Five Lesser-Known Places to Explore in England's Wildest County, Northumberland

Blustery fishing towns, sea-sprayed isles and craggy hills governed by wild goats: Northumberland has much to tempt the jaded urbanite. Here are five under-the-radar spots to get you started.

Is it rude to call Northumberland "Norfolk-up-North"? We mean it as a compliment. Blessed with rugged beaches, dramatic coastal geology and a wild, rambunctious interior, England's northernmost county offers the open-sky experience of East Anglia, but with fewer crowds and a healthy dollop of Nordic flavour (thanks, Vikings). We've sidestepped Newcastle and scouted further north in search of lesser-known realms worthy of an adventurous weekend getaway. Here's where to start when visiting the border county.

Holy Island, Northumberland

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

United Kingdom

Why we can't wait to visit again: It's a divine destination - no, literally. Accessible only by boat or a tide-dependent causeway, this chip of Northumbrian land encircled by North Sea waves has drawn devout pilgrims seeking spiritual refuge for centuries. The Lindisfarne Priory - founded in 635 AD - is the focal point for those steadfast in prayer, but there's much more to explore here besides. Head across at low tide to pick up a cup of joe from Pilgrims Coffee, the island's sole roastery, then dive into the myth-laden history of the hilltop Tudor castle that glares out across the sea. Afternoons are best spent sampling the archipelago's excellent alcoholic creations: mead from St Aidan's Winery and gin at the new-fangled Holy Island distillery. It's a great spot for twitching, too - the on-island nature reserve is home to wigeons, merlins and pale-bellied brent geese.

Where to stay: Manor House Hotel

Riley's Fish Shack in Tynemouth, Northumberland
Image credit: Nigel John /


Northumberland, United Kingdom

Why we can't wait to visit again: Let's throw cartographic details into the North Sea. Perched on the periphery of Northumberland in the bureaucratic concoction of Tyne and Wear, this craggy headland town offers a rugged alternative to a whimsical seaside jaunt. We can't promise balmy sunshine, but Tynemouth always delivers on wonder, if not weather. Expansive golden sands, brisk Nordic breezes and atmospheric skies hustled by grumbling clouds await. Spend your Saturday morning meandering along the local beaches, then duck into Riley's Fish Shack for a catch-of-the-day lunch cooked up over the fire pits. This rustic barbeque joint matches its menu to what lands off the boats at nearby North Shields Fish Quay, which could be anything from Lindisfarne oysters to flame-toasted kippers. Don't forget your Barbour for those blustery walks: the British brand's classic waxed cotton jackets are made in nearby South Shields.

Where to stay: Victoria Cottage

Restaurant Hjem, Wall, Northumberland


Northumberland, United Kingdom

Why we can't wait to visit again: There are plenty of country villages in Northumberland similar to Wall - one-pub settlements tucked between craggy hills. But this dinky Northern outcrop has a secret. Head into The Hadrian Hotel and you'll find Hjem - pronounced "yem" - a Michelin-starred restaurant nonchalantly tucked into a country pub. The cool, pale-wood interiors and intricate, 15-course tasting menu are the brainchild of Swedish chef Alex Nietosvuori and his Northumberland-born partner, Ally Thompson. Book in for an array of innovative dishes that marry new Scandi sensibilities with local flavours. After romping through plates of rabbit-loin tartare, chicken livers served with preserved pine cones and a traditional singing hinny dessert - a Northumberland griddle cake - you can hit the area's many hiking routes to burn it all off.

Where to stay: In the restaurant's rooms, upstairs


Northumberland, United Kingdom

Why we can't wait to visit again: Alnmouth is like one of Devon's picture-perfect coastal towns - without the crowds. Lots of people head here for the golf courses, but we'd suggest skipping working on your swing in favour of a wander through the town. Stroll past strings of pastel-coloured houses at the mouth of the River Aln, ogle the grand old houses peering over beach dunes and enjoy a bracing yomp across golden sands kissed by the North Sea's waves at the town's edge. Alnmouth High Street is old-England picturesque, with a dinky church, a hustle of pubs and independent boutiques and a neighbourhood deli, Scotts of Alnmouth, which has made a name for itself serving up homemade sausage rolls and good coffee. Swing by for a cuppa after some North Sea swimming - it's the only thing that will warm up icy bones.

Where to stay: Shoreside Huts

The Cheviot Hills in Northumberland

The Cheviot Hills

Northumberland, United Kingdom

Why we can't wait to visit again: Two words: wild goats. The elusive and feral Cheviot breed - a horned and long-haired hangover from Neolithic times - roam the gentle hills that straddle the Anglo-Scottish border. Even if bearded bleaters aren't of interest, this wild environment is worth a visit. Getting to grips with the ancient lava-carved topography, an intrepid hiker will find pagan hillforts, hidden waterfalls and a storied folklore that blankets the hills as heavily as the area's famously thick fog. Lace up your boots and head out to find fairies and redcaps (small, trollish men) among the cloven-hoofed inhabitants. This being the UK's least visited national park, its deep valleys and hillside burns (streams) promise plenty of mysterious sights, sounds and experiences - along with the odd bleat, of course.

Where to stay: The Collingwood Arms, a half-hour drive away

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