This coastline has miles of deserted sandy beaches with the largest concentration of sand dunes in the country, as well as rugged cliffs that hold secret coves where smugglers once came ashore in the dead of night. Words: Steve Newman
Massive castles sit atop these cliffs and bear witness to the county’s turbulent past, when Vikings sacked coastal villages and the Danish fought to rule over a thousand years ago. Sandwiched between Scotland and England, Northumberland has drawn its lifeblood from both. It has its own unique cuisine: kippers and stotties are beloved by Northumbrians, and you will find some of the finest seafood in the world, as well as grand stately homes, wonderful pubs and stunning wildlife. The traditional Northumbrian Coble, with its Viking-shaped hull, is still used to this day for lobster, crab and salmon fishing. With so much to see and enjoy, this untouched area is well worth a visit.
A GREAT PLACE FOR…
A BIG NIGHT OUT: SEAHOUSES
For its views of Lindisfarne Castle and the Farne Islands, the Bamburgh Castle Inn is well worth a visit. Tuck into whale-sized fish and chips and sample a Farne Island bitter from Hadrian Border Brewery. Eat in the beer garden situated on top of the 18th-century lime kilns. (bamburghcastleinn.co.uk)
LUNCH BY THE SEA: CRASTER
Perched on the clifftop overlooking the sea at Craster, this renovated pub has exquisite food with outstanding service. Chef John Blackmore is renowned throughout the county for the quality of his food. Try the kipper paté sourced from the smokehouse opposite. (thejollyfishermancraster.co.uk)
TEA AND CAKE: BERWICK-ON-TWEED
With views over Lindisfarne Bay, the Barn at Beal has an excellent reputation for its coffee shop and restaurant. Try the freshly baked carrot cake or the fruit or cheese scones. If that’s not enough, they also do Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening meals so you can watch the tide come in and cover the Causeway, cutting the island off from the mainland as the sun sets. (barnatbeal.com)
FOOD ON THE HOOF: SEAHOUSES
Seahouses is renowned for its fish and chip restaurants and you can also visit traditional kipper smokehouse Swallow Fish (swallowfish.co.uk) to try their hot kippers in a bun or crab sandwiches.
HISTORY BUFFS: BARRACKS AND HALLS
Just two miles from the Scottish border, Berwick-upon-Tweed has the finest preserved late medieval walls in Europe – there is a magnificent circular walk where you can enjoy the sea views, the mouth of the Tweed and the town’s famous bridges.
The town also has the country’s first purpose-built military barracks (english-heritage.org.uk). Completed in 1721, the barracks has three museums, one of which houses a significant part of the world-famous Burrell Collection. There is also a Lowry trail around the town – here you can stand where the artist once stood and mull over his paintings.
Stop off at one of the coastal castles en route, with Warkworth, Alnwick, Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh and Lindisfarne being the most prominent.
If you like a cup of Earl Grey tea, don’t miss a visit to Howick Hall (howickhallgardens.org), where the blend was first created. The coastal gardens have been rated as one of the top five in the country and the Tea House has a lovely old-estate charm to it.
There is also a significant religious heritage in this region with the chapel on the Farne Islands dedicated to St Cuthbert and the priory on Lindisfarne.
WILDLIFE FANS: BIRD WATCHING AND BOATING
On the Farne Islands (nationaltrust.org.uk/farne-islands) it’s possible to get very close to the birds and seals. See puffins and eider ducks, as well as cliff colonies holding tens of thousands of birds.
Circumnavigate Coquet Island by boat (rspb.org.uk) to see its colony of Roseate terns. The trips depart from Amble where you can spot the seals chasing the salmon at the harbour mouth from the pier. Dolphins and minke whales are regularly sighted here and Northern Experience Wildlife Tours (northernexperiencewildlifetours.co.uk) offers trips to spot both them and other wildlife, both inland and around its coastline. Don’t forget to check what time of year the boats operate as out of season sailings can be very sparse.
Red squirrels and buzzards are also popular around Belford (belfordvillage.co.uk), while Roe deer can be glimpsed grazing in the fields. Both Budle Bay and the Causeway to Holy Island are part of the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve (naturalengland.org.uk) and are excellent for waders such as curlews and redshanks and a wide selection of sea ducks.
FOR WALKERS: WALKING TRAILS, HIDDEN BAYS AND PUB STOPS
The Northumberland Coast Path is 64 miles in length, between Cresswell at the southern end of Druridge Bay (visitnorthumberland.com) and Berwick-upon-Tweed. The route mainly follows footpaths and bridleways, but in some places moves onto beaches, minor roads, tracks and permissive paths.
You can do it in sections, taking in some wonderful secluded bays and fascinating villages, and there are circular walks leading off the main path. One of the most interesting is from Craster to the fishing hamlet of Low Newton with its tiny square of white cottages around the village green. There’s a pub called The Ship tucked away in the corner (shipinnnewton.co.uk), which brews its own beer and has some delicious food.
A circular walk around Holy Island (lindisfarne.org.uk) is a must-do and you can augment this by walking across the mudflats following the line of posts that mark St Cuthbert’s Way. (stcuthbertsway.net)
It’s a good idea to check the timetables before attempting to cross by this route. (holyislandcrossingtimes.northumberland.gov.uk)
The Ducket, Outchester
This converted Grade Il listed dovecote sleeps two in five-star luxury with views over Budle Bay to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Winner of the Most Unique Retreat in the Unique Holiday Cottages awards, the Ducket’s spiral staircase gives access on separate floors to the bathroom, bedroom, lounge and kitchen. Enjoy breakfast in bed as you watch farm animals grazing in the fields beyond. Stays start from £540. (rosscottages.co.uk)
St Cuthbert’s House, Seahouses
When Jeff and Jill Sutheran bought the old Manse they didn’t realise they were getting the 200-year-old church as part of the purchase. They’ve turned it into one of the finest luxury boutique B&Bs on the Northumberland coast. The breakfast room and lounge are in the body of the church, with the original windows flooding the area with light. All the food and beers are locally sourced with fresh seafood from the harbour and kippers from the village smokehouse. Doubles start from £110 per night. (stcuthbertshouse.com)
Victoria Hotel, Ramburgh
Standing on the delightful village green and overlooked by Bamburgh Castle, this hotel offers a high standard of accommodation and fine food served all day in the AA rosette-awarded restaurant. Try out the Castle View room for views of the castle and The Farne Islands. Doubles start from £90. (victoriahotel.net)