Hexham Abbey sits proudly at the heart of the historic market town of Hexham and with a long history and so much to see and so much to admire it’s definitely a must for places to visit during your stay.
Hexham Abbey is one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in the country and was founded back in AD674 as a Benedictine Abbey by St Wilfred and through it’s long history has seen periods of immense turmoil, destruction and change and this is reflected in the fascinating and wonderful church we see today.
There is a wealth of treasures to discover and admire when you visit the Abbey, the bright and colourful stained glass windows that adorn the North and South Transept, the Great East window situated behind the High Altar and the windows in the Nave that feature a variety of themes from the Northern saints to the armed forces. The Phelps Organ is magnificent with it’s beautiful polished oak and is quite a dominating sight and as you would expect plays a huge part in Abbey life. One of our favourite parts of the Abbey is the night stair and you can almost feel the history and the stories they could tell as you climb the 35 worn steps. At the bottom of the night stair is Flavinus’ Tombstone, a memorial slab which stands nearly nine feet high that was found in 1881 under part of the floor of the Abbey and is the largest example of its kind to have been found in England. A visit to the Saxon Crypt is a highlight for many visitors and takes you down to the earliest days of Christianity in England. The Crypt is open to visitors daily and although there is small charge one of the wonderful Abbey stewards will talk you through the history.
As you wander the wonders of this majestic building admire artifacts such as the Frith Stool and Acca’s Cross, discover what the banners mean and look out for the 7th century ‘Hexham Lion’. In the chancel you’ll find a fascinating collection of 15th century painted wood panels which are made up of three distinct series and in the choir you’ll encounter the rood screen which dates from the late 15th or early 16th century and features paintings of saints, including St Oswald, St Etheldreda and St Andrew.
In 2014 restoration of the medieval monastery complex, the Priory Buildings, was completed and this work reunited all the buildings on the Abbey site for the first time since the Reformation, and gave the opportunity to create a new permanent and interactive exhibition, The Big Story which tells 1300 years of history. The restoration also allowed for a new cafe within the Abbey buildings and you will find the Refectory Cafe perfect for coffee, light lunch or a delicious afternoon tea.
The Abbey is just as beautiful outside as inside and it stands within it’s own grounds which includes a pretty park area and recently restored bandstand. The grounds are lovely for a stroll and make sure you walk as far as the beautifully manicured bowling green and gardens of Hexham House.
The Abbey isn’t just about it’s fascinating history, the Abbey plays a huge part in the local community today and offers a wonderful programme of events and exhibitions alongside it’s regular services and to find out more about visiting the Abbey or about the events please check their website.
A visit to the Hexham Abbey is a wonderful experience with its’s peaceful atmosphere and ancient architectural treasures, and of course gives the opportunity to enjoy the lovely and historic town of Hexham.
If you’re visiting Northumberland you will undoubtedly want to take in some of Hadrian’s Wall and there is nowhere better to appreciate this epic UNESCO World Heritage Site than at Housesteads Roman Fort.
Set high on a dramatic escarpment on Hadrian’s Wall, Housesteads was one of the16 permanent bases along Hadrian’s Wall and is the most complete example of a Roman fort in Britain. The fort is the most well known in the whole of the Roman Empire and is home to some of the most outstanding original features of a Roman fortress.
Although owned by The National Trust the site is run by English Heritage and their interactive museum showcases a great display of objects that once belonged to the Roman soldiers, and the short film that shows in the mini-cinema takes you on a journey through time as you watch the fort brought to life with stunning recreations of the original Roman buildings. You’ll get a real insight into Roman military life and discover the past behind the archaeological remains as you stroll around the barrack blocks, the Commander’s House, the granaries, the hospital and as you peer into the communal and undoubtedly the oldest toilets you’re ever likely to see.
A visit to Housesteads also gives the opportunity to enjoy a 5 mile circular walk which will take you past the site of Sycamore Gap following the Hadrian’s Wall National Trail before circling back to take you along the Roman Military Way.
Due to the nature of the site a visit to Housesteads involves a steep and uneven 750m walk from the car park, however the history of this ancient fortress together with the stunning panoramic views makes the walk worthwhile. A visit to Housesteads will leave you in awe of what the Romans achieved and gives real insight into the life of the soldiers based there and perhaps makes us realise just how tough and resilient they really were!
Walltown Country Park lies on the line of Hadrian’s Wall and within the stunning Northumberland National Park.
Up until 45 years ago Walltown was still a working quarry where the whinstone (that forms the crag along which Hadrian’s Wall runs) was blasted with dynamite to provide road stone for the expanding road network of the early 20th Century. After it closed in 1976 the quarry was filled in and landscaped, planted with trees and flowers, and today is a haven for wildlife.
Walltown is just a mile from Greenhead and around 6 miles from The Sill Discovery Centre and Vindolanda and only a stone’s throw from The Roman Army Museum making it really accessible if you’re exploring other parts of Hadrian’s Wall. There’s plenty parking, EV charge points, loos, a visitor centre and there’s really handy information boards making it easy to decide which walk or route you might like to take once you get there. Choose from short 10 minute or 25 minute walks or a longer 40 minute nature trail where you will discover the park’s wildlife, birdlife, ponds and a peace labyrinth which was planted in 2011 with 2000 willow trees which once fully grown will form a giant labyrinth.
The car park at Walltown also gives access to the Thirlwall Castle Walk which is an easy 2 mile circular route which takes you along the Tipalt Burn and past the ruins of Thirlwall Castle. This relic of troubled times dates back to the 12th Century to when John Thirlwall built this defensive home to protect his family and of course it was a well chosen spot as he had a plentiful supply of dressed stone from a nearby very large wall.
From Walltown Country Park you can walk along Hadrian’s Wall to Walltown Crags to see one of the most dramatic views of Hadrian’s Wall. The wall is so well preserved at this site and the sheer volcanic rock edge plunges into the landscape along the crags of the Whin Sill creating a spectacular viewpoint.
A day time visit to Walltown Country Park is all about woodlands, walking and wildlife, you’ll find it perfectly peaceful and wonderfully scenic and yet as night falls it is also the perfect place to see the amazing dark and starlit skies of Northumberland. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
Alnmouth is a beautiful coastal village in North Northumberland that lies just 4 miles from the nearby town of Alnwick. Alnmouth is a pretty and sweet little village that offers fantastic views, a beautiful beach, a diverse selection wildlife and some wonderful walks that take in the stunning North East coastline.
Alnmouth is within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and it’s pretty obvious why as soon as you arrive. The village itself sits neatly within a sweeping curve of the Aln Estuary and is surrounded by a vast but very tranquil beach which is backed by golden sand dunes. The sand dunes are the perfect habitat for birds and that together with the mud flats that the tide creates mean there are superb bird watching opportunities. From Alnmouth there are views to Coquet Island which lies just a mile off the coast and is an RSPB wildlife sanctuary, as well as being home to over 35,000 seabirds it is the only UK breeding site for Roseate Terns. It is a protected site which unfortunately means the public are unable to set foot on the island but there are boats trips over to view the island from nearby Amble.
The village centre itself is home to a small selection of gift shops, a deli, a gallery and a small selection of pubs and restaurants too. Alnmouth is well known for it’s row of colourful houses which are an eye-catching sight, think the Tobermory of Northumberland, they are a favourite subject with photographers and artists alike. This little village boasts a lovely golf course which enjoys spectacular views over the coast and is one of the oldest golf courses in England, dating back to 1869 and it is also home to the smallest museum in Northumberland, The Ferryman’s Hut, which you will find in the harbour. It was originally used by ferrymen when they would row their passengers back and forth across the River Aln and it is thought that the last ferryman stopped working in the 1960s and the museum shows pictures and stories of him and his predecessors in this tiny piece of Northumbrian history.
Alnmouth has a few treasures too such as The Friary that holds open garden days and events throughout the year, Alnmouth Gun Battery dating back to 1881 which you may come across as you saunter along the vast sands. St Cuthbert’s Cross stands on the very steep Church Hill and looks out over the estuary and although little is known about the cross it is thought that it was the location where St Cuthbert agreed to become The Bishop of Lindisfarne. There is a walk which takes you up the hill to the cross although you may find it is more of a hike, if you do take the walk look out for the ruins of a small Mortuary Chapel.
Northumberland really does have something for everyone and the beauty of the County isn’t just found in the larger tourist attractions. If you’re looking for a quiet day away from it all then Alnmouth is definitely worth a visit and for more of Northumberland’s smaller hidden gems then take a look at our blog posts on the villages of Allendale and Otterburn.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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