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Review: Northumberland


United Kingdom

Northumberland in the snow in January

  • By SilverTraveller ESW

    2359 reviews

    Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon

  • 2013
  • Husband

117 people found this review helpful

I spent 6 years in the north east in the 1960s and fell in love with the wide open spaces of Northumberland. It truly is God’s own Country. When I read the request for a guest blogger I knew my name was definitely on this one. My whoop of glee when Jennie rang up with the news not only deafened her but could be heard along the street. I got out the maps and began to plan.

Friends and family thought we were mad “Northumberland in January… everywhere will be shut and it might snow.” Nearly everywhere was shut and it did snow. There had been steady snow for ten days before we went and a heavy fall the day before we set out. We found a map of the primary gritting routes in Northumberland on the internet and I rapidly rethought plans taking out some of my more ‘adventurous’ ideas like finding Duddo stone circle and the cup and ring marked stones near Doddington.

This is an overview of what we did. There will be more detailed reviews of all the places visited and also accommodation.

We left Scunthorpe heading to our first stop at the Bamburgh Castle Inn at Seahouses on a glorious morning with bright blue sky and sunshine making the snow gleam. The A1 was cloudy with a slight mist hanging. By the time we reached the Tyne Tunnel it was very overcast and there was rain and sleet. Not the most auspicious of starts. Fortunately this eased by the time we reached Warkworth, allowing us chance to explore the village dominated by the ruined castle at one end and church and fortified medieval bridge at the other. The castle is shut weekdays in the winter so we need to come back in the summer to visit this as well as the 14thC Hermitage carved out of the rock above the river.

Passing through Embleton, our eye was caught by the Vicar’s pele, now part of the old vicarage. This called for a quick stop to investigate and also visit the church.

Next morning snow along the coast had thawed so we decided to concentrate on the coastal fishing villages. First stop was Beadnall where there are splendid lime kilns built beside the small harbour and a superb sandy beach stretching for miles to the south. This is a good tramping beach. Being on the north sea, Northumberland beaches are made for tramping rather than sun bathing. We also went to find the site of the 7thC chapel built by St Ebba, a friend of St Cuthbert, and site of a Time Team dig a couple of years ago.

We then headed to Bamburgh with its castle rising high above the North Sea. This is one of the iconic views of Northumberland used on much of their tourist literature. Again shut on weekdays, we headed to the church to find the place St Aidan had died. The early Christian heritage is still strong throughout Northumbria.

The story of Grace Darling is as popular as ever and there was a steady stream of people to see her memorial in the Graveyard and also visiting the RNLI Museum about her across the road.

Heading north, we made a quick detour off the A1 through Belford, once an important coaching town but now a shadow of it’s former glory. In summer the Wooden Toy shop is open.

We then decided to head inland to ETAL, an attractive estate village of white washed houses with stone or thatched roofs. At one end is the 18thC manor house. At the other the ruins of the castle.

The Ford and Etal Estates markets itself heavily and is a popular day out in the summer when it gets very busy. In January we were the only visitors. Heatherslaw Corn Mill, Lady Waterford Hall, Etal Castle were all closed and the Light Railway wasn’t running. Fortunately the Lavender Tea Room in the Post Office was open and we enjoyed the chocolate flapjack.

By then it was trying to snow so we decided it was time to head for Beal and the Lindisfarne Inn.

Next morning was still grey and dull. Tide times were wrong for a crossing to Lindisfarne. We had been warned that underfoot conditions in Wooler were bad, so we headed south down the coast. First stop was Bamburgh for Robert Carter and Sons, “Butcher, Baker and Sausage Roll Maker” according to the sign above the door, and a Rick Stein Food Hero. We had been eating his award winning sausages for breakfast and wanted to stock up on meat to bring home.

Next was Low Newton, the small National Trust owned village of white painted houses round three sides of the green. The Ship Inn has a micro brewery but Michael was driving we didn’t sample the beers.

We then headed to Craster. The sun was making a half hearted attempt to come out, the first sun we had seen all holiday, so we did the exhilarating walk above the beach to the stark ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle silhouetted against the sky. Again shut, but that didn’t worry us as this is one of those places that are best seen from the outside.

Back in Craster we went to investigate the Shoreline Cafe for a cup of tea, who have a good range of cakes. Next to find the Smoke House immediately recognised by the smoke from the roof and tarry smell of smoking kippers. For anyone who has never eaten traditionally smoked kippers, they are a revelation and completely different to those in the supermarket.

On the way to Alnwick, we stopped at Longhoughton, as the church is one of the oldest in the area with a beautiful Saxon arch.

Our final night was at the Hog’s Head Inn at Alnwick. The weather forecast for the next day was dire with a band of heavy snow sweeping across the north of England. We decided discretion was called for and decided to head south early to be home before it hit. This was probably the sensible decision as all the way down the A1 there were warning signs ‘Severe weather forecast for today’.

We might not have achieved all we wanted to. It was grey and dull so photographs were disappointing but had a great time. It was good to be back.

We stopped at three inns, The Bamburgh Castle Inn in Seahouses, Lindisfarne Inn at Beal and the Hog’s Head Inn in Alnwick.

Read my detailed reviews of each below:
The Bamburgh Castle Inn
The Lindisfarne Inn
The Hog’s Head Inn

All belonging to the same chain and provided warm, comfortable accommodation. The best way to describe them is as a very upmarket Premier Inn. Rooms were large with a comfortable king size bed with crisp white bed linen and plenty of pillows. A well stocked welcome tray with biscuits was welcome when we arrived, often cold. There was an abundant supply of hot water and thick, absorbent towels. Staff were friendly and went out of their way to be helpful. Dinners were excellent with plenty of choice. Food is sourced locally and helpings were generous. We never did manage a desert. The full English breakfast set us up for the day. The Lindisfarne Inn possibly had the edge on choice, quality and presentation.

The wine list in all three had Italian wines as the house wine and a choice of five different red or white wines and three rosés. All the inns had a selection of real ale on hand pumps with casque mark accreditation so we stuck to the real ales; a different selection in each place, all in excellent condition.

During the winter from November to end of March, the inns offer a special winter break of £44.50 per night for dinner bed and breakfast or £119.50 for three nights DB&B, which is excellent value. Even the summer rate of £80+ for a double room with full breakfast is very competitive.

Being cheeky. I filled in the slip to win two nights free accommodation, you never know I might be lucky.

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