Peaceful getaway

Northumberland sometimes seems one of those hidden away places. Tourists often travel through it on their way to Scotland but don't consider it as a destination in its own right. However, the secret is getting out, so my advice would be to get there before the rush.

The coastline is particularly beautiful and on a fortuitously sunny and warm weekend in July we headed up to the village of Embleton to explore the area between Alnwick and Lindisfarne.

Arriving at the comfortable and welcoming family-run Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel at about 9pm, we caught the tail-end of the evening when the light was dusky and the sky pink.

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Having settled in to our accommodation – one of three recently converted two bedroom cottage suites opposite the main hotel – we wandered through the village down to the beach to take a look at the sunset. It was quite magical.

The sound of the waves gently breaking on the shore and the soft evening breeze soon eased away the stresses of a working week.

The following morning after a splendid breakfast which set us up for the day, we headed again for the seaside. Just 10 minutes' walk from the hotel, this stretch of coast was voted Britain's best beach – and it's easy to see why.

Miles and miles of white sand and green tufted dunes stretch out into the distance and on the horizon is Dunstanburgh castle – a fabulous-looking ruin of a place that demands exploration. We duly explored.

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Having enjoyed a bracing walk along the sand, we then headed up from the beach on to the coastal path, and alongside what surely must be one of Britain's most picturesque golf courses, until we reached the windswept glory of the castle itself.

Dating back to the 14th century, Dunstanburgh is the largest castle in Northumberland and was built by the Earl of Lancaster, a cousin of King Edward II. Construction began on this huge fortress in 1313 and it was substantially complete by 1322.

Further improvements were made in the late 14th century but it was badly damaged during the War of the Roses and as the damage was not repaired the castle gradually fell into decay.

Over the years stone was taken from it for building other structures. It's now in the care of the National Trust and English Heritage and is a wonderful place to wander around. The sense of history is palpable and the views – on a clear day such as it was – along the dramatic coastline are magnificent.

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One of the villages visible from the castle is Low Newton by-the-sea, a picture-postcard 18th-century fishing hamlet

with white-washed cottages and an historic pub, The Ship Inn, which dates back to the 1700s, set around a pretty village green. The pub's reputation for good food and beer – it has its own microbrewery – is deserved. We had an excellent lunch there – which included the traditional Northumberland stottie (bread roll). We then sat out on the village green for a drink while admiring the breathtaking sea view.

From Low Newton, we travelled to another village nearby – this time a little inland to Doxford where we stayed at the Doxford Hall Hotel and spa. It's a fine country house set in lovely formal gardens, which include a large yew tree maze planted by local schoolchildren in 2000. After making use of the wonderful spa facilities and taking a dip in the pool, we had an excellent evening meal in

the restaurant.

Next morning we set off to visit Holy Island. Lindisfarne is within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is cut off twice a day by theNorth Sea.

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It is reached by a three-mile causeway – pay careful attention to the safe crossing times. Every year a hapless tourist will get stranded in their car as the waves lap at their tyres. The island's ruined monastery, founded by Irish-born Saint Aiden circa AD635, is now looked after by English Heritage who also run a small museum and visitor centre nearby.

Lindisfarne Castle, perched on a rocky crag and based on a Tudor fort, was refurbished in Edwardian times as a gentleman's residence for Edward Hudson, the editor of Country Life, by celebrated architect and designer Sir Edwin Lutyens.

It is an impressive example of the Arts and Crafts style and a fascinating place to explore.

There are plenty of interesting nooks and crannies and it seamlessly combines stone flagstones and thick castle walls with 19th century country living. Hudson liked to entertain and was well-connected socially. His houseguests included the celebrities of the time – musicians, writers, singers and actors. Peter Pan's creator JM Barrie was a frequent visitor.

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Just north of the castle is a charming enclosed garden created by Lutyens's frequent collaborator, the garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. The plants were carefully chosen to be of the hardy variety since

the garden stands on what must be one of the most exposed spots in the British Isles.

Our weekend break was over and we headed homewards feeling relaxed, renewed and not a little windswept. The most lasting impression that the Northumberland coast leaves on the visitor is of its tranquillity and space.

The craggily dramatic coastline, with its inviting network of coastal paths and numerous castles to investigate, is an area of big skies and breathtaking sunsets.

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Visit before the secret's out. It is a place you will want to return to.


The Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel,

Embleton, Alnwick, Northumberland NE66 3UN

Tel: 01665 576111

Doxford Hall Hotel and Spa,

Chathill, Alnwick, Northumberland

NE67 5DN

Tel: 01665 589700

Dunstanburgh Castle, Craster, Alnwick, Northumberland NE66 3TT

Tel: 01665 576231

Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island,

Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland TD15 2SH

Tel: 01289 389244

The Ship Inn, Low Newton by-the-Sea, Alnwick, Northumberland NE66 3EL

Tel: 01665 576262

n For more information about holidays in Northumberland,


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