Spring really did sprung early April, with the sun shining warmth and the nights getting lighter. It was what we needed for motivation to get out the house and explore once more. It had been some time since Fuss Free family had wide open spaces, pretty scenery and the fun of being out. Winter had kept us indoors, along with a lack of transport. We were fortunate enough to have the loan of a car, and nothing was stopping us.
The last few months had been rather difficult (which has reflected in my lack of writing), and yet, with a few simple, fuss free days out, we feel refreshed and slightly more ready to take on life as we know it. Sometimes all you need is the wind in your hair, the sand between your toes, the smell of trees or the views across the sea to make you take a breath and feel the next step with a little less effort.
We live in a town that is pretty well known for it’s tourism, and yet living here seemingly offers very little opportunity. We’re a stones throw from some wondrous places, beaches, buildings, the hills and forests. So let me share with you some ideas for great family days out in the very North of Northumberland.
Trip 1 a family outing to Dundock woods
Dunock woods are situated in the ground of The Hirsel at Coldstream, just over the Scottish Border. Dundock wood is well known for it’s beautiful display of rhododendrons, but unfortunately we were a little too early for this. Despite this, the wood is a fantastic place for all to have a jolly good rampage. There is a public pathway that you can follow throughout the wood, which is easy on the foot and suitable for most. You can visit a bird hide that looks out across the lake, and at the end of your trudge you can visit the arts and crafts centre and the lovely Hirsel tea room.
After we’d been for our walk round the lake and explored the woods a little, we chose to go back to Coldstream for chips. We parked by the river and ate them in the car (such etiquette). Unfortunately at this point I discovered the battery on the car had died and we were stranded until a most friendly recovery man came out and saved us. All was fine in the end.
A lovely day out, and well loved by all in our family. Nothing fancy, but the scenery is great, the walk is enjoyable and it’s just right for that feeling of getting out and about. Dog friendly, but a lack of dog bins. Wellies are advised.
Trip two Bamburgh beach and Seahouses.
Bamburgh is just down the coast from us, and we can see the castle from our bedroom windows. It has been another favourite or us, right from my own childhood. The beaches on that part of the coast are vast and wonderful soft sand. They never seem to get very crowded either, which is appreciated.
The beaches don’t have amenities, there isn’t a lifeguard on watch, and sometimes you have to walk about half a mile (if not more) to get to your beach, but trust me, it’s worth it. All you need is perhaps a blanket to sit on, a few refreshments and maybe some beach entertainment like a kite, boules, and of course a bucket and spade. Play it safe with a shade tent and sun block.
I’ve been known to plonk myself on the beach, set the children free and sit and read while the world goes by. Blissful. Children can build a sandcastle for hours.
On one of the parts of Bamburgh beach, you often get a large puddle after the sea has gone out. It is perfect for paddling as it doesn’t have waves or currents, and feels slightly warmer.
Parking is a bit of an issue. Depends where you go. Some of it is free, but very crowded. The paying car parks are perhaps a little safer, security wise as there is an attendant there until about 6pm. There is also a public loo at the paying car park, but I advise that is it not suitable for baby changing, and you have to be very in need if you want to go here. Take lots of wipes and antibacterial hand gel!
Our day on the beach was lovely. Just The Husband, and the two younger ones. Jasper’s first proper beach outing. He didn’t mind the sand, but wasn’t keen on the sea. Thought the large dried sea weed was most excellent. Neets set about making a grand sand turtle. Mr Jen and I tried to fly a kite, to no avail. Something we need to master I fear.
There is something you must do once you’ve had a day at the beach. Apart from try to get rid of all the sand that goes everywhere, you must go get either chips or ice cream at Seahouses. The best place to get ice cream is at Coxons, and you must must get a waffle cone. We’d just got ours, when a family with three children come behind. One of the boys looks at me, and says to his Dad, I want one like that. Good choice.
Trip three Berwick-upon-Tweed Elizabethan walls
We live in a rather historical town, which has some amazing facts and stories behind it, one of which is that it is a walled town, aging from Elizabethan times (and some parts before this). We travel past the walls on a regular basis, thus taking them for granted somewhat. Also living in a town, you so easily forget what is around you.
However, we’ve been out exploring close to home and had some marvellous walks in the evenings. The walls run round the old part of town, and are accessible at many points. Most of the access points are up steps, but there are at least six points I’m aware of that you can access with wheels (of the non-motorised variety).
Once on the walls, you can follow a path in either direction you like. There are some hills, which are fairly steep, but not very big. You can walk a complete circular route all the way round, or you can chose a section to walk. The circular route takes approximately 45 minutes in total.
One important point that anyone who ventures on to the walls should know, is that there are sections of the path that have sheer drops of a significant height. Some of these drops are hidden. What looks like a grass bank, suddenly goes to a sheer drop of wall, some of which are over five metres. Very dangerous for all, particularly children and dogs. There are many warning signs, and the basic advice, that should be adhered at all times, is stay on the paths. There are no safety fences in place. When walking Jasper on the more dangerous parts, we kept him on his reins.
The walk on the walls gives you wonderful views over the town, views of the river and sea, and all kinds of old buildings and sights about the town. I find it quite quiet too, although you’re in the town centre, you get a kind of peace. You will pass dog walkers, joggers, tourists of all age and size, but it’s never really very busy.
Trip four Lindisfarne
Only a few miles down the road from us is the majestic island of Lindisfarne.
Lindisfarne is also known as Holy island, is an island that can only be accessed at low tide via a causeway. There is something rather magical about Lindisfarne, which is probably partly due to it being limited access. It also has history, with a castle and a priory, great for wildlife spotting, fauna and flora, and peaceful sandy beaches.
Although many tourists flock here at the height of summer, and most major holidays, it is a peaceful place where you can easily find your own space to enjoy. There is one main car park with plenty of spaces, with good access to the rest of the island. Parking charges are £2.40 for 3 hours or £4.40 for an all day ticket. There is often a refreshment van parked here, which can be handy.
You can catch the Castle shuttle bus from the car park, which will take you all the way to the bottom of the castle. The shuttle bus runs every 20 minutes and you can ride both ways. Handy if you’re not up to walking.
Once leaving the car park, there is a short walk in to the village. The village is small, but has a post office, a pub, a handful of shops, and several places where you can either have a meal or light refreshment. We like The Stables café, a small place with tables in a small courtyard, but nice and quiet and lovely staff.
Also in the village is a National trust shop, with some local history information and The Lindisfarne Mead information centre and shop. Lindisfarne Mead was made by the monks that used to live here, so has a rather splendid history and not a bad taste. At the information centre you can sample the mead and find out all about it.
There aren’t very good public loo facilities on the island, and pretty dire baby changing options. I’ve always found it easier to just change Jasper in the car. However there are loos available in all the eating places, and if you don’t mind a well used public facility, there is one near the bus park.
On The East side of the village is the path up to the castle.
It’s not a bad walk, with wonderful views across the harbour and the sea. You will almost always find an icecream van here with local icecream. The walk follows the road, and although there is no public access to this road, you sometimes find cars going up and down here, and the castle shuttle bus goes this way. So just be careful. There is plenty of grass to walk on.
On the way to the castle is a fairly newly built wild life observatory, with some information on some of the island’s wildlife.
Before you get to the castle, if you look over to your left, you will see a garden. This is called The Gertrude Jekyll garden. Admission is free and is well worth a look. Beautifully kept, with many flowers for the benefit of wildlife.
The castle itself sits on a rocky hill. You follow a path up the side, where half way you will find an area with what looks like upsidedown boats. These are local sheds, which are actual upturned boats made in to sheds. Just a short walk from here, down a path are some lime kilns, which ay be of interest.
If you want to go to the castle, you will have to pay. Prices as I last looked were £7 for an adult, £3.90 for a child. The castle is most splendid with much information on its history and much to be impressed with.
Back on the village side of the island, you will find the priory on The South side. This was built by monks almost 1400 years ago. It stands in ruin, but they are still impressive and you can feel a sense of awe as you stand among the broken walls. The history here is immense, and I couldn’t possibly summarise it. You can read about The Lindisfarne gospels, Saint Cuthbert, Saint Oswald and so much more. Many people come here for pilgrimage, and once you get an understanding of the place, you can see why.
We’ve been here for a short visit while the tides were out, but have also stayed on the island while the tide came in. Which was rather nice. The only disadvantage of this is that some of the shops and cafes close during this time, as well as the castle.
The beaches on Lindisfarne are beautiful soft sand. However on the North side in particular, the tide goes so far out that a walk to the sea can mean quite a trek.
So on our recent day out at Lindisfarne we met Jasper’s Grandparents, took a walk along the path to the castle and had a light lunch in one of the cafes. It was a lovely day out, albeit a little cold with the sea breeze coming straight off the sea.
On the way home, we stopped at a place on the other side of the causeway called Barn at Beal and had a cup of tea, looking out over the wonderful views.
Trip five Spittal beach
Just over the river Tweed from us is Spittal. We may live a stones throw from the sea, but the best beach with decent access is at Spittal.
Here at Spittal is a golden sand beach, with a long promenade to walk a long. There may not be much to it, and very little in the way of added entertainment, but it can be a good place to roam, play and spend some nice time outside.
The beach is long and wide, and rather clean (as beaches go). There are rock pools on one end, and if you like foraging for sea glass and shells, this is an excellent beach to search. With free parking close by, and a playpark, including a water play area. During summer you will find a few extra things, like an inflatable slide and trampolines (which you have to pay for). There is a small café and loos.
We often like to pop down here for a bit of a leg stretch. A walk a long the promenade and a run around the park.
Trip six Ford and Etal Estate
Twelve miles South East of Berwick is a small village called Etal. Etal is part of the Ford and Etal estates, owned by The Joicey family. You can park in the village and roam from here. The village is tiny, but has a pub and café. At the back of the village is the castle ruins. Dating back to 14th century, there is much history to read about here.
A short walk from the car park at the castle, you will find the river Till. A peaceful area with picnic tables. You can also follow a footpath along the river from here, which is all signposted. Although we didn’t feel this was suitable for Jasper.
At the back of the castle is a footpath down to the point where you can board the Heatherslaw light railway. This a 15″ gauge steam engine railway that runs for almost 4 miles from Etal to Heatherslaw along the river. At Heatherslaw is a working mill, where they make flours, and you can view the museum here to learn more. There is another tea room at Heatherslaw. The railway is a return journey, and you can join at either end.
After a walk about Etal, we drove along the road for approximately 2 miles to the village of Ford.
Ford is a beautiful small village, with a castle of it’s own, an old smithy, a splendid church, museum and more tea rooms.
We enjoyed a roam about, particularly along the avenue of teas that runs from the main part of the village to the church. Ford sits on the side of a hill, and looks out over towards The Cheviot hills, so there are most fabulous views.
Ford castle is unfortunately not open to the public, as it is a residential school for outward bound activities. The castle dates back to the 13th century and has a very colourful past. You can get a glimpse of the buildings from the ground outside the church.
There are at least three tea rooms to chose from in the village, so we chose one called The old dairy. A very interesting place, full of all sorts of things, with seating areas in all different places. It was rather fabulous. The weather was lovely on the day we went, so we enjoyed sitting outside, looking across Milfield plains towards the Cheviot hills.
Trip seven; The College Valley
The College Valley is a very tranquil place sitting on The Scottish Borders, 12000 acres set in The Northumberland National Park. It is a haven for wildlife and natural vegetation, with as little human impact as possible. Which is why most of the valley is not accessible to the public via vehicle, although there is a public right of way to walk.
You can apply for a permit most of the year round, not including the lambing months of April and May. A permit costs £10 and can be applied for at Smiths Gore in Wooler. Although there is a limit of 12 permits per day. The permit allows you to drive up the road from Hethpool.
Forestry lorries use the roads regularly, so you must take much care when either walking or driving. The road is very narrow, and single track only, with many blind bends and hill summits.
You can park for free at Hethpool, which is the small hamlet at the bottom of the valley. From here you can set off on a major hike in many directions, or take a light stroll up the road, down to the river or up the nearest small hill. The space is wonderful, the air so fresh, and the lack of human noise is just the best.
There are no public facilities here. No tea rooms nor even a loo. But an ideal place for a picnic. Just remember to respect the place you’re in, keep it clean and tidy, keep noise to a minimum. Look out for the local residents, there are snakes called adders here. Just stay away from them. And the livestock like to be left alone too. Dogs should always be on leads. Don’t pick the wild flowers.
I used to live here, so going back for me is extra special. It was my playground. I love sharing this with my children and husband, but I can’t help feeling that this place would be special for anyone visiting.
All these places have been a joy to visit, and have entertained us all. You don’t even have to spend a fortune to have a day out. So if you find yourself in the very Northern stretches of Northumberland, it’s worth having a roam. There is so much to do and see.