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

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.

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
and gin at the new-fangled Holy Island
. 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
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
, 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

Where to stay: Shoreside

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
, a half-hour drive away

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