How to Have a Perfect Weekend in North Northumberland
Don't underestimate the vast skies and acres of unpopulated upland in this remote part of our world
For those wanting a quintessential country retreat, North Northumberland has plenty of places to pick from. The Grade II-listed Collingwood Arms, in the charming town of Cornhill-on-Tweed, has 15 bedrooms marrying tradition with modern luxury and a cosy bar boasting a roaring open fire (the perfect place for a post-ramble pint). If you’re looking for your own space, West Ord Cottages’ Geary Shiel is perched on the banks of the River Tweed with a private garden overlooking 470 acres of rolling farmland. Breamish Valley Cottages on the edge of Northumberland National Park have Hemmel House, a four-bedroom barn conversion boasting quintessential farmhouse features and outstanding views over towards the Cheviots – which we think are best enjoyed from the private hot tub with a drink in hand. Further south is Chatton Park House, an award-winning five-star bed and breakfast just three miles from Chillingham, and the cosy Percy Arms in the pretty village of Chatton has five luxury bedrooms and a popular bar and restaurant. A touch further south and you’ll find the epitome of luxury glamping at Huts in the Hills. The luxury huts on the remote Prestwick Farm at the foot of the Cheviot Hills promise peace and tranquility, and amazing views! Each hut has its own secluded area with a fire pit for al fresco dining and an outdoor bath in which to soak up the surroundings.
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The small town of Coldstream lies on the north side of the River Tweed, with lots of river, lakeside and woodland walks on the nearby Hirsel Estate and Homestead where you’ll find the museum, which is also home to an arts and crafts centre. Among the town’s food offering, we recommend you check out The Mad Hatter’s Tearooms on the high street for their delicious homemade cakes and scones. Back in Etal, the white-washed Black Bull, across from Etal Castle, is the only thatched pub in Northumberland and serves local ales brewed just up the road at the Cheviot Brewery.
East of Coldstream is Paxton House, one of the finest Palladian houses in Britain with huge collections of Chippendale furniture and Georgian costumes and paintings from Scotland’s national collection. The kids will love the constant stream of activities on offer here, from the special Spring Trail to the Lego exhibition, and there are acres and acres of woodland and grounds to explore. Book a boat trip and learn about the wildlife and local history from the skippers (dogs are welcome on board too) or simply stroll beside the mighty Tweed as it heads to sea. Paxton House has one of the last remaining netting stations and you can watch the fishermen working from their traditional coble, netting and tagging salmon which are then released back into the river.
Head west and you’ll come to the Cheviot Hills. Straddling the border between England and Scotland, on the English side they lie within the Northumberland National Park. The Cheviot is the highest peak, and the range includes Hedgehope Hill which overlooks the beautiful Breamish Valley, Windy Gyle, Cushat Law and Bloodybush Edge to the south. Criss-crossed by multiple streams and rivers, the Cheviots are home to the most demanding yet uplifting walking country you will find anywhere in England. Hide in their remoteness, walk under huge skies and embrace the sheer scale of it all.
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A trip to North Northumberland would not be complete without exploring the beautiful Ford and Etal Estates. Centred on the two villages, there’s so much to discover; experience the sights and sounds of an age-old, still working corn mill (and grind your own flour), ride on the steam train at Heatherslaw Light railway, meet the heavy horses on Hay Farm, and walk in the footsteps of the 14,000 English and Scottish soldiers, including James IV of Scotland, who died on the famous Flodden battlefield. Back in Etal, the white-washed Black Bull, across from Etal Castle, is the only thatched pub in Northumberland and serves local ales brewed just up the road at the Cheviot Brewery.
St Cuthbert’s Cave, known locally as Cuddy’s Cave or Cove, is a natural sandstone cave six miles west of Belford believed to be associated with Saint Cuthbert, the seventh century Anglo-Saxon monk, bishop and hermit. It is believed that the monks of Linidsfarne brought his body here and hid in AD875, following Viking raids on the island, on their way to Durham. Take a walk through the National Trust woodland surrounding the cave and discover the site’s fascinating history, before stopping for a picnic on the rocky outcrops.
Further south, Chillingham Castle is a 13th century, Grade I-listed stronghold widely regarded as the most haunted castle in Britain. To really sample its spooky past, why not book a guided ghost tour around the castle? Nearby, Norham Castle, set high on a grassy mound over the River Tweed, is another fascinating fortress. It was besieged at least 13 times by the Scots and was later frequented by world-famous painter Joseph William Turner, whose watercolour painting showing the ruin at sunrise in 1845 delights Tate Modern visitors today.
Just to the west of Chatton, Wooler is were you’ll find Ad Gefrin, the brand new world-class visitor experience and whisky distillery built to showcase the unique heritage and reflect the ancient hospitality and produce of Northumberland. Well worth a visit, you can read all about Ad Gefrin, the story behind it, the exhibitions and distillery tours here.