Warden Hill Circular Walk, Northumberland

In the beautiful Northumberland National Park

img_9922
Trying to keep my balance in the wind atop Warden Hill

I always knew I was lucky to grow up in Northumberland, hailing from a mining town near the beautiful coast. What I didn’t realise in my younger years was just how much there was to discover in this beautiful county, especially in the countryside and that is how, in my 5th decade, I’m still finding new and delightful areas to explore.

Last year I was lucky enough to enjoy a tour of Northumberland National Park with my local Travel Massive group (a group of like minded travel enthusiasts) and it reignited my love for my home county. I now return to explore more regularly, especially on foot, making a point to visit previously unseen areas as I did today.

My walking partner was or rather, always is, my husband Ron and our destination on this occasion was the village of Warden near Hexham. I’d read a lovely write up about this area and a quick internet search brought up this 6km/3.5 mile circular walk. As luck has it, the walk actually started from the delightful Boatside Inn which we had visited and enjoyed before. This obviously was meant to be so and we decided to book for Sunday Lunch at the end of the walk! and off we set.

img_9907-2

As we’d made reservations for Sunday Lunch we parked at the Boatside Inn and set off on the walk described in the literature as ‘This pleasant walk involves a steady climb up to Warden Hill where you will get a panoramic view of south-west Northumberland’ with a walking time of approx. 2 hours.

This sign posted track began about 70m from the Inn where we walked parallel to the Newcastle to Carlisle railway line for a short while. Luck was on our side this day and with the sun shining we were able to appreciate the landscape unfolding before our eyes. The wind didn’t bother us too much either as we we’re sheltered by the trees, although a few low swaying tree branches relieved me of my hat on three occasions!

img_9913

The walk is straighforward to navigate with several finger posts and waymarks. I used a photosnap of the map and directions on my mobile phone as opposed to a printed map. The walk comprises tracks, pasture and tarmac roads. The tracks were fairly muddy in part but that can be expected this time of year as the ground hasn’t had time to dry out. You’d need to wear appropriate clothing and footwear for this walk.

img_9910
The Newcastle to Carlisle railway line winds through the landscape toward Fourstones

You are taken on a steady climb with views across to the village of Fourstones and the river Tyne. At every turn another lovely scene opened up including a couple of rainbows, even though it hadn’t rained! We mused about how the landscape must have looked to those who lived here in centuries gone by. Small worked flints have been found along one of the tracks which date back around 10,000 years!

img_9914
View toward Fourstones and the river Tyne

It really is such a pleasure to walk in this area. It’s so beautiful and peaceful. I would think it is normally quiet but the wind was whipping up quite a bit as we got higher. We only passed one other person along the way and there were no livestock in the fields we crossed until we reached Warden Hill which was dotted with sheep.

img_9925
Rainbow without the rain! viewed from Warden Hill
img_9924
Stunning blue skies and panoraminc views from Warden Hill (an Iron age Hill Fort)

The views that met us when we reached Warden Hill made the walk totally worthwhile. The term ‘Big Sky’ really applies here as you slowly turn 360 degrees to take in the stunning views…Wow! and as the countryside of south east Northumberland stretched out for miles I was acutely aware of the history beneath my feet as I was standing on the site of an Iron Age hill fort. Coming back downhill we spotted something more ‘gruesomely’ recent in the form of an animal skull and bone, possibly a sheep, which had us wondering about its demise!

img_9923

From Warden Hill the walk took us through the quaint village of High Warden with it’s handful of stone houses and random beds of snowdrops. A tarmac road meandered downward, ultimately leading us back to the Boatside Inn and the promise of a hearty meal. To that end we weren’t disappointed and we both enjoyed a roast beef dinner with probably the biggest yorkshire pudding I’ve ever seen!  So although this isn’t a review of the Inn I would still recommend it as a great place to eat.

img_4312

Ron and I found this walk to be really enjoyable despite the muddy tracks being tricky to negotiate in parts, we just had to take a bit more time and care…and hold onto a few branches at times!

I hope our experience has inspired you to enjoy walks in Northumberland and the National Park area. I’ve only shared a snap shot of this walk in photos as I don’t want to spoil it for you! I love reading your comments so if you’ve already tried this walk or have a favourite walk in this area I’d like to hear about it.

You can view the map and information for this walk here and read the highlights of my tour of Northumberland National Park here.

Thanks for reading. Bye for now, June xx

 

 

 

Advertisements

Vallum Farm – Festive Fridays Menu Review

Yes…at last! I finally made it to Vallum Farm in Northumberland, after a planned visit was foiled by me leaving my back pack in one of the visitor centres along Hadrian’s Wall. A one hour around trip to retrieve it meant Ron and I, sadly, ran out of time.

Vallum Farm Tearoom and Restaurant had been on my radar for a while due to all the good reports I’d heard, oh and did I mention I LOVE Christmas too! so you can imagine how thrilled I was to be invited along to preview their new Festive Fridays Menu in the surroundings of the fabulous new Chefs Room.

IMG_9195 (2).JPG

Although known by many as Vallum Farm, the impressive facilities on offer have grown so much over the last 12 years that the venue is now known simply as Vallum – The Foodie Gateway to Hadrian’s Wall. Owners Peter and Vicky Moffitt bring you a welcoming, award winning Tea Room and first floor Restaurant with expansive countryside views, a Patisserie & Deli, an Ice Cream Parlour and a of course the Chefs Room, our venue to experience the delights of the Festive Fridays Menu…and my goodness, what a delight it was!

img_9192

I was one of a group of bloggers invited along and on my arrival, I was met with a friendly welcome by Nick Smith, Vallum’s Restaurant and Events manager, before being escorted into the wonderful setting of the Chefs Room and what a perfect setting it was! The room is beautifully rustic and befitting of the Christmas fayre to be sampled, it was decorated in a cosy, festive style.

img_9173-2

As I took the opportunity to take some photographs my fellow bloggers started to arrive and it was evident from the broad smiles, oohs and ahhs, that they were as impressed with the Chef’s Room as me.

img_9183

We were asked if we’d like to try one of the two new cocktails created to compliment the Festive Friday’s menu: Blackberry Bramble – a blend of gin, Chambord, blackberry juice and ginger ale with a blackberry and mint garnish; and Winter Crumble – a blend of martini bianco, apple juice, ginger ale and Mama Buci honey. Being a Martini Bianco fan I opted for the latter and I found it refreshingly tasty, so much so, that I’ve since bought some ginger ale to recreate my own!

img_9188

Nick then joined us to give an overview of the Restaurant and Chefs Room. Here, the ethos is to provide visitors with exceptional heart-warming dishes using only the finest ingredients from their own site including seasonal produce from the kitchen garden, or sourced from local artisans. For example, their fresh eggs come from Ian, just up the road from Vallum. The Chefs Room aims to provide an informal, relaxed atmosphere, with many dishes served on sharing boards. The room is available for casual dining and can also be hired for events, special occasions and weddings. The head chef and team are also happy to create a bespoke menu for your event.

img_9176

I was enjoying a lovely chat with the other guests when, what can be only be described as a procession of tasty treats began to appear from the kitchen, all beautifully presented on rustic wooden platters. This was the taster board from the menu which included shots of Vallum Kitchen garden celeriac soup; House smoked salmon blini’s; Ingoe scotch egg with black pudding and plum ketchup and crispy rabbit rillette with Anne’s apple chutney. I can honestly say I enjoyed each bite sized morsel of loveliness, with the scotch eggs being as far from the shop bought type that you could imagine…absolutely melt in the mouth yummy! and the celeriac soup far exceeded my taste expectations. I know for sure that Ron would have loved the rabbit rillettes which were oh so moreish.

img_9204

img_9200

img_9202

img_9201

During our tasting we were joined by Vicky who was happy to answer any questions about the menu. Her enthusiasm and passion for delivering great food and a fantastic experience for visitors is evident and it was a pleasure listening to her explaining how Vallum has developed, local suppliers, the kitchen garden and plans for the future including making their own ice cream (once Rose the cow is joined by her soon to be born calf in December). She also explained about Vallum’s latest collaboration with Mama Buci honey, a project, endorsed by ambassador Bear Grylls,  which helps to improve the quality of life of communities in Zambia through beekeeping. To find out more about this inspirational project, click in the link above. The honey is available to purchase in the Deli.

Just as we were all exchanging nods of agreement with each tasty mouthful the kitchen doors opened again and the tables were filled with the main offering of Braised Beef, mashed potato and horseradish dumplings. At this point we all sat down and it all began to feel even more like a big family Christmas dinner. A harvest of fresh from the kitchen garden vegetables accompanied our meal and included carrots and kale.

img_9209-2

img_9211

Even though braised beef isn’t always my first choice, I can honestly say this was melt in your mouth tasty as was the gravy and probably the best I’ve had the pleasure of tasting in a long time. The vegetables were ever so tasty too, which reflected the fact they are home grown. At this point I was starting to feel full when even more festive fayre was bestowed upon us in the form of platters filled with turkey, ham, pigs in blankets (mini sausages wrapped in bacon), stuffing, bread sauce and roast potatoes. Well, as I said, I was just ‘starting’ to feel full, so I managed to find room for one of my all-time favourites, roast potatoes, which I’m delighted to say didn’t disappoint and I managed to enjoy a little try of the other moreish morsels.

img_9213

img_9214

There are also vegetarian and vegan dishes on the menu and of those, I sampled the delicious homemade sunflower loaf and roast potatoes.

img_9210

Now came the only time I was disappointed in the whole day – disappointed as I had to leave early (pre-arranged grandkids school run) and miss the rest of this wonderful Vallum experience!

As Vallum had so far provided me with a wonderful array of irresistible dishes, of which I had enjoyed everything, I, and my waistline, was starting to think it was probably just as well that I wasn’t going to be around for dessert! (a moment on the lips…as the saying goes) But oh no, Vallum’s wonderful hospitality was not going to see me leave empty handed and within minutes I was offered a ‘doggy bag’ (well, box) containing Christmas Pudding and Brandy Sauce (another favourite), Chocolate Delice and Poached pear with Stem Ginger Ice Cream!! so you can guess what I had for my supper. Well, I had to share it with Ron, but that just meant double thumbs up for the Festive Fridays desserts too!

image1
Vallum’s Christmas Pudding (image courtesy of Mandy Charlton Photography)
image2
Vallum’s Chocolate Delice (image courtesy of Mandy Charlton Photography)

I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Vallum and although I didn’t get to stay and meet Rose the dairy cow (who is expecting a calf in December) or view the event Marquee, it means I have another reason apart from the fabulous food, to return soon. The quality of food, great hospitality and friendliness of the team at Vallum make for a great combination. They delivered an exceptional experience that I feel makes them deserving of the tagline ‘the foodie gateway to Hadrian’s Wall’

Vallum’s position on the Military Road, East Wallhouses means it is well placed not only for visitors to Hadrian’s Wall but those visiting Northumberland National Park, the Metro Centre, travelling through Northumberland or just seeking a venue that serves fantastic food.

The Festive Friday Menu is available in the Restaurant and Chefs Room during December on 2nd, 9th, 16th and 23rd 6pm – 9pm. I’d advise booking early to avoid disappointment. You can also enjoy Sunday Lunch in the restaurant between 12pm – 4pm.

I travelled to Vallum by car and from Sunderland. My journey at midday took only 35 minutes and just slightly longer on my return mid-afternoon, not far to experience food at its home produced best.

Have you visited Vallum? I’d love to hear about it.

Thanks for reading and bye for now.

June xx

*My meal and drinks were complimentary in exchange for an honest review.

Northumberland National Park

It’s truly a National Treasure

IMG_7288

It was no surprise to hear that Northumberland National Park (NNP) was voted National Park of the Year at the COUNTRYFILE magazine awards 2015/16. The area is well known for the famous Hadrians Wall and Fort remains however, there is so much more to see and do in this beautiful part of North East England which covers an area of 1,049 km or 405 square miles. I regularly enjoy days out and short breaks here with my husband Ron.

I’ve always loved Northumberland. I was born and raised in one of its many mining towns only leaving to join Ron in Sunderland, which was actually a part of the old Kingdom of Northumbria many centuries ago.

IMG_7262

 

So, you can imagine my delight to be invited along, as a guest of NNP Authority, to experience  some highlights of what the park has to offer. I was part of a small group from Travel Massive (Newcastle) and our host for the day was Duncan Wise, Visitor Development and Marketing Manager for NNP. His friendly manner, enthusiasm and knowledge helped make our day a big hit.

After setting off from Newcastle with my fellow travellers, including Ron, we headed to the first stop on our itinerary, Rothbury, on a road I’m very familiar with. This time however, neither of us were driving so we could enjoy the fantastic scenery even more. One point to add is that the main road into Rothbury, the B6344 road at Crag End, has now been reopened after being closed for major repairs.

IMG_7272

Rothbury, on the edge of the NNP, is one of most popular and picturesque towns in Northumberland, It’s also close to many major attractions and the coast. On arrival we headed to Tomlinson’s Café and Bunkhouse, a fantastic base from which to enjoy the surrounding area with many public footpaths and cycle tracks starting only metres from the property. It is also perfectly placed for cyclists wishing to enjoy all or part of The Sandstone Way, England’s first long distance mountain bike trail. It’s approx. 120 miles/192 km long and runs along the Sandstone Ridge in North Northumberland. Starting and finishing at two of Northumberland’s most historic towns, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Hexham, the route will take you through a landscape full of beautiful scenery, breathtaking views, historical sights and charming villages.

IMG_7275

The café is large and airy with a welcoming atmosphere and the modern rustic décor suits the building perfectly. We were welcomed with hot drinks in the comfortable lounge area where Duncan gave us an overview of the NNP. We were joined by owner Jackie who told us of the buildings origins, it was formerly a school house, and explained the wonderful facilities on offer. A tour of the Bunkhouse showed it is ideal for families, groups and solo travelers, offering comfortable rooms with en-suite facilities. 21 people can be accommodated over the three light and airy rooms of 6,7 or 8 beds. There’s also a Double en-suite room.  The communal lounge has amazing views toward the River Coquet along with a large TV, Sky and WIFI which is free for guests, plus a small kitchenette. The rates are purse friendly too at £20 per bed or £25 with mini breakfast, tea or coffee. It’s easy to see why it was awarded a Trip Advisor certificate of excellence in 2015.

AWFQ1211.jpg

They also have a range of bikes for hire catering for all abilities and will soon be introducing electric bikes for hire. I took the opportunity to try one of these bikes and liked the idea of the little surge of power just when you need it. I enjoyed it so much I’m considering buying one.

IMG_7341

Leaving Rothbury, we headed to the Simonside Hills and Lordenshaws. I’ve not visited this area before and its beauty was evident immediately even in the inclement weather. Climbing one of the footpaths gave fantastic views toward the Cheviot Hills, Sandstone Ridge and the coast. The landscape is home to the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, Bronze Age burial grounds and prehistoric ‘cup and ring’ rock carvings made by our ancestors although it is still not truly known what the carvings mean. There are posts pointing to areas of interest, with QR codes to scan with your smartphone for more information.

IMG_7285

FVIW2408.jpg

 

IMG_7420

From Lordenshaws we headed toward Greenhaugh for lunch. We drove through the Grasslees Valley and Otterburn Ranges which are used for military training and are home to the second largest live firing range in the country. The ranges can be explored and have some of the most spectacular views in the NNP, although visitors should be aware that parts are closed when the red flags are flying.

We had a brief informative stop in Elsdon, the largest village within NNP with a population of around 240 people! NNP is the least populated of The Parks of England and Wales, having a population of about 2000, that’s just two people per square mile. Elsdon features lovely stone houses in a picturesque setting surrounding the village green and is home to a popular tea room which serves the legendary homemade Gibbet cake. Popular with cyclist and walkers alike, it’s a starting point for many countryside walks.

IMG_7452.JPG

We also stopped briefly to view the remains of a Tosson Tower, a Peel Tower built around 600 years ago as a home for the Ogle family and a defence against invasion by the Scots.

We arrived in Greenhaugh, which is one of those places that makes you want to move to the countryside. It’s only small but as one local told me, It the equivalent of their ‘city’ in a parish with a population of around 160 people. This area is home to some beautiful Hay Meadows which have an abundance of wild flowers and would be ideal to explore on foot. Our venue for lunch was The Holly Bush Inn which promised a lot with its Kerb appeal and it certainly delivered once inside. Passing a welcoming open fire in the bar, we were seated in one of the two dining areas. Both are decorated stylishly in differing themes. We were introduced to owner Mary and her son Frankie who run the Inn together. As well the bar and dining facilities the Inn offers 7 beautifully decorated en-suite rooms and a Stargazers Apartment.

IMG_7302

IMG_7324IMG_7310For lunch, Ron and I opted for the Lamb Stew using local produce. I love stew and this did not disappoint, it was accompanied by crusty white bread and was comfort food at its best, both delicious and warming. Ron and I then headed into the rear gardens as the sun had put in an appearance at last! The gardens feature a large fire pit and have fantastic views across the countryside and expansive sky, perfect to enjoy some Stargazing. At approx. 580sq miles, the skies over Greenhaugh are the darkest in England and were awarded Gold Tier Dark Sky Park status by the International Dark Skies Association. A quick chat with the chef who was enjoying a break, revealed how passionate he is about creating great home cooked food.

IMG_7332IMG_7334Returning inside Mary offered us desert and needing no persuading, we opted for Eton Mess (me) and Rhubarb Crumble (Ron), both were scrumptious and served at the large trestle table which is placed to encourage people to mix. It works, as we enjoyed a chat with a couple who were staying in the area.

In a nutshell, this Inn serves up great food, facilities and friendly service and I’m happy to say, at the time of writing I’ve already been back! (but that’s a story for another day).

Our itinerary took us next to Hesleyside to experience a new event known as Mestival

Hesleyside is the ancestral home of the Charlton family. Their beautiful country house is set in woodland and has grounds designed by Capability Brown. This made for a stunning, if not unusual setting, for a 10k fun run of mud, mud and more mud with various obstacles thrown in to add to the challenge.running-81715_1920.jpg

 

It really did look like Muddy Good Fun (as the promotors put it) and if I’d been younger and without neck issues, I’d have loved to give it a go. But as a spectator, it was great to see the huge smiles on the muddy faces of the participants, especially the kids, who were bombarded with water bombs by family members.

We didn’t have much time to enjoy the live bands and stalls but the atmosphere was great despite the weather. Sheltering from rain, we observed people taking part in games and even Ukulele lessons. We even bumped a friend who was there to take part.

Last stop on our tour was The Battlesteads Hotel and Observatory. I was looking forward to this for two reasons. Firstly, I’d already had the pleasure of enjoying a few drinks in their sunny garden so was looking forward to returning; secondly, I’ve always wanted to visit an Observatory.IMG_7359

There was no sunshine this time but at least the rain had stopped. The garden had been enhanced even more since my last visit and was very impressive! It still had the raised herb beds I remembered and these are just a small nod to the wider sustainable tourism ethos of the hotel. Beyond this, further gardens of homegrown produce blended into the countryside views and the Hotels own carbon neutral heating system, the first to be installed in the county, is discreetly tucked away.

IMG_7357IMG_7360IMG_7358

We were joined by Astronomer Roy Alexander who delivers the various Stargazing courses available. He explained that the Hotel and Observatory are located in the Dark Sky Discovery site of Wark Village. This combination offers the beauty of the dark skies with the comfort of modern day facilities. These include an inviting bar with restaurant, 22 individually decorated en-suite bedrooms and 5 newly constructed eco lodges.

Moving on to the observatory we were seated in the warm room, where you could help yourself to tea and coffee. From the very beginning, Roy held our attention with his enthusiasm for his subject as he spoke passionately about his background in science to the present day, before talking about the delights of the dark skies.

IMG_7345.PNG
Enter a caption
Many people have a dream to see The Aurora Borealis or ‘Northern light’s’ and he explained they have been visible clearly on many occasions before providing information about apps which can help identify the best place and time to view them.

northern-light-984001_1280.jpg

As well as Pointing out easy ways to identify popular constellations using binoculars Roy then explained how to adjust them correctly before sending us outside to have a go. I also held a piece of meteorite and touched a piece of Mars. This thrilled me no end and Roy helped me photograph the Mars fragment using my smartphone and a microscope!

IMG_7355.JPGThe conclusion of our visit was an introduction to the centerpiece of the Observatory – the impressive Telescope, which can be set up for multiple visitors to use at the same time. Unfortunately, the rain meant the roof could not be opened so we were unable to take a look into the late afternoon sky.

IMG_7353

On asking Roy what he liked to observe the most, he replied The Moon without hesitation. He loves the way the sun, at various times of the day, casts shadows over the mood highlighting the landscape to great effect. I can honestly say I could have sat there for hours listening to his pearls of astronomical wisdom and myself and Ron would love to return.

The whole set up at Battlesteads lends itself to delivering a fantastic experience for both residents and non-residents alike. I cannot comment on the rooms and food, however the hotel is renowned for both and holds a Trip Advisor certificate of Excellence. Although we did not stay overnight, I can imagine it would be extra special.  We were so impressed that we’d love to return to stay in the Hotel to enjoy a real twist on Sleeping Under The Stars!

Plus, as Roy says, how many observatories can boast their own bar? who could resist?

 

Our tour was now at an end and we returned to Newcastle having had a fantastic day, learning new facts about the regions history along with forming new friendships. I feel that there’s so much of this area just waiting to be discovered an on writing this myself and Ron have already paid a return visit..

If you’d like to plan a visit there’s lots of on information on the user friendly NNP website including information on their Events.

Hope you enjoyed reading about NNP and if you have any favourite places in the park I’d love to hear about them.

Bye for now, June x

*Our tour of the NNP was organized by Kate, who leads our group of travel enthusiasts Travel Massive Newcastle, in conjunction with NNP Authority and Round Table Solutions. **Group photo courtesy of Kate.