As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Northumberland Coast, Jo Keeling picks out a selection of walking, wildlife and adventure activities in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) along the coast of northeast England.
The North Sea coastline is fascinating on many levels – the water may be cold but it’s clear and filled with marine life; the ancient rocks give an insight into a former world of giant amphibians and vast deltas crowded with tree ferns; and the waves are oh so tempting for adrenaline junkies. Here you can surf the waves in a kayak; traverse the cliff face on a coasteering adventure; swim through the crankshaft of a submerged wreck; marvel at the sight of underwater pillars of dolerite encrusted with plumrose anemones, sponge and deadmans fingers and play with the largest seal colony in the North Sea (watch out, they nibble your fins).
Back on dry land, take a guided walk with a geology expert; a wild swimming ramble to Linhope Spout; explore St Cuthbert’s Cave, where the Lindisfarne monks brought the body of St Cuthbert in 875 AD while fleeing Viking raids and seek out wild goats and red grouse in the northern Cheviots.
Delve deeper into the Northumbrian landscape on a guided walk with Patrick Norris, a former countryside ranger with over 20 years experience and a passion for sharing his knowledge. Patrick hosts walks most days, including a wild swimming ramble to Linhope Spout in the the Ingram Valley; a chance to explore St Cuthbert’s Cave, where the Lindisfarne monks are said to have brought the body of St Cuthbert in 875 AD while fleeing Viking raids and a moorland hike in the northern Cheviots, seeking out wild goats, red grouse and an Iron Age hill fort. footstepsnorthumberland.co.uk/
Take a guided walk along Berwick’s Elizabethan walls, delving into 700 years of turbulent border history. One of the main attractions of this tour is that it allows you to peep inside buildings not normally open to the public such as a 16th-century gun emplacement, 18th-century garrison gunpowder magazine and an ice-house built in the 1780s for the salmon trade. Check the website for self-guided walk descriptions and maps including a Fishy Trail, which seeks out Berwick’s seafaring heritage, stopping in at the home of a 19th century whaler complete with harpoon heads over the doorway and a number of ice houses. explore-northumberland.co.uk
Holy Island Hikes
Holy Island in Northumberland is a nature reserve of international importance for both bird and plant life. It also has a rich history, being the “cradle of Christianity” for pagan Northumbria. There is always something interesting to see here and these walks, led by an experienced local guide, will introduce you to the many facets of life on the island. The walks leader Mary Gunn is a member of one of the traditional fishing families and has a deep knowledge of and passion for her island home. Whatever your interests, there will be a walk to suit you: follow in the footsteps of the Celtic pilgrims along the Pilgrims Way, discover the remains of a medieval village hidden in the dunes or hunt for a rare Northumbrian orchid. holyislandhikes.co.uk
Northumbrian Earth - Geo Walks
Something large and boring happened on the coast at Seahouses, and this is an opportunity to find out what and why. So starts one of the imaginative introductions to a family geowalk with Dr Ian Kille, expert and enthusiast on all things geological in Northumberland. Take a walk to investigate a â€œpavement which has been sprinkled with fossilised sea-urchins-up-a-stick and mint humbugs and find fossil zip-fasteners and polo mints, looking for pebble stories and taking massive steps of thousands of grandmothers each. Along with local providers Dr Kille can also help you plan an entire landscape-themed holiday. You could find yourself exploring the Whin Sill, a great slug of igneous rock on which Bamburgh Castle, Lindisfarne and Hadrian’s Wall were strategically placed, investigating the area’s industrial archaeology and finding out why the rich bio-diversirty of the area is linked to the rocks underlying it. northumbrianearth.co.uk
Northumberland Coast Path
Running from Cresswell in the south up to Berwick in the north, the Northumberland Coast Path hugs the coast of the UK's most northerly county for 64 miles. This has to be one of the most stunning stretches of scenery in the UK, a seascape of dramatic cliffs, sandy beaches and hidden coves, peppered with colourful fishing villages and ancient castles. The path is mostly well signposted, following bridleways and footpaths, occasionally dipping down to walk along stretches of beach or veering off along unmarked tracks and paths. If you're not up to tackling the whole trail in one go, the path can be easily divided into six day-long sections. northumberland.gov.uk
Golden Gate Farne Islands Boat Trips, Northumberland
With Golden Gate you have a choice of five tours: Inner Farne (3hrs) with St Cuthbert’s tiny chapel hermitage; Staple Island to see the breeding seabird colonies (3hrs); an island cruise with a chance to observe the largest seal colony in the North Sea (1.5 hours) and an all day excursion pitched at ornithologists, photographers and local history enthusiasts. Exclusive to Golden Gate is a guided tour of Longstone Lighthouse, former home of local heroine Grace Darling, who at 22-years-old risked her life in rowing out to reach the wrecked SS Forfarshire in raging seas. farneislandsboattrips.co.uk
This Alnwick-based activity outfit has a wide range of experiences: hire an electric bike; surf the North Sea waves in a kayak; take a gentle paddle down the River Coquet passing Warkworth hermitage; traverse the cliff face on a coasteering adventure; practice your navigation skills and master rock climbing. If you’re feeling more intrepid, you can even embark on a 2-day microadventure to sleep out on the less-explored side of Kielder Water under the UK’s clearest skies. adventurenorthumberland.co.uk
Coquet Shorebase Trust, Northumberland Coast
This community focused water sports venture, based in Amble, leads courses in sailing, kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing, powerboating and raft building. 8-14 year olds can try out pirateering by searching for Blackbeard’s treasure and paddling a boat to a lost island. Older adventurers might like to seek out eider and shelduck duckling creches by kayak 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 duck in summer. coquetshorebase.org.uk
Sovereign Diving, Northumberland Coast
The water around the Farne Islands may be cold but it’s clear and filled with marine life. This is your chance to explore sheer cliff faces and deep fissures fringed with kelp; swim through the crankshaft of a submerged wreck; seek out conger eels and wolfish in a scuppered ship; marvel at the sight of underwater pillars of dolerite encrusted with plumrose anemones, sponge and deadmans fingers and play with the largest seal colony in the North Sea (watch out, they like to nibble your fins). Along the way, you can look out for spider crabs, brittle stars, sea urchins and sun stars. sovereigndiving.co.uk
Billy Shiel's Farne Islands Tours, Northumberland Coast
The Shiel family have been guiding visitors around the Farne Islands since 1918, when the odd ornithologist would ask for a lift out on the lobster boats. Today, Billy Shiel Junior leads a fleet of seven passenger boats and a high speed RIB with a choice of 11 tours. Observe the cliff face colonies on Inner Farne (2.5 hours); observe 10,000 nesting pairs of puffins on Staple Island (2.5 hours); explore the priory, castle and winery on a Holy Island Cruise (4 hours) and keep an eye out for white-beaked dolphins, harbour porpoise, minke whales and orcas on a Pelagic Cruise (4 hours). The most unusual tour is 3-hours trip in a traditional coble fishing boat, which lets you haul in lobster pots and practice hand line fishing for mackerel or pollack. farne-islands.com
Serenity Boat Tours, Northumberland Coast
Serenity Boat Tours are well-suited to wildlife enthusiasts, with plenty of space for photography equipment, a 360º stable platform and an onboard naturalist. As well as the usual tours to Inner Farne, Staple Island and all-day birding trips, you can join a wildlife photography workshop with conservation photographer Alan Hewitt; take a whale watching tour or embark on a sunset cruise to take full advantage of the warm light of the ‘golden hour’. In winter, you can seek out seals, black guillemots and waders before heading along the coast to Holy Island in search of long-tailed ducks, scoters, grebes and divers. farneislandstours.co.uk
For more ideas for green holidays in the area, see our Green Traveller's Guide to the Northumberland Coast