Pocket guide to Northumberland

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Carmen McCormack

Guest Expert

8 min read

At the northern tip of England, just as it brushes up against Scotland, sits wild Northumberland. Thanks to its pristine, rugged landscapes, brooding castles and a vast wildlife-rich National Park, it has a remote and untouched quality. The 405-square-mile park is so sparsely populated, with barely a drop of light pollution, that it became England’s first International Dark Sky Park in 2013. There’s nowhere quite like it for marvelling at the night sky. The Northumberland Coast AONB enjoys some of the most spectacular and unspoilt coastline in the UK, crowned by ancient castles and splashed by the icy North Sea. Spot seals, seabirds and even the occasional dolphin. A fiercely independent sort of place, on a trip to Northumberland you can discover gardens and islands, farm shops and indie markets, fine dining and glorious walking.

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Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland National Park, Hexham, Alnwick, Bamburgh, Alnwick Garden, Farne Islands, Amble

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Bamburgh Castle & Alnwick Castle Strategically placed for countless cut-throat border raids, Northumberland’s ancient castles ooze history. Glimpsing a mighty castle crowning the rugged coastline, perched on a remote island or surveying the town below, it’s easy to be transported back to bloodier times. These days, thankfully, the county is much more genteel and the wildest thing you’ll come across are the rugged landscapes. With over 70 castles to discover, two of our favourites are majestic Bamburgh, set high on a rocky outcrop above a golden sweep of beach, and magical Alnwick, of Harry Potter fame. Both have a selection of impressive staterooms stuffed to the gills with treasure. Wander amongst antique furniture and suits of armour, ceramics and priceless artworks, and feel the history and heritage still beating inside their ancient walls. Outside are landscaped gardens and one of Northumberland’s finest beaches.  To discover more castles in Northumberland, read our guide to five must-visit castles lined up like sentries throughout the county.

Northumberland National ParkGreenlee Lough

At the tip of England, the Northumberland National Park is a sublime slice of nature. Its vistas are wild and rugged, its night skies are breathtakingly clear, its wildlife is thriving and, thanks to how sparsely populated it is, you can tramp around the countryside and coast without seeing many other humans. The park’s (and the county’s) largest natural lake, Greenlee Lough, is one of the most important wetlands in the UK and a haven for wildfowl, birds of prey and wading birds. Wetland plants thrive here, bursting to life in spring, and the shallow water teems with fish. Enjoy a gentle circular walk around the Greenlee Nature Reserve, stopping at the Bird Hide to get a good look at the busy birdlife. If you can, try visiting at dawn or dusk, to catch a glimpse of shy deer and prowling foxes.

For more wildlife adventures, check out our guide to a selection of circular walks, suitable for all levels, through the Northumberland National Park. 


Coastal Walks – Warkworth to Craster, 10.5 miles 

The Northumberland Coast AONB has some of the most spectacular, unspoilt coastline in the whole of the UK. The castle-studded coast ribbons from Cresswell in the south to Berwick-upon-Tweed in the north and we consider the area to be one of the country’s best kept secrets. With countless walks to suit everyone, from serious hikers to less ambitious gentle ramblers. Try this epic 10.5 mile Warkworth to Craster route if you’re feeling energetic. From the village head over the Coquet River to Warkworth beach where you follow the coast to the seaside village of Alnmouth and Alnmouth beach. You can choose whether to continue your journey to Craster beside rolling fields on the Longhoughton road, or by the curve of the coast. Both are delightfully scenic and you wind up at Howick, where you’ll follow the northern path up to the village of Craster. Just in time for a smoked kipper or a rewarding pit stop at The Jolly Fisherman. 

For more great coastal walks in mighty Northumberland, read our guide for a selection – some long, some short – of some of the best.  


Hjem at Hadrian Hotel, near Hexham

Tucked away in a cosy country pub, The Hadrian at Wall, Hjem, pronounced ‘yem’, means home in both Scandinavia and Northumberland. Fitting for a restaurant that marries the very best Northumbrian produce with precise Scandinavian cooking techniques. It’s a particularly fine pairing that has produced a Michelin star two years in a row. Head chef, Alex, hails from Sweden, whilst restaurant manager, Ally, grew up down the road. Alex learnt his craft working in high-end Michelin restaurants throughout Scandinavia, Ally has managed busy eateries all over the world, and they both jumped at the chance to set up on their own. The airy restaurant is a relaxed spot to work your way through the impeccable tasting menu, a delightful mixture of light bites and larger dishes cooked to perfection. 

For a taste of fine dining eateries in Northumberland, take a squizz at our five-minute guide. 


Barter Books Station Buffet, Alnwick

Barter Books is a rare find. Located inside a magnificent old Victorian railway station you’ll find one of the largest second-hand bookshops in the UK and The Station Buffet. The last train pulled out of the station back in 1968, now it’s a homely café with open fires to keep you snug and some serious comfort food on the menu. Tuck into bacon and sausage sandwiches, Northumberland rarebit, hearty soups, thrice-cooked chips and more: all homemade and delicious. Once you’ve finished, browse the floor to ceiling bookshelves and curl up on a comfy sofa with an interesting tome in hand, before heading out for a wild country walk or a stroll along the pretty cobbled streets of Alnwick.

We asked our owners to share their top tips for super lunch spots in Northumberland, so do check out the results. 

The Potted Lobster, Bamburgh

With imposing Bamburgh Castle rising up as its backdrop, this light and airy restaurant with a Scandi/ nautical feel is a welcoming place to stop for lunch or dinner. Whether you arrive to glorious sunshine and sit out on the terrace with a platter of langoustines and a few glasses of cold, crisp rosé, or you visit off-season and hunker down in the restaurant with a warming seafood chowder, the menus are always a delight. Head chef Richard Sim has achieved his mission to serve fresh, local ingredients from surrounding harbours and farms, in a relaxed setting. And best of all, they’re dog friendly too. 

If coastal dining floats your boat, check out our list of sublime seaside eateries in Northumberland.


Lord Crewe Arms at Blanchland

Few inns can beat this atmospheric refuge nestled in a sheep-clad valley on the moors’ edge, cosy and warmly welcoming with inglenook fireplaces and a classy country style. Open seven days a week for lunch, bar snacks, afternoon tea and dinner, the head chef has created a robust modern British menu. Expect chargrilled côte de boeuf, baked North Sea cod loin, roasted local grouse, and puddings that lean towards comfort: sticky toffee pudding, apple and bramble crumble, baked egg custard tart. Wines come by the glass, carafe or bottle, the gins are local, the cocktails sublime, and there are water bowls for dogs in the garden. Bedrooms dotted around the cottages are a treat with divine beds and deep baths.

For more foodie pubs in Northumberland, we’ve put together a selection to make food lovers happy.


Alnwick Garden

Alnwick Garden is grand, imaginative and ambitious. Designed by Jacques and Peter Wirtz, to the Duchess of Northumberland’s vision, it’s had a positive impact on the local community over the last 20 years. Stroll through the tranquil cherry orchard, gape at the grand cascade, get lost in the bamboo labyrinth and don’t miss the water sculptures in the serpent garden. With 12 acres to explore, over 4,000 plant varieties to discover, and thousands of seasonal blooms, there’s plenty to surprise and delight year-round. For a pick-me-up, stop for sandwiches and afternoon tea in the Pavilion or a hearty lunch in the Treehouse Restaurant.  

For floral blooms and trees galore, take a look at some of our favourite gardens to visit in Northumberland.  


The Farne Islands

A couple of miles off the Northumberland coast, national nature reserve The Farne Islands is an internationally recognised and important breeding ground for migrating seabirds. Home to 100,000 nesting pairs, including three species of tern, eiders, shags, puffins, razorbills, gulls and guillemots, and a sprawling colony of seals, the islands became one of the first designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest. The puffins are the stars of the show, spot a flash of orange beak stuffed with herrings, diving in and out of the North Sea to feed their pufflings – yes, that is the official term for a baby puffin! Due to concerns regarding Avian Flu, boats aren’t currently able to dock, as NT rangers work to protect the wildlife and their habitat, but you may spot dolphins or even a minke whale as you cruise around the islands. 

The sparsely populated and rugged landscapes of Northumberland are a wildlife haven so we put together a guide to help you discover more.  



Resting on a headland at the mouth of the River Coquet estuary, Amble is a vibrant fishing town, filled with fish shacks and seafood eateries. About a mile off the coast, the beautifully named Coquet Island, easily reached by boat, is a remarkable puffin colony. Each spring over 35,000 seabirds cram onto the tiny island to breed. They’re celebrated every year at the annual puffin festival, where locals and visitors can take part in guided nature walks, bird watching and history talks. If puffins aren’t your thing, then learn how to cook freshly-caught fish at the Northumberland Seafood Centre in town or take a surf lesson with the renowned Northside Surf School. 

To discover more interesting towns and villages in Northumberland, have a look at our top picks.


Moorhouse Farmshop 

Open daily 9.30am-4pm

Family-run, award-winning arable, beef and sheep farmers, and one of the few pig producers in Northumberland, Moorhouse run two farms that supply their shop and café. All the meat sold in the shop is farmed by them, while everything else is sourced within a 50 mile radius. Bread, fruit and veg are delivered daily; preserves, milk and cheese from just down the road and honey is buzzed in by local bees. They butcher their meat the traditional way so whether you nip in for a sausage roll in the coffee shop or want to buy a roasting joint to take back to your holiday cottage, you know you’re getting quality produce. Cakes, scones and flapjacks, pies, soups and snacks are baked daily. 


Blagdon Farmshop

Open during the day Tuesday-Sunday 

Twenty minutes north from the centre of spirited Newcastle, this much-loved farm shop stands out from the crowd. From handmade pies and quiches to the freshest fruit and vegetables, this is the perfect stop off if you’re looking for a tasty supper to cook at your holiday cottage. Committed to growing, rearing and cooking the very best local food, every morning they take delivery of vegetables picked directly from their own fields. Kippers and smoked salmon come from nearby Craster Smokehouse and they always butcher their own meat. Find a mouthwatering array of hearty dishes and sweet treats to take away.  


Hexham Market 

Every second and fourth Saturday of the month, 9am-1.30pm

Nestled in the green and pleasant Tyne Valley, Hexham is delightfully picturesque, filled with striking stone architecture, in particular its rather magnificent abbey. Its farmers market is one of the longest running and best established in the county. Every stall trader comes from within a 50 mile radius, so meat and veg is locally reared and grown. Chutney and conserves are all made with local vegetables or fruit and every trader is passionate about what they do. The market is a communal gathering place with stallholders and customers meeting to catch up and swap news. As well as food you’ll find plants and clothes, crafts and gifts. Pack down starts about lunch time so it’s best to arrive early; though the Christmas market runs until 3pm. 

For more farm shops and independent markets in Northumberland, take a look at our regional guide. 


Victoria Cottage & Smuggler’s Cottage

Sitting at the mouth of the River Aln in a quaint village, bustling in summer, fairly hushed in winter, both 17th-century sandstone cottages have sweet gardens and views of the sea. Inside, good sized sitting rooms with open fires (logs are on the house), comfy sofas and original art inspired by the ocean. Smart kitchens have enough gadgets for the fussiest of cooks. On fine days, sit in the plant-filled gardens and listen to the waves, or just cross the road for the glorious long, sandy beach – even a swim if you’re feeling brave! The village has good pubs and an Italian restaurant if you don’t feel like cooking.


The Old Barn, Kidlandlee

A remote semi-detached barn in the middle of Northumberland National Park with views for miles, wonderful walking trails and clear starry skies. One of four off-grid properties, with electricity provided by solar panels and wind turbines. You’ll be toasty-as-can-be with an endless supply of logs. Tuck into your welcome hamper from Tully’s of Rothbury and a bottle of champagne plus breakfast basics. If you’re stuck inside, there are books and board games or you can simply gaze at the views. Explore the national park, walk all day without meeting another soul, cycle some challenging hills and dips or hop in the car to the nearest town Rothbury to stock up and return to barbecue in your own eating out spot. 


The Stables at Brinkburn

Roll down a half-mile drive to a buffed sandstone stablehouse – creeper-covered, gothic-arched, and still part of the centuries-old Brinkburn estate. The restored Augustinian priory lies just beyond. The grounds are yours to explore: swim, roam the woods, or amble with Rover along the riverside (up to three dogs are welcome), looking for otters. Indoors everything’s fresh, white and clutter-free, especially the showpiece glass-walled kitchen, big enough to dine a dozen and with a bountiful welcome hamper. After supper, flop in the log-lit snug then choose a tome from the bookcase and take the stone stairs to your beamy bedroom.


We hope our Pocket Guide has given you a small flavour of mighty Northumberland. If we’ve piqued your interest, take a look at our other places to stay and start planning your trip to this fascinating and practically undiscovered county. 

Our featured places to stay

Victoria Cottage & Smuggler's Cottage

Alnmouth, Northumberland

  • £250 p/n
  • Self-catering
  • 4 rooms for 4

The Old Barn, Kidlandlee

Morpeth, Northumberland

  • From £100 p/n
  • Self-catering
  • 2 rooms for 4

The Stables at Brinkburn

Morpeth, Northumberland

  • From £410 p/n
  • Self-catering
  • 3 rooms for 6

View all our special places to stay in Northumberland >

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Carmen McCormack

Guest Expert

Carmen is a freelance writer specialising in travel. She once lived in a bus in north Wales, skipped off to study in Barcelona, and now calls Bristol home. When she’s not tapping away on her laptop, she can be found reading (a lot), lake swimming (a little), and pottering on the allotment with husband and two kiddos. She’s currently dreaming about cold cerveza and torta in Mexico.

View more articles by this author

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