Our Expert's Guide To Northumberland
Northumberland, located in the north-east corner of England, is full of breath-taking beauty and unlimited possibility for outdoor adventure. From the romantically ruinous castles and barely-visited beaches of its glorious coastline, to the unique surroundings, history and starry skies of Northumberland National Park, there’s plenty to explore for beach lovers, walkers, wildlife watchers or stargazers alike.
We caught up with our in-store expert Begonia Pacios Campo from our Newcastle store, who spends much of her free time exploring this underappreciated corner of the UK, to discover her favourite spots in Northumberland to find adventure.
Hadrian’s Wall Path
“Hadrian’s Wall path is Northumberland’s most significant, beautiful and challenging long-distance walk. Although it stretches out for 84 miles from Wallsend in the east all the way to Bowness-on Solway in the west, Northumberland holds the longest stretch of it, and it rises and plunges along some of the area’s most scenic landscapes.”
“If you are a history enthusiast like me, walking Hadrian’s Wall will take you past some historic towns and villages that are well worth visiting. Places like Corbridge, Haltwhistle and Hexham, with their stunning architecture (including an Anglo-Saxon abbey), picturesque parks, Roman forts and bloody history, including all things Viking, are dotted along the route.”
“Also along the path is the famous Sycamore Gap tree (or Robin Hood Tree). This iconic sycamore tree stands next to Hadrian’s Wall near Crag Lough in Northumberland National Park and is one of the most photographed trees in the country due to its unusual location within a dramatic dip in the landscape. The tree even won England's tree of the year award in 2016! If you are wondering where its alternative name derives from, it featured in a prominent scene in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of thieves.”
Stunning coastal walks
“The Northumberland coast path stretches out from Cresswell in the south to as far north as Berwick-upon-Tweed near the Scottish borders and covers 62 miles.”
“I love walking the section from Alnmouth to Dunstanburgh Castle. I always begin my walk by first visiting the Ferryman’s Hut Museum in Alnmouth. Down by the harbour, this bite-sized treat of local maritime history is the smallest museum in Northumberland, if not the country. The ferry hut used to give shelter to the ferry-man who rowed passengers across the river Aln - a service that sadly no longer continues - but in this museum you’ll see incredible pictures of the past.”
“Continue walking along the coastal path from here and you’ll enjoy views of cream-washed cottages, coastal grassland and magnificent views of the impressive Dunstanburgh Castle. Before reaching the castle, I like to visit the village of Craster and its sheltered harbour, where you’ll find L. Robson & Sons, producers of the famous ‘Craster Kippers’. I've not tried the kippers as yet, but I'm mad for a good piece of smoked salmon from their shop - it's absolutely delicious! The shop also sells other great local produce, including craft ales, which we also like to sample at home. All in all, reaching the castle and back is an easy walk of just over 6 miles - great for families and ramblers alike.”
“There are some excellent campsites all along Northumberland coast where you can stay if you wanted to walk the whole coastline over multiple days. So far, I prefer walking it in segments. This summer, I’m planning to walk another iconic section - from Dunstanburgh Castle to Bamburgh Castle - covering another 11 miles of this stunning coastline.”
“Embleton Beach is a long stretch of golden sand overlooked by the dramatic ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle. This section of the coast is very much unspoiled, and the beach is backed by low dunes and very few signs of other humans - but maybe after mentioning this here I’m not so sure for how long! It really is a hidden gem.”
“For nature enthusiasts there is also an abundance of wildlife and fauna to explore here. I just love coming up here for a walk or a run whenever I can. If you’ve never ran on the beach, give it a go! Gentle on the legs but a heck of a workout, and you can always have a quick dip in the sea afterwards to cool down (if you can bear it!). I’ve tried it a few times but never over my knees - a bit of a shock, but invigorating!”
The Farne Islands
If, like me, you are a fan of bird watching you might want to consider a trip to the Farne Islands to see the nesting cliffs of the common Murre (guillemots), as well as seals and many other seabird species. I love to see their chicks gliding off the cliffs, followed by their parents when they ready to leave their nests. It's fascinating to watch. They are truly wonderful birds!
To visit the Farne Islands you have to book a boat trip from Seahouses Harbour. The National Trust charge a landing fee on Inner Farne & Staple Island, but if you are a member of the Trust you can land free of charge on production of your membership card.
Forests and dark skies
I also love birds of prey and the best place to see them is at the Birds of Prey Centre near Kielder Water. There you can look at them up close - a great trip for families. The centre contains one of the largest and most impressive collection of birds in northern England. But you don't really have to visit the centre to see big birds. I've seen many whilst on my walks around Northumberland including buzzard, kestrel, osprey, the beautiful Red kite and many others.
“Kielder forest is also my favourite place when it comes to more circular walking routes. England’s largest forest and home to the biggest man-made lake in Northern Europe, Kielder Water & Forest Park is a playground for cyclists, walkers and outdoor enthusiasts.”
“It’s a haven for wildlife too with several nature hubs located at Tower Knowe, Blakethin Nature Reserve and Kielder Castle, as well as an award-winning collection of visual art and architecture dotted around the lake and forest. It’s also home to one of the most beautiful and rewarding marathons I’ve ever run! I love running around Kielder Water, in good or bad weather!”
“If you want to experience something very special, stargazing is a must! Northumberland international dark sky park is the largest area of protected night sky in Europe. You can book stargazing tours at Kielder observatory to experience this incredible phenomenon. They run a programme of exciting astronomical events throughout the year, but you could also bring your own telescope or binoculars and wild camp outside the park and take advantage of the experience on your own. The Northumberland International Dark Sky Park covers nearly 580 square miles, and it is really, really dark out there.”
Check out the links below for some more of our expert guides featuring other spectacular areas of the UK to explore.
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