Friday, 8 August 2014

visiting Northumberland

My niece with Thistle the kestrel
We've been to stay in a static caravan on the glorious Northumberland coast for the last three years!  There's loads to do, but I fear this was our last year for a while.  There are still things we haven't done, but not many.

We were with my family, enjoying the sunshine (and the rain), and taking fun day trips. There was a lot of playing out, loving the sea views and the sunshine, wondering what the tides were like, reading books, writing (for me - that was where I finished the first draft of the book) and catching up. 

But just now I'm going to join the Northumberland tourist board and tell you about the day trips, because seriously, Northumberland is a great place to go on holiday, and these are some of the fun things you can do.

We went to Birds at Beal (just off the road on the way to Lindisfarne, along with the Barn at Beal), on a lovely sunny day. It was a bit breezy, which was ideal for us, but not for the birds, who didn't feel much like complying in the falconry display. We got to hold the birds, and meet a baby owl. There was a nice wee play park, and a good cafe. We got the kids 'child's platters' to share, and they were great – lots of healthy food, looking really appetising. 

Just down the road from Beal is the 'holy' island of Lindisfarne.  You need to check the tides for getting across there, but there's generally plenty of time, and it's well worth a visit.  We parked up in the car park (massive queues for the mainly non-functioning pay points, the council could get on to sorting that out), and walked first along the coast to the castle, which is basically a very nice house inside an old and good looking castle.  It was busy on the day we went, and they'd let far too many people in, so there were queues all around the house.  Really not worth the £18.50 family price. But it would be a good visit if you're a National Trust member, or if it's a quiet day.

Also on Lindisfarne we visited Lindisfarne Priory. The ruined priory which was the first place the Vikings came in their 500 years of causing trouble along the coast of what is now (and will hopefully remain) Great Britain.  500 years that came to an end with the Largs invasion in 1263.  There is a super little museum attached to the priory, and the priory itself is very picturesque, and also great for hide and seek. Highly recommended.  You can buy genuine Lindisfarne mead while you're on Lindisfarne.  I'd recommend you buy a small bottle, because yuck.

Last year we went to visit Alnwick Gardens. It cost £33 for a family ticket, but would have cost £65 if we'd gone in the castle too. We decided to just do the gardens and had plenty to do all day. We didn't even manage to get around all the gardens, but had plenty of fun. Our favourite bits were the grand cascade, the water features, the poison garden, the bamboo labyrinth ('you remind me of the babe') and the wobbly bridges. The wobbly bridges were in the very lovely treehouse area, which looked like an ewok village.

We were very lucky with the weather, and I would say that even though they claim you can enjoy the garden in any weather you'd have to be a gardening buff, or a duck to think it was worth £33 in the rain.

By the way, although there's a big sign saying you can't go into the castle grounds without a castle ticket, the lady on the gate let us in... but told us we'd be thrown into the dungeons if we did attempt to get into the castle itself.

It's a fine castle, but it's popular for filming. It was the setting for some bits of Harry Potterfilms, and this year it's going to feature in the Downton Christmas special. Sadly that meant that we didn't get to go in it this year either.  But a castle has stood on the site for over 1,000 years, which is impressive enough if you ask me.

While we were in Alnwick we went to Bailiffgate Museum, which is well worth a visit, especially with children.  It was £10 for the family, and there's lots to do.  Alnwick is a lovely place, with good bookshops and nice cafes (we went to Baileys which was fab). The parking is a bit ropey though, so I'd recommend parking in the car park for Alnwick castle (£3 all day), and walking into town.

There are lots of castles on the Northumberland coast. Last year we visited Warkworth Castle, which is run by English Heritage, and a good price to get into - only £10 for a family at full price.  I had really wanted to go to Warkworth Castle as I went there with school when I was about 11, and took some fabulous pictures.  I wanted to see if I could do it again.  No pressure there then.  Happily enough the castle has been there long enough that nigh on 30 years didn't make much difference.  The kids had fun climbing about, we enjoyed a picnic, and there was plenty to look at for a good half day.  We did get the audio guides, but there aren't any corresponding numbers on the walls so they're hard to use with children running about everywhere.  Also, they only told you in detail about the keep, whereas I'd have liked to know more about the stuff we couldn't see.  Personally I'd have preferred some more signs around the place to read as you got there.  However, it's a great visit.

This year we went to Bamburgh castle, which should really be given more time than the two hours we gave it. There are 15 (I think) state rooms, which are very fancy, and have a lot of plates in them, and lots of other stuff that we ran out of time for.  There's also an art gallery.

For a sandy beach you cannot beach the glorious white sands of the beach at Bamburgh.  Kids and adults all loved it.  we built sandcastles, buried people (not totally, of course) jumped off sand-dunes, paddled, and tried to get out to a rock.  It was rather lovely.  My siblings decided to chillax in the sun too, in the style that only the British (well, maybe the Germans too) can really do.  Nice.  Naturally, I was totally covered up, and wearing black, sad old Goth that I am.

Oh the humanity

Other good days out in Northumberland include: 

  • Chillingham Castle (what a castle would be like if my Dad lived there.  Very mad, a bit scary, fantastic afternoon tea).  
  • a boat trip to the Farne Islands (nice anytime, but super when the puffins are there - in June I think), and
  • Cragside: pricey (National Trust), but a must see for any electrical engineers, people interested in the Arts and Crafts movement, and for history buffs with an interest in electricity. Cragside was one of the first houses in the world with electricity, and some of the gadgets are still working.
  • Berwick upon Tweed. Lots to see, and a nice friendly town. We enjoyed walking on the ramparts and a good lunch at the Baguette Bar (great with kids).
Inside a caravan at Waren Mill
We stayed at the Waren Mill camping and caravan site, which also has wigwams.  It is really friendly, well cared for and has plenty for the kids to do, as well as good views.  It has a bar and a shop, and a splash pool, but I'm afraid I didn't use them.  We did make lots of use of the playgrounds, and it always seems to have a lovely atmosphere.

I love the Northumberland coast, but maybe we should go somewhere else next year.  Any suggestions?  Where do you like to go? 

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