A Week in Northumberland

Before we start, a note on photos first. All the galleried pictures can be opened as larger images by clicking the thumbnail, after which you’ll be able to scroll through the gallery.

So off we set for our cottage holiday to Northumberland. After a bit of yukky weather on the drive up here, the sun came out to welcome us to Cora’s House, our holiday home for the next 7 days, in the pretty seaside town of Amble.

The house is beautifully decorated, everything is good quality and the kitchen is well equipped but unfortunately there is a very strong lingering smell of dogs throughout the ground floor. A bit of fabreze and we’ll cope though!

After unloading the car and doing the important things – like getting the beer in the fridge, we headed out to explore. We’re in a great location, around the corner from the main shopping area of Queen Street and less than 10 minutes walk is the gorgeous harbour area with more bars and restaurants than you can shake a stick at. We walked round the harbour, along to the end and circled round to come back. There is a great view of Coquet Island from the end of the harbour wall and you can take a boat trip from the harbour to view the birds that nest and breed there. If you click the link, there are great webcams of the various nesting sites.

On our way back around the harbour, we discovered the lovely Fish Shack, made famous by the Hairy Bikers Go North BBC series, and decided to have a drink and peruse the menu for a possible visit later in the week. The food coming out of the kitchen looked and smelled wonderful. They served drinks from local producers and Patrick enjoyed a pint of Lush from Newcastle brewers Wylam whilst I had a gin from Alnwick with a Marlish tonic, made at a farm near Morpeth.

As is our usual routine, we’d brought a chilli to eat for our first night so we headed back home to relax with a beer before eating.

Saturday morning brought sunshine again and after a breakfast sarnie with sausage and bacon from the local butcher, we headed out to the harbour village and the market. The harbour village has some lovely retail pods and I bought some greetings cards featuring the lovely artwork of local artist Sue Fenlon. The market was really just a car boot sale and full of junk so that was disappointing. We were going to walk around the coastline to the sand dunes but a sea fret started rolling in and it felt really damp and cold, plus we couldn’t see the sea through the fog! We headed back to have a coffee and watch the world go by in the sun outside the nice harbourside restaurant The Old Boathouse, before going to do some shopping at the butcher’s, the meat pies look amazing! However, before we got that far we were waylaid by the Cock and Bull micropub. This is a popular place with a good beer selection and after a couple of beers we were ready for an afternoon nap. We called at the butcher’s on our way home and I found a tiny craft shop absolutely rammed with fabric, yarn and other craft supplies, I’ll definitely be back in there before the end of the week.

We decided to eat out tonight and chose La Famiglia, an Italian with good reviews. Before that though, we thought we’d try another local pub, The Harbour Inn. All of the tables were booked and set for meals, there was nowhere to sit and so we were directed to the beer garden. It was by now quite chilly, there was no shelter and I was feeling really cold. The beer was boring so we left it and went round the corner back to the Cock and Bull instead. Our meal in La Famiglia was lovely though.

Sunday morning and we had intended having a full breakfast but neither of us had the appetite, probably due to being absolutely stuffed after our meal the previous night. So a bit of toast and we were ready to walk the mile and half to Warkworth Castle. We enjoyed the walk along the coast path with some of the art installations of the Bord Waalk along the way. This is a lovely trail, incorporating sculptures and sound installations but we didn’t get around to doing the rest of it. I had downloaded the Amble Bord Waalk app on my phone with the intention but the week just flew by without us getting time to do it. Below are a couple of the sculptures we passed. The giant ball is made up of hundreds of interlinking metal swifts, the second picture is from inside it. The third picture is a giant pair of swift wings.

Warkworth Castle is amazing and the complimentary audio guide was interesting and definitely added to the experience. I’d recommend a visit if you’re ever in these parts. Although a lot of it was ruined, a lot was also intact and the interior was impressive. The huge fireplaces in the kitchen where the servants would have cooked meals for the Percy family who lived here as well as Alnwick are pictured with Patrick standing next to them for scale.

After the castle visit, we were both getting hungry so popped into the Castle Brewhouse, part of the Sun hotel for a snack. A bit of a walk around the village and we were on our way back to Amble where we headed to the Old Boathouse for a refreshing beer. A meal of the splendid meat pies from the butcher with mash, veg and gravy set us up for a relaxing evening and we were early to bed.

Monday and again the weather was lovely so we drove the couple of miles to High Hauxley Nature reserve, managed by Northumberland wildlife trust. What a beautiful place! We thoroughly enjoyed the walk round the trail and watching the birds from the many hides around the lake. Then a coffee and a bun in the cafe rounded the visit off nicely. We then set off down the road to Druridge Bay reserve but the weather had turned chilly and it started spitting with rain so we turned around and drove to Alnwick instead, had a wander around, popped in a couple of shops and stopped for a beer in Harry’s Bar, a pub named after a famous knight (who you’ll read about further down) before driving back and settling in for the evening.

I’ve been wanting to visit Cragside since reading about it’s creator William Armstrong during a visit to Bamburgh Castle a few years ago. It was also the setting for one of the DCI Ryan books by LJ Ross, one of my favourite book series. So, off we set on Tuesday morning, armed with a sandwich each! It was a beautiful drive, the gorse on the moors in full bloom, along with the Hawthorn was stunning.

Cragside House was quite simply the work of a genius mind, and that’s not only in my opinion, William Armstrong is widely recognised as such. The first house in the world to be lit by electricity, hydro electricity generated by the man-made lakes and pumps. I don’t think Armstrong was the first to invent hydro electricity but he was the first to use it throughout his home in such a spectacular way. Not only the lighting but a lift and various other gadgets previously unheard of in domestic use. I was struck by the thought that the domestic servants of the era must have been queuing up to work in this place filled with labour saving devices!

Cragside House

The estate itself is vast, the guide told us that there are 43 miles of walks and trails! We walked through the rock garden and then back up the steps to go to the formal gardens (which were quite a distance from the house, Mary Armstrong was a keen gardener and she must also have been very fit! I wanted to also see the pump house and the powerhouse, all up and down steps and hills, through the woodland that the Armstrongs had planted and along the river. We were done in by the time we got back to the start.

Cragside House from below the Iron bridge

The interior rooms were beautiful and the Armstrongs entertained many important and influencial guests, including royalty when in 1884, the Prince and Princess of Wales stayed.

There is a 6 mile carriage drive around the estate that you can do in your own car so we ended our visit with that. There were lots of car parks at various points for the many trails, this is a place you could visit time and again and find something new to see.

In the evening, we decided to go out to eat, we didn’t have the energy to shop and cook! We popped round to the local pub, the Wellwood Arms for a drink and then on to what seems to have become our first choice pub, the Cock and Bull before going for a lovely curry at the Indian restaurant at the top of our street. A wonderful but tiring day.

And so on to Beamish for Wednesday’s adventure. When we stayed at Middleton in Teesdale in December for our Grassholme Observatory experience, we also visited Beamish, the fantastic living museum, the weather during that visit was bitterly cold and although we saw most of the areas, we did miss a few. As the ticket you buy is also an annual pass, we decided to go again during this holiday. We got to see all the bits we’d missed last time, including a mine tour which was very interesting, even if Patrick did look like he was auditioning for the Village People!

I had booked a table at the Fish Shack for the evening so after a shower to freshen up, we were out again. As this place specialises in seafood, I was determined to get out of my comfort zone so despite not really knowing what to expect, apart from something ‘big prawn’ like, I ordered languostines with a side of chips. Patrick played safe with battered fish and chips. When the waitress put what looked like nutcrackers and a long pointy tool next to me, I wondered what I’d let myself in for! I wish I’d thought to take a picture of the huge dish full before I started on them but I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t think of it. They were delicious but very difficult to get into, the shells were hard to pull apart and the nutcracker tool was for cracking the claws before poking the meat out with the pointy thing. However, I enjoyed what I managed to get at and the chips were great! Would I order them again? Probably not, too much hard work for not enough meat and if it hadn’t been for the chips, I’d have still been hungry afterwards.

Thursday and our last day. We were going to relax and mooch around but decided to get the bus to Alnwick and visit the castle – you may know it better as Hogwarts. It’s one of the properties included in the Historic Houses membership that I purchased earlier this year, which was the reason we decided to go to be honest. I’m pleased we did, the history of the Percy family, who have owned and lived here since 1309 was so interesting. The men of the family were instrumental in some of the most monumental historic moments of our nation and it was a real education we got from our guide.

This huge statue in Alnwick town is of one of the most famous Percys, Sir Henry (Harry) Percy, a fearless knight, nicknamed Hotspur by the Scots because of his spurring his horse on faster into battle. Also one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters in King Henry IV. He was born at Warkworth Castle in 1364 and first went into battle aged about 13 and was knighted by King Edward III. He died in battle at Shrewsbury in 1403.

Fun fact : Tottenham Hotspur FC are named after him. The Percy family had close connections with the Tottenham area, with the descendents of Sir Henry owning the land around Tottenham Marshes on which Spurs played their early games before moving nearby to White Hart Lane.

Read about Harry Hotspur’s colourful life here

We took a guided history tour of the castle grounds, there was a group of young schoolchildren on a visit and we saw them in the grounds doing broomstick training. I so wanted to join in! We then went inside to see the rooms, which were beautiful. It’s still a family home and Percy descendants still live there now. Despite the grandeur, there was evidence of this, the huge library is now their living room and one of the grandchildren’s table football was there among all the fabulous historic furniture. The staff we asked questions of all spoke fondly of the family and mentioned the dogs running around. I can’t imagine living somewhere like that but I suppose if it’s all you’ve known whilst growing up, it won’t feel odd.

Friday morning was going home day and to take further advantage of the HH membership, we had already planned a stop off at Raby Castle near Bishop Auckland. It did make for a tiring journey home but I’m pleased we visited as it was another gem. The castle inside was beautiful and the guides in each of the rooms were very approachable and helpful. I was fascinated by the kitchen because of the hidden corridor running around the top of the room for servants’ use. The deer park was huge but to be honest, we were just too tired to walk far so we just wandered around part of the lake, we did spot a small group of deer under some trees not far away from the path and saw an adorable clutch of cygnets with their parents in the lake. A very nice end to a fabulous holiday.

If you haven’t been to Northumberland, I would recommend it. It is a beautiful part of the country, beaches and castles galore, so much to see and do and lovely people. We’ll definitely be going back.