A National Trust Beauty – Gibside

If you’re planning to visit some National Trust properties during your stay then Gibside in Tyne & Wear is just part of the fantastic National Trust offer across the North East of England.

Set amid the backdrop of the Derwent Valley, close to Newcastle, Gibside boasts both historic ruins and the space for walking, enjoying wildlife and with some spectacular and perhaps unexpected views. It is one of the few surviving 18th Century landscapes and was designed to make the most of the surrounding vistas and create some real ‘wow’ moments.

alt="Gibside garden ruin"

There are 600 acres of gardens, woodland and countryside to explore with four marked walks to choose from, The Liberty Trail, The Nature Trail, The Explorer Trail and Valley Views Trail with each one taking you on a different route around the landscape. The many miles of pathways are perfect for peaceful walks where you can enjoy wildlife spotting and with plenty of places to stop and pause, or you might choose to venture off into the wider Estate to enjoy a hike over more varied terrain.

There are many highlights and landmarks across the site including a restored stable block, ruins of the Grand Hall, the walled garden and garden cottage, the orangery and overlooking it all, The Column to Liberty. However perhaps the centrepiece of the Bowes’ Georgian landscape garden is the neo-classical chapel which was designed by renowned Palladian architect James Paine which sits framed by trees at the end of the half mile-long avenue.

If you would prefer to enjoy Gibside with the guidance of an expert tour guide then there are both landscape garden tours and history tours, although days and times vary so please do check in advance. There are all the usual facilities you would expect to find at a large NT property, with cafe, loos, shop and second hand book shop and with a varied programme of seasonal events.

National Trust properties are always a superb way to spend a day out during your holiday here and we’re lucky to have some real beauties in this part of the UK. For more NT inspiration take a look at our recent blog post about one of our own favourites, the magnificent Cragside House and Estate.

Restaurant Dining

If dining out is one the highlights of your holiday then Northumberland won’t disappoint, from country pubs to fine dining we have it all. Our local restaurants are second to none so whether you enjoy a curry, the taste of French cuisine or just like nothing better than pizza and pasta then this pick of our local restaurants have it covered.

The very lovely Saathi in nearby market town of Hexham is one of our own favourite places to dine out and it’s not just us that enjoys the wonderful offer at this family run business, Saathi is celebrating 23 years in Hexham which goes to show the local and loyal support this lovely restaurant has earned. The food is delicious and the wonderful service you will receive from Titu and his team is second to none. In 2023 the restaurant once again regained the title of Best Curry House in Tynedale and as a longstanding business in the area Saathi are also passionate about the local community and regularly hold charity fundraising nights. If a curry night is top of your list for dining out we thoroughly recommend booking a table at this real gem of a restaurant.

alt="dishes of curry in silver serving dishes"

Hexham is also home to Buongiorno Italian Pizzeria, a lovely little restaurant that you will find along one of the small cobbled streets in the main town centre. This small unassuming but well established eatery offers a main menu together with their ‘specials blackboard’, featuring many your well-loved favourite Italian dishes. Check out their Trip Advisor reviews here.

Another long standing local restaurant is Bouchon Bistrot, an excellent French restaurant conveniently situated close to the Market Place in Hexham, this award winning bistro serves straightforward country style French cuisine, including daily specials and a la carte menus. Born in the Loire Valley and having plenty of experience from working in Michelin starred restaurants throughout France, the owner of Bouchon Bistrot is an expert when it comes to traditional French cooking. Bouchon Bistrot is the ideal spot to enjoy an informal and friendly dining atmosphere in the heart of Hexham and with pretty al fresco dining in the warmer months.

Another favourite is Casa Rosso, a superb Italian restaurant tucked away on one of the small streets in the nearby charming village of Corbridge. This cosy and friendly restaurant has a menu of authentic Italian cuisine which is paired with fine wines and classic desserts, open each day from noon with a main menu, seasonal specials and lunchtime specials. Or if you fancy enjoying a taste Italy from the comfort of the cottage then they offer a delivery service on ‘Just Eat’.

If you’d like further dining out ideas, more dining out ideas and even more dining out ideas then our earlier blog posts are packed full of great places to dine whatever type of cuisine you’re hoping to enjoy during your stay in Northumberland.

Gorgeous Gardens North East

Northumberland has many gorgeous gardens to enjoy but if you’re travelling a little further afield and find yourself stepping over the the border into Durham, Cumbria or Tyne & Wear you’ll discover there are many more North Eastern gardens to indulge in.

alt="Ushaw formal gardens taken from above of huge rhododendrons"
Ushaw Gardens

Just 4 miles from the historic City of Durham lies Ushaw Chapel, House & Gardens which with more than 20 acres of formal gardens is a gem to visit. Expect the unexpected at Ushaw as you lose yourself in the lovely grounds, where you’ll find playful surprises, inspirational art, wildlife carvings amongst the woodland trails, wide-open spaces and vibrant floral gardens. As well as the gardens and parkland you will discover a long and rich history amongst the Victorian Gothic architecture of the house and chapel which is tied to the development and growth of Christianity in the region and that began over a millennium ago with St Aiden in Lindisfarne. You will encounter the most beautiful buildings and find yourself marvelling at centuries of art and heritage. 

Whilst in Durham and for a very different type of garden experience visit Eggleston Hall Gardens & Nursery which is described as ‘the secret garden of the north’. There have been gardens at Eggleston Hall since the late 16th century and it is very much a nursery garden that is both peaceful and relaxing with an unhurried atmosphere and a place that they dub as a ‘jewel amongst the hills’.

Eggleston Hall gardens are a bit of a plantsman`s paradise and are in no way a formal garden but are a wonderful place to visit where you can enjoy the garden trail and then pick up some new plants to take back home with you.

alt="pink and purple flowers in a deep border at Eggleston gardens"

A short 15 minute drive away from Eggleston takes you to The Bowes Museum near Barnard Castle, a superb destination which is a cultural gem that combines art, history and architecture with gorgeous gardens and although on a much bigger and grander scale is a superb place to visit and a day out that is always well enjoyed by our guests. The garden design at The Bowes Museum is in a renaissance revival style and you will find a grand terrace and parterre which then give way to less formal grassy mounds, winding paths and mature shrubs and woodland which are maintained as a public park. There are almost 20 acres of garden to enjoy alongside the wonderful chateau and more information on visiting can be found here.

alt="Front view of The Bowes Museum with blue skies and formal garden to the front"
Image credit – The Bowes Museum
alt="Lowther gardens and castle ruins and pathways and green planting"

Lowther Castle & Gardens are a great day out and one of our own favourite places to visit. Located near Penrith in Cumbria the 130 acre site comprises of castle ruins, extensive gardens, woodlands and ponds, and sits in the Lake District National Park, enjoying far-reaching views over the Lowther valley. The castle and grounds have a wonderful story to tell and in 2008, after many years of neglect, there began a 20 year plan to bring the gardens back to life. You will find ancient borders jostling with modern design with weird and wonderful summerhouses, roman pillars, rose and iris gardens, a lovely parterre, wild flowers, clipped yews and the unique garden-in-the-ruins. For more information on Lowther Castle and details on visiting these gorgeous gardens please go to their website.

Whatever type of garden you enjoy and whatever time of year you visit the North East of England you will find some of the loveliest gardens scattered across Northumberland and the whole of the north east region and all offering a very different and wonderful garden experience.

The Fabulous Farne Islands

The Farne Islands lie just off the North Northumberland coast and they are the perfect way to spend a day enjoying the very best bird and wildlife. The islands are home to literally thousands of seabirds and to one of Europe’s largest grey seal colonies and are internationally known as a breeding site of high importance. The Farnes are a must for anyone who enjoys seeing wildlife and birdlife and to see them in this, their most natural and wild habitat is a truly special experience.

The Farnes consist of around 25 islands with some visible at high tide and some only visible at low tide, they boast wonderful names such as Megstone, Elbow, The Bush, Glororum Shad, Gun Rock, Staple Island, Brownsman, Fang, North and South Wamses, Big and Little Harcar, Nameless Rock, Blue Caps and Longstone to name but a few. The Farne Islands can be broken into two main groups, the first is dominated by Inner Farne, the second a mile away includes Staple Island and the well known Longstone Island, which will be forever associated with the story of Northumberland’s greatest heroine, Grace Darling. In fact if you’re in up in North Northumberland for the day then The Grace Darling museum in the nearby and very gorgeous Bamburgh is definitely worth visiting too!

The Farne Islands are formed from the rocks of the Whin Sill Complex and this can be traced from Upper Teesdale in Durham where it forms the High Force waterfall all the way up to North Northumberland to the Farne Islands and the rocks upon Lindisfarne, Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh Castles all sit. The dolerite rock gives the Farne Islands their distinctive blackened appearance.

alt="Farne Islands black cliff face and lighthouse on Inner Farne"
The blackened rocks of Inner Farne (image credit Serenity Boats)

As well as birdlife the islands are also home to one of the largest colonies of grey seals and as you take your trip you’ll see them lazing on the rocks or bobbing inquisitively in the sea. The Farnes are in fact the top grey seal pupping site in England with more than 2000 pups born on the islands each year and to see these fluffy white seal pups visit the islands from late October.

alt="white fluffy seal pup"
Seal pup – image Serenity Boats

To enjoy the Farne Islands take a boat trip from the fishing village of Seahouses and enjoy either a cruise or a landing trip, boat operators such as Billy Shiel’s and Serenity Boats offer trips to Inner Farne and Staple Island and landing trips to Inner Farne. Choose from their Puffin Cruises, a Birdwatch Cruise, Sunset Cruises and cruises where you can enjoy grey seals as well as the seabirds, and some trips follow the route Grace Darling and her father took during their heroic rescue in 1838. Both operators are renowned for their cruises and their skippers and staff are hugely knowledgeable on both the wildlife and the history of the Islands and give a full commentary during their trips. (do please always check their websites for any current restrictions and up to date sailings)

alt="Sunset cruise with sun low in the sky over the sea"
Sunset Cruise (image credit Serenity Boats)

The Farne Islands are undoubtedly a seabird spectacle with over 23 species of birds including razorbills, guillemots, common & arctic terns, cormorants, shags, eider duck and around 43,000 pairs of puffins and for the best chance of seeing the largest number of birds then ideally plan your visit between late April and late July. If you wish to enjoy a landing visit to Inner Farne, famed for providing sanctuary to St Cuthbert in the 7th century, and the half mile wildlife walk then later in the season may be preferable for a more tranquil visit.

If you love nature and birdlife and don’t mind putting on your sea legs then The Farne Islands offer a great day out in North Northumberland and our top tip for your trip ….take a hat!

Discovering The Roman Army Museum

When you visit Northumberland you’ll find history tucked around every corner in our villages, towns and even throughout our lovely Northumbrian countryside with castles, bastles, forts and of course the most impressive piece of history of all, Hadrian’s Wall. The museums you will find along the wall corridor are as you would expect devoted to the Romans and Hadrian’s Wall and are packed with stories, treasures, finds and none more so than The Roman Army Museum which is the perfect place to start your Roman adventure as you discover life as a Roman soldier.

alt="Roman Army Museum display of roman helmets"

Set in magnificent countryside next to the highest standing and most complete and picturesque section of Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman Army Museum is owned and managed by the Vindolanda Charitable Trust and it brings to life wonderfully what it meant to live in this time of blood and brutality from both in and outside the Roman Empire.

alt="Hadrian's Wall near the Roman Army Museum"
Hadrian’s Wall near the Roman Army Museum

Start your journey in gallery 1 and walk straight into the role the army played within the Roman Empire, discover about the strength and variety of the different types of soldiers and admire real Roman artefacts brought over from the sister site of Vindolanda including the only Roman helmet crest ever to be discovered.

As you move through the museum and into Gallery 2 you will find the space devoted to Hadrian’s Wall and to the man himself, Hadrian. Learn about the successful invasion and occupation of Britain by the Romans and take the time to immerse yourself for 20 minutes as you watch the award winning 3D film ‘Edge of Empire’ which takes you flying over the Northumberland landscape and over Hadrian’s Wall and through a thousand years of history. See for yourself in incredible detail what life was like for the soldiers tasked with defending Hadrian’s honour, find out what it took to rise through the ranks, discover how the soldiers dealt with battle and boredom and what could happen if they dared to fall asleep, and why many just didn’t make it!

alt="Roman Army Museum model horse and horseman"

When you arrive in gallery 3 you’ll explore daily life on the frontier at the Roman fort of Magna. Find out about the training, food, religion, and what they did for leisure. Learn about the fort’s Syrian archers and even have a go at perfecting your archery skills.

In 2023 a five year research project started at the Roman Fort of Magna which sits behind the Roman Army Museum and during the summer months you can join one of the guided tours of the fort which lies hidden beneath the Northumberland landscape.

We highly recommend that you also visit the museum’s sister site Vindolanda Fort and just ask when you visit either and you’ll save on a joint ticket for both museums. If you have time don’t forget to take a walk up through Walltown Country Park just opposite the Roman Army Museum and take in this wonderful stretch of Hadrian’s Wall. The Roman Army Museum is fully interactive and immersive and a visit here together with a walk on the Wall and a trip to Vindolanda and you will be left in awe of what the Romans really did for us.

Visit Alnwick

Northumberland has some of loveliest market towns and each one has it’s own distinctive character, history and charm and each one with it’s own unique offering for a perfect day out. A visit to North Northumberland and to the market town of Alnwick will not disappoint and although most famously known for it’s grand castle and wonderful gardens there is much more to enjoy when you visit this lovely medieval market town.

Take a saunter through Alnwick town centre and you will find cobbled streets, narrow alleys and old traditional stone buildings many of which many are home to independent shops and you will find a few high street names dotted about too as well as pubs and cafes in which you can sit and soak up the atmosphere of this thriving market town. The historic Market Square hosts a weekly market on Thursday and Saturday from end of March onwards and the Farmers’ Market is held on the last Friday of each month is you fancy picking up some local produce.

alt="Alnwick Market Square in sun"
Alnwick Market Square

Also in the centre of Alnwick is the Bailiffgate Museum which is an award winning independent museum and gallery with exhibitions and displays showcasing 10,000 years of rich local history and culture. The museum is located in a Grade 2 listed former church and this would make a perfect starting point for if you wish to take in the rich history of Alnwick.

If you love books then a visit to Barter Books is a must, it is one of the largest second hand book shops in England with over 350,000 books to choose from. This huge bookshop is located in part of an old Victorian railway station and is made up of several rooms all with features from bygone days but all now fitting a very different purpose. The entrance is in fact the old Station Parcel Room, which still has the open window through which passengers would have bought railway tickets and further rooms mark the beginning of the outbound platform, with the buffers still remaining at one end. The old waiting room however is still just a place to sit, a place to read and in the colder months you will find yourself in front of an open fire. There is a whole room dedicated to antiquarian books and you will find the walls of this room lined with over forty glass cases full of these old gems. Of course an old railway station wouldn’t be complete without a train, which you will find running in miniature overhead and if you’re in need of refuelling then the station buffet will do just that. Top tip….the breakfast butties come highly recommended!

alt="bater books reading room in Alnwick"
Barter Books

Alnwick lies in the midst of some of the beautiful Northumberland countryside and none more so than the historic parkland which was landscaped by Capability Brown and which surrounds Alnwick Castle itself. The park was once part of Hulne Priory and is one of two parks that was once associated with Alnwick Castle and was once the hunting ground of the Percy family. Today Hulne Park is open to the public from 11am-4pm each day and is great for a walk and includes extensive parkland, the impressive Priory remains, the gatehouse to Alnwick Abbey and two bridges. There are three clearly marked circular walking routes and each is between 4 and 6 miles and a map of the walks can be found here.

Although not in the very centre of Alnwick The Aln Valley Railway at the Lionheart Station is lovely way to combine a trip to Alnwick with a breath of sea air. The railway has a small shop and cafe and holds events throughout the year but gives the perfect opportunity to take a train ride to the charming village of Alnmouth on the stunning North East coast.

Of course we couldn’t write about Alnwick without including the monumental Alnwick Castle and the wonderful brainchild of the Duchess of Northumberland, Alnwick Garden.

Alnwick Castle dates back 950 years and is the second largest inhabited castle in the UK and is often dubbed as the Windsor of the North. As you would imagine there is a wealth of history to be discovered within it’s 2m thick walls and the setting and the features of this medieval stronghold are nothing short of magnificent and many of which you may recognise from the castle’s numerous stints as a film set.

alt="Alnwick castle with blue skies behind"
Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Garden is a wonderful combination of spaces, themes, quirkiness and play. From the tranquility of the Cherry Orchard and garden swings, the excitement of the Grand Cascade and the mysteries of the Bamboo Labyrinth, to the Serpent Garden’s spell-binding water sculptures, the intrigue of the Poison Garden, the delight of the Rose Garden and one of the world’s largest tree houses – there is lots to admire and plenty to enjoy and delight!

When visiting the castle or garden please check the respective websites for opening seasons and times as these do vary.

alt="grand cascade at Alnwick Garden"
Alnwick Garden

Alnwick is just one of the lovely towns you will find in Northumberland and if you’d like to discover more of these historic market towns then remember to check out Hexham, Amble, Rothbury or Morpeth to name just a few. We hope you have a great day out whichever town you choose to visit.