Northumberland has about 70 castles, more than any other county in England. The iconic Bamburgh Castle, perched on high, looking over one of the most spectacular beaches on this coast, is one of the most impressive. The historic capital of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, Bamburgh Castle is believed to have been occupied for over 10,000 years and has evolved from a wooden palisade to the formidable fortress it is today. This was the first castle in England to fall to cannon fire as the Wars of Roses drew to a close.
This is an idyllic spot on the North East Coast; it’s got something for everyone. Perfect for both those interested in the countryside, history and heritage as well as the bucket and spade, fish and chip seaside holiday brigade.
Bamburgh Castle has many a story to tell. Under the ownership of the Forster family (who lived in Bamburgh Hall) the castle gradually fell into disrepair and became little more than a ruin, but in the 18th century it came under the ownership of Lord Nathaniel Crewe, Bishop of Durham who began the long process of restoration. The Lord Crewe Trust rebuilt much of the village and created a ‘welfare state’ for the inhabitants which provided a school, a dispensary, a hospital, a coastguard service, a lifeboat and a welfare centre for the shipwrecked mariners.
Bamburgh was one of the world’s first ‘coastguard’ stations and the site for the development and testing of the world’s first 'lifeboat’. In 1894 the castle, village and estate lands was sold to Lord Armstrong of Cragside, who devoted much of his later life to the restoration of the castle. It is still, in fact, owned by the Armstrong family who play an active part in its operation and maintenance.
The magnificent restoration of the castle has made it a major tourist attraction, with something to interest everyone. A visit is a fun afternoon out. Displayed are furniture, art, and artifacts from different stages of the castle’s history including exercise books from when the castle was a school for local children. The dungeon is always popular and a few sad wax prisoners languish there in the darkness. The armoury is full of deadly looking weapons with vicious pikes, bayonets, knives and guns. There are some impressive suits of armour too, and the Clock Tower Coffee Shop (helpfully located under the clock tower) does light meals and a substantial cream tea with scones jam and cream if you feel the need of some refreshment.
Seahouses and the Farne Islands
Just three miles (4.8 km) along the wildflower strewn coastline is the next village of Seahouses, a lively fishing port and popular seaside holiday resort for families. This is the spot to eat your fish and chips, buy your bucket and spade, your fridge magnets, and your postcards. This is also where you can take a boat trip from the harbour out to the Farne Islands in the summer time, to see huge numbers of breeding sea birds, and the large colony of grey seals that live here.
You can land on some of the islands when the weather is fair, but we took a Billy Shiels Seal cruise, which took around one and half hours. The boat, in our case the Glad Tidings the fifth, sailed around all of the islands giving good views of the nesting birds on the cliff faces and viewing the grey seals at several vantage points along the way.
There are an estimated 3 to 4 thousand seals at the Farne Islands and large numbers can be counted basking on the rocks, especially at low tide when more of the islands are exposed. With over a thousand seal pups born each autumn, the colony is growing strong. These are large animals with big bull heads and are actually quite a rare species. When we went the tide was high, so we saw the seals in the water mainly, with their heads peeping out, but we did see lots and lots of seabirds. There were huge numbers of breeding Guillemots perched onto the rocks or bobbing in the ocean with their funny white spectacles.
We saw lots of much loved Puffins, which are so pretty, with their bright markings and red bills and feet. They are quite small birds and they look like they have been wound up like clockwork when they fly, with their little stubby wings. We saw Razorbills, shags and Terns, a few Gannets, and a large flock of Canada Geese, which took off from the sea as we approached them.
Stay in the charming village of Bamburgh
There are quite a few accommodation options in these parts from hotels to bed and breakfasts to self catering cottages and when I was there, we stayed at the Sunningdale Hotel in Bamburgh Village, which is an independent, family run hotel with 21 rooms. The hotel is in a great location and things are undergoing a revamp at the moment and the bedrooms are all bright and well decorated. The original buildings, which are now the hotel, were actually used as a camp for prisoners of war during WWI and WWII.
The hotel is in the middle of Bamburgh Village, just 5 minutes walk from Bamburgh Castle and its stunning beach and rolling dunes of fine yellow sand. The Sunningdale is both a child friendly and a dog friendly hotel, and you may well be greeted at reception by Barnaby the standard poodle, who is the very sociable family pet. There are double rooms, single rooms, twin rooms, and family rooms.
All have free Wi-Fi, flatscreen TVs, and tea and coffee making facilities and many rooms have lovely views out over the Northumberland countryside. Bed and breakfast are on offer as well as dinner in the restaurant for residents only. The Sunningdale Hotel is a friendly and unpretentious place to stay in a great location on this fabulous coast.
You might be interested in these Airbnbs!
The Northumberland coast: dramatic coastal landscape
The Northumberland coastal area is best known for its sweeping sandy beaches, rolling dunes, rocky promontories and isolated islands. Amidst this striking landscape is the evidence of an area steeped in history, covering 7,000 years of human activity. The rocky coast is made of hard, igneous rock creating a sequence of cliffed headlands, rocky reefs, and sandy bays.
The rocky ridges provided ideal defensive locations along the coastline with Dunstanburgh, Bamburgh, and Lindisfarne Castles all sitting on top of such outcrops. The Farne Islands comprises two small groups of rocky islands home to our internationally important bird and seal populations.
Northumberland is a great place for a short break or holiday if you like the great outdoors and want to see evidence of castles and landscapes which so characterise the history of England. Or if you’d just like to stroll along a glorious golden beach and stop for some fish and chips, you can do that too!
Get Trip101 in your inbox