Newcastle and Northumberland together offer the best of city, coast and country, as Sharon Dale discovered.
When one of my twin daughters decided to go to Newcastle University and the other opted for Durham, I was pleased and relieved.
“Thank goodness I don’t have to endure regular trips on the M6 southbound” was one of my first thoughts. “What a great excuse to head up the A1 and explore” was another.
The reality is that parachuting in to drop off, pick up and do a food shop for your student offspring doesn’t leave much time for the tourist thing. So, to celebrate their birthday and as a treat for completing 19 years of parenting, I planned a sightseeing trip taking in city, coast and country.
First on the itinerary was a weekend in Newcastle. It’s the second most beautiful city in the north – just pipped to the post by York, although in my opinion it has the best street by far. Grey Street, a long and wide thoroughfare of tall and strikingly beautiful Georgian buildings, is an architectural delight in a style often described as “Tyneside Classical”. It leads down to the river and more excitement for building nerds like me.
Over the Millennium footbridge is the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. A converted Art Deco-style flour mill, it offers visitors both culture and a bird’s eye view of Newcastle from the glass elevator that leads to the top floor.
Further along the riverbank is The Sage Gateshead, a statement concert venue designed by Foster and Partners. It’s a gigantic, shiny caterpillar of a building that signalled the area’s regeneration.
Walking back up the hill in search of food, I discovered the delights of Fenwick’s food hall, which has a fantastic selection of restaurants and cafes, including Ko Sai, which serves Vietnamese and Thai dishes. Outside, the Saturday night party was starting early, which was fine as we had booked a boutique B&B in leafy Jesmond a 15-minute walk away.
The Rosebery Hotel came highly recommended and rightly so. It is heaven for those who love vintage and retro-style interiors.
It sits in a peaceful spot close to beautiful Jesmond Dene, a wooded valley that follows the River Ouseburn. The décor is glamorous and decadent with a host of quirky and clever design ideas.
In the hall, there’s a piano given new life as a desk. There are chandeliers, enormous mirrors, upcycled cinema seats, reupholstered chairs and an eclectic and exciting mix of ornaments. It’s an ever-changing visual feast and the bedrooms all have exquisite vintage French beds, one of the reasons the return rate is high.
A short ride on the Metro to the lovely seaside town of Tynemouth on Sunday delivered a perfect day before we checked out of the city and headed further up the A1 to Northumberland.
The destination was West Coastguard Cottage and one of the most blissful weeks I’ve spent anywhere, ever.
The end of a row of three properties, it sits on a secluded, sandy track that leads down to Ross Sands, a vast, quiet and sandy beach with views of Bamburgh Castle on one side and Holy Island on the other.
Seals are a regular sight along with kittiwakes and gulls, and there are few other people to disturb the glorious peace and on our late afternoon walks we had it all to ourselves.
Owners John and Heather Sutherland are farmers, who diversified into holiday lets. Heather has an exceptional eye for design. She has thought about how each room in the property will be used. The décor is classic country with splashes of modern art and plenty of uplifting colour. Her love of textiles is also evident and contributes to the restful but uplifting feel.
The Sutherlands’ most recent project is The Ducket, a 65ft tall, 18th century stone tower. They have transformed it into a romantic holiday retreat for two. It has five round rooms on five floors, connected by a spiral staircase. There are panoramic views of the sea and the Cheviot Hills.
There is lots to see and do in the area. Holy Island is a must, as is ambling round the seaside towns of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Bamburgh and Seahouses. Alnwick Castle and Gardens are well worth a visit, although my favourite day out was at Cragside, near Rothbury. The estate and its house was created by Lord William Armstrong, a gifted Victorian engineer. Cragside was the first home to be lit by hydroelectricity.
It’s now owned by the National Trust and is enormous, with 30 miles of footpaths and lakeside walks. We didn’t have time to see it all so we are planning to revisit
It’s one more reason to head back to the north east. Another is the friendliness of the people. My daughters found a thread on studentroom.com, from those who moved from the south to study in the north east. One student from London says: “I find the people up here completely different. They smile at you when you walk past them. They don’t give you dirty looks.”
Another adds: “The people are so awesome and friendly.”
As they say in Newcastle “Wey aye man”, which translates as “Yes, I wholeheartedly agree”.
The Rosebery Hotel, boutique B&B, Newcastle, roseberyhotel.com
Outchester and Ross Cottages, including West Coastguard cottage and The Ducket, rosscottages.co.uk
Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Newcastle, balticmill.com
Cragside, near Rothbury, nationaltrust.org.uk/cragside