Travel Jottings

Celebrating the best bits and bobs to be found while exploring Britain, Ireland and beyond. Much is inspired by real outings, whether they were walking, cycling or photographic in nature, while virtual blundering in the name of planning them has turned up some gems too. Regardless of how they were found, I hope that they keep coming so I can continue to share new things with you.

Northumberland: Still a Secret Kingdom?

Warkworth Castle, Warkworth, Northumberland, England

The county hosts two AONB's and a national park so it should have a thing or two for the visitor. However, its very location could be saying it from being overrun and that can be seen as no bad thing. When you get travelling north of Newcastle, the temptation is to keep going to Scotland and speed through the area. My visits have shown me that'd be doing the place a great disservice and that it has much to offer.

Between alluring coastline, attractive castles and enticing hill country, there is plenty of variety on offer in Northumberland. As it happened, my first ever visit to the county had me sampling its coastline between Alnmouth and Craster. Even on a dull day in January, I liked what I saw and a sunny Saturday in February a number of years later had me see it in better light. That I continued beyond Dunstanburgh Castle to Embleton was another advance on what I had done before. More coastline remains to be savoured and there's a coastal path to follow too.

Northumberland National Park is one of the most unfrequented on the island of Great Britain so immersion in quiet hill country is almost guaranteed. It that near Wooler that I have walked so far, first on out and back strolls and later on a stretch of St. Cuthbert's Way that took me across the Scottish border to Kirk Yetholm. Rothbury is accessible by bus too and that remains on my wish list as does Kielder Water. More remains to be walked.

Thanks to its somewhat troubled past, Northumberland isn't without its castles. As well as that at Dunstanburgh, I have glimpsed others at Alnwick and Warkworth. After those, there's Bamburgh and Chillingham that lie on the list of those I have yet to see. There are older antiquities than these to found too and Hadrian's Wall is one from Roman times that today has a national trail following its length. Plenty more history is on show in these parts than what I have mentioned. Sometimes, it only is possible to scratch the surface at a first sitting.

With all there is to experience, it is curious that you aren't likely experience throngs like you find in the Lake District. With Scots largely keeping to themselves by all appearances, it falls to the denizens of Tyneside and Wearside to enjoy what lies to their north. That places the nearest cities to the south but they don't appear to make it that far north even when the weather is warm and inviting.

There may be the matter of distance in all this though because Northumberland is a long narrow county that takes 45 minutes to cross by high speed train. It also has never gained the profile of the Lake District or the Yorkshire Dales. Maybe, it has been devoid of literary types and the instability of the border between Scotland and England cannot have helped the area's identity. Even today, there are folk with Scottish accents living in the north of the county.

That's never to say that Northumberland is without any appearance in the media at all. The current issue of Countryfile at the time of writing features Bamburgh Castle in its outing ideas section and it has become something of a photographic icon, much like Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland. In these days of holidaying near home, an less visited corner like Northumberland has its merits and I am sure that locals would like to see to see more of us too.

From some of the websites below, they seem to have an enterprising self-starting approach. Whether it arises from feeling that they are on the periphery or not, they seem not to wait for others to promote their area and go about taking matters into their own hands instead. One of the mottoes of Northumberland is "An Independent Spirit". Is that what makes them do what they do? Whatever is the answer to that query, it also seems to give the county the feeling of being a place apart and that is no bad thing at all.

Visit Northumberland

This replacement for the old Northumberland County Council's visitor guide to the county is as good a place as any to plan your visits. With the old borough councils no longer being active, it's more valuable now than ever.

This is Northumberland

Apparently, this is intended as an online travel and tourism magazine for Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. Thus far, there seems to be a goodly number of articles on there telling you about the area. Something tells me that it could be worth watching.

Your Northumberland

This website is living proof that the efforts of one person can count for a lot. It has got everything that you need for planning a visit but I'd be interested in learning why exactly the person behind this felt that the official websites were selling the county short.

Visit North East England

As the name suggests, this is not limited to Northumberland but there remain references to Northumbria, the old name for the area comprising Northumberland, County Durham, Tyneside, Wearside and Teesside, and that could confuse some. There’s a lot here, though.

Northumberland National Park

Covering the more remote hill country of Northumberland lining the Scottish border, this is also the least frequented of all of England's national parks: sounds like a good place to get away from it all, then.

South of the Northumberland National Park lies another gem: the North Pennines AONB. Being one of the largest in England, it should come as no surprise to you to find that it not only covers part of Northumberland but also parts of Cumbria and Durham. Northumberland being the county that is, it hosts not one but two areas of outstanding natural beauty; the other is Northumberland Coast and that extends from Amble to Berwick-upon-Tweed, taking in offshore islands like the Farnes and Holy Island along the way.

Northumberland Coast: A Visitor's Guide

Compliments the AONB site very nicely and is a worthy addition to the arsenal of those planning a visit to the area.

Visit Alnwick

The proximity of Alnwick (pronounced "annick") to Northumberland's hill country and coastline make it a good base for exploring both. That it has some attractions all of its own like Alnick Castle means that it is a good place to spend a few hours or even a whole day (especially if you want to make the most of that castle visit).

Rothbury is one of the access points to the Northumberland National Park and Coquetdale and the Simonside hills seem worthy of exploration. Here are two sites exploring their pleasures.

Community websites seem to be prevalent in Northumberland and some are really useful introductions to smaller places in the county so here are a few to explore.

Visit Kielder

It's got Europe's largest man-made lake and a heck of a lot of working forest about it so there's a lot here in which to lose yourself. From the public transport point of view, travel options are limited (from Hexham on weekdays and Newcastle/Gateshead on Sundays) but they do give you a long day there. It sounds like one would be needed.

Gefrin

Northumberland abounds with antiquities and this website features some of those that predates the county's castles. Records of archaeological digs are to be found here too with panoramic photos and others of Northumberland adding more interest to the site. Walking up hillsides to hill forts means gaining views over the surrounding countryside too.

Bamburgh Castle

After Lindisfarne, is this Northumberland's best known coastal landmark. Well, it certainly has appeared in a fair few photos that I have seen come my way in photography magazines and other places over the years. Its visitor website doesn't fail to match and it surprised me to find that it remains a dwelling place even today. Such is the size of the site that you have to wonder how it must feel to live in a place like this.

Chillingham may be a castle of some antiquity but it is home also to a herd of semi-wild cattle that have been there for centuries and are believed to be descended from those who used to roam Britain before man's arrival. With long horns atop their heads, these are not beasts with which to trifle so it's just as well that there are tours led by wardens. The castle remains a home and looks well tended in photos too as do the gardens that surround it.

Hanvey's Boat Trips

The Farne Islands are well known for their bird life and this Seahouses operator offers boat trips out to this National Trust owned sanctuary. The latter fact means landing fees to be paid in addition to the boat fares unless you are a member of the said organisation. From what I have heard, experiencing these islands certainly is worth the asking price.

the Barn at Beal

As if having views of Lindisfarne wouldn't have been enough to justify the coffee shop and camping site that is here, there's a birds of prey centre and other attractions for you to savour too.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

This is one of Northumberland's most noted places, an island reachable from the mainland at low tide. There is a lot of monastic history with with saints like Aidan, Cuthbert and Oswald being associated with the place. It also is where the renowned Lindisfarne Gospels were created and there are remains of later monastic buildings to go with the castle that guards them. It sounds as if there might not be enough time here between the tides so an overnight stay might be no bad idea, especially if you followed St. Cuthbert's Way on foot.

After the Antonine Wall frontier was abandoned, Hadrian's Wall marked the northern extent of the Roman Empire in Britain and one Alfred Wainwright would have preferred if the Pennine Way National Trail had done the same in place of continuing to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. Because the latter of these was built of stone rather than turf and followed whin sill escarpments, it is the more enduring of the too and has a National Trail following its length. The remains of Roman camps have been excavated too so there is something for archaelogy and history fans as those who enjoy the outdoors.