I wrote a selection of web copy for this national cottage rental company, researching and delivering detailed visitor guides to Wales, the Lake District, Scotland and Northumberland. Although I've never visited, Northumberland was probably my favourite destination to write about, and maybe this summer will be the year we make that road trip there....
'Northumberland: home of kings, haven to all'
Remote and unspoilt, Northumberland is often referred to as the Secret Kingdom, with its alluring mix of history and natural beauty. In the last two millennia, it has been fought over by Romans, Vikings, Anglo Saxons, Picts, Normans, Scots and the English. Visitors soon agree that it's not hard to see why!
Northumberland's hundred mile coast has been justly designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, ensuring its endless stretches of deserted beaches remain unsullied for years to come. The dune-hemmed shoreline recedes into rolling hills and open moorland as you head inland, with the protected Northumberland National Park covering over a quarter of the county. Officially the country's most tranquil location, the park stretches from the Scottish border to just south of Hadrian's Wall - seventy-three miles of ancient defences built by the Romans, which you can still visit today. Pele towers, bastel houses and fortified farms dotted across the countryside are further reminders of Northumberland's turbulent past, and amplify the spectacular landscape's sense of drama.
As England's most sparsely populated county, Northumberland is its last great wilderness: a sanctuary for wildlife, and refuge for anyone wanting to get away from it all. Explore our wide open spaces, and enjoy a slower pace of life here, which harks back to a simpler time of traditional farming and fishing. And when you need a contrast to all that peace and tranquility, head for one of Northumberland's picturesque towns or colourful fishing villages for a warm Northumbrian welcome, and some delicious local produce. Sample north-eastern specialities like the Craster kipper, pease pudding, pan haggerty and stottie cake, and don't miss having a cup of Earl Grey tea at its birthplace of Howick Hall.
Whether you come to Northumberland for its legendary hospitality or fascinating history, to explore its beautiful flora and fauna or for a classic beach holiday, you are guaranteed space, serenity, and magical memories that will make you want to return again and again. Discover England's best kept secret: home of kings, haven to wildlife, and a celebration of nature at its finest.
Where to go
Guarding the very tip of Northumberland, Berwick-upon-Tweed is the archetypal border town. Evidence of its embattled past are visible in the many surviving fortifications, from buttresses and army barracks, to the perfectly preserved Elizabethan walls that circle the town. As the only example of bastioned town walls in Britain, it's well worth a walk around them, where the ramparts offer breathtaking views across the Tweed estuary and out to the North Sea. From here, you will also spy Berwick's most famous landmark, The Royal Border Bridge, built by Robert Stevenson in 1850, and still regarded as one of the finest bridges of its kind.
(Image of Border Bridge lit up at night)
Just south of Berwick, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne is linked to the mainland by a two mile, tidal causeway. The island's first recorded inhabitant, St Aidan, built a monastery here in the 7th century, and Lindisfarne's parish church now stands on the original site. But the island's most majestic sight has to be the romantic 16th century Lindisfarne Castle, renovated in 1902 by the Arts and Crafts architect Edwin Lutyens, and maintained by the National Trust. Holy Island is accessible by car via the causeway, but is cut off from the mainland by the sea twice a day, so do check the causeway crossing times before your visit. You can also walk across the sands at low tide, along Pilgrim's Way - although it's best to only attempt this alongside a local, to ensure you're not caught out!
Continuing south down the coast, you soon reach Bamburgh, Northumberland's capital in Anglo-Saxon times, when the county was arguably the most important in England. Nowadays, this historic coastal village nestles discreetly beneath the iconic Bamburgh Castle, former royal seat to the kings of Northumbria. Towering 150 feet above sea level, the castle spans nine acres of a rocky plateau, and dates back in parts to the 12th century. Fourteen of its rooms are open to the public and showcase over 3000 historical artefacts. Ongoing archaeological digs continue to unearth fascinating finds, and Bamburgh is one of the most important Anglo-Saxon sites in the world.
Three miles off the Northumbrian coast lie the Galapagos of the North, an archipelago of thirty tiny islands, inhabited by twenty-three different species of birds and a 4000-strong colony of Atlantic grey seals. The Farne Islands are Britain's most famous sea bird sanctuary and, other than a handful of National Trust rangers, are occupied solely by the birds themselves. Boat trips depart from the bustling fishing village of Seahouses for those keen to explore the islands and gaze at the spectacular sight of tens of thousands of birds nesting amongst the steep volcanic rocks. Ornithologists will delight in spotting the hosts of puffins, cormorants, terns, shags and guillemots. And, if you're keen to see the sea life beneath the water, it's possible to dive amongst the Farne Islands too.
Back on the mainland, don't miss sampling a traditional Northumbian kipper from the UK's oldest operating smokehouse at The Fisherman's Kitchen in Seahouses. Or continue south to Craster, home of the original Craster kipper, and still a thriving fishing harbour, where fresh herring are oak-smoked for up to sixteen hours to produce Northumberland's famous edible export. Then walk the 1.5 mile shore-skimming path to the striking ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle, which dominate the horizon for miles around.
Head inland to the cobbled market town of Alnwick to see medieval Alnwick Castle, which dates back to 600 AD. One of Europe's largest inhabited castles, its Gothic architecture is instantly recognisable for its starring role in the Harry Potter films, as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry. Potter fans will delight in the on-site broomstick-training and wizard professors, while fire-eating jesters and master falconers entertain visitors in the courtyard. The surrounding 24 acre gardens are equally magical, boasting 16,000 plants, as well as Britain's largest water feature. You can also dine in its beautiful treehouse restaurant, which proudly serves local Northumbrian fare.
Eleven miles south of Alnwick, on the edge of the Northumberland National Park, the traditional market town of Rothbury is built from the same mellow sandstone as its surrounding hills. Victorian industrialist Lord Armstrong loved the area so much that he built Cragside House here. Thanks to its innovative engineer owner, Cragside was the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectric power, in 1863. Now owned by the National Trust, adults and children alike will enjoy exploring the myriad gadgets that fill its thirty rooms, as well as the magnificent, three acre gardens which include 'Nelly's Labyrinth', a network of winding paths cut out of a vast area of rhododendron forest.
Of course, no trip to Northumberland would be complete without a sojourn in its beautiful National Park, which covers 400 square miles of the county. From the once volcanic Cheviot Hills that bestride the Scottish border, to the legendary Hadrian's Wall path, the park boasts some awe-inspiring sights, as well as a wealth of wildlife. But perhaps its most incredible view is the one above, at nightfall. Miles from any source of artificial light, the park is renowned for its dark night skies, and star-gazing here is an unforgettable experience.
What to Do
DISCOVER HISTORY: Bordering Scotland and the North Sea, England's northernmost county boasts a dizzying list of spectacular castles, ranging from prehistoric hill forts to Elizabethan ramparts. Which one will be your favourite?
EXPLORE NATURE: Whether you're a rambler or a rock-climber, wildlife enthusiast or bird spotter, Northumberland's diverse landscape has over 300 miles of public rights of way for you to enjoy. Walk through heather-clad hills or cycle on traffic-free roads, with birdsong as your only soundtrack. The dramatic scenery and rich variety of wildlife will delight any nature lover, and families will love the Kielder Water and Forest Park, voted England's number one tourist attraction by Visit England.
HORSE-RIDING: Northumberland's wide open spaces are perfect for those wanting to explore the landscape on horseback. Gallop across the sands or hack through the Cheviot Hills with a local riding school. Try Kimmerston to ride in the Cheviots or along the beach at Holy Island, Slate Hall for a coastal trek past historic Bamburgh Castle, or Townfoot Riding School near Alnwick.
BEACH LIFE: Sweeping ribbons of silver sand run for miles along the Northumbrian coast. Stroll along the beach, explore a scenic coastal path or bring the family for some traditional bucket and spade fun.
PLAY GOLF: Forty golf courses, located in some of Britain's most dramatic landscapes, will delight golfers of all abilities. The hundred year old course at Bamburgh Castle Golf Club offers spectacular views of the castle, whilst Goswick, Warkworth, Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Course and Newbiggin all offer breath-taking coastal courses.
GO FISHING: Northumberland's fast flowing rivers and sparkling freshwater lakes offer some of England's best salmon and trout fishing. Try the Tweed, Till, Coquet or Wansbeck, while the Tyne Angling Passport scheme gives anglers the chance to fish across the Tyne catchment for just £8 per day. Or take a sea fishing charter trip from a traditional fishing village, such as Seahouses or Amble.
WATER SPORTS: With its vast stretch of coastline and miles of rivers, Northumberland has countless opportunities for water sports enthusiasts. Choose from canoeing, surfing, sailing and diving. The adventurous at heart might also like to try sea kayaking around Coquet Island, or kite surfing and stand-up paddle boarding at Budle Bay.
Last updated 18:17 on 24 January 2019