Category: Northumberland

A day in Newcastle upon Tyne

Like many other cities in the UK Newcastle gets overlooked as a destination and not just by visitors from overseas. Us Brits often choose London or Bath as a city break destination and neglect our many other beautiful cities.

Swing Bridge Newcastle

I recently visited Newcastle with my husband and son, as a day trip, while on a short family break in Newbiggin by the Sea.

I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it was on the river Tyne and that it had a university. We chose to take the bus as we had done quite a lot of driving during our holiday. We caught a shiny new Sapphire bus that was clean and comfortable with free wi fi.

The Sapphire

Newcastle wasn’t far from where we were based so thought it would be a short hop on the bus. We were wrong. This bus route took the long way round, so it was more like an unguided tour of the Newcastle suburbs. It was also jolly expensive at over £6 per person for a day ticket. It was, however, a better option than driving around a strange city and searching for car parks, and we did get to see more of the surrounding areas.

The Tourist Office was our first stop, getting a map and some general information about what to do in a day in the city. The very helpful woman there, in response to my surprise at how beautiful the city is, informed me that Grey Street is reputedly the most beautiful street in Britain. And it is very beautiful.

Views from Grey Street

Much of the Georgian architecture remains intact.


Theatre Royal
Theatre Royal

I am guessing that, unlike many other British cities, it was not bombed as much in the Second World War. So it has less of the awful post war buildings that Coventry and Birmingham have.

As we explored, we stumbled across many art students sketching the city.

Art Students in Newcastle

Newcastle on Tyne is of course on the banks of the River Tyne, with 7 bridges connecting it to Gateshead. As we did the walk suggested by the Tourist Office we found these. The Geordie walk of fame.

The Grade 1 listed, Norman, Castle Keep is definitely worth visiting. Climb to the roof for some fantastic views. Well worth the £4 entrance (note cash only when we visited).

Castle Keep

We are not shoppers, although I now regret not going to visit the first Fenwicks Store, so we avoided the identiket modern shopping malls and headed to Grainger Market instead. What a treat, if only all markets in England were as lovely as this one.

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I liked Newcastle. If you are looking for a city break, instead of London or Manchester, try it out. I don’t think you will be disappointed. Come to Birmingham too! It is also a city that gets overlooked.

Mrs Mary Howard


Bookshops I love – Barter Books

Barter Books Bench

It seems I always manage to find a book shop on my travels.

Travel Section

This is no ordinary book shop.

Model Railway

This is Barter Books. In an old railway station in Alnwick in Northumberland.

Old Waiting Room

A warm welcome with and open fires in the cafe in the former Waiting Room.

Cozy chairs

And cosy wicker chairs, a perfect place to chat and read.

cook books

Vintage cook books.

The SaintThe Saint, who remembers this?


Some Bourne.

Books for children

Vintage books for children. Not sure of this title though.. And the nursery decorations are certainly not PC. How times have changed.

The Chalet School

Oh, how I wanted to go to The Chalet School.

Eagle Annual

Vintage Annuals. These really brought back memories for my husband.

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If you visit plan to make a day of it. There is so much to see. Cool music, tea, cakes, lunch and of course books.

Cosy fire

More annuals. Does anyone make annuals anymore? Every child would have had one for Christmas when I was young, which obviously was a long time ago.

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Who wouldn’t want to pull up a chair in front of the fire and step back into childhood?

Lakeland fells

Or plan the next trip.

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Dip into some Marvel Masterworks.


Barter Books is yet another reason to go to Northumberland. There are books for all ages, we just loved this place, it was like stepping back into our past, full of nostalgia and it is where the Keep Calm and Carry On posters were discovered.




Castles, Forts and Hadrian’s Wall

From Hadrian's Wall

If you are visiting Northumberland, and are not a member of the National Trust, I strongly urge you to join.  In one week you will easily recoup the outlay just visiting National Trust managed properties in Northumberland. And, as membership also gives you entrance to many English Heritage Properties too, you will have lots to see and do.

I have been a member for many years, and don’t always use them enough, yet I see it as an annual donation to a charity that is preserving our heritage. And as membership also was valid in Australia, I got to see some great places there too.

With hindsight, I realised it would have been better value if I had also bought the Young Person Membership, for my 22 year old son, but it wasn’t until we visited Lindisfarne that the good value of this membership (£27) was pointed out to me. The son, not being a National Trust sort of person (yet) enjoyed visiting Lindisfarne CastleHousesteads Roman Fort and Hadrian’s Wall, and exploring Dunstanburgh Castle.

We didn’t get to see all the properties managed by these organisations (good, we have another reason to return to this lovely part of the country) and as Northumberland has more castles than any other county in England we didn’t get to see all of the castles.  Many of these are privately owned, such as Alnwick Castle, where Harry Potter was filmed, and while not cheap to visit, the ticket is good for a year.

This is where we did get to.

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Lindisfarne, the drive here is half the adventure.

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There are a number of warnings to heed the tide times, so plan your visit around these.

There are plenty of places to eat and get a drink, some fantastic walks, and while there are one or two more touristy gift shops, compared to Tintagel, which is now over commercialised, tourism on Lindisfarne is low key. I suspect this has much to do with it being a Holy Island.

Housestead Roman Fort

Housestead Roman Fort and Hadrian’s Wall, involves a short and steep walk from the new visitor centre.

The Fort

This is the only part of Hadrian’s Wall that you can walk on. The drops are huge, so hold on to children and be aware if heights are not your thing.

Hadrian's Wall

I had to include this, as the William Hutton who wrote a book about Hadrian’s Wall also wrote this book about Birmingham, him and my home city.

A History of Birmingham

The walk from Craster to Dunstanburgh Castle is stunning.


We were so lucky with the weather, the beautiful sky, the light and the coastline.

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And the castle at dusk was also beautiful.

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All of these wonderful places to visit were an easy drive to from Newbiggin by the Sea, where we were based. At the time of year we visited (late September) the roads were quiet. We chose coastal routes where we could and avoided the A1 and other main roads (ignoring the Satnav often).

Now Cornwall lovers will not be happy with what I am about to say, but I think Northumberland rivals Cornwall for its coastline and its history. And there is more to share about Northumberland. I haven’t mentioned the fish and chips yet, or the seals. Lots more to share about lovely Northumberland.

Have you ever been to Northumberland? Do you think it rivals Cornwall for its beauty?

Let me know.



Going with the Ebb N Flo. A digital detox at Newbiggin by the Sea.

Forget what others have said about the North of England. It is not grim or grimy, it is absolutely stunning.

Newbiggin by the Sea

I was already aware of how beautiful the countryside is in the north of England. I have travelled to the Yorkshire Dales regularly as my husband has family there. I enjoyed a youth hostelling and walking holiday with my school in the Lake District back in the early 1970’s and have revisited this area many times since. The furthest north I have been is Gretna Green, after some mad idea to hitch there with fellow uni friends when on a field trip in The Lakes. But I had never been to Northumberland, and it was time to see this part of the country.

A work colleague of my husband has renovated a house in Newbiggin by the Sea, as a holiday let, and we were to be the very first guests. They were still in the process of putting a few finishing touches to the house and we agreed to give honest feedback about our stay there.  And so, in late September 2014, we travelled for a good four hours up the M1 and A1 to explore the area for a few days.

I didn’t know much about Northumberland. The owners had asked us to collect information of what to do in and around Newbiggin by the Sea, to inform future guests. My husband was more familiar with the area, but had not been there for over 50 years. We were on a mission to cram as much as possible into five days. Our son had also decided to come with us. While we didn’t have small children to entertain, keeping a 22 year old gamer who doesn’t do National Trust, happy in a house without wi-fi, cable tv and Netflix, would be a challenge.

As we drove past Gateshead, The Angel of the North welcomed us. Visiting this was on the to do list and we decided to save it for the return journey, when we were less travel weary.

Angel of the North

The house we stayed in is on the main road into town and is at the end of a row of terraced houses in a quiet residential area. From the outside it is an average house in an average terrace. Yet once inside this cosy house, you know you are on your holidays.

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Ebb N Flo has been decorated with a cheerful sea-side theme, with a mixture of modern and vintage furniture, which I loved. Even the garden shed had been painted like a bright beach hut.

The beach hut shed

Despite being close to the road, there was no traffic noise as it is double glazed. There was a selection of games and DVD’s for rainy days, a well appointed kitchen, with dishwasher and washing machine, if you wanted to self cater and wash clothes (I was on my holiday, I wasn’t there to wash and cook). A stairgate and high chair are also available. One dog is also welcome and dog towels are provided.

Main bedroom

The beds were extremely comfortable, with good quality mattresses. The bathroom is compact, with a good shower over the bath and plenty of storage space.

The bathroom

As soon as we had unloaded the car, we crossed the road and stretched our legs with a walk along the longest promenade in Northumberland.

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This is less that a minutes walk from the house. Golden sands, and the perfect place to walk a dog, jog or cycle or take in the view.

Gazing out to sea

Newbiggin by the Sea, is as I have just discovered, (I didn’t do much research before the trip) is a Portas Pilot town. I should have guessed really, given that I was involved in the bid that Bearwood made to become one of the pilot towns. I remarked when we were there that the town looked as if money and love were being poured into it to regain its former glory. There is an art trail and a number of independent retailers, including an excellent and friendly butcher.


A bakery.


A green grocer.


And a number of quirky shops selling various vintage bits and bobs.

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A lovelie indie cafe.


This was my favourite hair salon.

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This barber offered free wifi.


A couple of pubs on the high street were closed.

Closed Pub

This was a former library.

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This is the current and much neglected library.


And sadly I think this may close when the superduper new combined library and leisure centre being built in Ashington opens. Indeed this and the Since writing this I have found out that there are plans to develop a new landmark building in Newbiggin-by-the-sea. This includes the building a new library (great news) offices and apartments on the site of the derelict pubs.Thankyou Sue (owner of Ebb n Flow for pointing this out. More on this can be found here.

Asda still remains the biggest threat to Newbiggin by the Sea thriving, and it needs more than Mary Portas to help it survive. If locals and holidaymakers decide to use this instead of these wonderful independent retailers, then they will struggle to stay open. And this would be a shame. Local people and tourists need to use the indies or lose them altogether.

The Old Ship

Looking for somewhere to eat, we popped into a pub on the sea front, that promised bar food. No, they didn’t do food, but we could get a take out and bring it in to the pub to eat if we wanted, the barman, who was polishing glasses with a grimy cloth and informed us. I looked around the pub and decided that this would not be a good idea. Not one pub in the town looked welcoming. Newbiggin by the Sea needs a decent pub, it deserves a decent pub. On the sea front, this one could be the one. If someone has deep pockets and is ready to take a leap of faith in the town.

One of the two customers, told us to go to ‘The Italians’, and pointed vaguely into town. The dog belonging to the other customer, licked my shoe. We wandered back to the promenade and met a couple walking a dog. The dog came from Birmingham, and was altogether better behaved than the shoe licking dog. We had chosen the right people to ask for directions. Sensible people who were not in the run down pub and who had been to Birmingham to buy a dog. They pointed us in the right direction.

Another independent trader in this little town, Due Fratelli offered a three course meal for £6.50. It has an open kitchen and friendly staff. The food we had was fair to good. I suspect if we had gone for one of the special fish dishes, rather than the meal deal, we may have been more impressed. It met the need of feeding three hungry, travel weary adults. The garlic flatbread was excellent, the house wine was above average, the decor was tired and uninspiring and they still think giant pepper grinders impress.

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Newbiggin by the Sea offers everything you need for a base to explore. And there was a lot of exploring to be done. Castles, Roman Forts, Lindesfarne, boat trips, Hadrians Wall, Book shops and stunning coastlines were all there, waiting for us. As were some excellent fish and chips. Let the great northern adventure begin.

Ebb N Flo is a lovely, well appointed, clean, comfortable and convenient place to stay. I cannot fault the house, its location and being close to the sea is always a winner with me.

The view from the kitchen

The view from the kitchen window may not have been of the sea, but it cheered me all the same.

If there is a downside, it is the lack of wifi. I am still not sure if this is a good thing, as most of us benefit from a digital detox, or a bad thing, as I am so used to having information at my finger tips 24//7. While I didn’t check out if the library had wifi, I know that Asda has free wifi, as does the Sapphire Enviro 400 bus to Newcastle.

Sapphire Bus

The bus also has somewhere to charge your devices. So if you really need your digital fix, catch the bus to Asda. Just don’t shop there. Or go visit the barber, he is an indie after all. What did we do? We played Scrabble.

What about you? Is wi-fi a deal breaker when booking a holiday home? Or is a digital detox and not being able to check your work email a good thing? I would love to know your thoughts on this.