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  • Writer's pictureImogen Hall

Staycation special: 5 reasons North Northumberland should be on your list for the summer of 2021

Before you start a family, you don’t think that much about how it will change your travelling. Well, we didn’t. We knew that we would still travel and that we’d have to adapt the type, the frequency and the destinations, but we didn’t really think beyond that. So it has been interesting to reflect that, for us, one of the most significant shifts has been spending more time in the UK, exploring new places, revisiting those from our own childhoods and of course, spending quality time with my folks and friends in Ilkley, now officially the best place to live in the North and North-East, according to the Times.

Writing this at the end of March 2021, the chances of a break abroad look slimmer than they did last year. The media is full of ‘staycation summer’ ideas, but an area that often gets overlooked is North Northumberland. I grew up visiting good family friends who farm in the area, and since 2008 we’ve taken the kids back every couple of years. It’s now a firm favourite in our family’s travel calendar. This is partly due to the familiarity of regular visits, which means it super easy to relax as you know where everything is, what to expect and what you like to do. It is also because we stay with our friends on their farm, which is such an antidote to city life and one the kids embrace wholeheartedly. But the fact North Northumberland is our ‘happy place’ is also very much down to the area itself.

Let’s go down to the sea again

While you may not get the balmy temperatures of the Mediterranean or even the south coast of England, there is something to be gained from being further north: beaches in an ‘area of outstanding natural beauty without hordes of other people. And what beaches they are, with their big blue skies, swathes of golden sand and run-worthy dunes, and accessible opportunities to swim, surf or paddle in the bracing North Sea. There’s also a sense of walking in the footsteps of history while you frolic on the beach, as Bamburgh, Holy Island, and the ruins of Dunstanbrugh Castle are often in view. All three are quite different from each other and make interesting trips in their own right but back on the beach, the air is fresh, the sea is chilly, and the appetite is enormous. It is time for a local crab sandwich and ice cream in Bamburgh or fish & chips best eaten on the harbour wall in Seahouses.

These boots are made for walking, to the ruins Dunstanburgh Castle!

There’s more to explore than the famous coast

We’ve mentioned why the coast here naturally draws attention but exploring inland is equally rewarding and gives variety to your trip. Well, that’s our experience anyway. If you want to get your kids walking more, the Cheviots are remote enough to feel off-the-beaten-track (you even need permits for parts of the College Valley) yet accessible to walkers with ranging levels of stamina. Then there are some quintessentially English tourist attractions that your children absolutely need to visit to ensure they fully understand how the world works. Step forward the eclectic Chain Bridge Honey Farm, the eccentric Chillingham Castle and the best second-hand bookshop ever, Barter Books (armchairs, model trains, stuffed to the gills with books - you get the picture). And let’s not forget that essential component of every childhood ‘holiday at home’, a delightful chug on a narrow-gauge railway at Heatherslaw Light Railway. If you have Harry Potter fans in tow, you can visit Hogwarts IRL at the pricey yet superlative Awlnick Castle. You are also not far on Scotland’s doorstep, with sites such as Abbotsford and the border towns of Jedburgh and Melrose are worthy of a visit if you are running out of ideas. Which we promise you won’t be.

Learning to fly broomsticks at Alnwick Castle

You will be made welcome

Confession time. I have always loved the Geordies and, I kid you not, actually decided to go to Newcastle University based on how friendly the taxi driver, receptionist and everyone else I met on the open day was. And this friendliness never disappoints. Even when Bamburgh is backed-up with cars, the queues for ice cream stretch down the street, and the beach isn’t quite as empty as one might like, we have never experienced anything less than an open welcome. And we all know when you are moving around with kids, this makes a massive difference to your personal experience.

You can, usually, leave the umbrellas at home

Unless you really love cajoling children along when they are wet and cold, there tends to be a direct relationship between enjoying a family holiday and drier, sunnier weather. As North Northumberland sits in the rain shadow on the East Coast, you experience fewer downpours and more sunshine than you do further west. Just don’t forget the warm coats as the wind off the North Sea can still bite - and that’s when those cobwebs get properly blown away.

You can feast like kings and queens

If finding delicious local delicacies or having ready access to the essential foodstuff of holiday parenting (ice cream) is as necessary to you as it is to us, then we can promise North Northumberland will deliver on this point. We’ve already mentioned crab sarnies and fish & chips on the coast, but you can take the seafood up a notch at The Potted Lobster in Bamburgh, which people book in advance. Berwick’s Northern Edge coffee house will do you a flat white, as will Pilgrim’s on Lindisfarne. We always make sure we visit the Lavender Tea Rooms in Etal for an afternoon tea, pick up some locally-sourced meat from the butcher in Wooler, where there’s also a cute ice cream shop.


If you are looking to book a self-catering cottage, we recommend the local company Coastal Retreats and, of course our friend’s farm cottage. But sshhh don't tell everyone....

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