For the longest time, I’d always wanted to visit Northumberland. Come to think of it, I remember the exact moment when travelling to university in Scotland from London. It was the first ever trip to Scotland by train and boy was I in for a treat.
I still remember whizzing through beautiful cities like York and Durham before making it to the northeast coast of England and Northumberland. I must have taken that train tens of times across my years at St Andrew’s but each time I would do the same thing.
As soon as I would reach the Northumberland coastline, my eyes were instantly glued to the window pane (usually with my Thermos of tea in hand). Along the way, I’d see spots like Berwick-upon-Tweed, Holy Island and the coastline around Dunstanburgh Castle. During those train trips (when let’s be honest, I was probably supposed to be revising), I promised myself that I’d go exploring Northumberland one day.
And you know what, this is exactly what we did!
With a nifty bit of planning and grabbing our train tickets, we were all set to head out on our microgap to Northumberland. You see, it felt like the perfect county to visit for a microgap and not just because of those train trip views. After all, Northumberland is nicknamed ‘castle county’, which instantly caught my attention.
After hopping on our train, we arrived into Morpeth to pick up our wheels and head across the moorlands. Now, the train itself took a little over three hours from the centre of London but actually feels a million miles away. Not least because Northumberland is the least populous county in all of England, which, if I’m honest, is instantly noticeable when arriving from the hustle and bustle of London.
By the time we jumped in our car, my tummy was a hungry rumbling mess. 😄 Now, I’m not prone to rational thought when I’m hungry (yeah, I’m one of those people that gets hangry really quick), so Yaya made some preemptive plans to find a lunch spot before any kind of Jekyll and Hyde scenario came into being! 😉
After a little jaunt in the car, we arrived at St. Mary’s Inn (in Morpeth) which was a cosy pub that seemed popular with locals. Now, this is always a good sign to me, especially when travelling.
You see, with visitors, pubs and restaurants only have to please you once – you’re only there temporarily after all and will be replaced the next day/week/month by another visitor (which is largely why restaurants in tourist trap areas tend not to be that great – there are exceptions, of course). For those catering to locals, however, they have to be good time and time again otherwise they run the risk of having no customers.
As the pub was filled with locals, I instantly knew we’d made the right choice.
For starters, I went for the mackerel pate with pickled fennel and sourdough, which was so tasty. And Yaya decided upon the crispy king prawns which he refused to share! 😉
For mains, Yaya went for a juicy steak and I grabbed myself a homemade steak and ale pie with mash. It was one of those heartwarming meals that leave you so full you wanna be rolled out of the door.
That being said, Yaya found room for a helping of sticky toffee pudding, which I insisted he ordered with two spoons this time! There’s no way he was having this one alone.
After filling our tummies, we thought it best to actually work off some of those treats with a little stroll around the area.
This is when we stumbled upon Belsay House and Gardens.
Perched in the countryside, about twenty minutes from Morpeth, Belsay House was home to the Middleton Family for over 700 years. In fact, there have been records going back to around 1270 when Richard de Middleton was Lord Chancellor to King Henry III.
Now, with all that history, I just knew we had to go explore the grounds and house. As soon as we arrived, we headed straight for the newer (but still over 200 years old) Belsay Hall.
That’s the thing you start to realise, ‘new’ is such a relative term, especially when there’s so much history that goes back thousands of years in Northumberland.
Apparently, Belsay Hall was built in a Grecian style after a Greek honeymoon that Sir Charles Monck took upon his marriage. As we headed inside, we quickly saw how impressive this would have been as a home.
The Pillar Hall is just incredible and pretty much the focal point of the hall itself.
After a little stroll around the hall, we head straight out into the gardens themselves.
Now, we Brits have some pretty unpredictable weather and it can honestly feel like four seasons in one day at times. That being said, we lucked out on this occasion with some gorgeous sunshine which was perfect for exploring the gardens.
As we headed through the grounds, we found ourselves in the Quarry Gardens.
It totally felt like a lost world which has been forgotten for centuries, especially as there was no-one else around.
Whilst strolling through the quarried walkways, I instantly remembered what the English Heritage staff had been saying. The gardens of Belsay Hall have a unique little micro-climate.
This made perfect sense! It almost felt like summer walking around. There were trees and plants I didn’t even know could live this far north. It felt almost tropical… well, for England at least! 😉
After about twenty minutes, we came across a clearing that led us to the historic home of the Middleton’s, Belsay Castle.
Many hundreds of years before Belsay Hall was constructed, the castle itself was the family home.
Now mostly in ruins, it almost feels eerie walking around. Almost as if it was abandoned and stuck in a moment of time when the family left.
Even inside, you can still see the original fireplaces and nooks that were once part of the rooms of the castle.
Now, I love a bit of history like this, especially when the castle dates back so many hundreds of years. That being said, with only myself and Yaya here, I definitely got a few shivers as we walked around.
Personally, I don’t believe in ghosts or anything like that, but If someone told me this place was haunted, I would have believed them in an instant. It really was pretty spooky – especially when no one else was there. 😉
After a little wander across the grounds, we decided to call it a day at Belsay Castle and head to our lodgings to check in.
We decided to stay at Newton-by-the-Sea, at the Joiners Arms. It was one of those gorgeous village pubs that you see nestled into the countryside.
As soon as we stepped foot inside, I knew we’d made the right choice. The rooms were gorgeous. (I’m a sucker for exposed timber! 😄)
It’s just the sort of place that makes you feel instantly welcome. Someone playfully described it as a five-star inn – with a hug and I have to agree!
Plus, what made it even more delicious was the cocktail making kit that was left in the room each night! Grey Goose vodka, Chambord and plenty of fresh raspberries, which made for the perfect nightcap.
That being said, the nightcap would have to wait, as dinner was calling. There’s something about the sea air that makes me more hungry and even though we were a few miles from the beach, I used this as an excuse for us to head straight for dinner.
Now, Northumberland is known for its tasty seafood, so we headed straight for the shoreline and over to Craster for some grub at the Jolly Fisherman.
Perched a stone’s throw from the working harbour, it was a gorgeous little spot to round off our first day.
Well over 150 years old, I can still imagine all the 19th-century fisherman stumbling out of here after days spent fishing in the North Sea. Apart from my ideas of tipsy fisherman, not much else has changed over the last 150 years.
The fish and seafood are still caught locally and typically comes from the local fisherman from the harbour itself, the views are just as amazing with the village almost feeling like it’s been frozen in time.
After a quick dabble over the menu, I ordered the mackerel Scotch egg for starters. It was one of those Scotch eggs that come out nice and running, which I devoured immediately.
Yaya, on the other hand, when for the fresh scallops and cured salty meat.
For mains, we both went for the local lobster that was from the harbour itself. It was so yummy, especially slathered in lots of butter. I’m a sucker for anything dipped in butter and this was just amazing.
Filled to the brim, we decided to call it a night and head back to the Joiner’s Arms for some well-earned rest (and our nightcap).
If today was anything to go by, I knew we were gonna love Northumberland.
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