Kathi recommends you:
A Pleasantly wet Weekend in England
Yes, you have read correctly – the words ‘wet’ and ‘pleasant’ are both in that title. Now, before you dismiss me as crazy defector who has run over to the dark side of weather appreciation, let me assure you, that we’re not talking about wet-by-rain here. I forgive you that mistake though – after all, I’m talking about my recent weekend spree to Northern England; and one might assume…
A few weeks ago, my flatmate and I packed all our things into a little red flash of a rental car and hit the A1 leaving Scotland southbound for Northern England. With all the faff about London, where I hadn’t been since I was 10 (16 years, if you care to ask), and southern English lands, we wanted to show the North a little bit of traveletty love. Turns out, that the area is overseen for absolutely no reason at all. It boasts everything you could long for in England: a beautiful coastline dotted by romantic villages; medieval castle ruins a amidst bright green fields; white and grey sheep bleating from across waist-high stone fences; rustic-looking village pubs serving hearty pub grub; and endless views of green and yellow fields. There’s even an amazing city for some urban exploring and a night out – I’ve told you all the things to do in Newcastle already. This time I want to focus on our adventures outside the city though, everything we experienced in the small town of Alnwick (dear Lord, don’t pronounce that ‘L’) in the heart of Northumberland.
“We’ll meet you in Northumberland National Park, cycle to Kielder Water with e-bikes and then canoe across the lake to our camp spot. At night we’ll have a camp fire and watch the stars – did you know that the Northumberland has one of the darkest skies on Earth?” – Michael didn’t need to say any more. I was hooked on the idea of heading for one of the micro-adventures he offers at his tour company Adventure Northumberland. Cycling, canoeing, stargazing – that’s all I need. Of course everything turned out completely different. The weather forecast predicted strong storms over the lake, and believe me, you don’t want to be in a canoe when there is a storm going on. Luckily Michael was flexible and quickly he had arranged a new plan – here is what we did instead.
Cycling, canoeing, stargazing - that's all I need.
After a night out on the toon (that’s what going out is called in fluent Geordie accent) we drove all the way to the little seaside village Howick, roughly 1 hour’s drive from Newcastle, and met Michael and Paul for an afternoon of coasteering. Dressed in not-so-flattering wetsuits and equipped with a waterproof point-and-shoot camera we made our way from the parking lot to the sandy beach and into the cold ocean. Coasteering is basically a mix of jumping off and climbing up cliffs, traversing big rocks, swimming into little caves and practicing to float on the water in life vests. Sounded exciting!
Coasteering is basically a mix of jumping off and climbing up cliffs, traversing big rocks, swimming into little caves...
Fast forward a couple of hours, and I’m standing at the edge of a cliff, trying not to look down a drop which promised a fall that would last at least a few seconds – minimum. One, two, three, bend your knees, prepare to jump – and no, I can’t. Another attempt, but still, the fear is bigger than the adventurer in me. A third time and there, finally my brain switches off. I’m flying into the air, in front of me the blue sky over the calm ocean, below me, well, more ocean. Not that I can see any of it, while I’m slamming my eye shut, screaming from the top of my lungs. As I reach the surface, a gush of cold water hits my face, feet and hands. The rest of my body feels wet, but warm, well-protected by a thick neoprene wet suit. So, this is what they call coasteering – I’m glad I got to try that.
While we did not get far from the beach at any time, we covered a lot of the area. In the far distance we could make out the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle, we came past the structures of what must have been a human-made bathing facility, carved into the rock, and even spotted the door of a WW1 submarine which was washed ashore. ‘On calm and clear days,’ Paul tells us, ‘you can see what is left of the wreck below. Many divers come here just for that.’ WOW, I had no idea, there was so much history to this place.
After three hours in the water, I could barely feel my hands and feet, but was so impressed by the English seaside, I didn’t even notice; up until I had to change out of the wetsuit and into my button up shirt – try that with numb fingers.
Luckily we had booked our last-minute room in a bed and breakfast straight from Heaven – Red Foot Lea B&B in Alnwick. It is located in a gorgeous country house, and house lady Poppy really made it look like in one of those country home magazines. When we arrived, wet and cold, the first thing she did was arrange a tray of hot tea and home-made cake for us to enjoy in the sitting room. Our room was located on the ground level, and in total there are only three guest rooms. Originally from Glasgow, Poppy was up for a quick chat over tea, told us about her children and grandchildren and showed us her garden – that’s what I like about B&Bs; you get to meet the people you stay with.
the first thing she did was arrange a tray of hot tea and home-made cake for us to enjoy
For dinner we fired up the red flash again and headed to Longframlington, where we met Michael and his wife at The Village Inn for fish and chips and steak pie – what else? The food was really good, and we were, as far as I could tell, the only non-villagers there. When all of a sudden a good-looking guy stepped onto the stage with his acoustic guitar and started singing indie songs in the sweetest of voices, I knew I had lost me heart – to him or Northumberland was hard to tell…
Whoever we had asked about Alnwick and things to do, said mainly two things. And while I’m not one for tours around old castles, like Alnwick Castle, I was truly intrigued to see the village’s second attraction: Barter Books. Located in an old railway station, still complete with waiting halls and hanging clocks, this is a one-of-a-kind book shop, supposedly the largest second-hand book shop in Europe, and certainly one of the most impressive ones I have ever seen. There are books about literally everything, from any time, and there is even a little choo choo train patrolling overhead the book shelfs.
a one-of-a-kind bookshop, supposedly the largest second hand bookshop in Europe
For our final afternoon in Northumberland we had arranged to meet Paul, Michael’s other half at Adventure Northumberland, in Warkworth, a small town along the River Coquet. He wanted to show us the river from a cool perspective, so we forced on those wet suits again and jumped onto a sit-on-top kayak. Together we paddled up the river, greeting some water birds on the way and spotting the tower of Warkworth Castle. A little further up the river we came across the Warkworth Hermitage, a historic site dating back to the 14th century. Rumour has it that back then a priest had carved his home into this rock, and remained there at the service of the local earl, foretelling his fortune in upcoming battles and wars. You can visit the ‘cave’ which is a little creepy, but also really cool to see. In Warkworth there is also an old stone bridge, where you will paddle underneath. It’s a foot bridge today, but just imagine the heavy wagons that once crossed the river on it!
Sea Kayaking Adventure, Northumberland
Edinburgh Bus Tour
Forbidden Corner Tour
So we forced on those wet suits again and jumped onto a sit-on-top kayak
After returning to Warkworth and bidding our goodbyes to Paul, we filled our bellies with English pub grub one last time – definitely try The Mason Arms pub and sit out in the back (if it’s warm enough). Even though our initial plans had changed, our ‘wet’ weekend in Northumberland turned out to be one of the best trips in England I have taken so far. It really is a beautiful region, and if you find yourself wondering where to go in Northern England, consider to make your way up here! Newcastle is just around the corner, and even a bigger airport like Manchester is just 3.5hrs of drive away.