We spent the week of October half term in Northumberland. I’ve always wanted to visit this stunning part of the country. I had visions of windswept moors, deserted beaches and castles at every turn, and it didn’t disappoint. We visited as a family of three generations so it was important we did things that catered for all ages. Here’s a round-up of fun things to do in Northumberland with kids.
Where we stayed in Northumberland
We completely lucked out on an AirBnB property – East Bickerton. It’s a huge four-bed, beautifully-renovated cattle barn. It comes with underfloor heating, luxury toiletries and bedlinen and glorious views out of the main window over the Simonside Hills. The standard of renovation was really high, and all the furniture and fittings felt really calming and uncluttered, though the house did contain a huge number of really interesting books. If I didn’t have kids I could have quite easily spent a day curled up really some of them! East Bickerton is based just outside Rothbury, so an ideal place to explore the lower part of Northumberland including the coastline.
Fun things to do in Northumberland with kids
National Trust properties in Northumberland
We were based very near the famous Victorian Cragside property and estate. Cragside really needs two or three days to explore it properly, but we made do with a cafe visit (standard), trip to an enormous adventure playground and den building site, short walk around the gardens and to see Archimedes screw, and a tour around the house. It’s very up and down here, so worth noting if you have little (or old!) legs with you.
Wallington feels very different to Cragside. The house is set around a green. You can then choose to head to the east or west woodlands to explore. Both have their charms, and both (if you’re lucky) have red squirrels to spot in the trees. We didn’t have time to look in the house, and felt our kids wanted to be outside anyway, so we spent more time admiring the ponds with water wildlife, woodland walks and walled garden – great for playing hide and seek. The Wallington estate is also pretty big, so the Trust have set up an innovative cycle hire if you fancy looking further afield too.
Alnwick and Bamburgh Castle
The top things to do in Alnwick are the castle (Harry Potter fans are in for a treat – it’s Hogwarts) and gardens. We decided to skip these for another visit as the gardens are very pricey (but do look beautiful) and we didn’t want to get castle fatigue, having earmarked Bamburgh for the day.
We stopped for lunch in Baileys, a fab family-friendly cafe in the centre of Alnwick, and mooched round Barter Books, a huge secondhand bookstore set in the old railway station. Kids will love the separate children’s section complete with toy train and bean bags.
Bamburgh Beach is consistently voted Northumberland’s best beach, and is often in lists of the UK’s top beaches, so is well worth a trip if you are nearby. It’s pretty busy given Northumberland’s remoteness, but I guess us visiting during a sunny half term holiday would make it so! Think majestic castle flanked by golden sand dunes and you have Bamburgh Beach. It’s pretty windy, so the waves can be quite choppy, but it’s a fantastic spot for some family beach fun, before or after a visit to the castle.
Bamburgh Castle is fun for all the family to explore, but it does take a while. The grounds are quite extensive, and also some parts will need kids keeping a close eye on, as they are fairly steep. Inside is a self-guided walk through the state rooms. I will confess, this bit probably won’t excite younger visitors THAT much, but the dungeon and play room at end probably will (as will the shop!).
The Simonside Hills are one of many beautiful spots in Northumberland to go hiking. There is also a great family trail, though we took the road less-travelled and made our own route up too, through some farmland and up into the heights of the hills. We all loved hiking in Northumberland, and I can only see this getting better as the kids get older (I hope!).
Hadrian’s Wall – Sycamore Gap and Housesteads
Possibly saving the best till last, we chose to visit Housesteads Roman Fort, as a more accessible and family-friendly section of the wall. I might have scooted off on my own to photograph Sycamore Gap, but I’m pleased I did solo, as it is fairly steep in sections so if you go there with young children, make sure they don’t run off too far ahead. Housesteads has lots of dressing up and activities for kids, as well as good old-fashioned wall climbing. A bit of history for the adults and everybody is happy!
Sycamore Gap is a hop and skip from Housesteads, and there is a circular walk to connect them both if you fancy doing that. Otherwise to get to Sycamore Gap, drive further on to Steel Rigg car park, then follow the signposts. It should take about 30 minutes to reach the viewpoint.
More things to do in Northumberland
We definitely want to revisit this lovely county. I’m a huge fan of rather dramatic landscapes, remote islands and slightly off-grid places. Next time we’ll explore Kielder Water; one of the official dark sky locations, and apparently one of the most remote locations in England. Looks like there is a lot for families to do here too such as accessible walks and cycling and water sports (obvs!).
Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands
Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands are at the top of my list. I want to see the castle on Lindisfarne, yes, but mostly I want to see my favourite birds – puffins – on the Farne Islands (the time to see puffins is April to July).
Druridge Bay and Dunstanburgh Castle
I had lots of recommendations to go visit Druridge Bay, so this bit of coastline is on my list, as is further up the coastline near Craster. While I’m up there, Dunstanburgh Castle looks amazing. It’s a castle in ruins, but set in a remote part of the county, and steeped in history.
This beachside town could well be our place to base ourselves. Loads of shops and foodie places, and right on a sandy beach too. The ideal family holiday destination.
And of course I want to get out hiking, or go fell running, if I can find a babysitter! The amount of incredible walks in Northumberland is vast – and there are so many that can be enjoyed by all ages.