Days out in Northumberland
With its rugged beauty, Northumberland is definitely the place to get outdoors and reconnect with nature. Even with no city, there’s an amazing choice of activities, things to do, and places to visit throughout its many towns, including Blyth, Amble, Hexham, Morpeth, and Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Thanks to the county being the site of plenty of historical battles, Northumberland has plenty of castles to explore. Alnwick Castle and its grounds, courtyard, towers, and staterooms give you a fascinating look back at over 950 years of history – and you might recognise it as ‘Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from the Harry Potter movies.
Bamburgh Castle, overlooking the dramatic coastline from its rocky position, goes back even further, 1,400 years to be precise, and comes with its own tales, myths, and legends. Near Wooler, 13th-century Chillingham Castle claims to be Britain’s most haunted, so ghost tours and a visit to the ‘torture chamber’ are a must. And near Craster, the 14th-century Dunstanburgh Castle is an impressive ruin with huge twin towers overlooking the coastline.
But perhaps one of the most interesting sites in the county must be Lindisfarne Castle. Set on the southern edge of Holy Island, this ruin has it all, legend, drama, and amazing views. And the equally beautiful Lindisfarne Priory is just a short walk across the bay. But be sure to check your visiting time as you can only get there at low tide.
Near historic Hexham, the Roman Vindolanda Fort and Museum gives a fascinating insight into this fort built as a base and garrison close to Hadrian’s Wall, which is also a must-see attraction. And a short-distance away, you can visit the National Trust and English Heritage world heritage site of Housesteads Roman Fort.
While much of the far southwest of the county shares a portion of the North Pennines AONB, the outdoor jewel in the crown is Northumberland National Park. Covering over 400 sq. miles and almost half the county, it’s one of the least populated national parks and, amazingly, one of the least visited.
The magnificent Cheviot Hills offer a beautiful rolling landscape, with the College Valley a particular highlight. Discover ancient, hidden hill forts, visit the trig point at the summit of the hills, and see Linhope Spout, a spectacular 18m waterfall.
Kielder Water and Forest Park is home to England’s largest forest, as well as the largest man-made lake in Europe. Amazing views, stunning scenery, and a rich habitat for birds and wildlife all come together to offer the perfect backdrop for outdoor activities. Take your pick from numerous cycling, mountain biking, and walking routes, horse riding, or fishing.
Wallington has landscaped pleasure grounds and a park covering some 45 hectares. Other features include the East and West woods.
Howick has an early-20th-century woodland garden set within 35 acres of 19th-century wooded pleasure grounds and a 50-hectare late-18th-century parkland.
Topography, Geology, and Climate
With a mix of land qualities, Northumberland is relatively flat and low on the eastern side before rising to hills and peaks in the west. Much like its County Durham and Tyne and Wear neighbours, its soils are largely unvaried.
With low to moderate fertility, the Northumberland soils are predominantly seasonally wet loam and clay with varying degrees of drainage. This changes further to the west, where small pockets of sandy loam soils appear alongside areas of raised bog pet soils and larger areas of blanket bog pest soils.
Due to its northerly position, Northumberland can be one of the coldest counties in England. Summer temperatures average at around 18ºC (64ºF), while winter lows coming in at around 2ºC (35ºF). The county’s rainfall can differ greatly - it’s relatively low on the east coast, around 650mm (25”), but significantly higher in the uplands of the west at around 900mm (35”) across the year.
Northumberland’s Parks and Gardens
Complementing the picturesque towns and villages as well as the vast, open moorland and countryside, Northumberland has some wonderful formal and not-so-formal gardens on display. Whether you’re someone who appreciates a good garden or a seasoned gardener or horticulturist, there’s plenty to enjoy.
- North Northumberland
Off the coast near Berwick-upon-Tweed, on Lindisfarne (Holy Island), almost in the shadow of the castle, you’ll find the Gertrude Jekyll Garden. This remote, sustainable, and bee-friendly walled garden, measuring only around 75sq.ft, is a wonderful sight when in full bloom in the summer. With a geometric design of pathways and beds, there’s plenty of interest including, sweet peas, crimson hollyhocks, gladioli, and chrysanthemums.
Next to the castle in Alnwick, the award-winning, 12-acre Alnwick Gardens are an excellent display of formal gardens and grand, cascading water features. Featuring stunning ornamental gardens alongside the magnificent cherry orchard, Rose garden, and the small Poison garden filled with toxic plants, there’s plenty to get excited about here and certainly not one to miss.
Near Rothbury, on the edge of the National Park, the National Trust-owned property, Cragside House, has a collection of wonderful garden rooms. Set in over 1,000-acres of hillside landscape that are home to 7million trees, shrubs and rhododendrons, the gardens are on the western edge, and highlights include the Formal garden covering three terraces, the sandstone Rock garden, and magnificent Pinetum.
- South Northumberland
Hidden away in the countryside in Stanton, near Netherwitton, the Bide-a-Wee Gardens are a must-see RHS Partner garden. Although open on limited days, it makes any visit all the more special. Covering around 2-acres, the garden is a peaceful and charming place with plenty of naturalistic and unusual plantings giving interest and colour all year long. Highlight plantings include centaurea, Himalayan lilies, and agapanthus.
Just southwest of Morpeth, Belsay Hall is an 18th-century Greek rival mansion with a 14th-century castle and exceptional quarry gardens. Alongside wonderful formal terraces next to the hall, the main, Grade I Listed, landscaped, and naturalistic gardens cover over 30-acres. Giving all year round interest, you can enjoy a variety of unusual plants together with a magnolia terrace, yew garden, and one of the largest rhododendron collections in the country.
And just outside Blyth, 18th-century Seaton Delaval Hall sits just back from Seaton Sluice Beach and shows off wonderfully structured, formal gardens. With low hedges, manicured lawns, roses as well as fountains and urns. There’s also an abundance of beds, borders, and shrubs, plus a woodland area to explore.