We ventured to the remote and breath-takingly beautiful county of Northumberland for a 5 day break over the Easter holidays. Having never explored this part of the north-east of England before, excitement levels were high. We were not disappointed. What a gorgeous place, definitely deserving its reputation as one of England’s most beautiful regions. We found quaint little market towns, golden sandy beaches, wild moorland and an unsurpassed collection of historical monuments and castles. We drove through wide open spaces and empty roads along wild, high moorland and found no end of historic abbeys and castles – all the more romantic for their often ruinous state. So many great things to do but our best bits and highlights:
Words fail to describe the vast engineering feat that is Hadrian’s Wall. I have always wanted to visit this ancient Roman wall, built to keep the “barbarians” out of the Roman Kingdom. It is a real wonder. We hiked along part of the wall amid its magnificent backdrop of rolling hills and wild moorland. The weather was terrible, torrential rain all day long, but somehow this made it even more dramatic. We spent time at Housesteads and Vindolanda – 2 Roman forts built on the wall, both fascinating and great places to find out about the soldiers who built the wall and their families who once lived here. Son particularly enjoyed Vindolanda – a friendly tour guide, some recreations of Roman houses and shops and a quirky museum did it for him.
At one time fought over by the Scots and English, at another time prone to Viking raids this whole area was very heavily fortified. Great for us now because you can find ruins and more extensive castles to explore just about everywhere you go. We opted for Alnwick Castle and spent a fabulous day at the home of the Duke of Northumberland. There is historical stuff aplenty, gorgeous views around the castle but it is also a fun place for children with lots of hands-on activities. Oh, and not forgetting the Harry Potter connection – the first 2 movies were filmed here, so they naturally make a big deal of that. Son (and a reluctant Husband) even got to take broomstick flying classes in front of the castle – a memorable moment indeed.
Newcastle Upon Tyne
This city, the “gateway to the north” was our base for a couple of nights. Not an obvious choice maybe, but we loved the beautiful bridges and amazing architecture. There are lots of great museums, all very child-friendly – Son had to be dragged out of most of them. I loved the Quayside, strolling along the banks of the Tyne and watching the Millennium Bridge open and close was very cool. We found great and quirky places to eat and loved the buzz of regeneration going on in Newcastle.
Tynemouth and the Coast
The Northumbrian coastline is spectacular with stacks of golden, deserted, sandy beaches. Tynemouth was our favourite coastal town. We explored the priory – history and stunning sea views and then spent ages on the (deserted) beach. Son’s idea of heaven, the bracing wind and cool sea air did not bother him one bit.
My take-away memory of Northumberland though is the swathes of beautiful, unpopulated countryside – this is truly an unspoilt place. We all loved it and after 5 days none of us wanted to leave. It is rugged and wild, a remote and gorgeous part of England. The weather tended to be equally rugged and wild, but it didn’t bother us (much), this was a great Easter break.