You may not be able to rely on the sunshine during a typical British summer, but there is one thing you can bank on: the public’s ability to make the best of whatever nature has in store for us.
Whether our summer has been and gone or there’s a brighter forecast ahead, most people are unanimous that when it comes to marking this special time of the year there’s only one pastime worth its salt – a picnic.
Come rain or shine we love to dine al fresco.
With its miles of North East coastline and acres of countryside, The National Trust boasts some of the best picnic locations coupled with wonderful family days out.
From idyllic sandy beaches to stunning cliff top stops, shady woodland glades, tranquil garden retreats and remote country corners, there are no shortage of National Trust beauty spots to lay out your blanket in the coming weeks and beyond.
Joanna Royle, head of marketing and supporter development at the National Trust, says: “The North East is home to some of the nation’s most breath-taking and peaceful countryside. There are countless areas of beauty - many cared for by the National Trust – where people can enjoy fantastic family picnics and days out.
“Picnics are a great British tradition and one that can still be enjoyed even if the weather does throw its worst at us. If it’s cold you can wrap up warm and still relish being outdoors and if the heavens open then most National Trust places have special areas where you can dine undercover and keep warm and dry.
“Picnics are very simple, traditional and nostalgic get-togethers enjoyed by all ages. And they don’t have to be taken in the countryside or on a beach; if the weather, company and food are right then urban picnics are just as wonderful.
“With our fickle British weather you can’t always rely on the sunshine – but when it does put in an appearance you need to grasp the opportunity with both hands and get out and about into the open air.”
Picnics don’t just have to be a daytime treat, either. With a host of summer National Trust events planned from music to open air theatre to make the most of the longer days and hopefully warmer evenings, there’s nothing stopping you packing up your picnic basket and dining out with a difference while the dusk descends.
There’s more to a good picnic than just the location, however. Sterile ham or cheese sandwiches and a packet of crisps may suit some, but if you don’t want your picnic to teeter on the edge of squalor dampening your appetite more than the weather, then the National Trust can help there too.
The conservation charity’s cafes, tea rooms and shops are justifiably renowned for their wonderful spreads of delicious seasonal foods.
So, if inspiration is lacking on the hamper front you can still experience the exhilaration of dining in the fresh air without the hassle of having to buy and prepare your own meal.
Here are some of the top picnic spots to stop for a tasty treat at National Trust places across the North East.
• Allen Banks and Staward Gorge:
One of the largest areas of ancient semi-natural woodland in Northumberland, this is an ideal place for a picnic on the wild side.
Sit outdoors under the trees, at a picnic bench or on the lush grass in a woodland clearing.
There’s no shop on site so remember to pack all your own favourite foodie goodies and something to wash them down with or head just up the road to Housesteads Fort’s visitor centre on Hadrian’s Wall.
• Cragside, Rothbury, Northumberland:
There was a good reason why the Victorian inventor and industrialist Lord Armstrong chose Cragside to build his county residence – the views across the Coquet Valley to Simonside and the surrounding moorland are stunning.
Cragside offers a myriad of outdoor picnicking opportunities from lakeside dining to feasting among the trees and shrubs – a staggering seven million of which were planted in the 19th century.
There is also a catering outlet serving hot and cold food next to the play area near to the rhododendron Labyrinth at Nelly’s Moss.
Or you can indulge in afternoon tea for two with a choice of offerings, including the Cragside Butler’s Tea with a seasonal raised meat pie, chutney and cake.
• Farne Islands, Northumberland:
Enjoy a picnic on the wild side by heading out to St Cuthbert’s Cove Beach on Inner Farne, which will be open from early August to allow families to enjoy the peace and tranquillity with the thousands of seabirds that normally call this sandy beach home literally having flown the nest for another breeding season.
• Gibside, Tyne and Wear:
A taste of the country on the edge of the city, there’s wonderful Derwent Valley views, winding walks, refreshing open spaces, historic buildings and wildlife aplenty.
There’s a free to attend farmers’ market every first and third Saturday of the month where you can stock up on lots of delicious local produce before heading into the parkland itself to enjoy your edible spoils.
And on August 1 Gibside will be holding a special street party with visitors invited to bring their deckchairs, picnics and party hats from 6pm to celebrate summer on a grand Georgian scale on the tree lined Avenue with live music, tasty treats, real ale and family entertainment all promised.
There’s even a prize for the best posh picnic. And even better, it’s free entry for the evening.
• Hadrian’s Wall:
The iconic landmark built by the Romans stretches across the North from the Cumbrian coast in the west to Wallsend and South Shields in the east.
Large swathes of it are in the care of the National Trust and 1,600 years after the Romans left these shores it offers not just archaeology aplenty but spectacular views, often rare wildlife and solitude.
Lace up your walking boots and work up an appetite as you search for the perfect spot for a bite to eat. It could be Sycamore Gap made famous in the Hollywood blockbuster Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, or one of the many vantage points offering panoramic views north and south of the wall near to the National Trust’s Housesteads Fort.
If you don’t fancy the idea of carrying your own food too far, then Housesteads – recently awarded a certificate of excellence from TripAdvisor - offers outdoor seating, locally made sandwiches, pies and hot and cold drinks.
• Penshaw Monument, Tyne and Wear:
At 70ft high, this folly based on Athens’ Temple of Hephaestus isn’t just Wearside’s most beloved landmark, but can be seen for miles around.
The views across Tyneside and Wearside from the monument which sits atop Penshaw Hill are stunning, and makes it the perfect place to unpack your picnic hamper.
But for one day only on July 20 the monument will be turned into an open air tearoom with probably the best views in the region as National Trust staff and volunteers serve up drinks and homemade cakes between 10.30am-3pm. The view alone will be worth the £2.50 charge.
• Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island, Northumberland:
Picnic spots don’t get much more romantic or secluded than Holy Island, and the grassy bank below the castle looking out across the sea towards the Farne Islands and another of Northumberland’s famous fortresses, Bamburgh, is a stunning outdoor dining setting on a summer’s day.
• Roseberry Topping, Redcar and Cleveland:
Roseberry Topping isn’t one of the UK’s highest hills, but it is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive with its jagged half cone summit caused by a combination of geology and a mining collapse just over 100 years ago.
There is plenty more to do than conquer the ‘Matterhorn’ of the North East, however. It’s the perfect spot to partake of a picnic while taking in the breath taking views across Cleveland and North Yorkshire.
And on August 3 National Trust staff will be hosting the annual Tea on the Topping event between 10.30am-3pm. For £2.50 you can indulge in a reviving cup of tea and slice of cake – your reward for climbing the 1,049ft (320m) to Roseberry’s summit.
• Souter Lighthouse and The Leas, Tyne and Wear:
The Leas is the coastal green lung between Newcastle and Sunderland. The steep limestone cliffs sculpted by the North Sea into strange shapes are home to an abundance of noisy birdlife from kittiwakes to fulmars, cormorants and razorbills.
With spectacular coastal views, plenty of fresh air and miles of open grassland, it’s an ideal spot to sit, eat and contemplate.
You can take a post-picnic stroll along this 2.5mile stretch of North East coastline and then refuel at the Souter Lighthouse Galley cafe which offers a warm welcome and traditional dishes such as panackelty and singin’ hinnies.
• Wallington, Cambo, Northumberland:
With its beautiful Georgian House and grassed courtyard, acres of woodland, walled garden, landscape lawns, river walk, enchanting children’s play train and fabulous wooden fort, there’s plenty of room to escape any crowds and settle back for an al fresco meal after a busy morning’s exploring.
Or you can visit the potting shed kiosk in the Walled Garden and enjoy ice creams, drinks and other tasty treats. Hidden behind high walls at the bottom of a wooded valley, this garden includes ponds, a Nuttery and Edwardian conservatory as well as a manicured lawn perfect for picnics.
• Washington Old Hall, Tyne and Wear:
Set in the heart of Washington village, the Old Hall’s Nuttery garden is a haven for wildlife, and a tranquil oasis to enjoy the sound of the birds, as you enjoy a picnic topped up with tea, cake and pie from the quirky tearoom run by the Friends of Washington Old Hall.
Published: Thursday 19/06/2014
By Visit Northumberland
Creation of Lord Armstrong, Victorian inventor and landscape genius. Gardens, red squirrels, woodland and lakeside walks.
The Farne Islands are possibly the most exciting seabird colony in England with unrivalled views of 23 species, including around 37,000 pairs of puffin.
It's also home to a large grey seal colony, with more than 1,000 pups born every autumn.
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Catch a boat from Seahouses ( non National Trust) - additional charge applies
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