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  • Writer's pictureGreen Traveller

Local Visitor Attractions along the Northumberland Coast

As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Northumberland Coast, Jo Keeling picks out a selection of natural and cultural attractions - heritage, museums and gardens - on this glorious stretch of the coast of northeast England.

The Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is an incredibly diverse area with many rare and distinctive species. If you have even the slightest interest in birds, you really can’t miss the Farne Islands, an archipelago lying a few miles off the coast at Seahouses that has been attracting ornithologists for decades. Time your visit well and you could see 1,000 grey seal pups, gannets exploding into the sea, Arctic terns dive-bombing visitors, jumplings (guillemot chicks) taking their first leap of faith away from the nest and 37,000 pairs of puffin, which skim away from the tour boats’ wake like clockwork toys.

The coast has also attracted some interesting characters over the years – from cave-dwelling hermits to the flamboyant ‘Gay Delavals,’ notorious pranksters who hosted masquerade balls. Today, the resident Duchess of Northumberland is still shaping the landscape by creating the playful Alnwick Garden with its water sculptures, Poison Garden and wonderfully ramshackle treehouse restaurant. Read on for our guide to the most intriguing sites both for wildlife and heritage.

Google map: shows the location and details of all the places to stay, local food and drink, nearby visitor attractions and activities in our Green Travel Guide to the Northumberland Coast:

Green = Places to stay Blue = Local food & drink Yellow = Attractions Purple = Activities

Places to visit on the Northumberland Coast

Lindisfarne Castle, Northumberland Coast

The North Sea coast was once a volatile borderland, with Viking raids an ongoing threat from the seaward side and regular skirmishes between the Scots and the English, and Lindisfarne was particularly vulnerable. This 16th-century castle and former fort was built using stones from the priory on the highest point of the island. In 1901, publishing magnate Edward Hudson, who owned Country Life magazine, bought the castle and employed Sir Edwin Lutyens to refurbish it in the Arts and Crafts style, using natural materials to create a rustic, spartan space. Lutyen’s good friend Gertrude Jekyll designed the walled garden. Keep an eye out for the quirky wind indicator, sheds made from disused herring boats and the well-preserved lime kilns by the shore.

Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland Coast

Built on a prominent dolerite outcrop on top of an ancient hillfort, Bamburgh Castle is a sight to behold. After a turbulent history of Viking raids, sieges and revolts, the castle was restored to its former glory by Victorian industrialist Lord Armstrong (who also built nearby Cragside) and today visitors can explore 14 public rooms and 2,000 artefacts, including an exhibition of Armstrong’s aviation artefacts in the laundry room. As you’d expect, over the years the castle has picked up its fair share of ghost stories. One legend tells of an old man sent by St Cuthbert to steal St Oswald’s Head; another of a beautiful step daughter turned into a fire-breathing dragon. The Pink Lady, a princess who threw herself from the battlements, is said to patrol the grounds along with Dr John Sharpe, who just wanders around keeping on eye on things.

Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland Coast

Whether you set out from The Ship Inn at Low Newton or from Craster harbour, a ramble along the coast path to Dunstanburgh Castle is likely to be a highlight of your trip to the North Sea coast. The castle was built on the remains of an Iron Age hill fort between 1313-1322 just as relations between King Edward II and his most powerful baron, Earl Thomas of Lancaster, were becoming openly hostile. It soon became the focus of fierce fighting during the War of the Roses and changed hands five times. Today, the castle is said to be haunted by a number of ghosts – most notably Thomas Plantagenet, who was executed for treason in 1322. Apparently the bumbling executioner delivered 11 strokes before he finally decapitated Thomas, who is said to roam the ruins carrying his mangled head.

Aln Valley Railway, Northumberland Coast

This standard gauge heritage railway runs for three miles between Alnwick and Alnmouth (Anglo-Saxon for the “farm on the river Aln”to the “mouth of the river Aln”). Beyond its appeal as a tourist attraction, it’s also an ambitious project to restore the branch line, which was originally constructed in 1850. The railway owns an impressive collection of vintage rolling stock from a 19th-century North Eastern Railway observation saloon to quirky contraptions such as the Muscleman (a self propelling vehicle used to lift and slew the track from side to side). For just £3.50 you can ride the line all day, or even drive the engine for a tenner.

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland Coast

Britain’s second largest inhabited castle has been home to the Duke of Northumberland’s family, the Percys, for the past 700 years. Along the way, it has been host to some intriguing characters including a gunpowder plotter, decadent collectors, medieval England’s most celebrated knight and the cast of Downton Abbey. Costumed guides bring the history to life alongside fire-eating jesters, medieval minstrels, falconers, sword-wielding knights and wizard professors, who can help you brush up on your broomstick-riding skills. If you fancy a more refined day out, head to the castle’s lavish state rooms, inspired by the Italian Renaissance, where you can indulge in the work of Canaletto, Titian, Van Dyck, Turner, and Dobson or marvel at the priceless Cucci cabinets, originally created for Louis XIV of France. There are hidden owls and dragons in each room to stave off yawning younglings.

Ford and Etal Estate, Northumberland Coast

Ford and Etal are two exceptionally pretty villages in the River Till valley between the Scottish border and the Cheviot Hills. For such a small estate, there’s plenty to do. Take a ride on the 15” gauge steam railway; explore a fully-restored corn mill powered that still makes stoneground, wholemeal flour; walk around the remains of a former colliery and ramble over Flodden Battlefield, the site of a particularly bloody conflict between the English and Scottish armies in 1513. A tempting network of footpaths, quiet lanes and bridleways spiral away from the estate. Don’t miss the Duddo Standing Stones, known locally as The Singing Stones after the strange whistling sound they make when the wind blows from a certain direction.

Seaton Delaval Hall, Northumberland Coast

This grand Georgian mansion was home to the flamboyant Delavals family, known as the ‘Gay Delavals’ due to their larger-than-life characters. Beyond the formal architecture, Captain Francis Blake Delaval and his eight sons and four daughters were notorious partygoers and pranksters. They staged theatrical productions and masquerade balls, hosted rope dancers and sack races and instigated their fare share of theatrical mischief. One time a guest awoke to find his room turned completely upside down with furniture fixed to the ceiling. Today, you can explore the rose garden, the grand stone stables and the immense Central Hall designed by architect Sir John Vanbrugh, who also put his name to Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace.

The Alnwick Garden, Northumberland Coast

Dreamt up by the Duchess of Northumberland with playfulness and wonder, Alnwick is surely one of the world’s most ambitious gardens. It is designed to tantalise each of your senses. The rose garden showcases 200 variations of English rose along with fragrant honeysuckle and clematis. With a series of water sculptures exploring the effects of physics on water, the Serpent’s Garden culminates in an interactive fountain that fills slowly until its jets spring to life. The Poison Garden curates over 100 deadly plants such as deadly nightshade, foxglove, strychnine and hemlock. Don’t miss the wonderfully ramshackle treehouse restaurant, with branches that grow through the floor and oversized hand-hewn seats over a roaring fire.

Howick Hall Gardens, Northumberland Coast

Howick Hall unfurls its treasures throughout the year: the gardens open their gates in early February to a wealth of snowdrops. In March, it’s the turn of daffodils, while April and May bring the rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias into bloom, followed closely by the tulips. The formal garden and arboretum come into their own in June a living ark of 1,800 meticulously documented species collected on expeditions around the world. Meanwhile, the Long Walk tugs you gently away from the formality down to the churning North Sea. After a wander round the gardens, head to the Earl Grey Tea House, housed in the fabulous ballroom (open exclusively to visitors to the gardens), where the special blend of tea was first created for 1st Earl Grey in 1928, infused with bergamot to hide the taste of lime in the water at Howick.

Berwick Museum and Gallery, Northumberland Coast

Uncover Berwick’s history in this interactive museum tucked away within the historic city barracks. Walk down the streets of old Berwick town, peeping inside homes and shops and stopping for a while at The Red Lion, one of 103 taverns in 1870. Along the way, you can learn how the land and sea has shaped the fortunes of the town, fostering industries ranging from agriculture, mining and fishing to tourism along with its role as a seaside resort and spa. The immense collection of ceramics, ancient Roman and Venetian glass, Japanese imari pottery and Ming porcelain was gifted to the museum by shipping magnate Sir William Burrell in the 1940s.

RNLI Grace Darling Museum, Northumberland Coast

On 7 September 1838, 22-year-old Grace Darling, a lighthouse keeper’s daughter, risked her life by rowing out to reach the wrecked SS Forfarshire in raging seas. The paddlesteamer had foundered on rocks in the Farne Islands and broken in half. Grace’s father decided it was too rough for the lifeboat to put out from Seahouses so they relied on their open coble (a traditional Northumbrian fishing boat), saving nine surviving members of the 62 crew and passengers. Grace returned a celebrity and was showered with honours. The museum was established in 1938 to commemorate her life.

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.

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.

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.

For more ideas for green holidays in the area, see our Green Traveller's Guide to Northumberland Coast

Artwork for Green Traveller's Guide to Northumberland Coast


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