Northumberland

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Over the Easter holidays, a friend and I went on a lovely week-long break to Northumberland, the border county between England and Scotland. Every time I travel to Scotland on the train, I’m enchanted by the gorgeous glimpses I catch of long stretches of sandy beach, wide open skies, wild, rugged landscape and tantalising ruins as we speed through Northumberland, and I’ve been itching to explore the area properly for a long time. So, an airbnb cottage booked (this lovely place, if anyone fancies following in my footsteps) and a car borrowed from my parents, we headed north for the almost seven hour journey. It’s a long and boring drive, being largely motorway, so we broke the trip up by stopping off at a National Trust property, Belton House, on the way, and we also very much enjoyed spotting the famous Angel of the North statue as we drove through Newcastle. Arriving in the tiny little village where we were staying was wonderful; surrounded by fields and sheep, the silence was quite astonishing for people used to living amidst constant noise, and that evening, on our way back from the pub, we gasped in amazement at the sky, filled with stars that we never normally see from the streets of London.

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After an excellent night’s sleep, on our first morning we headed off to the border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, crossing briefly into Scotland in order to do so. Berwick sports a fantastic viaduct, lovely sea views and a charming, historic town centre. We loved sitting by the water, eating chips and watching the trains to Edinburgh and London whizz past across the viaduct, and we also thoroughly enjoyed a rummage in Berrydin Books, a very well organised and friendly second hand bookshop where I picked up some bargains. We then headed down the coast to Lindisfarne, which has been a must-see of mine ever since I was enthralled by the stories my history teacher told me back in Year 7 of the terrifying Viking raid on the poor defenceless monks who inhabited the windswept island, only accessible via causeway to the mainland. It was a thrill to drive across the narrow road, surrounded by sea, and studded with terror-inducing signs warning you of the dangers of not checking the tide times and ending up trapped, car filled to the roof with sea water. We arrived safely on the island, and my imagination was running wild with visions of atmospheric ruins. Disappointingly, my visions were nothing like the reality; the ruins of the old priory are at the end of the village street, and there was little sense of the isolation or mystery I had pictured in my history lessons. Whilst it was amazing to be on the island and to see the priory ruins, I did wish I hadn’t built it up so much in my head before going! There is also a wonderful National Trust run castle on the island, but it’s closed this year for renovations, unfortunately. I’ll have to go back another time! On our way home we stopped by Wallington, an unexpectedly beautiful National Trust house filled with impressive pre-Raphaelite paintings and a brilliant gallery of Victorian curios – we only stopped by to have a cup of tea, but found ourselves enchanted by it. It was actually one of our favourite places throughout our whole trip and I’d highly recommend a visit.

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The following day, we went to see Cragside, another National Trust property. It’s a famous Victorian landmark, being the home of the engineer Lord Armstrong, and the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity. It’s an absolutely incredible place; beautiful inside and out, with spectacular gardens and a pinetum built within the quarried slopes of the surrounding land. The views are breathtaking, and there is so much to see and do; you can see the servant’s quarters and the labour saving hydraulic devices Lord Armstrong had fitted, the suite of rooms decorated with owls just for the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales, and an iron bridge built across the gorge to provide spectacular views of the house from the garden. You could spend all day there, but we had other things to do – we went off to Alnwick for lunch, home to the castle that was Hogwarts in the Harry Potter film, and the amazing Barter Books, housed in Alnwick’s old train station and filled to the brim with second hand books – before enjoying a wonderful windswept walk along the beach to the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle, which has sat majestically by the sea for around a thousand years, and is a truly breathtaking sight.

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Keen to see more of the coast, the following day we drove out to Bamburgh Castle, which is still inhabited, and contains a very interesting collection of quite random objects. However, its main attraction is the spectacular views across the white sand dunes that are at the foot of the cliffs below, and out to the Farne Islands, which are famous for being the home of Grace Darling, the Victorian heroine. We loved walking across the shimmering sand of the beach, which seemed to move as the sand slithered about in the wind, and we were incredibly lucky to have a glorious blue-sky day on which to enjoy the scenery. The village at Bamburgh is incredibly pretty, and has an attractive Victorian church and an RNLI museum dedicated to the story of Grace Darling, which is well worth a visit. We also had a delicious afternoon tea at the historic Copper Kettle tearoom; much needed sustenance after all that hiking across sand dunes!

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We loved every minute of our time in Northumberland; the history, the landscape and the glorious sense of space and freedom made possible by its sparsely populated stretches of countryside make it a place where you truly can escape from the realities of your everyday life.  I already can’t wait to go back.

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22 comments

  1. The secret with Lindisfarne is to stay overnight. Hotel is fine, not special – but the island is completely magical at night once day trippers have left. Trust me!

  2. Thank you for another lovely article – most interesting and about a part of the country I have never visited. perhaps one day!

  3. I love descriptions of lesser visited parts of England! The television series George Gently used story settings in Durham and other areas of north east England. I have visited Alnwick Castle and I hope to visit more of the area you describe so well!

  4. This was great fun to read. I looked at all the links. The air bnb was terrific. I have been in that area but years ago and not for long. Would love to visit that area again. Qantas is starting a non stop flight from Perth Western Australia direct to London. Will be good even if it will be 17 hours non stop! Glad you had such a good time. Beautiful part of the world.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Oh wow – that’s a long flight, but I’m glad that it’s going to make England more accessible to you. I hope you make it back soon!

  5. This holiday really sounds lovely. Thanks for sharing – I always enjoy your travel posts a lot!
    Will you tell about your new acquisitions?! Anything lovely? ( I am still elated about the treasures I found in an unknown to me bookstore recently…)

    1. Thanks very much Martina! Well…they were mainly nicer replacements for existing books, but I did buy a nice edition of Thrush Green by Miss Read, which was my first ever Miss Read book, and I loved it, so you’ll be hearing more about that in due course. And I bought a gorgeous Victorian book about ferns…my new obsession…I shall probably be posting more about that soon too! Tell me about your treasures…you can’t hint and then not tell!!

      1. Becoming a booksnob too, thanks to your influence, they were mainly upgrades on paperbacks I already owned: I found Jane Eyre, Leaves of Grass and some Emerson Essays in beautiful small old editions like the ones I got from you years ago. Also, The Woman in White which I never read, and Our Mutual Friend. (I was quite lucky to find English books here – they must have got in somebody’s collection).
        And: Donna Tartt, The Little Friend – the in-between-book nobody talks about. I adore her other two novels and am anxious to know if this one can hold up to them.
        Ferns are so beautiful, aren’t they? I especially like them now when they are still curled up and unfold so lovely. Looking forward should you write about them!

  6. It looks amazing, what a beautiful spot of England. I went there once in my childhood and have never been back, maybe I should go soon. Who is the couple in the medieval tomb? (or am I showing my woeful ignorance?)

    1. Oh, you must! It’s a place that really merits a proper explore. That is Grace Darling’s tomb – an interesting example of Victorian Gothic!

  7. Im glad you told me about Lindisfarne because I had this vision too of a moody desolate place – we’re thinking of heading that way next year so now I am prepared

    1. Toured that area with the Victorian Society in 2014. Would love to go back . Craig side is marvelous .

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