Those swathes of beautiful sand and turquoise sea may look like the Caribbean, but it’s Northumberland. Our long weekend in Northumberland was packed with jaw dropping sights, from the Farne Islands to Bamburgh Castle, moments that Visit England promised us would make us say #OMGB – ‘Oh My Great Britain’. Here are six of them.1 The Angels of the North
Sometimes travelling is as much about the people you meet as the places you go, and the unexpected. As we crossed the county border into Northumberland, our freshly printed Visit England itinerary on my knee, Claire, who manages the PR for the chain of inns we were staying with, called to apologise, we would need to change course. There had been a hitch at The Commissioner’s Quay Inn, so she had organised a family room in sister hotel The Hog’s Head in Alnwick instead. We were disappointed as staying in a yet-to-open hotel would have been such an exciting thing to do, it is open as I type this, and looks stunning, in a gorgeous setting by Blyth harbour – our first reason to return to Northumberland!
Claire’s cheery Northumberland tones and jokes soon had me laughing, she mentioned that she was currently having dinner with the owner of Bamburgh Castle and offered to meet us at the castle, but at that point I thought she was joking, so more on that later! I hung up smiling at her lovely Northumberland warmth, just in time to sail past the Angel of the North, by my all time favourite artist Antony Gormley, before the light completely faded (another reason to return to Northumberland, time to stop here in daylight).
The warmth continued at The Hog’s Head, where the staff had smiles, snacks and drinks waiting for us on arrival. The Inn Collection Group have several places in the area, relaxed, characterful and family friendly inns with hotel accommodation. The Hogs Head, Alnwick was named after the pub in Harry Potter because nearby Alnwick Castle doubled as Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter Films – third reason to return! It was a cosy retreat decorated with tartan, interesting relics and the Inn Collection coat of arms, underneath this grandeur it is a relaxed place with the perfect motto, ‘Eat, Drink, Sleep and Explore’. The family rooms were spacious, the kids had a single bed each and we all had a hearty breakfast and porridge, ready for a big day of exploring ahead. While we drank tea and made plans, the kids made friends on the climbing frame.
2 A Serenity Farne Island Boat Tour
We arrived in Seahouses harbour to watch starlings tucking into crumbs on the sea wall, behind them glimpses of the castle and the row of rugged Farne Islands which are paradise to seals, puffins, gullimots, kittiwakes, artic terns and lots more. We took a boat trip, with skipper Andrew of Serenity Boat Cruises to Inner Farne, although there are lots of boat cruises to choose from here, including photography and sunset cruises – another reason to return!
Another lovely warm welcome here, Andrew made his way round the boat chatting to everyone to find out what they were interested in seeing or photographing – puffins and seals came the cries from L and G – he told us to knock on the window if we wanted him to stop longer. We also had a brief chat about blogging – you meet fellow bloggers in the most random places – I’ve popped the link to Andrew’s blog and stunning pictures of his daily encounters around the Farne Islands below. Within minutes we were face to face with beautiful seals.
3. Our first sighting of puffins
Seeing seals was a huge treat, but it had always been the puffins we had sold the trip to the kids on. We entered a sheltered cove full of ragged cliffs lined with flocks of birds. The sound was incredible, the gullimots were a wonderful site, waddling along the rocks and diving into the sea like penguins. The kittiwakes with their fluffy chicks were lovely to watch, but it was the first sighting of puffins that made our trip. They are so comical to watch, with their colourful beaks and funny flappy flying, we giggled lots at their little round bottoms and orange webbed feet bouncing along as they flew around us.
4. An hour on Inner Farne
My Dad warned me what to expect here – dive bombing artic terns protecting their nests – which is a good job as ever since a pigeon landed on my head in Trafalgar Square I’ve had a bird on the head phobia. There are plenty of boat trips that don’t land here, and the terns are only defensive during nesting time around June, but I am stubborn nature lover, so I went ahead and packed hats for us all to soften the blow and, as Dad advised, distanced myself from any large camera wielding photographers getting too close to the nests.
I still freaked out initially, I ran off and Mr A found me hiding out in a tiny hut belonging to the National Trust. He convinced me that he and the kids had sussed out you have to move steadily and bob your head if they dive bomb and that all they really do is try and pull off your hat or hood. I took a deep breath, looked at my brave 7 and 9 year old and I overcame my stupid phobia, and it was absolutely worth it as I saw so many puffins once I ventured across the island. I also felt even more in awe of the terns after they nibbled my hat. More in the video!
3. Bamburgh Castle
So it turned out Claire wasn’t joking, she and her partner Francis did live in Bamburgh Castle, and he does own it, they moved out to let the public in. She even tweeted me a picture of Francis enjoying his dinner at the Hog’s Head Inn we had stayed in. Claire came to meet us, and we were still chatting as the staff were locking up the castle, she took this lovely picture of us all on the ramparts. She also invited us to come and see some baby chicks, but there were still the BFG’s footprints to find – Miss L has not let us forget this though, it’s not every day a real life castle resident invites you to see baby chicks! Although she was very excited to be able to tell Claire how brilliant she thought the brass rubbing activity was inside the castle, me too in fact, in each room L did a brass rubbing which builds up into a story of a local myth, this gave me time to look around and imagine living here, and L a bedtime story.
There is even self catering accommodation within the castle walls, you can see it above the archway below, Mr A was all ears, he has always wanted to stay in a castle. Northumberland kept giving us reasons to return!
5. Bamburgh Beach
Totally iconic and a photographer’s dream, Bamburgh beach with the castle in the background is breathtaking, it is also where The BFG’s footprints were captured in the Spielberg film version. Claire recommend we turn right out the castle and then take ‘The Wynding’ road to the car park to get the best pictures. We made our own BFG footprints in the sand and could have played for hours in the dunes, the sea and the sand, had it not been tea time.
6. Bamburgh Castle Hotel – the view of Seahouses and Bamburgh Castle
You will see our reactions in the video, but this has to be the place to stay, my Dad concurs, having stayed here with his local RSPB group. It’s a beautifully set hotel that caters brilliantly for groups, dog owners (there are even rooms with gardens) families and couples (at dinner my kids watched in amazement as the couple next to us tucked into a towering seafood feast). There is great pub grub with lots of choice, for kids and veggies too, and plenty of imaginative specials.
The views from our balcony and from the pub restaurant and beer garden are amazing, after Mr A took the kids to collapse into bed I sat outside with a glass of sauvignon watching the most incredible sunset bathe the harbour to the left and light up Bamburgh castle to the right. In the morning I watched the Farne Islands from the shower which made my day!
Oh My Great Britain! And that was just one epic day in Northumberland, our second day took in Hadrian’s Wall. We were really excited to come face to face with Roman history, but #OMGB, what a massive wrench to leave Seahouses and Bamburgh!
The video is a must to bring my family and other animals to life, we even talk in it too!
Looking to recreate this trip?
We stayed with the Inn Collection Group at The Hog’s Head, Alnwick (25 minutes from Seahouses) and Bamburgh Castle Inn, Seahouses. Complimentary breakfast and wifi. Family friendly. Pets are welcome, supplement applies.
We took our ‘Inner Farne’ boat trip with Andrew at Serenity Boat Trips, check out Farne Island Tours and The Farne Islands Blog to find out what wildlife you can expect to see at different points of the year and which tour would best suit your group. This tour takes approximately 2.5 – 3 hours allowing 1 hour landing on Inner Farne. Adults: £15, Children: £10 (15 and under), Under 4: Free. Remember to pack waterproofs and warm clothing as it is chillier on the water, plus packed lunches, there are lots of places to buy in Seahouses, and allow time to buy tickets and National Trust landing passes which are £18.50-£22 depending on season. Dogs welcome, but not on Inner Farne, although had Max been with us, Andrew would have looked after him on the boat while we landed.
We visited Bamburgh Castle, which is £25 for a family ticket giving access to the grounds and to inside, the brass rubbing trail was £1. The castle has a great tea room. You could easily spend a day on the castle and the beach, we only had 3 hours.
Pin it to your travel bucket list!