Let’s face it: anyone with kids over the age of two knows that the ‘walking holiday’ is a contradiction in terms. Sure, my wife and I still take our kids (age 4 and 2) out on occasional jaunts. But walking en famille now rarely lasts longer than 30 mins, invariably ends with a ‘shoulder carry’ and most definitely isn’t the basis of any holiday.
There is, however, a short window in life – a year, two at most – when you can put your baby on your back, head off into the wind and enjoy the very best of the British landscape. And, as The Trunki Files found out, there are few better places to take advantage of this precious opportunity than glorious Northumberland.
Why we went
I have to admit, on this occasion, Northumberland found us rather than us actively seeking it out. We had been invited to the wedding of some friends near Newcastle and, based upon memories of a brief visit with my parents many years prior, decided to tag on a week to enjoy the scenery.
My brother had recently lent us his Vaude back carrier, so we figured this would be a great opportunity to try it out. The Northumberland coastline has a major advantage when you’re trekking with a baby on your back: it is, by and large, level. You have miles of flat sand or low-lying cliffs and you don’t really have to worry about navigating – you just set off in one direction or the other and turn round when you’ve had enough (or, more likely, your back gives in; or baby starts screeching…). Throw in thrillingly dramatic castles as your backdrop, some lovely pubs to stop at for lunch and even a boat trip to see puffins and seals, and you have a pretty good holiday.
Where we stayed
We stayed in the coastal village of Beadnell. Although not particularly picturesque, Beadnell is well situated, slap-bang between Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh and has a few shops for the basics, a pub (The Craster Arms) and a lovely sandy beach popular with kite-surfers. We booked a two-bedroom cottage in the centre of the village which was lovely – modern, clean, decorated with a nautical theme – and came kitted out with the necessary cot and high chair.
What were the highlights?
In no particular order, here’s what made Northumberland a winner for us:
1. The beaches and the castles
I’ve grouped these together because in Northumberland, that’s often how they come. Bamburgh is stunning: an utterly impressive fortress fronted by miles of dunes and a glaringly white sandy beach. A lovely walk is just to park up at Seahouses and head north along the beach to the castle itself, where you can stop for an ice cream or lunch at one of the pubs and cafes in Bamburgh village.
Whilst Bamburgh is the poster-child in these parts, it is Dunstanburgh Castle that’s my favourite. Its craggy ruins and dramatic setting on a peninsula make for a compelling focal point. You can approach it from the south, on a short, grassy walk along the low cliffs from Craster (famous for its smoked kippers). Alternatively, park up at Low Newton and head south along the magnificent Embleton Bay. The Castle broods menacingly on the horizon and changes in appearance with the time of day. Back in Low Newton, the Ship Inn is the place to stop for lunch – and have more of those Craster kippers if you can stand them (I can’t!).
2. Alnwick Gardens
Alnwick Garden – in their words “the world’s most extraordinary contemporary garden” – is a great place to spend a morning. In our case it was a wet one and we didn’t fancy a soaking on the beach, so we headed here. Although it is an outdoor attraction, that it was raining didn’t seem to matter that much. There is a large shop and a cafe-restaurant to retreat to, with reasonably priced lunches (and high chairs). The whole place is buggy-able and with the rain cover on and a Gore-tex to hand, you can still enjoy the place even as the rain falls down. Particular highlights are the cascading waterfalls; the Serpent’s Garden (a kind-of maze with curious water features); the poison garden (keep baby strapped in!); and the treehouse, complete with wibbly-wobbly ropebridges (again, buggy-able!).
3. The Farne Islands
If you fancy a change from walking on dry land, you can catch one of the excursion boats to the Farne Islands that leave frequently from the little harbour at Seahouses. Choose a calm-ish day – I can’t imagine the trip would be much fun with baby on a stormy day. But it makes for a fun outing and you get to see seals, all sorts of seabirds and, in season, puffins. Some of the trips land of the islands and let you walk about; we opted for just a sail-around as it was long enough. Leo clearly agreed – he was fast asleep for half the trip!
Linked by a causeway to the mainland that floods at high tide, there is a sense of adventure about arriving at Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island. A castle sits upon a dramatic mound; and there’s the ruins of the monastery to wander around. We found the place to be perfectly navigable with Leo and most importantly, there is a good selection of cafes for that all-important mid-morning tea and teacake.
What wasn’t so good?
Aside from the day at Alnwick, we were fairly lucky with the weather so can’t really grumble about that. Along with the Gardens, Alnwick also has a fabulous castle (Hogwarts) and a great bookshop, Barter Books, to pass the time.
If you are a southerner like me, the journey will probably be the biggest deterrent. A 6-7 hour drive with a baby or young child is never a prospect to relish. Yes, you can take a train up or indeed fly; but you really need a car when you get there and do you want the hassle of hiring one and utilising multiple modes of transport? What it means is that weekends and mini-breaks are out – you need to go for a week to make the drive worthwhile. But when the destination is this good, do you really want to rush back anyway?
We booked our cottage through Northumberland Coast and Country holidays (www.northumbria-cottages.co.uk) and I can recommend them; they have a good website where you can check availability online. Other sites to check out are coastalretreats.co.uk and coquetcottages.co.uk. A cut above your average lettings agents, these companies seem to have scooped up the most gorgeous, chintz-free properties along the coast and offer extra thrills like a private chef for that special occasion.
Alnwick has a large Sainsbury’s and is the best place to stock up for the week if you are staying in the Beadnell/Seahouses area. They also home deliver so get your order in before you go and have it delivered an hour or so after you arrive to avoid dragging your little one(s) around.
Alnwick also has a lovely modern public swimming pool which we visited on our wet day after Alnwick Garden – definitely worth bearing in mind for wet days.
If you intend to go walking, I can recommend a Vaude back carrier. It is comfortable, easy to adjust and, as you can see from the photo, doubled as a bed for our son. It can only be used from around 6 months old though. My wife is also a huge fan of the Ergo carrier which can be used from birth. This puts more of the baby’s weight on your hips and you can have your baby on your front or your back. Whilst the Ergo is cosier, the advantage of the Vaude is they are higher up and get to see more (provided they stay awake!).
Whilst I have argued that Northumberland is a great place for taking your baby for walks, I don’t want to give the impression that you shouldn’t go with older children. They will still love the beaches, the boat trips and exploring the castles. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll walk for longer than 30 minutes if you tell them there’s an ice cream van on the horizon…
Wish someone had taken me to see the puffins – looks great!