Things to see and do...

Often described as ‘the land of the far horizon,’ there is a wild beauty in Northumberland National Park that bestows a sense of wellbeing just from being in open and tranquil country, surrounded by the sounds and sights of nature, and the stars above.

Encompassing the iconic sections of Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site in the south, and rolling across the North Tyne valley, Redesdale, Coquetdale, and the Cheviot Hills in the north, this is proper landscape country. If you are wild at heart, as the least populated of England’s National Parks, nature has space to breathe here.

Open moorland covers about 70% of the National Park. Heather moorland in particular is internationally significant, as it only occurs in Britain, and one of the best places to see this purple phenomenon is on the Simonside Hills near Rothbury in July/August. Look out for the Red Grouse and if you are very lucky, you hear the distinctive and plaintive call of the curlew!

Cooler and wetter places like the high Cheviot Hills produce blanket bogs. Bogs are vital to nature and Northumberland National Park has some of the best bogs in Europe. Sometimes the peat here can be more than 10 metres deep. Plants such as sundew and crowberry thrive in this environment, and you may spot a common lizard basking in the sun.

Hay meadows are a blaze of yellows and purples in June and July and are outstanding for wildlife. Traditionally managed by farmers to provide a crop to feed their animals, these have become havens for flowers such as wood cranesbill and yellow rattle, supporting bumblebees, butterflies and moths.

Walltown Quarry Country Park, near Greenhead on Hadrian’s Wall is ideal for families with young children. Here they are free to run about, fly kites, have picnics in the field, play in the small woodland and feed the ducks on the pond. You can also access some of the best sections of the Wall here too. The local kiosk and Information Point serves hot drinks and sandwiches and toilets are on site.

This summer will see the opening of The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre on Hadrian’s Wall. In partnership with the YHA, and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, this new discovery centre with its year-round programme of outdoor activities and events will inspire you to go further and discover these natural treasures for yourself. We look forward to seeing you all soon.

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle is the second largest inhabited castle in England; it has been home to the Duke of Northumberland’s family, the Percys, for over 700 years. The castle’s rich history is brimming with drama, intrigue, and extraordinary people; from a gunpowder plotter and visionary collectors, to decadent hosts and medieval England’s most celebrated knight, Harry Hotspur.

More recently Alnwick Castle has taken a starring role in a number of film and television productions. 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the launch of the first Harry Potter books; fans will recognise Alnwick Castle as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the first two Harry Potter films. In 2014 and 2015 Alnwick Castle starred as Brancaster Castle in the Christmas specials of Downton Abbey.

Lose yourself in an enchanting day out at Belsay Hall, Castle & Gardens with something for the whole family to enjoy. Wander among the Grecian architecture of the mansion which was inspired by a honeymoon trip to Athens and comes complete with its iconic Pillar Hall. Soak up the spectacular riot of colour and plant life in the garden where your imagination will run wild! Sneak through secret doorways in the garden to unearth the wonders of Belsay’s outdoor world, meander magical ravines, marvel at giant foliage with leaves as tall as you and experience the ultimate escapism in the Quarry Garden which feels like an entirely different world altogether.
Conquer the medieval castle and climb to the top to take in views stretching as far as the eye can see.  All this exploring will ensure you’ve worked up an appetite for a well-deserved break and where better to rest your legs than our tempting Victorian tearoom.

Venture to the beautiful valley of the River North Tyne to discover the most complete Roman cavalry fort in Britain at Chesters Roman Fort with a myriad of unique Roman finds on display, and the chance to learn about the man who saved the Wall from destruction. Chesters is home to the UK’s finest Roman military bath-house – a complex of rooms which offered soldiers hot, cold and steam baths on the tranquil banks of the North Tyne. Take a stroll through history as you explore the fort ruins that once housed a garrison of 500 cavalry troops for around 300 years and let youngsters unearth discoveries with the Chesters Takeover activity trail. Those looking for more opportunities to explore the landscape can follow the Chesters Roman Trail which is bursting with historic stories, monuments and a variety of remains from bath houses to bridges.

Not all the sites on Hadrian’s Wall were heavily-guarded fortresses though - Corbridge was once a bustling town and supply base where Romans and civilians would pick up food and provisions. Today at Corbridge Roman Town, you can still walk through the town’s streets and experience a time-capsule of Roman life. Don’t miss the museum with its display of the impressive Roman armour and Roman possessions uncovered as part of the famous Corbridge Hoard. The Hoard was one of the most significant finds in Roman history, providing us with a fascinating insight into the life of a soldier on the Wall. Stretch your legs and explore the mix of remains in this rural and urban setting which makes the eastern section of Hadrian's Wall a fascinating heritage trail.

Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle; dramatic coastal views, crashing waves, the sound of seabirds flying overhead and the remains of a castle built at a magnificent scale make the perfect backdrop for this unique day out. Discover the great twin-towered keep of this mighty 14th century fortress and strike out along the coastline for unforgettable walks.

Stand on the edge of the Roman Empire at Housesteads Roman Fort and take in an awe-inspiring 360-degree view point – some of the best along the entire length of the Wall. Explore the most complete, visible example of a Roman fort anywhere in Britain, discover objects of Roman life in the museum and venture out along the Housesteads Trail to experience some of the most tranquil parts of the Northumberland National Park. Pack up the car, put the dog in the boot and make more of your visit to Hadrian's Wall by taking in some of the less well known historic sites along the way.

Escape to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, stand still in this tranquil setting and be moved by the powerful past of the priory built nearly 1400 years ago. This remote island setting adds to the unique atmosphere of Lindisfarne Priory for a truly unforgettable experience - cut off from the world and reached by a causeway only visible at low tide. Take in the same breath-taking coastal views as the monks did hundreds of years ago, explore the island on foot and discover St Cuthbert's Isle just off the shore from the priory where St Cuthbert lived out his hermit years.  Climb the high ridge known as the Heugh south of the ruins for spectacular views across to Bamburgh Castle and the Farne Islands.

Crowning the hilltop above the River Coquet Warkworth Castle stands proudly awaiting mighty explorers to unearth its past. Roam the extensive ruins of this Northumberland stronghold and discover how the powerful Dukes of Northumberland, the Percy family lived. Explore the floors and rooms in the magnificent cross-shaped keep which was once home to 'Harry Hotspur', immortalised as a rebel lord by Shakespeare, and bane of Scottish raiders. Enjoy spectacular river and coastal views from the castle walls and extend your adventure by taking a walk along the river before jumping on a boat to discover the Hermitage, a hidden gem in a peaceful setting.

Matfen Hall

Ford & Etal

Ford & Etal is a place to explore, experience and discover.  A privately owned agricultural estate centred round the charming villages of Ford and Etal, it’s full of attractions, activities, antiques outlets, traditional tearooms and some excellent  accommodation.  From canoeing, horse-riding and rock-climbing to 19th century artworks and mystical standing stones  there’s something to suit every age and interest, whatever the weather.

Peaceful Ford village with its neat gardens and houses was rebuilt as a Victorian ‘model’ village and is perfect for anyone interested in the Arts and history, with antiques, vintage items and collectables to browse as well as the magnificent Lady Waterford Hall.  Upon entering this building you’ll be both surprised and delighted!  Built as the village school in 1860 the Hall houses an unique collection of life-sized watercolour murals painted by Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford and tells the story of her life – a famous beauty and a friend of Queen Victoria who was tragically widowed at a young age. 

At nearby Heatherslaw you can explore the restored 19th Century Cornmill, watch the milling process from grain to flour and on special activity days can even make some bread. Kids can follow the mouse trail or take a quiz to become a junior miller. There’s a tearoom in the old granary too, serving delicious  treats made using fresh flour from the mill, a gift shop and a new craft shop where you can watch the traditional art of papercutting and choose from a selection of sillouette pictures or hand made jewellery.   

Hire a bike from the Visitor Centre and experience the sights and sounds of the countryside on two wheels, or take a steam train ride along the banks of the River Till with the Heatherslaw Light Railway takes you to Etal where you can wander round this ‘chocolate box’ village with its thatched cottages, take a stroll along the riverside and see if you can spot an otter, call at Etal Castle, ransacked at the time of the Battle of Flodden., or simply relax and unwind in the Lavender Tearooms.

A must-see is Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre, home to 10 Clydesdale horses as well as rare-breed sheep, pigs and ducks.  The centre also has regular events and activity days and holds a farmers market once a month.  There are a number of other events across the estates throughout the year, from live music to village shows to family activities – all are listed on our website.
A fabulous area for walking, a number of  leaflets describing walks of varying lengths are available from  Heatherslaw Visitor Centre.  Visit Ford Moss Nature Reserve, once a busy mining settlement and now  an SSSI and one of Northumberland’s most important raised bog mires – and make time to call at the evocative Flodden Battlefield where 500 years ago a King and 14,000 men died in battle within the space of a few hours.

Whether you seek peace and tranquillity, a walk in breathtakingly beautiful countryside, a visit immersed in the heritage of the area, an adventurous activity or a family day out you’re sure to find it at Ford & Etal.

Matfen Hall

Ospreys at Kielder (Forestry Commission)

Kielder Water & Forest Park has it all. The views are bigger, the night sky brighter, the sports wilder and the smiles wider. Home to the biggest man-made lake in Northern Europe and, at over 250 square miles, the largest working forest in England, the award-winning Kielder Water & Forest Park is one of Northumberland’s best attractions.
It is the perfect day out for families that love nature, water sports, exploring, walking, cycling and much more.

Kielder Waterside is set in the heart of Kielder Water & Forest Park; here there is a play garden, ideal for big kids and little kids alike. Enjoy family fishing or the stunning Kielder reservoir, see a flying demonstration at the birds of prey centre or take a scenic walk along to our Tower Knowe café and enjoy delicious home made ice cream. If you don’t fancy the walk to Tower Knowe, you have a range of options for food and drink at the Boat Inn and The Hide at Kielder Waterside.

For those more active, why not challenge yourself with a run, walk or cycle along the 27 miles of stunning shoreline. Follow the Lakeside Way and see art installations such as Freya’s Cabin, Robin’s Hut and Belvedere.  Once you are here, hire your bike from Kielder village and explore mile upon mile of some of the best single track mountain bike trails in the UK.

A haven for wildlife, visitors can expect to encounter otters, roe deer, badgers and bats. Kielder is home to almost 50% of England’s red native squirrel population, visit the hide at Kielder Waterside and see if you can spot one. From Easter, join the expert volunteers at Osprey Watch every Saturday, Sunday and Monday at Kielder Waterside and Kielder Castle until the chicks fledge in August and experience stunning views of one of the UK’s rarest and most spectacular bird species.

Get the family together and discover your wild side at Kielder this May 13th and 14th, for the Wild at Kielder Festival, a weekend of exploration in nature!
Join in with the wildlife activities happening all over Kielder Water & Forest Park. Free activities such as Gruffalo Spotting, the Kielder Castle craft fair, bird and red squirrel watching across the Kielder hides, Osprey Watch and much more will keep the whole family entertained! We’re also offering the chance to take part in some very special wilderness activities, half and full day wild food foraging courses, dark sky and star exploration, wildlife cruises, fieldwork and ecology, wildlife survival workshops, wild flower arranging, family fun interactive strolls, alpaca walks, wildlife bike tours and everything in between! Book your activity tickets for the family now to avoid disappointment.

The wildlife garden at Kielder Waterside is open all year round and comprises a raised pond and butterfly shaped bed, a bog and drought garden and a nest box demonstration area. Adders, butterflies, stoats and amphibians inhabit the garden.

Matfen Hall

Whitehouse Farm Centre

Whitehouse Farm Centre, Northumberland’s largest Farm Attraction is a great day out for visitors of all ages to hold, feed and stroke a wide variety of animals.

There is always a fun packed programme of interactive animal activities, talks and shows. After meeting traditional farm animals there is still so much more to discover around the Centre, from a snake to a skunk, meerkats and marmosets creating mayhem, reptiles in Critter Cavern to having a hoot with the Owls and exploring all the indoor & outdoor play.

Take a walk around the outdoor paddocks and see llamas, alpacas, wallabies, deer, emu, ponies, donkeys and visit the pond to see more wildlife in a natural habitat.

Around the Farm you feel very much in the countryside yet the Centre is only 3 miles from Morpeth and 1 mile from the A1.

 

Matfen Hall

Hieghley Gate Garden Centre

You can’t visit the North East without visiting one of the UK’s biggest garden centres. Set in the spectacular Northumberland countryside North of Morpeth, Heighley Gate is a stone’s throw from the coast to the East, Alnwick to the North and Newcastle to the South, conveniently located on the A697 near the A1 just North of Morpeth.
With probably the greatest range of plants in Northumberland, we have a well-deserved reputation for top quality plants grown on our Nursery and an excellent array of gardening products. We love plants; from bedding plants to shrubs and trees, you’ll be sure to find something for your garden.
Gardening will always be at our heart but we have much more on offer; from Dinosaurs to Coffee and everything in-between! Something for everyone in the family come rain or shine.
There is a large restaurant with an air conditioned soft play area for children or a Costa Coffee if you just want a quick break from shopping. Once refreshed you can hit the home and giftware ranges and visit our new Outlet Shopping Village, home to many favourite clothing brands, plus a butchers, delicatessen and much more. If that’s not enough in addition of course to our Garden Care Department we have a wide range of furniture and BBQ’s for every size garden.
A visit to The Dinosaur Golf Encounter is a must for our younger customers, come along and meet our animated dinosaurs, a great way to spend an afternoon, we also run a number of events to occupy all members of the family, including children’s activities, Car Show, Dog Show and craft fairs to name a few!
A team of friendly staff takes great pride in the centre and are on hand to offer great help and advice.

Matfen Hall

Howick Gardens & Arboretum

The garden year at Howick Gardens & Arboretum starts with the Snowdrop Festival in February, followed by carpets of vibrant yellow daffodils between March and May. The woodland garden (Silverwood) also flourishes until late spring with camellias, magnolias and species rhododendrons. Howick is also well known for Lady Mary’s ‘Botticelli Meadows’ where colourful tulips are randomly planted in the wildflower meadows.

The more formal borders and terraces are at their best in summer and the Bog Garden, with its unusual herbaceous plants grown from seed collected in the wild abroad, blooms throughout July, August and September.

Autumn brings brilliant colour across the whole Estate when every leaf becomes a flower and the berries glisten and ripen. There are over 65 acres of woodland walks in the Arboretum which is planted with over 1,800 different species of trees and shrubs, most of which are labelled.

Families can take on a seasonal ‘Family Challenge’, meandering through the woodland walks, nature spotting on the way – look out for red squirrels, and ducks, swans and herons on the pond.

The stately Earl Grey Tea House serves home made light lunches, snacks and afternoon teas. Howick was the Grey family seat and home to Charles, 2nd Earl Grey, who was Prime Minister during the time of the passing of the Great Reform Bill of 1832, although he is probably better known for the famous tea which was blended especially for the water at Howick and named after him. His monument stands at the top of Grey Street in Newcastle.

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