North Northumberland: Beaches, Castles, & when Terns Attack
The end of one job and the beginning of another is always a good excuse (in my opinion) to take a vacation. I finished my job on a Tuesday, picked up the keys to my new flat on Wednesday, moved in on Thursday, and then Friday went to a welcome reception for my new job and then got onto an overnight but up to Edinburgh. Yes, you read that right, overnight bus. I had been having trouble with finding a new flat, which ended up meaning by the time I got around to actually trying to buy train tickets, the price had doubled. Looking around I found Mega Bus tickets for cheap, so cheap that even with the train ticket back south to Alnmouth, I still saved £85. I also got a nice morning in Edinburgh, in the park with coffee and my breakfast.
I have a friend in Alnwick and she was more than happy for me to come spend the May bank holiday weekend at hers, and even let me stay on a few days after taking over her flat. This is where I need to bring up cars. As my friend drives, and I saved the sites within the town of Alnwick for when I was on my own, I never had to think about this. There are buses and trains, but having a car makes getting around and especially getting to the beach most convenient. If you are considering a trip up to that part of England, you might want to consider renting a car.
I’ve seen two beaches since arriving in the UK, Brighton and the coral beach on the Isle of Sky. Neither are a beach in the way that I always picture a beach. But I was promised proper beaches in Northumberland, and it certainly delivered.
Not only do you get some truly stunning beaches, but you also get a truly epic looking castle in the back ground. Some of these castles are massive and complete, and others are just ruins now. The most stunning beach/castle combo that I saw in my time there was Bamburgh Castle. You can go in, but I decided to just enjoy it from the beach.
A good day trip out–or over night adventure if you’re not paying attention–is a visit to Holy Island. Castles, priory, lovely nature, and mead. However, if you’re going for a walk around the island, be sure to check the tide times before coming across the causeway from the mainland. When the tide is out, you can come and go from the island as you please. But when the tide comes in the road is completely under water. Every year people try to beat the tide and you can always tell when someone’s lost when you hear the rescue helicopter come to get you. Either keep an eye to the time or just plan to stay the night from the beginning.
One of the things to do on a nice day on the coast is to go out to the Farne Islands. Seals, the occasional porpoise, and lots and lots of sea birds. There are various companies that will take you out there–various tours at various prices. We took a landing tour, which means you get off the boat on one of the islands and get an up close look at the sea birds.
A very up close look as we’d come to find out. Arctic terns are particularly aggressive during nesting season. Where we there during nesting season? Of course we were! It became a gauntlet that you’d have to run through certain parts of the island where the terns had nested right beside the board walk. They would chase you down the path pecking at the top of your head. The only thing for it was to put your head down and keep going. Oh, and do wear a hat.
Despite the attacking terns, it was worth the run through the gauntlet to see the puffins. You can’t help but love a puffin. They’re tiny and adorable, and you if want to sell any item in a sea side town just wack a picture of a puffin on it. Similar to the terns, the puffins set up their burrows close to the board walk, which mean you get as close as possible to the little guys as is possible without actually getting in their way. They are more adorable in person than they are in pictures.
While my friend was at work, I explored Alnwick on my own. The big thing to see is Alnwick Castle and Gardens. If it looks familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen it in either a movie or on tv, such as the Harry Potter series and Downton Abby. From the midevil up to the modern, this castle has it all. Something it also has is lots different tours through out the day. They are included as part of your ticket and you can learn about the history of the castle; inside, outside, and in filming locations.
The gardens are slightly separate from the castle, and at an additional cost to go into. Some of the highlights of the gardens are fountains that you can go climb about it, a cafe in a tree house, and the poison garden. Yes, a garden within a garden dedicated to plants that will kill you. It’s no additional cost to get into the poison garden, but you do need to get a ticket to get in. There is a limited number of tickets for the day, so make sure you get your tickets right away when you get in.
Alnwick also has some really good eats, parks to go for walks in, market square and cross, and a book store in an old rail station that is dangerous to your wallet. I really enjoyed my time in the north. Sometimes you really just have to get out of the city. Despite the four days I spent there, I still didn’t get to all the things I had planned to do. There are hikes and waterfalls and all the in-land sites that I never got around to going to see. You can surf, kayak, and dive in the waters of the Northumberland coast. I will have to go back, and thankfully I have a couch I can sleep on when I get there.