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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
I’m always saying I’d love to see more of Scotland, another country that’s can be reached in under 2 hours from where I live, but like many others, I let my travels take me abroad to guarantee some warm weather to accompany my cultural experience.
So after spotting a 2 night hotel deal, we booked a stay in the Dumfries and Galloway (D&G) region and after visiting areas mainly to the east, I was looking forward to be heading west.
The route we took was a bit unconventional due to hubby’s work and saw us travel from Wearside to Belford in Northumberland then through Northumberland Park before joining the A69 to Carlisle and onwards. This meant a lovely little stop over for me at Sunnyhills Farm Shop and Café to enjoy coffee, cake and a bit glossy magazine reading to pass the time. The café had a welcoming atmosphere with views across the countryside and served good quality coffee (and free refills which was unexpected but great as I was there a while) and the cake portion was so generous I actually kept half for Ron.
I’d love to say something positive about the next part of our journey as we were driving through the beautiful Northumberland National Park however, car trouble put paid to that! So concentration was the order of the day and our car, which has never let us down, tried its very best and managed to get us to within 100 yards of our hotel before coming to a halt. I won’t bore you with the details but I’m happy to say our recovery service were amazing, providing us with a nifty hire car and taking our beloved car back home. So on with the weekend.
We were staying at the Hetland Hall Hotel and while it needed some updating it more than made up for it with fantastic service, wonderful food and some of the friendliest staff I’ve come across.
We decided to meander our way to the Solway Firth, a designated coastal Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and our first stop was Sweetheart Abbey in the Village of New Abbey. This pretty village was voted Best Small village in Scotland 2012 and a stroll around revealed sights which will have helped it take the title, including cottages with quaint kerb appeal and a tranquil Mill Pond with its sun dappled water and seating for a moments quiet reflection.
The 13th century Abbey, though partially ruined, has a quiet beauty to it and is bound with a story of enduring love. Following the death of her husband Lord John Balliol, Lady Dervorgilla of Galloway had her husband’s heart embalmed and placed in an ornate ivory casket which she carried wherever she went. The abbey was founded by Dervorgilla in his memory, and named Dulce Cor (Latin for ‘Sweet Heart’). When she too died, Dervorgilla was laid to rest in front of the abbey church’s high altar, clutching her husband’s heart to her bosom.
The Abbey was a recommendation from Abbey Cottage Tearoom after I mentioned my upcoming visit on Instagram, so where better to enjoy a coffee before continuing our journey. We relaxed in their sunny courtyard garden and although we didn’t eat here, the food being served at other tables looked lovely and the staff we’re welcoming and friendly. I would certainly return.
I must add at this point that I had downloaded a nifty little app from ‘Welcome to Scotland’ (as mentioned in the hotel literature). This was an invaluable source of information and a quick look during coffee had shown us that Rockcliffe would be a nice place to visit and do some walking. On the way we spotted a large advertising board in a field for The Steamboat Inn and with its promise of fresh seafood we found ourselves heading for Carsethorne.
Carsethorne is a small ‘one way in and out’ fishing village on the banks of the Solway. The Inn was full of character and packed full of coastal and countryside ‘nick nacks’ and the outdoor space on the edge of the water was a relaxing area with floral displays, plenty of seating and shady umbrellas. It was sunny but breezy so we opted to eat inside and sat in deep armchairs beside the unlit fire (it still felt cosy though) and because of our seating arrangement we decided on the sharing platter of various seafood items, chicken, wedges and dips. It was all very nice but I’ve no photo to show you so you’ll have to take my word for it.
We headed outside to finish our drinks and sat marveling at the vastness of the Solway Firth and beauty of the countryside surrounding it. Then, feeling pleased with ourselves that our chance culinary find had turned out to be a good decision, we headed to Rockcliffe.
Rockcliffe is a very small coastal village situated on the eastern side of the river Urr estuary and on arrival we could see immediately that we’d made a good choice. The small car park had a very useful information point and a short stroll led us to a shore that was stunningly beautiful.
At low tide the water is so shallow there’s not even a ripple and it seems frozen in time plus the firm mud and a natural causeway means it’s possible to walk over to Rough Island however, it’s important to check the tide tables in advance.
We opted to walk one of the circular routes to Kippford and back. This was an easy to moderate walk of approx. 3.25 miles on well signed and maintained footpaths throwing up beautiful scenery along the way along with gorgeous houses and gardens.
We definitely had a touch of ‘location envy’ and we weren’t alone in enjoying this area with people passing us at intervals and all with a friendly greeting.
What I wasn’t expecting was a ghoulish hidden Grotto full of items not out of place in a ‘Ghost Train’ ride. So was the sense of humour of one local who had opened up this little part of his land to the passing public.
Walking into Kippford was one of those ‘who’d have thought this place was here’ moments as we were met with whitewashed cottages, a harbour of sailing boats, cafes and a pub! Yes a Pub! I mean, don’t we all dream of a lovely country pub at the end of a lovely walk? Well, halfway through in this case but we like a pit stop! and so we had one at the Anchor Hotel. It was lovely to sit outside the in the sun and take in the ever changing green of the landscape as the sun and clouds tussled with each other in the sky. We even had a bit of company!
The return part of the walk would take us along the Jubilee Path on more elevated ground away from the water but just as pleasant. At the end of this walk we mused about how lovely it must be to live somewhere like this, and at that point I realised I was in danger of checking out Rightmove and hauling my belongings across the border!
The joys of the day had taken its toll so relaxation was the order of the evening with room service food (again so tasty and well presented) a few drinkies.
The following morning after waving bye bye to our car, which was being transported back home, we decided the head back in the direction we came and pay a visit to Gretna Green. Even though I’d heard it had become very commercial since its humble beginnings I still had to visit the site of many an elopement, a beacon of hope for many and the end point of many a carriage chase…The Blacksmiths Cottage!
Yes, it is very busy with tourists in abundance but I must admit the whole ‘complex’ as I’ll call it is very well designed, looks nice and welcoming and has lots of shops and facilities. However, I was only really interested in the history of The Blacksmiths Cottage so headed straight for the Gretna Green Story Exhibition. Here the story was brought to life and with interactive elements, story boards, memorabilia and more. For me though, just to stand there in the spots where so many hearts had been united in love was worth the visit for me. I could feel something special about the place and even shared a couple of quick kisses with Ron while holding hands and striking the famous anvils (there’s more than one and the original is housed in a glass case).
We’d didn’t hang around to find each other again in the Courtship Maze or shop for souvenirs instead choosing to drive to Carlisle as I’d not been there before.
To be honest I don’t even have a photograph from Carlisle. It wasn’t easy to find your way to the car parking and even the castle didn’t inspire me to walk up to its walls (I LOVE castles, but strangely this one held no draw for me, was it not picturesque enough after the beauty of the D&G? Was I just weary, I can’t put my finger on it)? A quick walk around the town centre had me impressed with Carlisle as a great place for a day of shopping and lunch with friends, with its many eateries, al fresco seating and a good mixture of shops.
We had such a great time that heading home we were already talking of a return to D&G. We’d like to visit areas including Kirkcudbright, known as the Artists’ Town and the Galloway Forest Park which is a haven for walkers, cyclists, adventurers and Dark Skies enthusiasts.
If you’ve visited any of the areas I’ve enjoyed/plan to visit or have any recommendations let me know. Did you or someone you know get married at Gretna Green? I’d love to hear your experiences.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For 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.
Returning 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The 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.
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.