Northumberland is a hidden gem with lots of fantastic beaches, countryside and days out. Here’s a selection of some of my favourite things to do…
Looking like a sand castle rising out of the dunes, Bamburgh Castle is a medieval treasure.
The castle’s history stretches back to pre-Christian Britain, when it was the royal seat of the ancient kingdom of Northumbria. King Oswald was a follower of St Aidan and brought the monk to Bamburgh from Iona, giving him land to establish the monastery on Lindisfarne. The castle interiors are more Victorian than medieval with an impressive armoury and suits of armours a plenty.
Holy Island / Lindisfarne Castle
A tidal causeway links Holy Island, or Lindisfarne, to the coast. This hilly island was the epicenter of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon times, and has witnessed Viking invaders and the Norman conquest. The Lindisfarne Gospels, an illustrated Latin version of the Gospels, were created here by one monk between 698 and 721 AD. The original work can be seen in the British Library in London. It’s popular with day trippers but we found a way to escape the crowds and took the long way around to the castle, a three mile walk via sand dunes, sheltered sandy coves and rock pools.
An ancient site of pilgrimage, intrepid explorers can hike across the sand and mud flats to the island on an ancient pilgrim path. Either way do check the opening hours on the day of visiting, which are tide dependent, as you don’t want to get stranded. Lindisfarne Priory is managed by English Heritage. It is just 30 minutes away from Bamburgh Castle by car.
Hadrian’s Wall / Sycamore Gap
Wrap up warm and step into the shoes of a Roman soldier on the Empire’s final frontier. The UNESCO World Heritage site was built during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian after his visit to Britain in AD 122. The wall is some 73 miles long, and many hardy folk walk coast to coast path alongside the ancient monument. Most people opt for a day trip and there are several accessible sections of the trek for shorter walks. Near Hexham the remains of the Roman town of Vindolanda conjures up life in Roman Britain. The site is the famous for the discovery of Britain’s oldest surviving handwritten documents the Vindolanda tablets, which provide a glimpse into the every day lives of the residents, one tablet includes details of celebrations for a birthday and the majority can be viewed at the British Museum in London. At Vindolana’s museum you can view numerous leather Roman shoes that were preserved for centuries in the boggy coniditions and learn about the mystery of the child, whose skeleton was found here in 2010. Nearby at Housesteads, the most complete example of a Roman Fort in Britain, you can enjoy panoramic views and see how the soldiers on this remote outpost lived.
One of the most iconic views along the wall is the Sycamore Gap Tree about two miles from Housesteads. The ‘Sycamore Gap’ Tree was crowned England’s Tree of the year by The Woodland Trust in 2016. The Sycamore tree, photogenically located in a dip between two small hills, is also known as the ‘Robin Hood’ tree and is cared for by the National Trust.
We got rather wet on our last adventure, so appropriate clothing is a must.
The Farne Islands
Photos by Matthew Kirkland
My other half is keen birder, with a fondness for seabirds. I am not, but I love the boat trip around Inner Farne. We have joined a seabird cruise around Inner Farne three times now and have never been disappointed. The islands off the Northumberland Coast are a bird watchers delight, but very accessible for non-birders too. The sheer scale of the wildlife is breathtaking, from curious seals, puffins, shags, guillemots and cormorants. If you are lucky you may see a pod of dolphins. You can join various wildlife cruises at the town of Seahouses.
The Alnwick Garden
The Duchess of Northumberland is a savvy lady and has transformed the gardens connected to the ancient seat of the Percy family… (yes history buffs those Percys), into a great family attraction. We have visited the Alnwick garden a couple of times and it’s a great day out. The site is very wheelchair accessible and the scooter was a great option for our elderly companion as the walk up to the lovely walled gardens is steep. There is magic wherever you turn in the gardens, from mirrored water sculptures, cascading fountains, a treehouse restaurant (booking advised), a bamboo maze and seasonal events. We visited visited the Poison Garden, which was the brainchild of the Duchess to raise awareness about the dangers of drugs. You are only allowed in the gated garden in the company of a guide who will show you plants such as hemlock, tobacco and cannabis.
A day at Alnwick Castle is a journey into history and imagination. The historic seat of the Percy family, the castle has appeared in two Harry Potter movies, Elizabeth and Downton Abbey. The castle itself is currently closed, but the grounds are open. We had a magical day there, enjoying archery, broomstick lessons, meeting ‘Harry’ and running up and down the moat. One day I will devote a blog post to it. But for now I will tease you with some treasured photos. You can visit both the castle and gardens in a single day, but I suggest devoting a day to each. A weekend in Alnwick perhaps ?
There are so many wonderful things to do in Northumberland, I hope to update the post later with some more suggestions. If you do visit Northumberland I would love to hear your tips and tales. #staycationinspiration
Please check the relevant websites for the latest information about opening times and ticket prices.
Note – photos in this post were taken by me unless otherwise indicated.