One of the advantages of living in Newcastle is that we are within striking distance of Northumberland National Park. The park is vast, it covers 400 square miles, but is the least populated national park in the UK. The west side of the national park contains Kielder Water and Forest Park where we recently went on a wildlife and osprey tour on a motorboat. To the South is Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site. We have often visited Hadrian’s Wall and the forts on it like Housesteads. The upper section of Northumberland National Park is almost at the Scottish border and contains the Cheviot Hills. It is not surprising that Northumberland National Park was recently voted National Park of the Year. This year Northumberland National Park also celebrated it’s 60th birthday.
A Visit to Northumberland National Park
Recently our Travel Massive group was invited along to experience some highlights of the park. We fitted a lot into a busy day and discovered a lot of new things about Northumberland National Park. I left with a big list of other places I would like to see within the park. The park has also set up a series of guided walks which allow you to experience the park’s beauty and find out more about it.
Our first stop was Rothbury, which is on the edge of Northumberland National Park in the Coquet Valley. The river Coquet runs peacefully though the middle. On the outskirts of Rothbury you will find Cragside. This house was built by Lord Armstrong and was the first to be powered by hydroelectricity. It is well worth a visit if you get a chance. Rothbury is a bustling market town and the capital of Coquetdale.
As well as being the gateway to the Northumberland National Park Rothbury is also one of the stops along the Sandstone Way. This is a 120 mile long mountain bike trail that runs along the sandstone ridge in North Northumberland between Berwick upon Tweed and Hexham. As well as visiting these two historic towns the route will take you though some breathtaking scenery and numerous villages. The trail is a challenge but can be undertaken by bike riders of differing experience.
We stopped for a hot drink at Tomlinsons Cafe and Bunkhouse before exploring Rothbury. Tomlinsons is a welcoming and cosy cafe situated in an old building that used to be a schoolhouse. The cafe serves local and seasonal produce and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tomlinsons is more than a cafe, it also provides bunkhouse accommodation for 21 people between three rooms. Each room has an en-suite bathroom and occupants also get the use of a communal lounge with free wifi and a TV. Rates are £20 per bed per night. It would be a great base from which to explore the walking trails and cycle paths nearby.
Tomlinsons have a range of mountain bikes and other bikes availablefor hire. Recently they acquired some electric bikes and we had a go on these. Not having ridden a bike for years I was a little wobbly. My son really enjoyed riding the electric bike and took it for a long ride. You can really feel the electric power kick in as you go up a hill, it makes riding much easier.
After trying out the bikes we went for a walk around Rothbury. We followed the Rothbury Riverside Walk which is one of several self guided walks that can be downloaded from the Northumberland National Park website. It was a peaceful walk across the river and into the village where we explored some of the local shops. Rothbury has a traditional music festival every year in July which is well worth a visit.
Simonside Hills and Lordenshaws
Leaving Rothbury we made a brief stop at the Simonside Hills. These hills overlook Rothbury and are a special area of conservation. There is plenty of wildlife in the area, you may spot curlew or red grouse. If you are really lucky you may spot some of Northumberland’s wild goats. Three herds of these Neolithic goats are known to roam Northumberland and I would love to see them one day. Simonside Hills are also covered in heather. The hills turn purple when it blooms.
From the top of the Simonside hills you get a stunning view across the Cheviots. Even though the weather was not the best the beauty of the area was apparent. On the opposite hill is Lordenshaws which is an iron age hill fort. As well as the fort there are bronze age burial grounds and one of the largest clusters of cup and ring marked stones in the UK. This rock art was created by Neolithic and Bronze Age people thousands of years ago and still remains today. The reason for the markings is a mystery.
Grassless Valley and Otterburn
Heading towards Greenhaugh for lunch we drove though the Otterburn ranges and Grassless Valley. Otterburn is a military training area and the second largest live firing range in the country spanning 90 miles. The area has some of the most stunning views of Northumberland National Park. The range is accessible to visitors but if you see red flags flying then training is in progress and you should not enter these controlled access areas.
We made a brief stop in Elsdon which is the largest village in Northumberland National Park with a population of around 240 people. It is a charming village with stone houses gathered around the village green. It also has a tea room and pub making it an ideal place to start exploring Northumberland National Park. The village has recently started using LED lighting for the street lighting. LED lighting reduces light pollution into the night sky. Northumberland National Park has recently been given dark sky status. The lack of light pollution in the area allows for a fabulous view of the night skies.
We also passed Tosson Tower, the remains of a fortified pele tower that remains as a reminder of the turbulent history of the region bordering Scotland. From the late 13th Century the clans living on the borders often had feuds with each other. A lifestyle of raiding and marauding was common and these fortified towers were a form of protection.
Greenhaugh is a small village in North Tynedale which is famous for the ancient hay meadows which are a haven for wildlife. We stopped for lunch at the Hollybush Inn, a dog friendly country pub that serves real ale and good food. Set just beside the main road, entering into the inn you find a great welcome along with a roaring log fire. The inn is over 300 years old and one of the few remaining Drovers Inns in Northumberland.
We were seated in one of the pubs two dining areas, which are both tastefully decorated with different themes. The food is home made and sourced locally. I opted for a sausage cassoulet made with Northumberland sausages. It did not disappoint, the sausages were lovely and it was the perfect comfort food for a wet day. My son opted for a burger which he also enjoyed. We didn’t say no to dessert. I tried the Hollybush Mess, a variant on Eton Mess which I can recommend. It was the perfect mixture of tart and sweet and not too heavy. My son had a sticky toffee pudding which was pronounced delicious.
As well as providing food the Hollybush Inn also provides accommodation. There are seven rooms and also a Stargazing apartment where you can look at the night sky. At the back is a beer garden with stunning views over the Northumberland countryside which would also be great for star gazing. The Hollybush Inn is welcoming and friendly with great food and it is well worth popping in.
Leaving Greenhaugh we headed to Hesleyside Hall which is the ancient family home of the Charlton family. The hall provides luxury bed and breakfast accommodation and features gardens designed by Capability Brown. This made the perfect backdrop for the Hesleyside Mestival, a challenging 10k obstacle run with plenty of mud thrown in for an extra challenge. The participants looked like they were having a great time with lots of laughter and smiles in the rain.
As well as the fun run there was an event village with stalls and live music. Inside the tents, which also provided shelter from the rain, different activities were going on. There were games and ukulele lessons as well as a chance to buy cakes and refreshments. At the top of the hill are the Hesleyside huts. These are shepherds huts that can be rented out for luxury camping or glamping. It would be a great place to spend a night under the stars with a campfire.
The Battlesteads Hotel and Observatory
Our final destination on our tour was The Battlesteads Hotel and Observatory. Situated in the village of Wark this hotel not only offers food and accommodation but also has its own observatory where you can learn more about the night sky.
There are 22 en-suite bedrooms and five luxury lodges within the hotel. The hotel is dog friendly so you can bring your family pet with you. The gardens are stunning and the perfect place to sit in the sunshine. They have been planted with bee friendly plants which is only a small part of the green ethos of the hotel. The hotel also has a large solar panel, large gardens providing home grown fruit and vegetables and a carbon neutral heating system. Battlesteads is one of only two hotels to two to hold a Gold Award from the Green Tourism Business Scheme.
Battlesteads Hotel is unique because it has its own observatory situated at the back of the premises. The observatory takes advantage of the dark skies in the area and is the perfect place for viewing the night skies. We were introduced to Roy Alexander, the astronomer and taken though to the observatory where we leant more about the night skies. Roy is passionate about astronomy and we quickly learnt how to identify a number of different constellations in the sky at night. We were not able to see them as it was daylight but we did learn how to focus a pair of binoculars. I have been doing this wrong all these years and it was a revelation to finally see clearly though a pair.
The observatory runs a number of events though out the year including an aurora hunting event. The aurora can be visible in Northumberland and has been seen over the observatory a number of times. This event will give you the understanding needed to hunt out the aurora yourself. I quite fancy spending a night with my family at Battlesteads hotel and combining a night out in a hotel with some star gazing.
Our day was finally over and we headed back to Newcastle. It is lovely knowing we live so near to such a beautiful park where there is so much to see and do. There is plenty more to explore so I am sure we will be going back at a later stage.
Have you ever been to Northumberland National Park? Which are your favourite parts?