That’s right, there are many facets to Northumberland’s appeal, explaining why the county continues to draw tourists back time and time again. But there’s no getting away from the fact that there are an awful lot of castles – arguably more than in any other county.
Everybody has their favourite and ours was Alnwick Castle. Nothing could have prepared us for just how vast the castle and its grounds are. We could have spent an entire day – if not more – exploring and simply enjoying this wonderful example of architecture and landscaped gardens.
Dating back to Norman times, it’s owned by the 12th Duke of Northumberland and his wife. It’s been the family’s home for over 700 years and is an important part of Britain’s heritage. It’s been used by film and TV companies and it’s easy to see why: delight in wandering around the State Rooms, sit and relax amid the acres of grounds and pop in to the Courtyard Café – the freshly-baked pizza is delicious!
You’ll also need plenty of time to enjoy Alnwick Garden, described by the official information leaflet as “one of the world’s most contemporary gardens”. It’s a fantastic combination of spaces, themes and play – and, it’s claimed, home to one of the world’s largest treehouses.
Whatever season you visit, the gardens won’t disappoint. There is so much to explore, including the Ornamental Garden, Cherry Orchard and Boots and Shoots Garden. Make sure you visit the Poison Garden. Behind locked gates, you’ll discover fascinating facts about deadly plants; and head for the Bamboo Labyrinth, a series of paths – fringed by bamboo swaying in the wind – which snakes around a small garden.
On our way out, we visited the Treehouse, sitting high amongst mature lime trees. We negotiated wobbly rope bridges and made our way to the wooden construction which houses one of the most intriguing restaurants you’ll ever find.
Among the other highlights of our visit was Woodhorn Museum, covering everything from coalmining to contemporary art. We enjoyed the section dedicated to Northumberland’s industrial past and, in particular, Coal Town. This very realistic exhibition transports you back in time – to 1918, when a teenager started his first shift. You get to really appreciate what it must have been like working down the pit and discover plenty of interesting facts along the way. Did you know, for example, that coal is 50 million years older than the first dinosaurs?
There are many fine restaurants and cafés in the area but I highly recommend The Hog’s Head Inn, just outside Alnwick. Just two years old, the inn – which also offers accommodation: 53 bedrooms, to be precise – boasts a rustic look and resembles a modern barn conversion.
Named after the famous inn featured in the Harry Potter books and films, it’s close to Alnwick Castle, which doubled as Hogwarts for the first two Potter films.
Everyone, including my two children, eat every morsel of food; the portions were huge, everything tasted delicious and we were served by smiling, helpful staff.
During our short break, we stayed at Golden Sands Holiday Park, which is situated adjacent to the beach at Cresswell. It’s a friendly camp with helpful staff in reception. Part of Northumbrian Leisure Limited, it has a play area, football and sports pitch, laundrette, club house and tiny shop. It’s worth noting, however, that the shop doesn’t carry much stock so don’t rely on it for your weekly provisions!
The park is ideally located on the coast – and what a coastline it is, too. In addition to visiting castles, historic buildings, quaint towns and interesting museums, make sure you allow enough time to explore the Northumbrian coast. It’s not only an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but has European Marine Site status as well. Some of the beaches are sublime – and often empty.
There are more than 30 miles of beaches, many popular with watersports enthusiasts, including kite and wind surfers. Nature lovers are spoilt as well because the amazing coastal nature reserves include the Farne Islands and Druridge Bay.
This was our first visit to Northumberland and certainly won’t be our last. We only scratched the surface in terms of the county’s tourist attractions and beautiful coast and countryside. Our adventure was limited to just three days, within a tiny segment of the region, but it was enough to convince us it’s part of the UK definitely worth exploring.
www.visitnorthumberland.com, t: 01670 620450
www.alnwickcastle.com, t: 01665 511100
www.alnwickgarden.com, t: 01665 511350
www.experiencewoodhorn.com, t: 01670 624455
www.hogsheadinnalnwick.co.uk, t: 01665 606576
www.northumbrianleisure.co.uk, t: 01670 860256