Exploring the Best of Northumberland

You are planning a day out and you aren’t sure where to start. What should I do first? What will I regret missing when I visit Northumberland? The dilemma is understandable, as narrowing down your options can be difficult when you’re heading to officially the best place to visit in the UK. That’s where we come in…

The Alnwick Garden is a day out that people travelling from far and wide make sure that they tick off their bucket lists. The stunning, award-winning gardens are home to a spectacular Grand Cascade, one of the largest wooden treehouses in the world, a bathing giant and, in the spring months, the largest collection of Taihaku (white cherry blossoms) in the world. Some great activities for families here include the mystical, forgotten garden ‘Adventure Golf Challenge’, and ‘A Giant Adventure’ using the garden’s app to follow the giant’s footprints across the gardens.

Northumberland is also home to many local farms that welcome visitors to see their animals, try their organic produce and enjoy a family day out. Northumberland’s largest, family-run farm is Whitehouse Farm Centre, and one of their many highlights is that you can feed their greedy goats, their bleating alpacas, their tiny Shetland ponies and more. Families can pile onto the trailer pulled by Trevor the Tractor for a ride around the farm, and kids can zoom around on mini racing cars and swing and climb through the adventure playground. All of this can be followed by a bite to eat at The Hungry Pig Café.

Anyone visiting Northumberland cannot miss the opportunity to immerse themselves in the peaceful nature that we have on our doorstep, and one of the best places to do so is Kielder Water & Forest Park. The area is so vast and every corner leaves you in the middle of a forest, by a lakeside or in a nature hide. You are very much encouraged to re-connect with nature here, and small signs recommending that you, for example, walk barefoot over the springy, moss-covered forest floor, have been placed throughout the forest. Kielder Waterside offers panoramic views of the tranquil reservoir and pieces of art and architecture can be found amongst the nature. There are no limitations here; you can explore every corner and the further you go, the more you are likely to find.

Northumberland National Park is the quietest National Park in the UK, and it received the prestigious accolade of National Park of the Year in the BBC Countryfile Magazinne Awards 2018. Hidden waterfalls, lush woodland, rolling hills and upland hay meadows are just a few examples of what you can look forward to when you visit. Keen walkers and cyclists will know of the 15 National Trails that run through the most impressive landscapes across England and Wales. Well, our National Park features two of them – The Pennine Way and The Hadrian’s Wall Path, both of which are steeped in history, boast rugged views and are signposted for visitors’ navigation. Sycamore Gap, Hareshaw Linn waterfall and The Cheviot are a few other examples of some highlights here.

It is not only outstanding nature and landscape that our National Park has to offer. For the history buffs wanting to mix nature with heritage and culture, parts of Hadrian’s Wall, UNESCO World Heritage Site, run through the heart of Northumberland National Park, and the surrounding views provide a breath-taking backdrop to this ancient, archaeological wonder. World-famous excavations at Vindolanda take place annually and visitors can watch archaeologists uncovering new finds during, what many believe, could be one of their best seasons yet. Follow this with a visit to The Roman Army Museum where futuristic methods bring the past to life. Meet their holographic Roman teacher, try interactive archery and view a film that takes you on an eagle’s eye journey over Hadrian’s Wall.

Another of our most iconic historical sites is Bamburgh Castle, perched on a rocky plateau on the coast and spanning over nine acres of land. Evidence of life at the castle dates back as early as 10,000 BC, and its heritage echoes through the towers, the state rooms and the wards. Dogs are welcome in the castle grounds and, although your pooch can’t enter the castle, exploring the grounds alone is an enchanting experience. Not only can you admire the impressive fortress from them, but they also act as a panoramic viewpoint for the astounding surrounding coastline. There is also a picnic area in the West Ward, and refreshments and hot food are served in the Clock Tower Tea Rooms.

Northumberland’s large collection of English Heritage sites add a wealth of character to its already fascinating antiquity. Hadrian’s Wall is one of the most outstanding, stretching 73 miles from coast to coast and holding remains of forts, towers, turrets and towns that date back to the Roman Empire. Lindisfarne Priory is another English Heritage wonder, and history practically choruses through the site as you are surrounded by ancient ruins that were built by monks almost 1400 years ago. It can only be reached by a tidal causeway as it sits on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, and it is important that you check causeway crossing times before visiting. A number of castles are also included in our English Heritage collection, including Warkworth Castle, which is a true sight to behold, particularly during spring when rows of daffodils surround this medieval fortress. Dunstanburgh Castle sits on the coast and can only be accessed by walking along the stunning stretch of National Trust coastline from Craster to the castle itself.

The 14th Century Etal Castle is another English Heritage site, and is based in Ford & Etal estate which offers a fascinating trip back in time. Also home to the almost 500 years old Flodden Battlefield, Duddo Standing Stones which are carbon dated at 4,200 years old, and Lady Waterford Hall dating back to 1860, there is so much heritage to immerse yourself in. The estate is also a beautiful and quiet area for cycling or a leisurely stroll, and you can ride on the steam railway from Heatherslaw and along the River Till, admiring views of the lush countryside and the Cheviot Hills as you travel.

Northumberland also boasts a number of National Trust sites. Lindisfarne Castle’s idyllic setting on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne is one of its many magical qualities and, like Lindisfarne Priory, the castle can only be reached via the causeway that has specific crossing times. The Farne Islands are another of National Trust’s treasures; this rocky outcrop of 28 islands can only be reached by boat, and only two of the islands can actually be visited on foot. Atlantic grey seals circle the islands, and they are largely famous for their puffins that hatch in the spring. Sightings of both of these animals are common, and there is a myriad of other wildlife to observe here. Cragside House, the family home of Lord Armstrong, was the first building in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity. As Armstrong was a landscaping genius, he constructed five lakes and planted over seven million trees and shrubs, and this magnificent estate has over 1000 acres of land that can be explored. Families can enjoy activities such as a rhododendrun maze and the Trim Trail. Other National Trust sites include Wallington, Seaton Delaval Hall and Cherryburn. 

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Etal Castle located on the Ford & Etal Estate
Getting around Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall
Kielder Water & Forest Park
Roman Army Museum
Grand Cascade Alnwick Garden
Whitehouse Farm Centre

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