Hello there! We have returned from our adventures in the far north. I must hasten to catch you up on a few pointers before we set off once more on Wednesday.
We liked Northumberland very much. It has lots of sky, and plenty of birds and gorgeous scenery, all of which we approved of.
We rented a farmhouse, which was mostly lovely. Unfortunately BT are laying fibre broadband through the area and due to their meddling and issues at the exchange, we ended up with no broadband until Tuesday night, and no phone signal at all for almost the entire duration of our holiday, unless we were perched atop a hill with the wind blowing in the right direction.
It is all very well to say; ‘But you must switch off and chill out on your holidays. You do not need the Internet and its soul sucking ways.’ In theory this is true, but when you want to find out where something is at short notice, or opening hours for things, or menus for places, the internet is an absolute godsend and does not require you to chat to the local people, or buy a guidebook, or a map or anything else, and we missed it rather.
There were also issues with mice in the roof, although they were very well behaved rodents and stayed in the roof for the duration of our holiday. Nor did they smell, or pooh (at least not discernibly), but they were plentiful, and noisy and squeaky, and not at all daunted by people living below them. It was not easy to sleep in the mouse prone bedrooms, and these were soon abandoned.
Plus, it was, although gorgeous, not very comfortable bed wise, or comfy chair wise, and for such a large house, we ended up using remarkably little of the space in it, constrained by wildlife and our own selfish desires for sprawling etc.
Plus plus, there was an Aga to wrangle with.
Basically we ended up camping in the kitchen/dining area, and eating a lot of picnics due to not wanting to learn Aga wrangling or eat lots of stew. We were due to come home on Friday, and ended up cutting our losses and returning on Wednesday evening instead.
We were helping our friends move house this weekend, and wanted at least two days to loll around and sleep before shovelling furniture around the county and cursing Ikea flat packs.
So we had several days of what I would refer to as Northumbrian glamping, before coming home to the frankly bloody marvellous amenities of our own house. It is a real pleasure to appreciate your own home so entirely, and even now, after several days back at home, I keep wanting to burst into tears of joy every time I see my lovely, lovely bed.
Things we liked about Northumberland:
Seeing the Angel of the North. I have wanted to visit it for years. Love Anthony Gormley, and loved it. Even Jason and the children were impressed.
Climbing Souter Lighthouse (National Trust). Jason got to turn the enormous lamp, which floats on a bed of mercury. He was most impressed with himself.
Visiting Cragside, which along with Souter is a National Trust property, and another place I’ve wanted to go to for years. Cragside is truly splendid and we spent a good few hours there and didn’t really crack the back of it. Gorgeous Pre Raphaelite interiors are only a part of what makes it worth visiting.
Hexham is a great market town with a wonderful abbey and fantastic shops. We visited several times. Props to the One World Cafe, whose owners were lovely and whose food was delicious.
Kielder Water is beautiful. We visited one evening when everyone had gone home, and it was just us and the birds and the wind. It was great. We went back to see some of the art works around the reservoir. We particularly enjoyed the labyrinth.
We went to Jedburgh in Scotland one day, mainly because Jason had never been to Scotland before. We had the great good fortune to see a bagpipe band in the grounds of the Mary Queen of Scots house/museum. They were amazingly good and we listened to them for a long time, which is not something I thought I’d ever say about bagpipe music.
We visited Lindisfarne and went to the Priory. The scenery is stunning and we were blessed with glorious sunshine and endless blue skies. It was heaving with people, which spoiled it a bit for me, but it is worth a visit, if only to cross over the causeway. (Lindisfarne Priory is an English Heritage site, Lindisfarne castle is National Trust just in case you need to know such things).
We visited Wallington, another NT property, which is really spectacular, and has the most stunning grounds where red squirrels are being reintroduced into the wild. Naturally we saw neither hide nor hair of them, but we did enjoy poking around the house which is quite eccentric.
We visited Bamburgh Castle, which is neither English Heritage nor National Trust, and as such requires you to pay. We found it was much more impressive on the outside than the inside, and once you’ve been spoiled by NT properties it can be a bit of a let down. Bamburgh itself, and the coastline around it is gorgeous though.
We visited Alnwick twice. Once we were recommended to get fish and chips at Carlos’ on the High Street. We recommend it to you, too. They were excellent.
We went back to visit the castle, which is the setting for the Harry Potter Hogwarts school (exterior shots only), and Downton Abbey. We were out of luck as they were filming Downton there for the whole week. On the other hand we had a good nose through the spectacular Barter Books, which is in an old railway station and worth a visit even if you don’t want to buy books. I didn’t buy any. Northumbrian prices for second hand books are not to be borne by me I’m afraid. We also had a great lunch at a little cafe called The Olive Tree. The owner is lovely, and all his fare is hand made. The cakes in particular are well worth stopping by for.
We also recommend eating at The Cheviot Inn at Bellingham. The service was slow to glacial, but the food is all home cooked and was delicious, so as long as you’ve got time to spare, you will be happy.
Hadrian’s Wall was somewhere we felt we had to visit, and we were lucky to find a deserted bit down a lane we were exploring. We got out, clambered all over it, took lots of pictures and decided we had done our bit in terms of paying homage to a series of low rise walls. Depending on which part of the wall you go to, various agencies own/maintain it, so you will have to figure out what best suits your purposes and visit accordingly.
Do drive up the heritage coastline. There is castle after castle and so many ruins of one period of antiquity or another you soon get rather blasé about them you see so many.
Do take time out to explore the National Park and Kielder even if you only drive aimlessly about like we did, stopping wherever takes your fancy. We never stopped saying: ‘Look at that vista.’ It became a bit of a running joke by the end of our time there.
There was plenty we didn’t do, and one day, with bigger beds, better arm chairs and no mice, we will revisit and fill in all the gaps.