On your first visit to Northumberland, here’s how to realise you are passing a pair of locals.
They’ll be having a heated but friendly argument about whether someone else’s accent is from Amble or Alnwick (the towns are nine miles apart). England’s most northerly outpost is friendly and welcoming, but definitely quirky!
Where else could you lunch in a tree house (at The Alnwick Garden where a tree really grows through it); spend an afternoon watching, or acting out, medieval games (Warkworth Castle); or walk where the Romans did two thousand years ago (by actually stepping onto Hadrian’s Wall)?
Life’s a beach!
Northumbrians may giggle slightly as they watch families, frazzled by traffic chaos, trying to find a space on a bank holiday beach far to the south or west. From Seaton Sluice right up to Berwick by the border, you’ll find a sweep of glorious, sparsely-populated beaches where, most of the time, two people meeting whilst walking their dogs constitutes a crowd.
You can enjoy a walk along the promenade at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, admiring the modern sculpture, ‘Couple’, that’s anchored in the middle of the bay; or take a stroll along Amble Pier, a gentle way to digest some lunchtime excess from a local fish and chip shop. Further north, you’ll want to hop on a boat from Seahouses and head out amongst the stunning Farne Islands where grey seals and assorted seabirds will watch your passage with gentle tolerance – usually.
On the coast, the truly stunning outline of Bamburgh Castle will remain unmoved (on summer days, envy the local cricket team that plays in its shadows). To the north, you’ll find the earliest signs of English Christianity on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, which sits peacefully at the end of its tidal causeway (don’t get caught halfway across – some folk need rescuing every summer).
Enjoy inland towns, parks and gardens
A pair of wonderful National Trust properties demand your attention. A walk through shaded woods at Wallington Hall bring you to a magnificent walled garden, full of sunlight and slopes.
Less than half-an-hour’s drive and you’ll reach Cragside, perched on the moors in the middle of an absolute glory of carefully planted trees and rhododendrons – interrupted by the occasional lake. This is where the Victorian Lord Armstrong lived in the first house in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity, and looked out on one of the largest rock gardens in Europe.
Country towns such as nearby Rothbury, Morpeth and Hexham – together with Berwick and Alnwick (you may have heard of its Harry Potter castle) – offer a shopping experience that’s miles away from national chain store high streets (and much the better for it).
You’ll want to eat and need to sleep
From friendly bed and breakfasts to family-run hotels, Northumberland certainly offers an alternative to motorway-edge style accommodation (although, if that’s you, there’s plenty around nearby Newcastle).
Occasionally you’ll find an eatery whose logo you recognise. More often you’ll discover a pub or restaurant offering a terrific choice of meals using local ingredients and priced for normal people’s pockets!
A wise local once said: “Nobody leaves Northumberland; but they might go away for a while”. If you are about to make a first visit, prepare for that to be you.
Photo credit: Graham Soult
Find out more at the official Visit Northumberland site.