For a mini-break on the Northumberland coast, the area around Alnmouth Bay offers blustery beach walks, quiet cycle routes and pretty coastal villages to explore on a weekend away, as Paul Miles discovers

For centuries, the coast of Northumberland has been attracting visitors. Vikings were some of the first. Proximity to Scandinavia, low cliffs and long, empty beaches of soft sand made the area easy to attack, hence the defensive castles. More recently, less fearsome types have also ventured to this windswept coastline. High society began to travel here for summer parties with the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle – the second largest inhabited castle in the UK – four miles inland from the seaside village of Alnmouth, where the Aln, a river which rises from deep within the Cheviot Hills, empties out into the North Sea.
In Victorian times, lords and ladies steamed into Alnwick’s incongruously grand train station however, despite strong objections, the line was axed in the 1960s. Today, train trippers to the market town disembark at ‘Alnmouth (for Alnwick)’, an anomalously tiny stop on a busy long-distance train route between London and Edinburgh. Coast lovers will choose to stay in Alnmouth with its cafés, art gallery, pubs, golf links and wide empty beaches of ivory sand, perfect for blustery dog-walks. Off-season, the area is quiet and the famous puffins on nearby islands have flown, but the miles of deserted, bright beaches around Alnmouth Bay are arguably more spectacular in a state of winter wildness, and the ruined castles on the coast, such as Dunstanburgh, are still open at weekends, just waiting to be discovered.



An electric taxi collects us from Alnmouth station for the one-mile transfer to the heart of the village (Knight’s Taxis, 07760 751667). At The Old School Gallery, our hosts, Dale and Penny, welcome us with some tea and cake in their gallery café surrounded by paintings from artists including Penny’s mother, Sue Fenlon, who lives in Alnmouth. The tall, light-filled gallery space shows the artworks off at their best (01665 830554,


Dale carries our luggage in a golf buggy while we walk to our ‘camping’ cabins, Shoreside Huts, 15 minutes away. As we follow a tiny section of the 97-mile long-distance walking path, St Oswald’s Way, through the dunes, there’s the bubbling call of curlews from the shore. The three off-grid huts each face the sea and Coquet Island, an RSPB reserve a mile off the coast, which in summer teems with more than 35,000 nesting seabirds, including puffins. The cabins have a Scandi simplicity with patterned blankets and tableware, books and fresh flowers. Each has a small woodburner, solar power and composting toilet, two gas rings and small sinks with running cold water. Presently there is no shower on site but you can use one in The Old School Gallery. The relatively remote location of the huts and sea views compensate for this inconvenience.


Once unpacked, we walk back to the village along the sandy beach, strewn with seaweed after recent storms but remarkably free of rubbish. We enjoy a cosy drink in the Red Lion, which serves homemade wood fired pizzas on a Friday evening (01665 830584, The stars are bright in the vast sky. Back in our hut, we sleep to the sound of the sea and the piping of seabirds.



We watch the sun rise rosily above the cold waves. Flames dance in the woodburner. I return to bed with a short story from the shelves: The Sea Close By by Albert Camus. We rustle up breakfast from the welcome hamper – boiled eggs, delicious nutty bread and a cafetiere of coffee – and then wander to The Old School Gallery. Our rented bikes have been delivered but it’s raining, so we dawdle with another coffee while admiring the artworks. We chat with Dale and Penny. They lived in Brighton before moving here more than five years ago with their two young children. And it seems that they have brought a slice of the city’s bohemian and arty vibe to this sleepy village. They hold art workshops and also host visiting musicians and writers in the camping huts. To book a bike from around £20 a day to go exploring, contact Pedal Power (01665 713448,


We cycle a circuitous route to the town of Alnwick via quiet minor roads and the coastal hamlet of Boulmer, where a Northumberland flag flies near ramshackle holiday cabins on low cliffs. From here, there’s a rough, car-free track, only suitable for mountain bikes, that follows beautiful beaches to Craster. This quaint fishing village is famed for smokehouses, kippers and the ruined Dunstanburgh Castle, a stroll away along the coast, open at weekends in winter (01665 576231,



I’ve wanted to visit Alnwick Garden ever since learning of the Duchess’s multi-million pound makeover, including the cascades, Poison Garden and towering fairytale tree house. We enter to the view of the water feature with dancing fountains, and queue for a guided 20-minute tour of the Poison Garden. We learn how cherry laurel releases noxious cyanide fumes when its branches are cut and how reckless Victorian hosts laced visitors’ tea with a certain pollen to loosen tongues. It was a risky way to enliven discussion, as the plant in question is deadly. We have lunch in The Treehouse Restaurant, a magical location decorated with fairy lights and tangles of driftwood (mains from around £12, with a good range of veggie options, open all year round). Admission from £9, open from February to end of December (01665, 511350,


We end our visit to Alnwick by popping in to Barter Books, located in the former Victorian railway station. I could spend a day here. There’s a vast selection of second-hand tomes, erudite quotes on the walls, and  model railway racing above our heads. In a former waiting room, there’s a café with a coal fire. Open daily, from 9am to 7pm (01665 604888,


We cycle back to Alnmouth and enjoy dinner in the Hope & Anchor, which has a popular Italian restaurant. As well as local seafood incorporated into dishes such as linguine marinara there are vegan and veggie options. Call to book, mains from around £11 (01665 830363,



After breakfast al fresco and a walk into the village for a shower at The Old School Gallery and coffee in Scotts, a deli-cum-cafe open daily from 10am to 4pm, we cycle along a car-free bike track with sea views. This is a small section of the 200-mile Coast and Castles route ( that follows the coastline between Newcastle and Edinburgh. We soon reach the pretty village of Warkworth, four miles south. The wind is bracing so it’s good to warm up with a delicious hot chocolate at Cabosse, a tiny café and chocolate shop which sells homemade chocolates and amazing pastries (01665 712644, Then we ride onwards into Amble, a mile further on.



The small industrial port town of Amble is nothing especially remarkable to look at, but visitors travel far and wide for its seafood. Next to the natural harbour of the mouth of the River Coquet is where you find the much lauded Old Boathouse and its dog-friendly cousin, The Fish Shack. This rustic wooden cabin has fish crate tables and décor comprising fishing nets, glass floats and fairy lights. We have a light lunch. Lindisfarne oysters are a fresh taste of the ocean and a bruschetta of grilled haloumi with tomatoes is generous and wonderful, mains from around £12 (01665 661301,


Approaching Alnmouth on the return journey, we detour off the bike route onto a pot-holed farm track to the beach. We lock the bikes and walk along the dunes to clamber up low Church Hill, from where there are spectacular views of the village across to the other side of the Aln. We walk on the deserted strand, lie on cool sand and marram grass, no-one around. Our weekend is almost over and we’re already planning our return.
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coast stayed at Shoreside Huts, three simple stylish camping cabins with sea views, a 15-minute walk from Alnmouth village. £80 per hut per night. Each has a double bed and bed-settee. One is dog-friendly (01665 830554,

Northumbria Coast & Country Cottages offers a wide range of self-catering options, including around Alnmouth (below), from luxury cottages for large groups to cosy retreats for couples, and welcomed its millionth guest in August 2019 (01665 830783,

For more on the area and accommodation ideas, go to


Alnmouth station is well connected, with direct trains from major cities in the UK (check online on and

For journeys by car, the A1 passes close to Alnwick and Alnmouth.

Arriva’s X18 bus service between Newcastle and Berwick Upon Tweed stops at Alnmouth, Alnwick, Amble, Craster, Warkworth and more. A one-day pass costs £6.50.