What to Do in Northumberland
The most northern county in England, Northumberland occupies a unique position bordering Scotland. This position has led to hundreds of years of history nestled among some stunning scenery. Both my wife and I studied at Durham University, and whilst the beautiful city of Durham isn't technically in Northumberland, it is right on the door stop so we would regularly jump in the car and drive north just a little to experience. Now we go on holiday there each year and this page has been written to show the best places to visit in this region and how to get there.
The Northumberland Coastline is about 100 miles long with numerous beautiful beaches which include, in my opinion, some of the best in the entire UK. If you are in the region then you should definitely check some of them out.
My personal favourite place to go is the small village of Beadnell that serves up two unique but equally enjoyable beaches. Beadnell Bay as pictured offers up a massive, unbroken stretch of sand, backed up by sand dunes that are great fun to sledge down. On a busy summer weekend the beach will be busy with everyone from sun-worshipers (less likely in the north) to kite surfers and scuba divers. Rest assured though there is always room and the rest of the time the beach can be deserted and great for walking dogs. This beach is so good that Alberta, Canada tried to claim it as their own for an ad campaign a few years back (see http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/apr/25/ottawa-northumberland-advert).
Beadnell's other beach does have a small stretch of sand that my young children love to play on and is actually closer to where we stay. However, its biggest selling point is its rock pools. Turn up at low tide and find hundreds of crystal clear pools, home to a real variety of small sea creatures that you could spend hours looking for!
Beadnell isn't the only place with great beaches though and you can pretty much guarantee there will be a nice stretch of coastline within reach of wherever you stay in the region.
With the UK basted in thousands of years of history you will probably never be too far from a castle or other historical building. However, some parts of the country are better than others for visiting such monuments and in my opinion Northumberland is right up there with Wales (the self styled "Castle Capital of the World"). There are over 70 castles and sites of old castles in the region, primarily due to the proximity to the Scottish border and historical battles between the two countries and I have only visited a handful but there will be something for everyone.
From the ruins of Dunstanburgh that are accessed by a lovely mile and half coastal walk from the village of Craster, to the elegant Bamburgh which dominates the coast line (especially when cycling along the coastal road), there are some fascinating coastal castles. However, move in-land and you won't be disappointed either. One of the best known is Alnwick Castle that is still habited in parts today and is a great day out. This is especially true for any Harry Potter fans as several scenes in the early films were filmed here, including the iconic first time that Harry steps on a broom so you can have a photo pretending to do the same too!
It's not just the big, well known castles that shine either. The photos below also include a smaller, lesser known Castle, Chillingham, which is in fact where my sister in law was married and there are many similar properties dotted around the region.
It would be remiss of me when talking about Northumberland not to mention its very own UNESCO world heritage site. Built in Roman times, Hadrian's Wall runs from coast to coast and was originally built to keep the Scottish Barbarians out. It doesn't all sit within Northumberland but all of the parts that I have personally walked are in this part of the country with its beautiful views. I have found the best place to head for an easy but enjoyable walk is the village of Once Brewed where you can park up and then walk along the wall itself. One day I would love to walk the full distance but in the mean time I would usually head here.
England's northernmost town, Berwick is almost as much Scottish as it is English. Indeed, being just a couple of miles from the current border it has at times in history been part of both countries and even today the towns football team plays in the Scottish League rather than south of the border. When visiting Berwick among other things, you can walk around the towns defensive walls and picturesque selection of bridges over the River Tweed.
There is an urban myth that for many years Berwick was technically at war with Russia due to a mix-up between Declarations of War and subsequent Peace Treaties, but unfortunately a read of Wikipedia seems to debunk this. None-the-less, maybe you shouldn't walk around in a bearskin hat just to be on the safe side!
I'm personally not a big fan of seafood but if you are, then Northumberland is a great place to go. Traditional smoke houses will serve you up smoked kippers and on the Quaysides of the harbours, such as that in the town of Seahouses, you will be able to eat food fresh from the sea. My in-laws rave about the cockles, crabs, and various other seafood snacks you can buy right off of the quayside.
That said, the fish & chips are also very good and more to my taste, and whilst many parts of the country claim to have the best, I think my favourite 'chippie' is in the Northumbrian town of Seahouses. Pinnacles is endorsed by TV cooks, the Hairy Bikers and I would have to agree too, their chips are just so crispy!
Cycling, Running, and Walking
As one of the least populated places in the country, Northumberland is the perfect place to go for walkers and cyclists of all abilities. From the Cheviot Hills, to picturesque coastal pathways, through to Hadrian's Wall above, there is a walk for everyone irregardless of fitness. The region is also home to miles of ideal cycling conditions. Every year my brother in law and I will throw our bikes on to the backs of our cars when heading to Northumberland on holiday, just so we can go out for a few rides. We stick to the roads but I know through friends that live in the region that it is also great for mountain biking if that is your preference. I also love to go out running along the coastal roads, it's just a little windy sometimes that adds to the effort!
The Locations of Places Referenced
A walk from Craster to these ruins is a great day out
This lesser known castle is where my sister in law got married
Hadrian's Wall stretches across the country but I would head to Once Brewed if you only have a day
So having read to this point, do you now have a desire to visit the region? I'd be surprised if not!
One of the best parts about Northumberland is the fact that it is remote but this does also mean that it is a little harder to get to. If you are visiting the region I would say that a car would be a necessity as public transport isn't great from what I have observed (although I have always had a car so can't say for sure). In a car you will come in to the region on the A1 and whilst this can be frustrating in parts where it drops to a single lane, it is a good road.
However, if sticking to the bigger towns of Alnwick and Berwick you could get by as both towns have good rail links to London, Newcastle and Edinburgh, all of which also have international airports if you are flying in from outside the UK.
Ok, I know any Northumbrian purists will shoot me down for mentioning Durham as it isn't in the region itself but after four years living there myself, and the fact that you are likely to pass through either by road or rail, it is well worth stopping for some time in what I personally feel is one of the nicest cities in the UK. As Bill Bryson wrote in his book Notes From A Small Island:
"If you have never been to Durham, go there at once. Take my car. It's wonderful."
Do you blame me for waxing lyrical when my view each morning was the below?