Northumberland: The weather in the autumn can be variable, but Dominic Picksley and his family found much to see and do
The fire in the lounge delivered a warming glow as a force eight gale whipped up a frenzy in the night outside. A stone’s throw from Seahouses, in Northumberland, we settled into our first evening at Springhill Cottage.
Based at the organic Springhill Farm, run by the Gregory family, the four-star holiday home has an interior lovingly described as “shabby chic” by Julie Gregory, who runs the holiday operation with daughter Sarah.
It’s one of nine cottages located on the working farm – a destination credited with the prestigious Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Award for Excellence. The vista that greets whoever’s doing the washing up from the kitchen window lives up to this, it is stunning, with huge swathes of Northumberland opening up before your eyes.
Holidaymakers also have the choice of “roughing it” in a bunkhouse or a wigwam, which comes equipped with electric heating, a fridge and wi-fi access.
The bunkhouse knocks the socks off traditional backpackers’ hostels, with its underfloor heating and comfy communal lounge. And it offers stunning views from the balcony, with Bamburgh Castle to the north, the Farne Islands to the east and the Cheviot Hills to the west – all from £12 a night.
We went up-market and spent a week at the cottage which was originally a family home for the Gregorys.
On our first morning, we were greeted by the sun streaming through the curtains, the strong winds of the night before replaced by calm blue skies.
At the nearby beach, miles of golden sand stretched out beneath our feet as we clambered over the dunes and onto the award-winning beach for a day of rock-pooling, an activity that was to become a firm favourite for my two-year-old son.
You could have walked for miles in either direction, and local dog walkers and horse riders were out in force taking advantage of the autumn sunshine.
We ventured a couple of miles down the road to the ancient capital of Northumbria, the village of Bamburgh, home of the magnificent castle perched on top of a rocky outcrop and a structure that dominates the landscape for miles.
The castle dates back to 547 when the Kings of Northumbria chose Bamburgh as their royal capital, with Ida the Flame Bearer laying the first timbers of a wooden stockade overlooking the sea.
The main buildings of the castle housed an array of weaponry, paintings and archaeological finds, with the King’s Hall and Cross Hall adding the wow factor with their teak-lined walls and ceilings, along with huge colourful tapestries.
Down on the beach in the shadow of the stone fortress, even the most novice of photographers couldn’t fail to capture the glory of the scene in front of them.
It was on this beach, on a perfect sunny morning, that I had my first taste of surfing. I always imagined myself hanging ten in Devon or Cornwall, rather than Northumberland, but I discovered that Bamburgh, along with the nearby beaches at Seahouses and Beadnell, is something of wave-riding hotspot.
Qualified surf instructor and local lad Ben Patterson runs Boards and Bikes, a mobile adventure service hiring out surfboards, wetsuits and mountain bikes and he and I strode out onto the sand, with our boards tucked under our arms.
As a surf music lover, I had always longed to try the sport and now here I was getting ready to go my own Surfin’ Safari. But the reality was rather different – I could barely sit on my board without falling off, never mind stand up. I began to understand the term wipeout. It was still great fun, though.
After such exertions, it was time to replenish my energies with a hearty meal at the Bamburgh Castle Inn, back in Seahouses. The 18th-century building sits above the old lime kilns on the quayside, with splendid views of the castle and the Farne Islands from the upper floor of the restaurant. The steak and ale pie went down a treat with a pint of local brew, while my wife and son tucked into a bounty of fish and chips. And the toffee sponge was to die for. The 30-bedroom inn had a makeover recently and is walking distance from Springhill.
Seahouses is also the location for the Seafield Ocean Club, where my wife enjoyed a pampering facial. Looking radiant again after the hour-long treatment, she joined us in the indoor 20-metre swimming pool where the three of us relaxed as the rain lashed down outside.
With a pool and spa, fitness gym, health and beauty suite, as well as a lovely little coffee shop, all housed within the futuristic-looking complex, the Ocean Club is a popular retreat for local residents and is definitely an oasis of calm in stormy weather.
Later in the week, we headed to the tiny village of Heatherslaw, about 20 miles north-west of Seahouses, home to a delightful light railway company that takes passengers on a 30-minute journey alongside the River Till to the nearby village of Etal.
It felt like Wind in the Willows territory. The riverbanks bustled with wildlife, herons cruised the fields and with the sun shimmering on the water, it was an idyllic spot for a relaxing journey powered by steam.
Northumberland is a beautiful county with so much to see and do. A return visit is definitely on the agenda and maybe next time we’ll see what the wigwams have to offer.
Places to stay and things to do
Dominic Picksley and his family were guests of Northumberland Tourism and stayed at Springhill Farm, where seven night self-catering stays range from £250 to £1,830. Wigwams start at £19 per adult per night, £11 per child and £2.50 per dog. Reservations: 01665 721 820 and www.springhill-farm.co.uk.
For rooms at Bamburgh Castle Inn, starting at £39.50, visit www.bamburghcastleinn.co.uk.
Boards and Bikes: Surfboard hire starts from £8 per half day, wetsuits from £6. Northumberland Tourism: 01665 511 333 and www.visitnorthumberland.com.