a special mention as this sees a historic race feature. The Heart of All England Hunter Chase has featured at Hexham since 1907 and it usually attracts plenty of interest from trainers. The 2021 running, for example, saw 20 horses declared, 18 of which ended up running. Last and certainly by no means least, there is Ladies Day in June which, as you can imagine, is particularly popular among ladies with an interest in fashion. This is the biggest event of the year at Hexham and tickets do sell fast so we recommend booking in advance to avoid disappointment.
The existence of Hexham Racecourse is largely down to the tireless work of one man named Charles William Chipchase Henderson. In the second half of the 19th century, he had established himself as a popular business figure in nearby Durham as he took a key role in his family’s Durham Carpet Company. Business was not his only passion though as Henderson had a real sporting talent. As well as cricket and rowing, he was a wizard in the saddle and regularly took part in Newcastle’s thriving polo scene.
Leaving Henderson aside for one moment and Hexham had been home to some racing as early as 1793 but nothing featured here on a regular, or particularly official, basis. A century on and to catch any significant action locals had to head to the likes of Rothbury or Newcastle. This changed in 1890 though as a small group of local businessmen, spearheaded by Henderson, decided that racing should return to Hexham. It did precisely that in April 1890 with 31 horses competing across a six-race card.
To reach this point, Henderson virtually took full control of the course management and invested huge sums of his own money to get things up and running. Naturally, this took a lot of time but time he had as his family had previously sold their carpet company and moved to Acomb, just a few miles from Hexham. Giving blood, sweat and tears to the new endeavour, Henderson would have been mightily relived that the 1890 meeting was a success. Buoyed by the initial reception, more fixtures followed at Hexham and this persuaded Henderson to buy the racecourse land in 1907.
Having full control over the turf allowed ‘CWC’ (Charles William Chipchase), as he was known by some, to make improvements to the course, such as the planting of unique copper beech hedging. These have remained at Hexham ever since, which is why the course is often complimented on its obstacles.
Change of Ownership
When CWC died in 1914, his son Stephen took control of Hexham but difficulties of the post-war and pre-depression period forced him to turn the racecourse into a private limited country. The venue did bounce back, however, and ended up thriving during the 1930s. Since this point, the course has changed hands several times. During the war, it was requisitioned by the War Department with William Patterson left to look after company interests.
Following the end of the conflict, William’s Son, Kit Patterson, ran Hexham alongside several other courses for four decades. The next to top the food chain at the racecourse was Major Charles Enderby who took up the reins in 1990 after calling an end to a lengthy military career. Enderby’s tenure lasted until 2016 as in that year the course was bought by local livestock auctioneers, Hexham and Northern Marts.