Ramblings in the Far North East
PUBLISHED: 09:03 18 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:41 20 February 2013
North East residents Barbara and Gwyn, Martin Carol and Mark Pugh on life in the North East
Oxford English dictionary.
Rambling ---- wandering; incoherent.
You, all the readers of the magazine can make your own mind up regarding this article on which of the 2 definitions apply to it.
By profession I am an engineer; for the last 20 years being in technical sales (covering all of the north of England and Scotland) for my company and my wife is a care support worker. I first started visiting the north east on business some 10 years ago (sometimes with Barbara as well) staying at various places in and around Newcastle, Sunderland, Durham and so on. Some 5 years ago, planning a week long business trip with my wife in tow as it were I asked my company to fund a cottage rather than hotels; as the costs were roughly the same they agreed readily.
Since that time we have tried to return to the same cottage twice a year (on 2 occasions with my wifes sister and her husband) and since my company was wound up in May 2009 (and I subsequently made redundant) it has been as holidays. Situated on the outskirts of Ponteland it makes an ideal base for touring; situated in a wood with a main road some half a mile away it is very peaceful and idyllic. For those interested in wildlife nuthatches, tree creepers and great spotted woodpeckers are an every day sight (apart from all the usual common birds) and nearly every day red squirrels appear taking food from off a picnic table just outside the huge picture window. This year in October we were lucky enough on several days to have 3 and 4 squirrels at the same time. On our last 2 visits we were also fortunate to have roe deer stroll past the window as well; the first time was a family of buck, doe and youngster. My wifes sister and her husband, up early before us one morning also had a fox appear; we (darn it!!!) missed seeing it.
Close by the cottage is the Northumberland Cheese factory; well worth a stop for some of their home made cheese and the tea shop is always very busy, although we cannot vouch, as yet, for it. About a mile or so up the road is the Blagdon farm shop; as a food shop or delicatessen it cannot be bettered and it is a must for us every time we are in the area. For a good evening meal we have found two lovely places close to hand in Ponteland; both The Smithy Bistro and Ristorante Rialto have well satisfied our hunger pangs.
One of the places we love to visit is Lindisfarne or Holy Island timing our crossings so that we spend the day on the island. There is much to see and do; the castle of course with its wonderful interior and marvellous panoramic views both south and north on the coast is an absolute must; the priory too is worth visiting. The Manor House Hotel is worth stopping at as they have a good selection of malt whiskies; definitely a big plus, but equally the small Pilgrims caf/tea room is excellent as the hot chocolate my wife assures me is to die for!! Seals can be seen close under the castle and on our very first visit just on starting to cross on the causeway a great northern diver was seen; but indeed the whole island is a bird watchers paradise. With my wifes sister and husband in tow in 2009 we had (to us) a rare sighting of a merlin sitting on a branch as well as the thousands of waders on the shoreline. In October 2010 we saw about 40 or 50 Teal close to the castle and fulmars can also be spotted too. Our last 2 visits have seen us crossing back at sunset and those have been just a spectacular finale to the day with the most wonderful sunsets; the sky a blaze of pink then slowly turning to the deepest of orange. The beach walk to the north of the castle to the white marker buoy is lovely; we returned the same way but it is possible to do a circular walk as well.
Just south down the coast is the tiny village of Craster; in the centre of the village is The Jolly Fisherman pub it is warm and welcoming with yet again a good selection of malt whiskies. On a bitterly cold but sunny day in January 2010 this was a good stopping off point for a roaring fire, coffee and a dram as we were walking from between Howick and Craster to the marvellous ruin of Dunstanburgh Castle. Later that week we called at Seahouses and were greeted by about 40 Eider ducks down by the harbour; some thought they were going to be fed as they came pecking at my hand!! Again a good stop for a bite to eat is here at The Bamburgh Castle Inn overlooking the sea. Where ever you walk on this coast the birdlife is wonderful; Druridge Bay at sunset, Amble late afternoon with a rainbow after a storm looking out to Coquet Island, Budle Bay always with loads of waders, and not forgetting Bamburgh with the views to the Farne Islands. Still on this coast road stop off at The Coach Inn at Lesbury; booking is advisable certainly at Sunday lunch time. However, accommodating staff did fix us a table for a late lunch albeit right by the bar side.
Turning inland for a change and into the Kielder Forest; the drive up the side of the lake is lovely with stopping off points for the views; the boat trip I am told is equally good (sister and brother in laws recommendation!); Barbara and I had a walk on one of the many paths. Continuing up to Kielder Castle and the village do find the time to take the forest drive and end up on the main A68. Roe deer are to be seen on this part tarmac part stone road here. It depends on which section of Hadrians Wall you visit; you will either think it spectacular or be disappointed. Certainly some sections are very good giving you the feeling of the times in which it was built and the fort excavations are equally worth seeing. Upon pulling onto the car park at Housesteads fort we were greeted by a flock of maybe 20 to 30 Goldfinches; we have never seen so many together in 1 go. The drive along here (B6318) is worth doing if only for the superb views towards Kielder and Scotland.
The National trust is well represented in this area. What can one say about Cragside? All the usual epithets apply here; wonderful stupendous etc etc. The house is incredible as too are the gardens and the grounds; I am told the forest drive is well worth doing: its on our todo list!! Wallington is one of our favourite places to visit; the house is lovely in particular the murals in the centre of the house. Outside, do walk to the walled garden; its an absolute joy to see at any time of the year. Back onto the main road and over the other side is Kirkharle courtyard; a maze of small shops and a tea room. Do go and see the silhouette shop; they are all hand cut and while the owner is framing it for you (assuming you are buying one of course) he will tell you how they are made. There is so much to see and do in the area; Gibside park with its walks is superb; and for the less mobile electric scooters are available with prior notice, allowing people with walking problems the chance to see nearly all of the park. This is a good spot to watch the (still relatively) rare Red Kite a bird we have been watching in Wales for some 30 years; Buzzards, Kingfishers and Herons can all be seen here as well.
Beamish museum is also very good; I personally think that St Ffagans in South Wales is still the leader in this type of museum but certainly this comes a very close second. A visit is best when the entire museum is open and well worth a whole day spent here; however in the winter time it is much quieter but there are sections then that are not open. Just down the road and on the side of the museum grounds is Beamish Hall Hotel; standing in its own grounds like a stately house it is a good place to both stay and eat as we have done on several occasions. Not too far away is Souter Lighthouse; well worth a visit as is the climb to the top as the views are spectacular. The rock stacks here are a sight too; bird life in abundance yet again and just to the north are The Leas. Here again a lovely stony beach walk with a pub built into the cliffs; well worth stopping off for!!
Driving north on the A1 of course one can see The Angel; this is something I think you either love or hate, there is no in between. I am most definitely in the minority here as I do not like it while the other 3 love it.
What next for us? Well we have not yet visited either Bamburgh or Alnwick Castles, both are on our todo list; as are Seaton Delaval Hall and Washington Old Hall. A trip to the Farne Islands has got to be up there as well although my wife is not a particularly good sailor! Two birds we definitely want to see are any member of the tern family and the comical Puffin; we have not seen either in any of our wanderings in England, Wales or Scotland. We drove through Warkworth on our last visit with no time to stop, yet another place to see. The Wetland centre at Washington is another place we must visit as we have been to the ones at Llanelli in South Wales and Martin Mere in Lancashire; both are very good indeed. Finally we must make a visit slightly to the south and visit Durham, none of us have yet been there but the photographs we have seen look fantastic.
Barbara and Gwyn Martin.
Carol and Mark Pugh.