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North East Northumberland in the Snow in January

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
By Eleanor from UK, Winter 2013
Eleanor And Michael won three nights dinner bed and breakfast in Northumberland. This is the review of what they did.

This trip report was originally published on SlowTrav.

Introduction

I spent six years in the northeast in the 1960s and fell in love with the wide open spaces of Northumberland. It truly is God’s own Country. When I read the request for a guest blogger on Silver Travel Adviser for three nights’ dinner, bed and breakfast, I knew my name had to be on this one. My whoop of glee when rang up with the news not only deafened the caller but must have been heard along the street. I got out the maps and began to plan.

Friends and family thought we were mad “Northumberland in January ... everywhere will be shut and it might snow.”

Nearly everywhere was shut and it did snow. There had been steady snow for ten days before we went and a heavy fall the day before we set out. We found a map of the primary gritting routes in Northumberland on the internet and I rapidly rethought plans taking out some of my more ‘adventurous’ ideas like finding Duddo stone circle and the cup and ring marked stones near Doddington.

As we drove north, a thick layer of pristine white snow covered everything. Next morning snow along the coast had thawed although hills inland were still white. We reluctantly decided to cross off higher settlements like Rothbury and Wooler having been warned that conditions underfoot were very slippery and to concentrate on the coastal fishing villages. Tide times ruled out a trip to Lindisfarne.

We stopped at three different places, Bamburgh Castle in Seahouses, Lindisfarne Inn at Beal and the Hog’s Head in Alnwick. All belong to the same chain and provided warm, comfortable accommodation. The best way to describe them is as a very upmarket Premier Inn.

Rooms were large with comfortable king size bed with crisp white bed linen and plenty of pillows. We appreciated, often cold, a well stocked welcome tray with biscuits when we arrived. There was an abundant supply of hot water and thick, absorbent towels. Staff were friendly and went out of their way to be helpful. Food was excellent, sourced locally and portions generous. Meals and light snacks are served throughout the day.

The full English breakfast of local sausage, bacon, sautéed potato or fried bread, baked beans, mushroom, tomato and eggs set us up for the day. The evening menus varied but there was always plenty of choice and difficult decisions needed to be made. We never did manage a dessert. The Lindisfarne Inn possibly had the edge on choice, quality and presentation.

The wine list had Italian wines as the house wine and a choice of five different red or white wines and three rosés. All three had cask mark accreditation so we stuck to the real ales, a different selection in each place, all in excellent condition.

This is an account of what we got up to. Days were dull and overcast which explains the poor quality of the pictures.

We might not have achieved all we set out to do, but had a great time and it was good to be back.

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The Pele at Embleton
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
To Seahouses - Warkworth

We left Scunthorpe heading to our first overnight stop at the Bamburgh Castle Inn at Seahouses. It was a glorious morning with bright blue sky and sunshine making the snow gleam. Our spirits rose. It was not to last. The A1 was cloudy with a slight mist hanging. By the time we reached Durham it was overcast and snow had fallen recently and snow ploughs were out. By the time we reached the Tyne Tunnel it was very overcast and there was rain and sleet. Not the most auspicious of starts. Fortunately this eased by the time we reached Warkworth allowing us chance to explore the village. In January the castle shuts weekdays, so we had to leave this for another visit.

Warkworth is a pretty small village in a loop of the River Coquet with the dramatic ruins of the castle at one end of the main street and the church and medieval fortified bridge at the other. It still retains much of its medieval street pattern and old, honey coloured stone houses. If you like the stone villages of the Cotswolds, you will love Warkworth.

In its time it must have been a busy place and still has three inns. Now it is a tourist honey pot with a lot of self catering accommodation, B&Bs, two cafes, several tourist shops and post office and general store. In the summer it is always busy. On a snowy January day, nearly everywhere was shut and we were the only visitors.

There is a super view of the castle from the A1068 coming from the south. This has been a fortified site since the 8thC and the Normans built a motte and bailey castle here in the 12thC in an attempt to subjugate the north. The 14thC castle seen today replaced that. This is the ancient seat of the Percy Family and power base of Harry Hotspur, if you remember your Shakespeare. The Percys became the Dukes of Northumberland and the power base moved to Alnwick.

St Lawrence’s church is a largely Norman building set in a churchyard surrounded by old yew trees and ancient gravestones. It is a long, low building with massive tower at the west end topped by a small spire.

Inside there is a very wide south aisle, added later, and in the corner sits the remains of a 13thC crusader knight’s tomb.

The Norman nave has large round topped windows set back in thick walls, with small round columns on either side. On the walls are brass and stone memorial tablets to the great and good.

A beautiful Norman chancel arch with beading and a decorative border leads into the chancel which is pure Norman with round topped windows and dog toothed stone ribs on the vaulted ceiling. Black and red tiles cover the floor and there are carved wooden choir stalls. On the east wall is a large wooden reredos with barleycorn twist pillars, arches and floral decoration. On the north wall are two carved stone memorials, one to Mrs. Ann, wife of Mr. William Hunter. The second is to Mr. John Clutterbuck with details of his wife and all his children. Between them is the brass memorial to the dead of World War One with 30 names. Below a smaller brass plate lists the ten names from World War Two.

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Main street Warkworth
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
To Seahouses - Longhoughton and Embleton

The Church of St Peter and St Paul, Longhoughton is one of the oldest in the area. The massive square tower has a Saxon base with long, narrow, round topped windows. The top is Norman dating from 1080 and has a typical double Norman window. The villages used the tower as a refuge during attacks by the Scots until the 17thC.

Inside there is a lovely Norman arch at the back of the church. The narrow chancel arch is Saxon and has a large squint so worshippers in the south aisle could see the high altar. Below the Norman windows on the east wall is a beautiful mosaic reredos. The modern stained glass window of St Andrew on the north wall was moved here from St Andrew’s church in Boulmer when it closed a couple of years ago.

The church gets very few visitors and a local lady who came to check the flowers was most surprised to see us. This is a shame as it is a delightful small church.

Passing through Embleton, our eyes were caught by the 13thC Vicar’s pele which forms part of the old Vicarage, now a private house. It is a reminder of troubled times along the border in the 16thC and the Border Reivers. Next to it is Holy Trinity Church dating from the 12thC. The niche above the door originally had a carving of the Virgin Mary but this was destroyed during the Reformation and is now replaced by a modern carving representing the Holy Spirit. To us, this felt wrong and out of keeping with the rest of the building.

Inside the porch are the remains of beautiful old tombstones on the walls. The roof is wooden and there is a rather nice carving of a green man on the centre boss.

Inside octagonal pillars with pointed arches and dog toothed designs separate the nave and side aisles. At the base of the arches on the north wall are rather nice carved heads.

The Craster Family chapel is off the north aisle with memorial tablets for different family members on the walls.

A tall pointed chancel arch with dog toothed carving leads into the chancel. This was rebuilt in the 19thC and is nearly as long as the nave.

There is nothing special about the church, so the guide books ignore it. It is a typical small village church, like so many others scattered round the country.

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Saxon chancel arch and reredos
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Seahouses and the Bamburgh Inn

Mention Seahouses to most people and they immediately link it with visits to the Farne Islands, seen out to sea beyond the harbour. In summer it is busy with tourists and divers. On a snowy day in January, there were few visitors.

This is the major service centre for the area with petrol station, plenty of small local shops as well as the usual tourist shops and at least five Fish and Chip restaurants. It was busy with locals going about their business.

Seahouses used to be an important seasonal herring fishing and processing station. Now there is little fishing from the harbour. Most vessels are used for day trips to the Farne Islands or taking out divers. Some of the best diving in the country is round the islands.

With its close links to the Farne Islands it was fun to see Cuddy ducks swimming in the harbour. This is the local name for the eider duck that breed on the islands. According to local legend, the birds snuggled round St Cuthbert’s feet during the winter so helping keep them warm. He also introduced the first ever bird protection order in 676 to protect the eider ducks.

Next to the harbour are large lime kilns, a reminder of the days when local limestone and coal were burnt to provide a valuable supply of lime.

There has been a lifeboat station here since 1827. Now part of RNLI, it houses the Mersey Class lifeboat, Grace Darling. As well as its role in sea rescues, paramedics also use it to take to travel to Lindisfarne when the causeway is closed.

We were stopping at the Bamburgh Castle Inn, the long low white building overlooking the harbour. We had a balcony room at the top of the building with what must be the best view in Seahouses. Rooms were comfortable with lashings of hot water. Evening meals here are popular with a good choice of locally sourced food on the menu and window seats with views across the harbour to the Farne Islands are soon snapped up.

We had difficulty deciding what to choose off the menu and finally decided to share a Garlic mushroom starter in a thick creamy sauce. Michael followed this with rib eye steak, cooked to perfection, juicy with lots of flavour, served with chips, mushroom, tomato and salad garnish. I had steak and ale pie. This always sorts out the good from the mediocre kitchens. This was definitely good, with plenty of huge chunks of tender meat in rich gravy. Served with chips and a variety of fresh vegetables I was struggling to finish. We couldn’t manage a dessert. We washed down the meal with Farne Islands ale, the house beer brewed by Hadrian and Border, and in excellent condition.

We weren’t very hungry at breakfast time but still managed to do justice to the English breakfast - a huge plateful of local sausage, bacon, sautéed potato, baked beans, mushroom, tomato and eggs. We didn't want any lunch.

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Mersey class lifeboat, Grace Darling
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Bamburgh - St Aidan and Grace Darling

First on the list today was Bamburgh, a pleasant small village of stone houses built round a triangular green. Towering above on an outcrop of the whin sill is Bamburgh Castle. This is one of the iconic images of Northumberland and features in all the tourist literature.

The castle has a long history and was a fortified Anglo-Saxon site in the 7thC. The present castle dates from Norman times with keep, chapel, living quarters and enclosure for a garrison. It was restored and altered in the 18thC and bought by the First Lord Armstrong, the Tyneside industrialist, in 1894 who spent more than a million pounds restoring it to its present condition. Part of it was intended as a convalescent home for workers in his factories. Members of the Armstrong family still own it and much of it is let as private apartments. Areas open to the public, including the Great Kitchen, the King’s Hall, the Captain’s Lodging and part of the keep, including the Armoury. As it is only open at weekends in January, we will have to visit another time.

St Aidan’s church is a long low building with a squat tower. There has been a church on this site since the 7thC when St Aidan arrived as Bishop of Lindisfarne. The original church was built of wood and burnt down many times during Viking raids. He died here in 651 and a small memorial stone at the northwest corner of the chancel marks the spot. The first stone church, built in 1100, was rebuilt in the 13thC as a monastery church for the Augustinians. This explains the very long chancel as it was needed to accommodate all the canons during services.

A large graveyard, which contains the splendid memorial tomb of Grace Darling, surrounded by iron railings and a tall canopy, designed to be large enough for boats at sea to see it, surrounds the church. The story of Grace Darling is still strong in Bamburgh and even in January there was a steady stream of visitors to look at her memorial.

Inside the church is the original statue from the Grace Darling memorial which was moved here as it was beginning to weather badly. Next to it is the St Oswald Chapel, originally the Chantry chapel for saying prayers for the soul of Thomas de Bamburgh. This now has the Grace Darling memorial window as well as a window ‘In Honour of Women' featuring women saints and reformers.

The splendid stone reredos, which takes up most of the east wall, dominates the Chancel. Carved in 1895 and celebrates the Saints of Northumbria, with the size of the carvings giving a hierarchy of importance. At the top, the figures of St Oswald and St Aidan dwarf the rest who include St Hilda, Abbess of Whitby, who hosted the Synod of Whitby, which confirmed the supremacy of Rome over the Celtic church. Below, St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede are the largest.

Mention Bamburgh to most people and they will say ‘Grace Darling’, the tragic heroine responsible for the heroic rescue of the SS Forfarshire in 1838. The RNLI have an excellent small museum in memory of her. Open throughout the year, entry is free although donations to support the work of RNLI are always welcome. It also has a well stocked shop.

Pride of place is the coble used in the rescue. It wasn’t very big and completely exposed to the elements and so very different from modern state of the art lifeboats. There is a short video about Grace Darling and the rescue as well as personal and family artifacts. It makes a poignant story.

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St Aidan's Church
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Etal

Etal is an attractive estate village of white painted houses with thatch, slate or stone roofs. At one end is the elegant 18thC stone manor house with the small chapel of St Mary by the gates. At the other are the remains of Etal Castle.

Etal Castle was built in the 14thC as a defense against cross border raids. There is a massive gateway with two square, flanking towers and curtain wall. In the centre are the ruins of the keep or tower house. The base was used for storage and animal shelter. The first floor served as hall and general living area with the second floor being the private family quarters. Guards used the third floor and access to the roof gave a good view of the surrounding countryside. Again it is shut weekdays in the winter, although there are good views from the outside.

St Mary’s church is a small Victorian building with a central bellcote. Lady Augusta Fitzclarence built the church as a memorial chapel in 1858 to house the memorial to her husband Lt General Lord Frederick Fitzclarence (an illegitimate son of William IV) who died on active service in India.

Inside is a simple nave with a whitewashed ceiling with dark wooden beams. In the chancel, the ceiling beams are painted in bands of deep red and dark green with a flower motif. Above the altar, the ceiling is painted very dark green and has a pattern of eight pointed, gold and blue stars.

A small door beside the organ leads into the south chapel which has the stone memorial to Lord Frederick in the floor of the chancel area. This is a large stone slab with a cross and long sword carved on the top, similar to 13thC tombstones. It is sad the chapel is no longer used, apart from sink and tea urn.

On a snowy January day, Etal was deserted, but fortunately the Lavender Tea Rooms in the Post Office and General Store were open. It serves a range of cheap sandwiches and a selection of excellent cakes (the chocolate flap jack comes highly recommended). It also sells local biscuits, preserves and flours from nearby Heatherslaw Mill. A good place to stock up on small gifts.

In summer Etal heaves with tourists as it is a real honey pot, along with nearby Ford, another estate village of stone built houses. It is easy to spend a full day here, visiting the Lady Waterford Gallery, Heatherslaw Mill, the only working watermill in Northumberland and the Heatherslaw Light Railway.

By now it was beginning to snow, so we decided to give Ford, with its stone built houses, a miss and head for our accommodation for the night.

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Ruins of Etal Castle
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Lindisfarne Inn, Beal

Beal is a tiny settlement of a few houses on the A1. Blink and you miss it. The Lindisfarne Inn is an old coaching inn and the stable block has been recently renovated to provide accommodation. We were given a warm welcome and shown to our room. First job was to make a cup of tea from the welcome tray to warm us up. It was a pleasant room with comfortable bed and effective shower with plenty of hot water.

The restaurant and bar are in the main building. The comprehensive menu was a mix of traditional pub favourites like fish and chips, steak and ale pie and gammon as well as more exotic offerings. The friendly and helpful waitress checked we had seen the specials board before ordering, which was even more exotic. Difficult decisions had to be made.

Michael began with black pudding and bacon starter with peppercorn sauce, attractively served in a tall, narrow serving dish with a salad garnish. I made the ‘mistake’ of choosing long potato boats. These were a huge jacket potato cut in two with onion and melted cheese and salad. It would have made a filling main course. Fortunately Michael helped me out.

Michael chose the lamb shoulder, served on parsley mash with a selection of seasonal vegetables. It was a small shoulder, succulent and tasty although the bone did present a few problems. I chose the beef stew with herb dumpling, described as a traditional Northumberland recipe. This was served in a cast iron casserole with huge chunks of tender meat with potato, carrot, peas and mushroom in rich wine gravy. Again it was a huge serving and with extra broccoli, carrots and cauliflower would have been enough for two. We passed on the desserts.

I must confess we weren’t very hungry at breakfast time but still managed to do full justice to the English breakfast of local sausage, bacon, hash brown, fried bread, baked beans, mushroom, tomato and eggs.

The Lindisfarne Inn is quiet in January but always busy in summer with passing traffic and also people from the nearby caravan site wanting a good meal. Bookings are essential then.

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Lindisfarne Inn
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Down the Coast - Beadnell and Low Newton

There had been a dusting of snow overnight and we had been warned that conditions were not good around Wooler. Tide times were wrong for visiting Lindisfarne so we decided to head down the coast towards Craster. This was a sensible decision as snow melts quickly along the coast and we were soon free of the white stuff.

First stop was Bamburgh to visit Robert Carter and Sons, “Butcher, Baker and Sausage Roll Maker” according to the sign above the door, and a Rick Stein Food Hero. The window was full of homemade pies, pasties and sausage rolls. In spite of our large breakfast, they still made our mouths water and we felt honour bound to try a pork pie and sausage roll. Both were excellent with crispy pastry and good meaty fillings, a world away from the mass produced ones. We had been eating his award winning sausages for breakfast and wanted to stock up on meat to bring home. We were spoilt for choice and soon had a cool bag full of sausages, bacon, beef burgers, black pudding, steak, lamb and brisket.

Our next stop was Beadnell, a small fishing village south of Seahouses, and the only west facing harbour on the east coast. It is at the end of a long road lined with 1930s holiday houses. Above the harbour are the remains of three huge lime kilns, a reminder of an important industry making lime from local limestone and coal. This was taken out by ship.

To the south is a long stretch of sandy beach flanked with sand dunes. This is popular with local dog walkers and horse riders. The North Sea coast is always bracing and this is a good tramping beach.

A path down the side of the lime kilns leads to the small headland of Ebb's Nook. Here there are the ruins of a 13thC chapel. It is thought this may have been built on the site of a 7thC chapel built by St Ebba, a friend of St Cuthbert.

Further down the coast is Low Newton, a delightful small village of white washed houses arranged round three sides of a grassy square. In the centre is the Ship Inn which has a microbrewery, but we were driving...

In front is a long stretch of sandy beach. A lot of seaweed had been washed up and rooks and starlings were busy searching for insects. Low rocks out at sea provide a natural defensive barrier against storms.

The sides and backs of the houses are unpainted stone. A road along the north side of the houses leads to a long, low range of storage sheds. Beyond is the start of the coastal path, a glorious walk to Dunstanburgh Castle and Craster, past Newton Pool with its bird hides. There wasn’t a lot to be seen when we visited, just a few ducks.

St Mary’s Church is half way along the road between Low and High Newton, a collection of houses and a pub around a village green. The church is late 19thC and unusual as it is constructed from corrugated iron which was bought in kit form.

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Beadnell
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Craster and Dunstanburgh Castle

Craster is a pleasant small village of dark whin stone houses built above the harbour. It was once an important fishing post as the boats followed the herring shoals as they moved along the coast of Britain. Now there is no herring caught locally and the only fishing is for crab and lobster. In 1906 the Craster family improved the harbour in memory of their son who died serving with the British Army in Tibet. As well as fishing it also shipped out large quantities of stone from local quarries which are now the site of the car park at the edge of the village. The tramway taking stone from the quarries to the harbour is now a linear footpath.

The skies had cleared and the sun was trying to come out from behind the clouds - the first time we’d seen it since we left home. We decided to do the exhilarating 2km above the shore to the stark ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle, silhouetted against the sky. It is an easy walk across rough grassland but after all the snow was very squelchy under foot and very muddy around gateways.

We could see the massive gateway with its two flanking towers, the tall remains of the Lilburn tower and the long curtain wall stretching down to the shore. Again it was shut weekdays during the winter. It didn't matter as this is one of the castles that is much more dramatic from the outside, less so from the inside.

Back in Craster we headed for the Shoreline Cafe and a welcome cup of tea. On entering an excellent selection of what looked like very good (and very fattening) cakes greeted us. After the pork pie and sausage roll, we reluctantly decided we better give them a miss. Locals happily tucking in assured us that our description was accurate.

Next stop was Robson’s smoke house recognized by the smoke coming out of the roof and the tarry smell of traditionally smoked kippers. For anyone who has not tried genuine traditionally smoked kippers, they are an eye-opener and completely different to what is sold in the supermarkets.

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Dunstanburgh Castle
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Hog’s Head Inn, Alnwick

This is a newly opened inn just off the Alnwick by pass. Alnwick Castle was used for Hogworts in the Harry Potter films and the inn cashes in on the connection being named after the inn in Hogsmeade. Anyone expecting a replica of this is likely to be very disappointed, or relieved...

It is an attractive modern building with large and very comfortable bedrooms and an excellent shower with lashings of hot water. The bar and dining rooms are large and modern.

The dinner menu was basic pub grub with a few rather more exotic items on it, with more on the specials board.

For starters, Michael chose bacon, mushroom and stilton bake which was served on a toasted bap with salad garnish. I couldn’t resist the haggis with tatties and neeps. It was good and fortunately not too large or filling.

For the mains Michael agonized between steak, scampi or steak and ale pie, eventually settling on the latter. It was a large slab of pie with a dense meaty filling served with chips and seasonal vegetables. In fact it was a bit too meaty with little gravy to moisten it and he had to ask for extra gravy.

After great deliberation I chose the Burradoo Farm lamb loin sourced from a farm near Morpeth. There were two thick slices of lamb served on herby potato with braised cabbage with just enough tartness to make it interesting.

Again we passed on desserts.

There was a choice of two real ales. Tyneside Blonde from the Hadrian and Border Brewery is the house ale but we decided to settle on the guest beer, Timothy Taylor’s Landlord.

The full English breakfast was a tasty and huge plateful of local Alnwick sausage, bacon, sauté potatoes, baked beans, mushroom, tomato and eggs, which lasted us all the way home.

The forecast for that morning was heavy snow spreading south. We reluctantly decided to leave exploring Alnwick and nearby Rothbury for another holiday and begin heading south, to be home before the snow. It was possibly the right decision as all the way south along the A1 were large signs warning “Severe weather forecast for today.”

We enjoyed our break even though the weather wasn't as good as we'd hoped, but at least we didn't get snowed in...

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Bedroom, Hog's Head Inn

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Bamburgh Castle Inn, Seahouses
Hog's Head Inn, Alnwick
Lindisfarne Inn, Beal
 

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