Some of the loveliest scenery in Britain
Inside and out, rain or shine…there is always something to do in Northumberland, with a massive choice of attractions for all the family. Whether you’re a history buff, a parent looking to keep the children entertained, or an outdoors type keen to take in the county’s natural beauty, there’s something around every corner. Your only problem will be deciding where to begin.
Much depends on where you are staying and the transport available to you but, if you are dependent on public transport, you will find the county is well served with buses – and few things beat a bus ride through some of the loveliest scenery in Britain. Whether you visit for a week, a fortnight, a weekend or even just 24 hours, there are some sights which simply should not be missed.
Among these is the world-famous Lindisfarne, the birthplace of English Christianity. Renowned for its priory, which was founded in 634AD, Lindisfarne attracts visitors and pilgrims from around the world. It is accessible, for a few hours a day, by car via a causeway, but visitors need to keep an eye on the crossing timetable so as not to get marooned – it isn’t unusual for motorists to be trapped on the island, or even submerged – when the tide comes in.
Not far from Lindisfarne is Bamburgh, a charming village and famous as the home of Grace Darling, the lighthouse keeper’s daughter who, along with her father, rowed to the wreck of the stricken HMS Forfarshire in 1838, hauling nine of its crew to safety. Grace died aged just 26 from tuberculosis and is buried in the churchyard at Bamburgh, across the road from the Grace Darling Museum. Close by is Druridge Bay Country Park with three miles of beach and sand dunes, a 100-acre lake, woods and meadows. This is quite an unspoilt spot and, because of this, has little in the way of facilities, so do take a picnic.
From Bamburgh, a trip to the coastal villages of Seahouses and Craster is a must. Craster is the smallest and is still a working harbour. While there are no shops to speak of, this is the home of the Craster kipper and worth visiting for this reason alone. The village is also the perfect base from which to walk to Dunstanburgh Castle. The imposing castle can only be reached on foot but the walk, of about two miles across the cliff tops, is one of the country’s most well-trodden and absolutely worth making. After returning on foot to the car, head north to the bustling and hugely visitor-friendly village of Seahouses. Here you will find plenty of shops, pubs, restaurants and cafés, along with a great, crazy golf course and a busy harbour, from which you can take boat trips out to the uninhabited Farne Islands – famous for their puffin and seal colonies.
Close by is Druridge Bay Country Park with three miles of beach and sand dunes, a 100-acre lake, woods and meadows. This is quite an unspoilt spot and, because of this, has little in the way of facilities, so do take a picnic
Day trips inland
Seahouses is also renowned for fish and chips. There are several restaurants and take-aways and on a nice day expect to see hundreds of people sitting overlooking the harbour tucking-in to the famous dish – just be aware that the seagulls are just as fond of a chip or two, and they’ll certainly have their eye on your leftovers.
While the coast has plenty to offer day trippers, there is just as much to do inland. Just a little to the west of the fishing and marine village of Amble, on the bend of the River Coquet, lies Warkworth. Warkworth Castle – despite being in ruins – is an absolute gem. A perfect example of a Motte and Bailey castle, it overlooks the town and is a must-see. It often holds activities such as medieval jousts and so forth in the summer months, but even in winter is still worth exploring, even if just for the view. About a mile away on the north bank of the river, the Warkworth hermitage is a fascinating, medieval site, cut into the rocks and comprising a chapel, a smaller chamber and an effigy of a lady.
Staying with medieval castles and brave knights, a trip to Alnwick is a must for visitors of all ages. This castle (opening times vary) is not only home to the Duke of Northumberland – descendant of the famous Harry Hotspur – but also to the Alnwick Gardens, created by the current Duchess. Along with a poison garden, there are more than 4,000 plant varieties, not to mention water sculptures, food stalls and cafés – so it is no wonder this is not only one of the county’s most popular attractions, but one of the UK’s. You can easily spend an entire day here – and that’s without a trip to the pretty market town of Alnwick itself, which you should include if you have time.
While castles like Alnwick’s make fascinating attractions for the modern day visitor, they are a sobering reminder of this county’s turbulent – and, often bloody – past and history buffs may be interested in a trip to the Flodden battlefield, just eight miles west of Wooler. The Battle of Flodden Field, on September 9, 1513 was the most famous battle ever fought on Northumbrian soil. It took place eight miles North West of Wooler, near the village of Branxton, between English and Scottish troops and was a decisive victory for the English. For the Scots it was a disaster, with many of the most important members of Scottish society slain in the conflict. The Scottish dead included 12 earls, 15 lords, many clan chiefs, an archbishop and, above all, King James himself. Thankfully, today’s visitors can enjoy a less grisly experience and, as well as taking in the battlefield, can pop into tearooms and even enjoy a ride on the nearby Heatherslaw Light Railway, the most northerly steam railway in England. To make a day of it, you can catch the train from Heatherslaw to Etal Castle, from which you’ll have great views of the River Till and the chance to spot riverbank wildlife such as swans, herons, ducks and the occasional otter.
This castle is not only home to the Duke of Northumberland – descendant of the famous Harry Hotspur – but also to the Alnwick Gardens, created by the current Duchess
If wildlife – both native and exotic – is of interest, then head for the Whitehouse Farm Centre near Morpeth. A working farm, this offers a great day out with soft play for younger visitors, a restaurant, outdoor play area, tractor-trailer ride and animals to feed, pet and stroke. Along with typical farmyard animals such as pigs and cows, there is a reptile house, and even a meerkat enclosure. Spring is a particularly lovely time to visit as it is possible to see lambs being born and to bottle feed some of those old enough to be separated from their mothers.
Farms and farming have been vital to the economy of Northumberland for centuries and you can find out more about this at the Heritage Centre at Bellingham. In fact, this fascinating exhibition covers a number of traditions and aspects of the heritage of the North Tyne Valley and Redesdale. As well as the chance to find out more about traditional farming methods, you can learn about mining in the area over the centuries and find out a little more about the romantic age of steam.
One of the newest and most unusual attractions is Northumberlandia, which is in the south of the county near Cramlington. Northumberlandia, known affectionately as the Lady of the North, is a unique piece of public art set in a 46-acre community park, boasting four miles of footpaths and is free to enter. Designed by American landscape architect Charles Jencks, it is a huge land sculpture in the shape of a reclining lady and is 34 metres high and 400 metres long, making it a perfect place to while away a few hours. It was created as part of the restoration of the adjacent Shotton surface coal mine and, since opening in 2012, has become a massive visitor attraction.
Or why not uncover the fascinating history of the Border reivers; lawless English and Scottish families who, between the 14th and 16th centuries, rode through the Borders, stealing cattle and causing mayhem? However, one of the most fascinating aspects of the centre – which is suitable for all ages – is the forge by blacksmith Arthur Grimwood. When 90-year-old Arthur decided it was finally time to retire after 50 years, his family donated the entire forge – tools, hearth and bellows and even a bottle of his favourite tipple – to the Heritage Centre. History does not record if iron bars were among the items forged by Arthur, but they were certainly a familiar sight to those imprisoned in Hexham’s Old Gaol. Dating back to 1330AD, this is definitely worth a visit and not only can you meet a gaoler but you can even try on clothing of the type the fearsome reivers might have worn on their night time forays into the Borders. Of course, the reivers weren’t the first to recognise the threat that lay to the north of the county and, when it comes to a day out, no visit to Northumberland would be complete without a trip to Hadrian’s Wall.
Northumberlandia, known affectionately as the Lady of the North, is a unique piece of public art set in a 46-acre community park, boasting four miles of footpaths and is free to enter
If you thought this was simply an 84-mile stretch of stone, then think again. For, while the wall itself is spectacular, equally fascinating are the forts and visitor centres nearby. Chester’s Roman Fort at Chollerford is the best-preserved Roman cavalry fort in Britain. You can easily see what life would have been like here at the Empire’s northern outpost as you wander round the officers’ quarters and explore the well-preserved baths and steam room. Inside the museum, there’s also a large collection of Roman items found during the excavation of the wall.
Or head for nearby Vindolanda, where you can watch an award-winning 3D film from the viewpoint of an eagle. Visitors of all ages can enjoy the experience of soaring across the Northumberland landscape, over Hadrian’s Wall and through 1,000 years of history. This is a great way of finding out what life would have been like for the soldiers who guarded the Wall before, perhaps, you head for Housesteads Roman Fort. This is the most complete fort on the wall and was home to around 800 Roman soldiers. You can still see the remains of the barrack blocks and the commandant’s house, as well as some of the oldest toilets in existence and a museum packed with information and exhibits.
One of the newest arrivals on Northumberland’s landscape is The Sill, which became the UK’s first dedicated National Landscape Discovery Centre when it opened its doors in the summer of 2017. The £14.8 million, state-of-the-art visitor centre features a landscape exhibition, modern youth hostel, a local food café, shop and much more, and has been describe as ‘a showcase of local pride and passion’. Naturally, as you might expect from a county which has had such a long and fascinating history, the activities and sites of interest are too numerous to mention here in their entirety. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about a day out in Northumberland is the variety of landscapes and activities you encounter at every turn.
It is perfectly possible to take in a coastal trip, a countryside walk, a visit to a castle and even a browse around the shops, in the course of a day and, sometimes, it’s best just to let the day unfold of its own accord. However, whatever your plans, take clothing suitable for all weather – Hadrian’s Wall, in particular, is very exposed and can be cold even in summer – and check out English Heritage and National Trust websites in advance to be sure of opening times and admission charges.
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