One of the most Northern English counties, Northumberland goes as far as the Scottish Border to the north, Cumbria to the west, County Durham and Tyne and Wear to the south, with the wild North Sea off along the eastern coastline. It was here along the east coast where we stayed and as it’s a 3 hour drive from Liverpool, we booked a camping pod for the weekend.
Full of history, this land of people living north of the River Humber, is the most sparsely populated of all the counties in England and is also home to the most castles. There are more than 30 miles of beaches along the coastline as well as nature reserves and islands easily reachable by boat, so it made sense to dedicate our time just sticking to the coast and leave the inland for another time.
We picked Seahouses as its a busy harbour village, with things to see and do here in the village itself, as well as a good choice of restaurants, but also because its close to many of the east coast attractions that we planned to visit. We took our car for the weekend, and I think that is probably an essential, especially as our Camping Pods were about a 5 minute drive or 25 min walk just outside the village but also the A1 road goes all the way up the coastline and its along here that most of the main points of interest are. Although you can certainly get a train up to the east coast, to say Berwick upon Tweed, there isn’t a train line that would then get you to some of the main tourist spots such as Alnwick or Bamburgh, so unless you fancy biking, a car is going to be your best bet.
Our first night we settled into our camping barn, and then drove back into Seahouses for something to eat after a short walk around, we settled on the recommended fish and chip place Neptunes for some locally caught fish and chips, then explored the village a bit to walk off the carbs, before heading back to light our fire pit at our camping pod.
The next morning we headed in the car a short drive north to visit Holy Island, yes its an island, but no boat is needed as its accessible via a causeway that you can drive, bike and even walk at certain hours of the day. You must check the Tide Times before setting off, as the causeway is flooded twice a day, so you need to plan your arrival & departure times, we got there just as the water was receding to ensure we had maximum time on the island, it was a fun and scenic drive.
Driving over the causeway to Holy Island
As well as the famous Lindisfarne Castle, there is a lot more to see and do on the island, there are protected areas of marshland and mudflats, meaning tonnes of wildlife live here, there is a priory, hiking trails, shops and places to eat, even accommodation if you wanted to stay overnight. We spent a good few hours here, keeping a close eye on the time, to ensure we drove back before the causeway disappeared again.
Lindisfarne Castle is the star of the show on the island, no doubt, and its a National Trust Property so remember to bring your card. Unfortunately, according to the website the castle is currently closed for renovation until April 2018, but I think you can still hike the trails surrounding the castle, as well as visiting the rest of the island. If you can visit when the castle is back open though I’d highly recommend it, you get a real sense of history exploring the many rooms inside this 16th century fortification, that has also been a coastguard look out, as well as the tourist attraction it has now become.
Mum and I walked around the coastline, visited the rather large heritage centre from where I bought some of the local mead which full disclosure, I still haven’t drunk and remains in a kitchen cupboard. But, if strong fortified wine is your thing, then be sure to visit St Aidans Winery as well as learning all about how this liqueur is made, there is a large shop selling local crafts, food as well as the drink itself.
We got to the island just after 9.30am when the causeway was starting to clear and stayed till after lunch just before the causeway started to flood again. It does reopen again by late afternoon, so you do have the option of staying later and still leaving for the mainland on the same day if you wish. Before leaving we grabbed lunch at a lovely coffee shop called Pilgrims Coffee, with outdoor seating in a lovely garden and lots of local birds hoping for scraps of cake. That evening we grabbed a meal at one of the Italian restaurants in Seahouses and then retreated back to our fire pit and watched for shooting stars in clear night sky.
The next day we drove about 30 miles on the A1 South to Alnwick Castle, this castle has belonged to the Percy Family for over 700 years, and still own it today. It may look familiar as the castle exterior was used as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films, and proud of its new found fame, it holds broomstick lessons in the grounds among other things, the children taking part seemed thoroughly enthralled by their wizard teachers. There’s lots to explore in the castle and the grounds too, you can tour the interior, including some lavish state rooms and a large art collection by the Duke of Northumberland, join a 45 min tour of the grounds, or the state rooms, take an archery class, or head downstairs to the creepy lost cellars. You can also watch one of the free talks on offer, currently there is one about the history of the castle and one on how the castle has been used in many productions as well as Harry Potter, I would tell you what, but I’ll leave that to the tour guide.
If you have the time, then I would definitely recommend getting a ticket for both the Castle and the Gardens, as there is so much to see and do in both. You can buy individual tickets for both, but if you buy a combined ticket, you have the option of just visiting the gardens on that particular day, but the castle portion of the ticket is valid for an entire year. We managed to get them both done in one day, but could have easily of spent longer in the gardens. The Alnwick Garden is not just a small garden attached to the castle, but a separate tourist attraction that easily stands on it own. A forgotten piece of land in the castle grounds, it has now been transformed under the brains of the Duchess of Northumberland who has employed designers to create a 21st century garden that is truely unlike anywhere I have visited before. The outstanding Grand Cascade waterfall is the first thing to great you, but there is also a cherry orchard, a bamboo labyrinth, the interactive water sculptures kept us amused for ages, one of the largest tree houses in the world is here and if you fancy the poison garden, it’s guided tours only (with good reason). The garden is designed to take full advantage of each season, so depending on when you want to visit, check the website to see what events are happening.
Our final morning before the drive home was supposed to be a wildlife boat trip out to the Farne Islands, where we were looking forward to seeing some seals amongst other animals, but the weather was too wild for the boat to set sail. So our back up plan also included some rather rare animals, the Wild beasts of Chillingham. These cattle are some of the rarest animals on earth, and have lived here, isolated from any other animals for over 700 years, they are wild, but enclosed within the grounds, without any interference from humans. There is also a castle here at Chillingham, a church, gardens and a cafe, but we stopped off purely for the rare beasts. There are guided walks daily by a warden, so pick a time from their website and just turn up, no booking necessary. It was a bit unnerving seeing these wild cattle, as it was us entering their natural habitats, from a distance mind you, under the careful watch of our guide, who was constantly checking their whereabouts at all times. We kept out of harms way, but breathed a sigh of relief as we made it back to the safety of the car park. It was a really interesting and unusual way to spend our last morning in Northumberland though & i’d definitely recommend it.
Spotted! The wild beasts of Chillingham.
Other things to do on the East Coast – Farne Islands (weather permitting) Bamburgh Castle, coastal town of Berwick upon Tweed, drive up the Coast and visit some of the many beaches.
Lindisfarne Castle £7 (last time it was open) gardens free
Combined Alnwick Castle & Gardens £ 23.55 (if bought online)
Farne Island boat trips between £15-40 depending on duration and company.
Chillingham Beasts guided walk £8