With British budgets getting tighter and the economy not playing ball, more people are considering holidaying in their very own British Isles. Northumberland is one of many English counties bursting with history and waiting to be explored. Lying on the border between North East England and Scotland, it is the perfect base for discovering the borderlands of both countries, including the beaches and bays that litter the coastline.
During our visit we stayed in the small village of Longhoughton, close to the coast and not far from the larger town of Alnwick. A short walk from the village brings you to Sugar Sands bay, a hidden gem boasting a clean beach and several cliff top walks that take you to nearby villages. Whether you’re a keen walker or simply taking the dog for a stroll, Sugar Sands has a great balance of open space and rocky pools to explore. This is true of the whole coastline of Northumberland – other popular areas include Almouth and Bamburgh.
Northumberland is full of castles, stately houses and ruins to visit on a day out. One of the main attractions lies in the town of Alnwick, a huge castle with gardens, daily tours and activities. Alnwick Castle is brimming with things to do and definitely worth the slightly pricey entrance fees. There’s plenty to entertain kids and adults, especially during the holidays when the castle plays on its Harry Potter film location fame and hosts several daily shows and themed activities. You definitely need the whole day to take in Alnwick properly – the combination of gardens, castle areas, gift shops, activities and tours all make for a packed day out, and tickets are valid for a year.
As well as the mainland attractions and lovely coastline, Northumberland also offers easy access to the surrounding Farne Islands and Lindisfarne (also known as the Holy Island). From Seahouses on the coast, you have the option of several different boating companies who offer various ways of seeing the wildlife havens that are the Farne Islands. This is a definite must for wildlife lovers and photographers – the islands are home to many species of seabird and many seal that are ready to pose for the camera! Boat packages vary from 1 ½ hour trips around the islands or longer trips that include time on land. There are plenty of opportunities for photographs on both types of tour – landing incurs a small fee if you’re not a National Trust member, but a shorter trip around the islands is definitely still worthwhile!
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is reached by a tidal causeway that stretches from Beal on the mainland to the island. This adds to the mystery and beauty of the island, which can be busy during tourist times but much quieter once cut off from the mainland. Visitors aren’t just attracted by the castle and priory (which are both worth a look), but by the strange calmness of the island and history that surrounds it. During low tide, it is possible to follow the path of tall wooden poles that line a way across the sands, known as Pilgrim’s Way. Being for the most part a nature reserve, Lindisfarne is a beautiful and wildlife enriched island, where you can taste the local crab and spot some wild seabirds on the coast. The Holy Island is a must-see if you visit Northumberland, if not for the attractions then for the pure sense of peace and sanctuary that the island embodies.
For keen walkers and those who want to experience a bit of raw history outdoors, Hadrian’s Wall runs a path through Northumberland that’s fairly easy to follow. There are many car parks and visitor centres that follow the trail, all with signposted walks that range from easy to intermediate. If you’re feeling more adventurous, outdoor activities such as climbing can be enjoyed in this area too, where you can experience the landscape first hand in a truly rugged and diverse setting. Views across Northumberland can be seen from many of the peaks that Hadrian’s Wall covers – well worth a whole day of exploration.
Whatever the unreliable British weather is doing, Northumberland has a lot to offer both indoors and out. There are a wealth of castles and stately homes to choose from, an array of sanctuaries and wildlife centres, and a varied coastline that begs for exploration. Ditch the passport and airport queues this year – take the time to enjoy Britain to its fullest and make Northumberland one of your first stops.
Article & photographs © Christine Levis