A National Trust Beauty – Cragside

Northumberland has some great National Trust properties to enjoy, from tiny houses to magnificent estates and you will find each and every one fascinating and an absolute joy to visit. Cragside sits within the Northumberland National Park near the market town of Rothbury and the house, the gardens, the estate and even the drive from St Oswald’s over to Cragside is impressive on the biggest scale. Cragside House and Estate was created by Lord William and Lady Margaret Armstrong, William who was a visionary Victorian inventor and Margaret a keen gardener and together their vision and their passion for engineering and natural sciences transformed a baron land into what we see today.

alt="Cragside House and rock garden"
Cragside House from The Pinetum (image B Wake)

The Victorian mansion was a pioneering home, perhaps the first ever ‘smart home’, it was the first house to be powered by hydroelectricity generated using hydraulics which harnessed power from nearby lakes. Throughout the house you will see many of the ‘mod cons’ that the Armstrongs and their guests enjoyed and their staff used, an early dishwasher, rotating spits, fitted sinks with hot running water and even central heating. The library houses four of the inventor Joseph Swan’s original incandescent lamps and the house shone with electric light, which was powered by Armstrong’s expertly integrated hydroelectricity system.

The gardens are just as impressive, enjoy the formal garden which covers three acres and lies over three levels and enjoys views to the South overlooking the Coquet Valley and the Simonside Hills. There are plenty of places to sit and enjoy the formal garden and it includes the Orchard House, The Clock Tower and The Quatrefoil Pool although the centrepiece has to be the Italian Terrace.

Enjoy a stroll through The Pinetum which is made up of a collection of non-native coniferous trees all planted especially for their scale and size and is home to some of the tallest of their kind in the UK. Planted 160 years ago, the original trees still stand today and as you gaze upwards they create such a majestic feel and remember to keep your eyes peeled for red squirrels as you saunter. From the Pinetum a walk along the waterside brings you to iconic iron bridge and beyond that the Rock Garden, a rockery on a monumental scale that is filled with azaleas and rhododendrons. Cragside is renowned for it’s annual show of over a million rhododendrons and June is wonderful time of year to see this spectacle.

alt="Rhododedrons on the carriage drive at Cragside"
A riot of colour in the gardens and on the carriage drive

There are over 40 miles of footpaths at Cragside and there are some great walks and trails to help you navigate your way around, choose from The Armstrong Trail, The Gun Walk, Nelly’s Moss Lakes Walk or the Inspiration Walk, all the trails are downloadable on the National Trust website.

To fully appreciate the Armstrong’s creation then be sure to take the Carriage Drive which is a 6 mile route around the Estate with plenty of places to stop and admire the view or park up in one of the many car parks and explore on foot on one of the waymarked walks. Look out for caves, sculptures, the timber flume, boathouses and of course the wonderful wildlife that is resident in this beautiful part of Northumberland.

alt="Nelly's Moss lake and picnic bench at Cragside"
Nelly’s Moss Lake

As you would come to expect from a National Trust property there are all the usual amenities and there are three eateries offering breakfast, lunch and plenty of cakes and bakes. Cragside is a full day out but please bear in mind that many of the paths are steep and can be rough in places so do wear appropriate footwear. Cragside is one of our favourite days out and we hope you love it as much as we do.

Gardens Galore

In Northumberland and the North East of England there are gardens galore all just waiting to be discovered, there is everything from grand estates to hidden retreats and from naturally wild to neat and manicured and you will find there really is something for everyone to enjoy.

Howick Hall in North Northumberland, best known as the home of Earl Grey tea, is a garden lover’s dream and offers extensive gardens with everything from formal gardens with their impressive herbaceous borders and rockeries, to the bog garden, Silverwood, the sensory garden and the woodland walk. The Arboretum at Howick Hall covers around 65 acres and amazingly has almost virtually all been grown from seed collected in the wild since 1985. It boasts about 11,000 trees and shrubs and holds one of the largest collections of wild origin plants in the UK and there are paths and way markers to help you navigate your way around this wonderful botanical garden. To find out more about Howick Hall please go to their website.

alt="Front of Howick Hall with gardens"
Howick Hall

If you prefer something on a much smaller scale then The Garden Station at Langley is just a 20 minute drive from St Oswald’s and is a destination for a peaceful afternoon in tranquil surroundings. This woodland garden and beautifully restored wooden Victorian railway station sits on the former Hexham to Allendale railway. What you will find here is a rather quirky garden together with a small cafe along with a woodland walk that was created in 2003 along the old railway track between two arched bridges and it is bordered by plants which thrive in this pretty woodland. There is outdoor seating in the garden which is just perfect for sitting soaking up the peace and tranquility of these lovely surroundings that sit within the Northumberland National Park. The Garden Station does close when it hosts private events so do check they are open before you visit.

Birkheads Secret Garden is another small but perfectly formed North East gem and is located in rural Gateshead halfway between Tanfield Railway and Beamish Museum. The garden sits on a sloping 3 acre site and has been divided up into 14 smaller inspirational gardens and each with a different theme to suit the planting conditions and displaying a wide variety of hardy plants to provide something for all the senses and to create year round interest. This small family run garden and nursery has been developed and grown by the owners with love and with care and has sustainability and bio-diversity at it’s core. Opening times vary throughout the year and more information on this gorgeous garden can be found on their website. Oh and if you have an old and unused key take it along and all your wishes might just come true!

Holy Island is a well known visitor destination but perhaps lesser known is the Gertrude Jekyll Garden which lies beside Lindisfarne Castle and is located where the Castle’s garrison originally had it’s vegetable plot. This delightful walled garden was designed by gardening guru Gertrude Jekyll for her friend Edward Hudson in 1911 and was re-established by the National Trust using Jekyll’s original planting scheme when it was restored in 2003. The garden has a geometric layout of paths and beds containing hardy annuals, stunning perennials and even vegetables that ensure the garden is interesting all year round. The garden was designed to be particularly stunning during the summer months when Edward Hudson was said to visit the garden and to show it off to his visitors. Don’t forget to always check the safe crossing times when visiting Holy Island.

Gertrude Jekyll Garden at Lindisfarne Castle

For more gardens galore across Northumberland and the North East then take a look at our earlier blog posts Gorgeous Gardens and More Gorgeous Gardens.

Visit Rothbury

Northumberland boasts many lovely towns but none perhaps as remote and picturesque as the traditional market town of Rothbury which sits in the heart of the Coquet Valley and within the stunning Northumberland National Park. Both the town and the surrounding area are perfect for a day out enjoying rural Northumberland.

alt="Coquetdale hills with purple heather with Rothbury in the distance"
Rothbury tucked away in the distance in Coquetdale

Known as the ‘capital of Coquetdale’, Rothbury is a thriving market town with welcoming pubs, cafés, art and craft galleries and boasts a number of traditional independent shops along it’s quaint high street. There’s two car parks, loos, picnic area and if you fancy a stroll by the river then there’s a lovely riverside walk that takes you along the banks of the River Coquet.

Rothbury is fantastic place to access all types of walks so if you’re looking for something more a leisurely walk then the Simonside Hills must not be missed and as a Special Area of Conservation you may encounter wildlife such as the curlew, red grouse, mountain bumblebee, and even red squirrels and there are marked walking trails to keep you on the right path. Get to the top of the Simonside Ridge walk and you will enjoy a spectacular 360 degree view encompassing the Cheviot Hills and North Sea coastline.

The area surrounding Rothbury is full of surprises, and no more so than Lordenshaws which is just a short drive out of Rothbury and where you can take in the impressive remains of an Iron Age hillfort built 2,000 years ago. You will see burial mounds and intriguing cup and ring rock carvings that our ancestors left behind and in fact this site has one of the largest clusters of ancient cup and ring marked stones in the country.

Rothbury is also home to the wonderful Cragside House, Gardens & Estate which is a National Trust property not to be missed.

The house is a showcase of Victorian gadgets and inventions for efficient and modern living and witness for yourself how this grand Victorian mansion was powered by hydroelectricity and hydraulics. Outside is just as impressive and with around 1000 acres there’s a lot to enjoy, the Formal Garden, Pinetum, The Rock Garden, the Carriage Drive and the opportunity to discover more of the science and engineering behind how William Armstrong harnessed the force of water.

Whatever you’re looking to do during your stay in Northumberland, be it gardens or walking or shopping or history, the lovely market town of Rothbury offers it all.

Our Farming Year

So many of our guests ask about our farming life and are interested to know what we’re doing, what we do each month or season and why. So here it is, our year in brief at St Oswald’s Farm.

A farming year could probably be described as none stop, each month brings new tasks and inevitably new challenges and with the annual to do list on top of the usual daily farming routine. Each day begins with all stock being checked and fed, any that aren’t well are attended to or if there are any animals not accounted for then they need to be found. Sheep and cattle love to find out if the grass really is greener on the other side of a fence or wall! We ensure there is a water supply for all animals and if in the winter troughs are frozen they need to be defrosted. From October to May when cattle are housed indoors then they require clean bedding every couple of days and that in turn means mucking out the sheds too.

alt="farming life collage of feeding sheep and calves in the fields"
Checking and feeding the stock every day

The year begins in earnest and January sees the start of calving time, the cows and heifers are checked continually each day and we’re always looking for those who we think will calve today. Some deliver on their own and others will need assistance, day or night, and then like any newborn we are checking to ensure they are feeding and Mum is happy with her baby. If not it could mean bottle feeding and trying to keep them warm until Mum steps up.

During January our flock of sheep are scanned to let us know how many lambs each one is having and throughout the month we are also selling the last of the lambs from the previous year and buying store cattle. Through February calving and buying store cattle continues and we begin vaccinating the sheep in preparation for lambing. Fields are ploughed for Spring crops and we’re starting to prep the sheds for lambing time.

March and April is all about lambing which is the busiest time of year with the livestock, lambing time is hectic and depending on the weather can be particularly stressful, and I’ve dedicated a whole blog post to this important event in the farming calendar. Fertilizer and muck are spread in March and April and Spring crops are sown. Any cattle we have bought are wormed and the bulls go out to the cows and heifers.

alt="newborn lamb in straw"
Cute lambs…around 1900 of them!

During May we hope that cattle can be turned out, and it’s always fabulous to see them kicking their heels in the fields after being indoors all winter. As the grass begins to grow so do the weeds and that means treating the fields to eliminate them. Our arable fields are ploughed and sown for our forage crops whilst other fields may be topped (cutting off rough grass to promote new growth) and if possible our first cut of silage is made.

Summer is mainly about silage and hay making, we have to ensure we have enough fodder to feed our animals through the coming winter. In July our sheep are clipped and we’re still topping fields and then during August we’re beginning to wean the lambs from their mothers, to enable us to begin selling our new season lamb at the local mart which we continue to do right through until January. If you’re wondering how we know when to sell them, they are weighed each week to ensure we sell them at the correct weight. Winter barley is also harvested, grain stored and straw baled.

alt="farming life hay field with tractors and baler"
Hay time

In September we’re spreading muck, weaning the calves and harvesting our Spring barley and it’s this time of year when we buy any replacement sheep that we need, buy any new tups and we begin to prepare all 1000 of our ewes for tupping time. We’re ploughing and sowing our next crops and buying in the additional straw that we’ll need for winter bedding.

Our calves are sold during October and our tups are put out with the ewes, cattle are clipped in preparation for being sold in November and the cows are brought in for the winter months. During December we continue to sell our lambs and our store cattle are sold and we’re looking after our heavily pregnant cows and heifers who will begin to calve in January.

alt="farming life 8 month old calves in field"
Our calves at 8 months old

After all that is done and dusted then the maintenance of sheds, fixing fences, repairing stone walls, clearing fallen trees, digging ditches, vermin control, paperwork, movement licences, registration of animals, passports, book-keeping, Countryside Stewardship and SFI applications, medicine records and mandatory records for Red Tractor Assurance are all done too.

Farming life is so dependent on weather and very often the annual timetable is stopped, paused or even destroyed by what the weather throws at us, each year brings different challenges and as farmers we have to be adaptable and be ready for whatever the weather decides to do. Farmers are eternal optimists as we always think next year will be better or as John says “next year will be different”. Farming life is all consuming, it’s 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 52 weeks a year, it’s about loving your animals, being a caretaker of your land and taking pride in what you produce. We get to live in a beautiful place working alongside nature and get to enjoy the most amazing views every day. We could say that’s it’s the best job in the world but farming isn’t a job, it’s a way of life and I have to say it’s a way of life that we love!

Discover The Bowes Museum

The Bowes Museum is a hidden treasure, a jewel in the heart of beautiful Teesdale. The magnificent building stands proud in the historic market town of Barnard Castle housing internationally significant collections of fine and decorative arts. Purpose built in the 19th century by John and Joséphine Bowes, this Museum has a wonderful story to tell.

The Museum is a unique cultural icon and is one of the most important museums outside London, it’s wonderful history and it’s outstanding collection of treasures span three exquisite floors.

The walls of the picture galleries are covered with a huge collection of world class paintings, many of which are priceless masterpieces, ranging from the smallest and oldest, Sassetta’s Miracle of the Eucharist (c1423) to the eye-popping sized Canaletto-double.

alt="The Bowes Museum front aspect and formal gardens"
Image Credit – The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle

The fashion collections take you on a journey from the 17th to 20th centuries with the displays fashioned in a manner which enable you to get a sense of time. The treasures include The Blackborne Lace collection, one of the largest and most important lace collections in the world. Shoes and garments are displayed on transparent acrylic mounts which enables a glimpse into the making of the garments with a view of the linings and labels which are normally hidden from sight.

Amongst the many collections there are a number of mechanical toys, music boxes and watches with automaton movements but perhaps the most well known and popular attraction is the clockwork Silver Swan which has been resident at the museum since it opened in 1892 apart from when packed away for safety during World War II. Unfortunately The Swan was a casualty of Covid regulations and due to the lack of use at that time is now undergoing maintenance, hopefully she will be performing and delighting visitors again soon.

The permanent collections are complemented by an eclectic exhibition and events programme and there are guided tours most days that you may wish to take advantage of, but places do need to be booked in advance.

Whatever time of day you visit Cafe Bowes is perfect for a quick bite, a leisurely lunch or delicious afternoon tea, and a day at The Bowes Museum wouldn’t be complete without a walk around the 20 acres of gardens, take in everything from woodland walks to the formal parterre garden which completes the look of this stunning French Chateau style building. If you love museums then a visit to The Bowes Museum will not disappoint.

We look forward to welcoming you to St Oswald’s Farm and hope you enjoy all the North East has to offer.

Exploring Northumberlandia

Northumberlandia is a unique and stunning piece of public art set in a 46 acre country park which lies near the town of Cramlington and a 35 minute drive from St Oswald’s Farm. ‘The Lady of the North’ as she is more affectionately known is the world’s largest human landform sculpture and is made of 1.5 million tonnes of rock, clay and soil and is 100 feet high and a quarter of a mile in length. There are 4 miles of footpaths on and around the landform centrepiece and the paths follow the curves of this reclining female form and there viewing platforms that offer great views. The Shotton Surface mine can also be seen from the top of Northumberlandia which is perfect for fans of big machinery!

alt="Northumberlandia lady of north profile and lake"
The lady of the North

This ambitious piece of public art and landmark feature were designed by world renowned artist and architect Charles Jencks and the inspiration for the landform comes from the distant Cheviot Hills. The whole history of Northumberlandia and how the project came about is detailed on lots of information boards and it’s fascinating to learn the story behind the ‘lady’ and see the images of the build and transformation that took place.

Northumberlandia was designed to be a living part of the countryside and you won’t find this artform in any way manicured but what you will find is a structure that blends into the landscape and something that will mature over time and change with the seasons. What you see when you visit is only the start of something that will evolve and develop through generations to come.

alt="View from top of Northumberlandia with low winter sun"
You can see for miles from the top of Northumberlandia

The sculpture, country park and woodland trail are open from dawn ’til dusk each day with free entry and parking on site together with a small cafe and loos. Northumberlandia also has a packed programme of food and craft markets and other events throughout the year and details can be found on their website. Northumberlandia is definitely worth a visit and is only a couple of miles from The Milkhope Centre which is a perfect stop for lunch at ‘The Blacksmiths’ and a browse around the small artisan shops.