Fun things to do in Northumberland

  • Ramparts, estuary and bridge
    Ramparts, estuary and bridge
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    Cannon over the estuary
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Most Viewed Things to Do in Northumberland

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    Hadrian’s Wall

    by toonsarah Written Aug 29, 2015

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    In the early years of the second century AD the northern limit of the Roman Empire lay in what is now the north of England. The Emperor Hadrian commanded a Wall to be built in order to keep "intact the empire", but probably also to assert the supremacy of Roman power. It was an impressive piece of engineering for its time, stretching from the River Tyne in the east to the Solway Firth in the west – from what is now Wallsend (Roman name Segedunum) on England’s north east coast to Bowness-on-Solway in Cumbria on the west coast. It was 80 Roman miles in length (73 modern miles or 117.5 kilometres) and varied in height between three to six metres. It is thought that the Wall was covered in plaster and whitewashed to make it visible for miles around, reinforcing the belief of some historians that its purpose was less defensive and more a statement of power – not only Rome’s, but Hadrian’s. It probably also served as a series of customs points, much like present day borders, with taxes being charged to anyone who passed through one of its gates into the Empire to trade. You can see the remains of one of these gates near the centre of my second photo, by the way.

    The Wall was built from limestone, except in the far west where it was initially of turf, although later this too was reconstructed in stone. It doesn’t run in a straight line but follows the contours of the land and in places takes advantage of these to strengthen its defences, for instance the Whin Sill escarpment in the east. There were forts at approximately five mile intervals to garrison the troops who guarded the border, and milecastles at approximately – guess what – every mile.

    After the withdrawal of the Romans from Britain in the early 5th century the Wall, though maintained and garrisoned for a short time afterwards, gradually fell into disuse and into ruin. Its stones were reused in the construction of other buildings (many an old farmhouse in this area can boast of having some stones from the Wall) or in road-building – the nearby modern-day B6318, which you will have driven on to get here, follows the line of the 18th century road built by General Wade to move troops during the Jacobite Rebellion, and local people still refer to this as the Military Road.

    In the 1830s a Newcastle man, John Clayton, took an interest in the Wall and started buying up the land on which it stood to prevent farmers from taking any more of the stones. Eventually he owned a considerable area of land, including the sites of Chesters, Carrawburgh, Housesteads, and Vindolanda. He carried out some excavations at Housesteads, among other places. He also employed workmen to restore some stretches of the Wall. His descendants unfortunately lost his land through gambling but the National Trust have since acquired it and brought the Wall under their protection.

    Today Hadrian’s Wall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the most visited tourist destination in the north of England. It is also the route of a popular long-distance path and you will see many walkers following the line of the Wall (walking on it is discouraged to avoid further damage). Don’t expect however to see the Wall standing for its full length however, is in many places today it is little more than a rampart.

    The best places to see reasonably intact stretches include Housesteads and Steel Rigg, both described in more detail on my separate Housesteads page.

    Near Housesteads From Housesteads From Housesteads Near Steel Rigg Near Steel Rigg
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    Housesteads Fort

    by toonsarah Written Aug 29, 2015

    In the early years of the second century AD the northern limit of the Roman Empire lay in what is now the north of England. The Emperor Hadrian commanded a Wall to be built in order to keep "intact the empire", but probably also to assert the supremacy of Roman power. Hadrian’s Wall, as we now name it, had a series of forts at approximately five mile intervals, where soldiers guarding the frontier were stationed. Of those that still have some remains, Housesteads, or Vercovicium to give it its Roman name, is probably the best known and most visited.

    Relatively little remains of the fort today, but there is enough for you to be able to trace the layout of the buildings and learn something of how those soldiers would have lived. At its height 800 soldiers would have been based here. Although the environment would have seemed harsh to many of them, especially in winter, they were relatively well-housed and were self-sufficient. The ordinary soldiers lived in barracks and the remains of some of these can be traced here today. The supplies for these meals were stored in granaries with stone pillars that supported a raised floor to keep the food dry and free from rats and mice. There was a workshop and hospital, and at the heart of the fort a headquarters building with a courtyard where ceremonies (both military and religious) took place, a shrine where the regiment’s standards were displayed alongside altars to the gods and a statue of the emperor, and offices with a strong room to store valuables, including the soldiers’ pay.

    As well as these buildings it is possible to see the bases of the various towers and gates that pierced the Walls surrounding the fort, and even a latrine. But more impressive than those few remains perhaps is the setting. With sweeping views over the Northumberland hills and one of the most intact stretches of Hadrian’s Wall nearby, in good weather (such as we had on a recent visit) it is a glorious place to stand.

    Imagine it though in the depths of winter, with icy winds blowing and snow falling. How must those Roman soldiers, many recruited from much warmer parts of the Empire, have felt in what must have seemed to them to be the ends of the earth?

    The site is jointly administered by the National Trust (who own much of the land around Hadrian’s Wall) and English Heritage, who look after the fort itself, so membership of either of these bodies will get you in for free. Otherwise prices as of 2015 are £6.60 for adults, £4.00 children 5-15 years, £6.00 for concessions (students and over 60s). There is a family ticket covering two adults and up to three children for ££17.20.

    In summer (end of March to end of September) Housesteads is open daily from 10.00-18.00, including Bank Holidays. In October closing time is 17.00 and from November through March it is 16.00, with closures on Bank Holidays over the Christmas and New Year period. According to the website last admissions are 45 minutes before closing but I wouldn’t advise cutting it so fine as that would barely allow you time to walk up to the site and back, with no chance to properly explore. Note that to reach the fort itself you need to walk about half a mile on a gravel footpath with quite a steep climb at one point. If this would be a challenge for you, ask in the Visitor Centre about disabled parking nearer the site.

    I have a small separate page about Housesteads if you would like to read more and see more photos too.

    Headquarters View south Outer wall and tower Granary
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    Howick Hall Gardens.

    by nickandchris Updated Aug 28, 2015

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    With the weather being glorious, it seemed the ideal opportunity to visit Howick Hall Gardens.Our visit was in June 2015.

    There is a very large, gravelled car park, easily accessed from the driveway with a designated coach parking area. As this was empty on our visit, we parked the motorhome here.

    You are given a map of the garden upon admission which suggests you begin at marker no.1 which takes you into the Silverwood woodland garden. This is a maze of paths, with small areas of garden set amongst the trees. Seats are positioned to sit and take in the colourful surroundings.

    From here, we followed the path to the arboretum which actually takes you to the sea. This, unfortunately, we didn't have time to do so we pressed on to the church, St. Michael and All Angels, that is still in use today. A pretty little church. On the way,we passed a lovely wild area of long grasses with unusual coloured tulips, a lovely sight indeed.

    We enjoyed the views of the lovely hall and the particularly the pond area by the terraces.I wandered over to the bog garden which is a separate garden in it's own right and is a very peaceful and pretty place to idle away time on one of the seats here.

    I was disappointed that the walled garden now appeared to be empty and that the only kitchen garden was private.

    Really, you could wander for hours amongst the varied trees and garden areas and still believe you had missed something!

    A very laid back place without the hassle of lots of "do's and don'ts."

    Picnic areas, toilets, visitor centre and cafe.

    For more info, please look at the web site.

    Colour in the woodland walk. Tulips in the long grass... A glimpse of the Hall. Pretty pond. Tranquil Bog Garden.
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    Druridge Bay

    by toonsarah Updated Jan 24, 2015

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    This is a great place to come to get a good dose of sea air within reach of the more built-up Tyneside area. It is far less developed and more wild than the seaside resorts closer to Newcastle, such as Whitley Bay or Tynemouth, but not too far for a short outing from the city, though you’ll need a car to get here.

    The beach stretches for seven miles and is designated as a country park, affording it a degree of protection. So although you will see signs of industry close to here, on the beach itself you will feel pleasantly cut off from the modern world. There are rock pools to explore and some great views along the coast. It’s an excellent place for kite flying as it is nearly always windy, but when the sun shines, winter or summer, it makes for a wonderful walk, whether you just stroll a few hundred yards or walk the whole seven miles (which we never have, I should add!)

    There are several places to park along its length, so don’t necessarily stop in the first place you see, as that is likeliest to be the busiest (although in winter, “busy” means that you may see only a few other people). From any parking area, a very short path will take you over the dunes and on to the sands. As you arrive on the beach, you may spot some large concrete blocks half-buried in the sand. These are anti-tank blocks, placed here during the Second World War when Druridge was seen as a likely place for any German invasion.

    Behind the bay near its northern end is the country park itself. It has a lake with surrounding meadows and woods which has been restored from an old opencast coal mine – the lake attracts a large number of sea-birds and waders and is a good spot for bird-watchers. There is also a visitor centre which has information about the park, toilets, a café and gift shop (apparently open most weekends and school holidays). Check the website below for contact details if you want to find out more about what’s going on there when you plan to visit, and for a map showing the location.

    And to read more about Druridge, check out my small page, Wet and wild near the city.

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    Corbridge Roman Site

    by EasyMalc Written Nov 2, 2014

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    Lying above the north bank of the River Tyne just two and a half miles south of Hadrian’s Wall, Corbridge was in a good strategic position. Dere Street, running north to the wall and The Stanegate, running west to Carlisle both met at Corbridge, and although earlier forts had been built here, it was for its role as a supply base that it became an important part of Roman life.
    The town started to develop around the existing military compound around AD 160 and as traders moved in so the town became less of a garrison and more of a town with a mixed civilian and military population.
    The remains are quite extensive but are in actual fact only about 10% of the town’s original size.
    Main Street (The Stanegate) runs through the middle of the town with the Granaries and Administrative Headquarters to the north and the West and East Compounds to the south. Most of the remains are from the 3rd and 4th centuries and even though there is nothing much to see above ground level it’s worth coming to take a look to get an idea what it must have been like in a Roman town in the North of England at the time of the Roman occupation.
    It seems that when the Romans abandoned Britain then Corbridge became abandoned as well and in subsequent years much of the stone was carted away for use elsewhere.
    Not everything has disappeared though and it’s worth checking out the museum before you leave which includes part of the Corbridge Hoard.

    East Granary Looking across Main St from The Granaries The Fountain House The Corbridge Lion
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    Kielder Forest

    by EasyMalc Updated Oct 22, 2014

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    Kielder Forest is the largest working forest in England and includes the largest man made lake in Northern Europe - but ‘largest’ doesn’t always mean beautiful - so is it worth a visit?
    To help you make up your mind it’s worth explaining the geography and history of Kielder.
    Covering 250 square miles of what used to be mainly remote moorland bordering Scotland, the area started being transformed in the 1920s when the Forestry Commission began planting trees in large numbers to help Britain’s timber industry. The vast majority of these trees were non-native conifers which may have been idea for the timber industry but did nothing to enhance the environment.
    Public opinion about the way the landscape had changed wasn’t helped when a reservoir, known as Kielder Water, was constructed in the 1970s, but since then the Forestry Commission has tried to win the public over by introducing various environmentally friendly leisure activities in order to let everyone enjoy this part of Northumberland - so what do I think?
    Well, firstly I think the Forestry Commission is to be commended for making its woodlands (and not just Kielder by the way) more accessible to the general public and the activities that they’ve included have been pretty well thought out.
    The Tower Knowe Visitor Centre will help you with what’s on offer such as walking, cycling, fishing, and sailing. Before you set off (or when you return) you can take advantage of the café’s facilities which overlook Kielder Water.
    At Leaplish Waterside Park there is plenty for the kids to do including a Birds of Prey Centre and accommodation should you wish to stay longer.
    We took a boat trip on 'The Osprey' from Tower Knowe around the reservoir, but I have to confess that it wasn’t the most exciting boat trip that I’ve ever been on - and that’s being kind.
    One thing I did enjoy though was the Forest Drive. This 12 mile unsurfaced road (£3 toll - Oct 2014) enabled us to cross over the highest and remotest part of the Forest Park. The Drive starts from Kielder Castle Visitor Centre at the top of the reservoir and ends at Blakehopeburnhaugh on the A68.
    One thing I would have liked to have done, but didn’t, was visit the Kielder Observatory. For obvious reasons you really need to be here when the Astronomical society members open up on an evening to operate the telescopes. With the darkest night skies in England and very little light pollution this would be a fantastic place to star gaze.
    To sum up I would have to say that Kielder shouldn’t figure high on your priority list if you only have a short stay in Northumberland. The county has so many other things to offer, but if you have plenty of time, or live not too far away, then by all means come here and check it out - but don’t expect too much - after all this is mainly a place where trees and water take priority.

    Kielder Dam Forest Drive
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    Vindolanda

    by EasyMalc Updated Sep 9, 2014

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    For someone who is used to seeing most of England’s archaeological and historical remains looked after by English Heritage or The National Trust it came as a bit of a surprise to find that Vindolanda is run by a separate charitable trust.
    After checking out their website I started to wonder whether this could be more like a theme park rather than a serious attempt at unearthing our historical past in a way that would do it justice, but now that I’ve been here I can see that I needn’t have worried.
    I still have a few reservations mind you. I’m not sure about the replicas of Hadrian’s Wall for starters, but overall this is a really worthwhile place to visit, and if nothing else it makes a refreshing change from the traditional approach of English Heritage and the NT.
    On entering the site your eyes will be immediately drawn to the ongoing excavations, and surprisingly, (for me at least), much of it is done by volunteers. Whether that’s a good thing or not I’ll leave for other people to decide, but from a visitor’s perspective it’s an added bonus to see this work going on - and the archaeologists are more than happy to talk to you about what they’re doing.
    Historically speaking, the Romans built their first fort here around AD 85, some 40 years before Hadrian’s Wall was built - probably after their victory at Mons Graupius. The original fort was built of wood, and believe it or not, there were something like another ten forts built over it making excavation pretty difficult to say the least. Most of what we see today is from the third and fourth centuries, including an area outside of the fort known as ‘The Village’, where wives, children, merchants, priests and slaves all co-existed.
    The hard work in excavating so deep at least had its rewards in the preservation of a bountiful supply of archaeological finds. A path cuts through the fort and village, then through the gardens to the Chesterholm Museum which shouldn’t be missed.
    The most important of these finds are the ‘Writing Tablets’, which have been deemed so important that, apart from the latest excavations, are all housed in the British Museum.
    These Writing Tablets are really just ordinary letters by ordinary people writing about their everyday business. The museum does an excellent job of showing how important these finds were. Quite fascinating!
    There’s also an outdoor museum, shop and café, which finishes the visit off nicely.
    As I said at the beginning of this review, I had reservations about coming here, but there’s no doubt that this is a very important part of Roman Northumberland and I have to admit that I really liked it.
    I still reckon though that The Vindolanda Trust can learn a thing or two from English Heritage and the NT - but also Vice Versa!

    The Granaries Replica of Hadrian's Wall Outdoor Museum
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    Alnmouth

    by toonsarah Written Aug 24, 2014

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    In a county famed for its wide open sandy beaches, Alnmouth boasts one of the best. It also boasts the smallest museum in the country (probably) and one of the oldest golf courses.

    This attractive village lies on the beautiful Northumberland coast, about halfway between Newcastle upon Tyne and the Scottish border, just a few miles east of Alnwick. Once a bustling port exporting grain, it has today a more relaxed atmosphere where boating for fun has taken the place of trade, and families come to enjoy a seaside holiday away from the crowds of the bigger resorts.

    This would be a good place to base yourself if you want a relaxing holiday exploring the beauties of Northumberland and enjoying the wonderful coast. While sun and heat cannot be guaranteed in these parts, on a nice day the scenery is hard to beat, and even in bad weather the sea and dunes provide a backdrop for a bracing walk, before holing up in one of the village’s several cosy traditional pubs.

    The village has an interesting history. It once had a large harbour and was a busy port exporting grain (and with a fair amount of smuggling going on too!). But on Christmas Day in 1806 a violent storm changed the course of the river, causing it to cut off the southernmost part of the village, Church Hill, and cut through the dunes to the sea. The old channel silted up and sand dunes gradually sealed off the old estuary and port. The grain export business gradually dried up and the old granaries were turned to other uses – one became a chapel, others were converted into houses, many of which can still be seen today.

    The river meanwhile ensured that Alnmouth still had a future, but as a place for leisure rather than trade. The nearby railway station brought day trippers and holiday-makers, and wealthy people from Newcastle and elsewhere in Northumberland had holiday homes here. Today the estuary is full of small boats whose owners appreciate the shelter provided by the dunes and the community of like-minded “boaty people”.

    To read more, visit my separate small Alnmouth page.

    Beach and estuary Church Hill River Aln estuary View of Coquet Island Flowers in the dunes
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    Housesteads Roman Fort

    by EasyMalc Written Aug 23, 2014

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    The most well known fort along Hadrian’s Wall, Housesteads lies in a commanding position overlooking the Northumberland countryside.
    It’s a bit confusing as to whether the National Trust or English Heritage are guardians of the site, as usually it’s one or the other. The reality is that the National Trust own the site but English Heritage look after it, so if you’re a member of either it’s free, otherwise admission charges apply (£6.40 adults, £5.80 concessions and £3.80 for kids - Aug 2014).
    Vercovicium, as the Romans called it, was built around 124 AD and covers about 5 acres. Some 800 soldiers were based here and was occupied until around 409 AD.
    A circular wall surrounds the Commanding Officer’s House, Headquarters Building, Barrack Blocks, Hospital and Granaries, but it’s the position of Housesteads that will take your breath away. Hadrian’s Wall stretches across the escarpment and it’s not difficult to imagine how inhospitable it would have been here 2,000 years ago when the Romans were at the edge of their empire.
    There’s an interesting museum that will help fill in the gaps of the history of the site and refreshments are available at the car park down below.
    Being the most popular Roman site along Hadrian’s Wall it can get busy, so, as always, try to choose a good time to come to get a real feel for the place. The site is open most days of the year (the exception being Christmas and New Year) and opens at 10.00. Closing time is 18.00 in Summer, 17.00 in October and 16.00 in Winter. Check out the English Heritage website for the latest up to date details.

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    Chesters Roman Fort

    by EasyMalc Written Aug 11, 2014

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    Any visit to Northumberland should include a visit to Hadrian’s Wall, but with the wall being 73 miles long and having numerous points of interest, there’s a danger - unless you’re an enthusiast - of being ‘Roman’d out‘.
    To the casual visitor it’s probably best therefore to choose the sites that are of the most interest and I intend reviewing some of the more obvious ones, and I’m starting with Chesters Roman Fort which lies a 10 minute drive north of Hexham.
    This fort was built in 123 AD at a point where the wall crossed the North Tyne river, which apart from being strategic, is in a picturesque setting.
    Cilurnum, as the Romans called it, was the base for a 500 strong Spanish cavalry unit from Asturias for well over 200 years and was occupied right up until the Romans left in the early 5th cent.
    The site isn’t huge but make sure you make it down to the Baths and the viewing platform over the river. The viewing platform offers a view of the old Roman Bridge, but to get a much better look at it you need to go over the modern road bridge at Chollerford and take the footpath alongside the river.
    Whatever you do though make sure that you check out the Baths which are supposedly one of the best preserved Roman buildings in Britain.
    By all means wander around the rest of the site, but if you intend visiting any more of the Wall, bear in mind that there are a fair number of sites not far away.
    Before leaving though don’t miss the museum which has one of the best collections of Roman finds anywhere along Hadrian’s Wall.

    The Barracks Detail from The Baths The Praetorium Baths The Museum
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    Ford & Etal

    by toonsarah Written Jul 20, 2014

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    Although two villages, Ford and Etal belong to the same family estate and are usually referred to together. Ford was built as a model village by Lady Louisa Waterford while neighbouring Etal is a pretty village with Northumberland’s only thatched roof pub. They are nestled in the valley of the River Till among beautiful scenery in rural Northumberland, only a few miles from the border with Scotland

    There is plenty in these few small miles to keep you occupied for several days – two ancient castles (though only one open to the public), rides on a light-gauge railway, an old corn mill, nature reserves and even (though we haven’t yet been there) a prehistoric stone circle. One highlight here for us was the amazing village hall in Ford, known as Lady Waterford Hall after its founder. Lady Louisa had this built originally to serve as the village school. A talented artist who was associated with John Ruskin and the Pre-Raphelite movement, she spent 21 years decorating the interior walls with stunning murals depicting Bible scenes as a teaching aid for the pupils. Many of the figures who appear in these were modelled on local people and displays in the hall point these out. Some of her other works and her sketchbooks are also on display but it is the murals that are her most impressive legacy, and reason alone to come to Ford.

    We also enjoyed a ride on the Heatherslaw Light Railway, something bound to appeal to any children you have in tow – a very pleasant way to relax and enjoy this typically English countryside. I have made a separate small page covering this and several more Things to Do in the pretty corner of Northumberland.

    Church in Ford Heatherslaw Light Railway Mural in Lady Waterford Hall, Ford Near Heatherslaw Mill Etal Castle

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    Kielder Water

    by toonsarah Updated Sep 2, 2013

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    Kielder Water
    Kielder Water is the biggest man-made lake in Northern Europe and has a wealth of sights and activities. Set in one of the more remote parts of Northumberland, this lovely stretch of water is surrounded by forest (at over 250 square miles, the largest working forest in England) and is a great place for a day trip or longer visit. Activities on offer include:
    ~ miles of trails through the forest and beside the water
    ~ boat trips on the lake
    ~ wildlife spotting (this is one of the few places in England where you can see red squirrels)
    ~ mountain biking
    ~ and even star-gazing

    There is an excellent Birds of Prey Centre and very good Visitor Centres, with lots of information to enhance your visit, as well as several places to eat and to shop. Or you can simply relax, take in the scenery and appreciate being somewhere so relatively accessible and yet so tranquil.

    To get here from Newcastle follow the A69 west to Corbridge and then north on the A68. Ignore the first left turn for Bellingham as this isn’t a suitable road for most vehicles and instead look for the brown sign to Kielder Water and Forest a few miles further down the road. In Bellingham, look for more brown signs which will lead you to the C200 and thus to Kielder.

    Once you arrive you can park in any of the several visitor areas marked on the downloadable map of the park. These operate a “pay and display” system, with a fee of £1.50 for an hour or £4.00 for the whole day. Your ticket for the latter is valid in every car park so hang on to it. As there is no entry fee for the park this represents very good value as a whole family can visit for this £4.00.

    And for lots more information about Kielder please visit my separate page here on VT

    Kielder Water Ferry on Kielder Water Kielder Forest Kielder Birds of Prey Centre Chaffinch at Kielder Water
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    Warkworth

    by toonsarah Written May 3, 2013

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    Warkworth is arguably one of the prettiest towns in the county, with its attractive (but steep) main street leading up to an impressive castle, and the lovely waters of the River Coquet making an almost complete loop around both town and castle.

    There has been a settlement here for at least 1,300 years and it is easy to see why. The castle hill commands extensive views of sea and countryside, and the river forms a natural moat at its base. The castle itself dates back to the 12th century but the buildings seen today include later ones from various restorations in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is managed and maintained by English Heritage, and you can go inside for a fee of £5.00 (adult price current in April 2013, concessions £4.50, children £3.00). It is a while though since we have done so – something for our next visit to Warkworth perhaps.

    From the foot of the castle hill you can follow a footpath along the Coquet to the bottom of the village where you will find the Norman church of St. Lawrence. Beyond this the main road bends to cross the river. It does so via a modern bridge but alongside that is a medieval one which still retains its old gatehouse. Pedestrians can still walk out on to this bridge to enjoy the tranquil views of river and village beyond.

    There are several B&Bs on the main street and small hotels, and although I have never stayed in any of them I am sure Warkworth would make a great base for a Northumbrian holiday.

    I have written about the town’s attractions in a little more detail on a small separate Warkworth page.

    Warkworth Castle gatehouse River Coquet Medieval bridge Dunes near Warkworth
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    Amble

    by toonsarah Written May 3, 2013

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    The village of Amble lies on the Northumberland coast, at the mouth of the River Coquet, about a quarter of the way up from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It grew up around a small harbour from which coal was exported, mainly during the 19th century when mining was at its height in the region. The harbour was not of a size to compete with the major ports but did provide a useful additional outlet for exports. But the village declined as the coal industry did, although it was sustained to some extent by a small fishing fleet and the building of traditional Northumbrian fishing boats known as cobbles.

    Today some ship-building remains but the local economy is founded mainly on tourism. There is a marina just outside town, and boat trips to see the puffins and other sea birds on Coquet Island just off-shore are popular, though we have not yet got round to trying one of these. But on a recent spring visit we did enjoy a stroll round the harbour and taking photos of the boats on the river and the lovely light on the dunes beyond. We also had a good light lunch at the traditional pub, the Harbour Inn, located nearby on Leazes Street. If you’re looking for something more substantial there are a couple of seafood restaurants nearby, and for a treat the local “boutique” ice cream maker, Spurelli is based here, also very near the harbour – highly recommended and a fitting end for a pleasant stroll in Amble.

    On a boat in Amble harbour

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    Holy Island

    by toonsarah Written May 3, 2013

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    Holy Island, or Lindisfarne, is, in my view, one of the most magical places in England. A small “semi-island” (that is, an island only at high tide), it has been a centre of spirituality since St Aidan founded a monastery here in the seventh century AD.

    Whatever your religion, or none, you will surely be captivated by the unique charm of a place that seems largely untouched by the modern age. Yes, there are cars, and phones, and even wifi – but there are no chain coffee shops, no bank or ATM, no supermarket. And with the exception of the small stone-built village clustered around the ruins of the priory, the island is undeveloped. No roads serve its northern shore, and the dune-fringed beaches are visited mainly by birds, not people.

    To experience Holy Island at its best, you must see it as the locals see it – without the hoards of visitors that descend at low tide. So plan to stay overnight, and as the cars stream away over the causeway and the sea closes above it, the island will become a different place – one of peace and tranquillity, the haven it has been for centuries.

    But why “Holy” Island? You will also hear it referred to as Lindisfarne, the name given to its small castle. But locally the island is rarely referred to by this old Anglo-Saxon name. Following the murderous and bloodthirsty attack on the monastery by the Vikings in 793AD, it obtained its local name from the observations made by the Durham monks: “Lindisfarne - baptised in the blood of so many good men - truly a 'Holy Island'”.

    The main sights are the ruins of the Priory that was destroyed as a result of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, and the castle, restored by Edward Lutyens to serve as a holiday home for Edward Hudson, the founder of Country Life magazine (though rather grand by the standards of most holiday homes!)

    There is much more information about Holy Island on my Lindisfarne page.

    Priory ruins The Priory
    Related to:
    • Historical Travel
    • Castles and Palaces
    • Beaches

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