As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the Northumberland Coast, Nicola Forsyth picks out some of the things to see and do along this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which spans 39 miles of coastline from Berwick-upon-Tweed in the north to the Coquet Estuary near Alnmouth. Marvel at the dramatic scenery; explore salt marshes and spot the numerous species of birds along this glorious stretch of coastline. The coast is also home to an isolated archipelago – the Farne Islands. While the cluster of 15-20 islands has no permanent human population, it does count numerous species of birds, including puffins, and a grey seal colony.
Photos: Diana Jarvis/Green Traveller
Where to stay
The Northumberland Coast has a wide range of accommodation for all budgets, from caravan parks catering for families to luxury stays in traditionally decorated castles.
Ramblers and ornithologists should head straight to the dunes of the north coast between the mainland and Lindisfarne for the best chances of spotting the 170 or so native bird species. One such place overlooking Holy Island is Fenham Farm, which offers seven independently accessed en-suite rooms, converted from original farm buildings. During winter bird spotters spy some of the six internationally important species of wildfowl and wading birds that reside in Lindisfarne Nature Reserve. The farm’s commitment to sustainability has earned it a Gold award from the Green Tourism Business Scheme.
Heritage seekers can bed down in a 200 year old former Presbyterian church with a pulpit that watches over those communing at breakfast. St Cuthbert's House is a 5-star luxury B&B located in a 200 year old former church in the village of Seahouses on the coast, and near the Cheviot Hills. If you want to experience staying in a Medieval Castle then Langley Castle Hotel is for you. It has nine rooms within the Castle and another 18 within the grounds. It’s luxurious but traditional features include four-poster beds, oak-panelled walls and an open fire in the drawing room. The castle is perfectly located for wandering the woodlands and open meadows of the South Tyne valley. Game of Thrones fans can even have a themed wedding here!
For a cosy cottage stay with evenings spent gazing into a campfire there's Laverock Law - in two acres of woodland and within a stone’s throw of the coast, castles and wildlife, you’ll have plenty to occupy yourself with if you don’t succumb to merely relaxing. You can also enroll on a bread-making or felt-making course.
For something a little more unusual, Springhill Farm offers a number of wigwams, complete with firepits and velux windows for stargazing. If that doesn’t take your fancy, there’s always the old cowshed which has been transformed into a bunkhouse that sleeps 32 guests, or a number of cottages and hideaways to choose from and a campsite. The location is in close proximity to the beach, walking and cycling routes, Banburgh Castle and the Alnwick Garden.
Where to eat
It wouldn’t be right to be so close to the North Sea and not indulge in the local fruits of the sea - including fresh lobster, crab stotties and kippers and brown bread and butter. Unsurprisingly, many of the eateries proudly serve locally-sourced food.
Sniff out a local fishing hub, such as Seahouses and Craster. If you visit the former be sure to stop by Swallowfish - a traditional smokery hidden above the harbour on South Street where you’ll witness producers using methods that date back 170 years to smoke their catch over oak sawdust. Legend has it this may be the birthplace of the smoked kipper. The kitchen has an array of seafood and seasonal shellfish, including homemade potted shrimp. One place to sample Craster kippers, crab stotties and award winning pies - along with a pint of real ale from its microbrewery - is The Ship Inn. Nestled between fishermen’s cottages in Low Newton, it has the feel of being in someone’s front room and sometimes plays host to live music. It gets busy at lunchtime so get there early.
To try more local delicacies such as Border tart (rich fruit tart encrusted in pastry), singing hinnies (Northumbrian bannock) with jam and clotted cream or its signature homemade Lavender cake head to The Lavender Tea Rooms in the pretty village of Etal. A bit of a one stop shop, the cafe is also up a post office, general store and garden centre! Bookworms can combine their love of literature with a dose of caffeine and cake at Barter Books. Situated in a Victorian railway station designed by William Bell in 1887, its shelves are filled with secondhand books. The once forgotten room now houses the Station Buffet, cosy armchair and fire for you to enjoy your food while getting lost in a book. For dessert or a well earned pit stop try Doddington’s ice cream, which also has a few ‘locally flavoured’ ice creams including Newcastle Brown Ale, Alnwick Rum Truffle and Roman Britain.
To stock up on local goodies before heading home, drop by Alnwick Farmers’ Market (the last Friday of each month). As well as artisanal food and drink - from game to homemade kiln bread - it also has a number of craft stalls selling vintage gifts and jewellery. Check if your visit coincides with one of the market’s events, including live music.
Where to visit
A paradise for boat trippers, ramblers, cyclists and bird spotters, the Northumberland coast is full of outdoors adventures. The Farne Islands is a must for animal lovers. Famous for its 37,000 pairs of puffins, jumplings (guillemot chicks) and arctic terns, it attracts many species of birds. It is also home to a large colony of Atlantic or Grey Seals. If you time your visit between autumn and winter you may witness pupping season, when more than 2,000 pups are born.
One way to take in the coastal views while wildlife spotting is on a boat trip. Choose from a number of tour operators, including Golden Gate Farne Islands Boat Trips, which has a choice of five tours, taking in seabird and seal colonies as well as tours designed for ornithologists, photographers and local history enthusiasts. Serenity Boat Tours runs a sunset cruise, whale watching tour and a wildlife photography workshop with conservation photographer Alan Hewitt - with a 360º stable platform on board to help customers capture the perfect photo. The Shiel family have been guiding visitors around the Farne Islands since 1918 and today Billy Shiel's Farne Islands Tours runs a large choice of boat trips, taking in puffins on Staple Island, a cruise of Holy Island and whale and dolphin watching. For more local history of the waters, RNLI Grace Darling Museum, pays tribute to the life of 22-year-old Grace Darling, a lighthouse keeper’s daughter, who risked her life by rowing out to reach nine survivors of the wrecked SS Forfarshire in 1838.
History buffs may want to visit one - or a number - of the local castles and pay homage to more turbulent times gone by. 16th Century Lindisfarne Castle was particularly vulnerable in its day, but has since been subjected to a refurbishment with natural materials to create a rustic, spartan space. Bamburgh Castle also took a battering from Viking raids, sieges and revolts before being restored to its former glory by Victorian industrialist Lord Armstrong (who also built nearby Cragside) can we link to Cragside in the Northumberland NP blog? Today you can wander the 14 public rooms, take in the 2,000 artefacts and scare yourself witness with (literally) haunting tales of ghostly goings on at the castle. Arguably the highlight of your trip, Dunstanburgh Castle, also boasts a number of grisly tales - allegedly including the decapitated ghost of Thomas Plantagenet, who was executed for treason in 1322. The castle was built on the remains of an Iron Age hill fort between 1313-1322, and as a result of fierce fighting, changed hands a number of times during the War of the Roses. To witness history brought to life through costumed guides, visit Alnwick Castle, Britain’s second largest inhabited castle, which dates back to the Norman period.
Horticulturists will want to stop by The Alnwick Garden, which boasts 300 variations of English rose and the world’s largest Tai Haku Cherry Orchard within its 12 acres. As well as water sculptures that explore the effects of physics on water, there’s also a Poison Garden with more than 100 toxic plants such as deadly nightshade, foxglove, strychnine and hemlock.
Things to do
The North Sea coastline has something for waterbabies and land lovers alike. While cold, the waters are clear and teeming with marine life and ship wrecks for those willing to go a little deeper while adrenaline junkies can get their kicks surfing the waves in a kayak or wild swimming. On dry land, you can learn the history behind the landscapes on a geowalk with Northumbrian Earth. Combine your walk with wild swimming to Linhope Spout and explore the history of St Cuthbert’s Cave or book onto a mountain training or map and compass reading course with Footsteps Northumberland. For a guided tour of the 700 years of border history along Berwick’s Elizabethan walls, try Explore Northumberland which will also allow you a peek inside buildings not normally open to the public. For hiking tours on Holy Island, an important nature reserve, which is also the “cradle of Christianity” for pagan Northumbria, consider the selection of tours on offer at Holy Island Hikes.
If you’d rather go solo, there’s 64 miles of coastal pathways awaiting your exploration running from Cresswell in the south up to Berwick in the north. Northumberland Coast Path takes in dramatic cliffs, sandy beaches, hidden coves, colourful fishing villages and ancient castles. The path is mostly well signposted, following bridleways and footpaths and can easily be divided into six day-long sections.
Thrill seekers looking to surf in a kayak, rock climb, paddle the River Coquet or camp out on a 2-day adventure in the less-explored side of Kielder Water check out Adventure Northumberland. Water sports fans looking to learn to sail, kayak, canoe, windsurf, powerboat and build rafts can consider Coquet Shorebase Trust. Bird lovers may want to kayak to eider and shelduck duckling creches or take a guided tour to Coquet Island, a tiny RSPB reserve that’s home to 35,000 nesting terns, kittiwakes, fulmar, gulls and eider ducks in summer. Sovereign Diving will help you explore shipwrecks and search for conger eels, wolfish, spider crabs, brittle stars, sea urchins and sun stars as well as the local seal colony.
For more ideas on where to stay, local food and drink, visitor attractions and activities, see our Green Traveller's Guide to the Northumberland Coast