Mountains and moors, a coast with miles of empty beaches, forests and lakes…what an amazing place Northumberland is. So, pack your camping kit and start exploring the land of Hadrian’s Wall, perfectly dark skies and stunning castles.
Funnily enough, when we put out a call to our Facebook followers to tell us about their favourite places in Northumberland, a clear message came back….please don’t tell anyone!! Well, they’ve relented and it’s time to share the beauties of this largely-unsung area.
From Berwick on Tweed to Amble, the coast has earned the status of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Cycle the coastal path, eat gourmet ice-cream in Spurrelli’s in Amble, walk the dunes, have a swim, gaze at the vast stretches of Beadnell or Alnmouth. There are more than 30 miles of beaches, a galapagos of islands and hidden coves.
Go bird watching at the national nature reserve on Holy Island or head to hides at Druridge Bay and Craster, where waders, geese and ducks feed. Take a boat trip to the Farne Islands to see thousands of seabirds including the colourful puffin, as well as the UK’s largest grey seal colony. Keep an eye out for dolphins, whales and porpoises too.
So many, big and small, to choose from. Bamburgh is magnificent, Alnwick (with its gorgeous gardens and treehouse restaurant) is extra-special (also visit the huge Barter Books shop in Alnwick), then there’s Warkworth, Lindisfarne on Holy Island (reached by a causeway and cut off twice a day)… and more. Our favourite, though, is Dunstanburgh. A walk along the coast to the castle is simply fabulous.
In fact, a long-held desire to visit Cragside is what took us to Northumberland this time around. It’s a National Trust house that was the home of Victorian inventor, innovator and landscape genius. Cragside house was a wonder of its age, and is no less fascinating now. It was the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity and is crammed full of ingenious gadgets – most of them still working.
One of the largest rock gardens in Europe leads down to the Iron Bridge and a network of paths and tunnels let you explore a vast rhododendron forest with lakes and picnic spots. There are other NT places to visit too – at Wallington woodlands and Seaton Delaval Hall.
Because Northumberland is mostly rural and mostly quiet, walking and cycling are lovely ways to explore. There are some famous and sometimes challenging long-distance routes like a section of the Pennine Way, the Sea to Sea (C2C) cycle route and the Hadrian’s Wall Path, but there are also plenty of more leisurely options for circular walks and cycling that take in pretty villages or coastal paths.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hadrian’s Wall is one of England’s greatest landmarks. It’s the best-preserved frontier of the Roman Empire and the nation’s finest Roman monument, great stretches of the Wall are still intact in Northumberland.
The Wall and surrounding countryside here is scattered with castles, temples and Roman forts. There are archaeological sites and museums along the Wall telling the epic story of Rome’s rise and fall.
Opened in 2017, The Sill at Hadrian’s Wall is a national landscape discovery centre set around a fantastic modern building that blends into the water and surrounding countryside
Kielder Water and the Dark Sky Park
We discovered Kielder on a trip to stay in the Sky Den a while back. The park has northern Europe’s largest manmade lake and England’s largest forest. There are milesof purpose-built trails and dedicated mountain bike tracks. The Lakeside Way is a 26 mile trail, suitable for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and wheelchair users, that goes right around the shore of Kielder Water.
Half of England’s red squirrels live here (the other half are trying to get here). In 2009, an osprey pair hatched and raised three osprey chicks here – the first in 200 years. Ospreys have bred here every year since.
Famed for having the darkest night skies in England thanks to minimal light pollution, the park houses the Kielder Observatory too.
Towns and villages
It seems there’s just one picturesque village or town after another. Bellingham, Rothbury, Hexham, Corbridge, Alnwick…there’s a lot to explore and you can always find some independent shops, local crafts and produce and a warm welcome. The coastal villages are interesting too – Amble, Craster, Seahouses, Berwick and more. Deborah Martin reminded us to recommend Craster kippers, by the way!
Michael Dawson recommends the Sunday market in Amble and Spurelli’s icecream!
Here, there’s the Riman Army Museum and a unique collection of Roman artefacts, with excavations every April to September. It’s at Hadrian’s Wall.
The world’s largest human landform sculpture – the Lady of the North.
Steam or diesel trains every Sunday and Bank Holiday from Easter to the end of September. There’s a little museum and model railway too.
Where to camp in Northumberland
Hadrian’s Wall Camping and Caravan Site is a small secluded site lying close to Hadrian’s Wall, two miles north of Melkridge Village in the border territory of Northumberland. It’s open for tents, caravans and motorhomes and it’s set in a lovely, unspoilt country.
Some dramatic stretches of the wall are less than half-a-mile away and it’s also close to the Dark Sky Discovery Site at Cawfields. There’s a cook-house with free gas for hikers, free wifi, barbecues to rent, a small shop and cafe, and it’s open all year.
Small and unspoilt with toilets, showers and riverside camping, this site is open from April to October. You’ll need to book because there are very few pitches – nine of them have hook-up.
Thirty all-grass pitches, of which 13 have hook-up. Clean and modern toilets and hot (paid-for) shower blocks in the traditional stone buildings surrounded by a cobbled yard. There’s a place to wash dishes and lovely Bellingham isn’t far away. May to October.
A small, secluded grass site on a 600-acre working farm close to a mill pond and old mill buildings. It’s just a few miles away from Holy Island and has great farm walks and views. Electric hook-ups, utility block with three toilets, shower, wet room and dishwasher. Space for 12 (cara)vans and tents by arrangement. Open April to October.
A gorgeous off-grid campsite with sea views and a beach on the doorstep. Pitch your tent in the dunes (glamping available in high season too). There are basic facilities with compost loos, washing up huts (cold water) and a couple of gas powered eco-showers. Small VW/Bongo-type campervans are allowed (though not motorhomes or converted vans). End of May to the end of September.
Michael Dawson suggested the Budle Bay campsite, but it wasn’t to our taste – a bit crowded and not all that well cared-for. Things may have changed since we stayed, so do let us know if there have been improvements.
Janet Readings says: “Went last summer in my van and fell in love with it too. Stayed some of the time at the CCC site north of Alnwick. 15mins from coast path with a bus stopping outside the site. Combined with glorious weather it couldn’t have been better.”
If you have a campervan, motorhome or a cleverly-organised car (see our article on car camping!), then there are some possibilities for overnight stops and a bit of wild camping. We saw quite a few people parked up in seafront car parks near Alnmouth, for example.
Amy Dickerson suggested Druridge Bay, where there’s a large off-road car park, and also Craster car park. Michael Dawson suggested Warkworth Beach.
Have a look at our feature on apps to help you find wild camping spots.