Amble, on the North Sea coast of Northumberland was not a place I’d heard of before. Not far from its more famous neighbour Alnwick the town of Amble is a small harbour whose habitants seem to be largely tourists. It also seems compulsory to own a dog. I couldn’t exactly describe it as picturesque or even quaint, but it was a great location to use as a base for exploring the surrounding area.
The weather forecast looked good although it was grey and drizzling with rain as we set off for York. The aim was to cut through York and pick up the A19 instead of using the motorway or the dreaded outer ring road. Once on the A19 the journey was straightforward and the weather gradually improved.
Driving into Amble we drew up and parked right in front of the cottage and began to unload.
First impression was of a tastefully decorated and very pleasant place, let down by an overpowering smell of ancient dog. The cottage was ‘pet friendly’ so I don’t know whether this was the result of a succession of animals or the last residents owing a particularly smelly beast.
Once everything was out of the car we took a short walk onto the high street in search of a few essentials including something to tackle the smell.
We enjoyed a sunny stroll around the harbour and a delicious beer at the Fish Shack before returning to spend our first night in. Luckily it was warm due to the sun so we were able to keep the windows open until late!
There was a Saturday market around the harbour so that’s were we headed after a tasty breakfast sandwich. There were a few regular ‘cabin’ shops which provided us with cheese and some interesting browsing; but the majority of space was taken up by a car boot sale selling mostly tat.
A potential walk part way along the coastal path was sabotaged by incoming sea fog and a cold wind. We headed back to the inland warmth instead and sunk a couple of strong tasty stouts while people watching outside the Cock & Bull.
An Italian meal was planned for the evening. For a pre-dinner drink we tried the Harbour Tavern, more of a restaurant than a pub where we were sent to the cold and draughty beer garden. An average beer was left unfinished as we opted to return to the Cock & Bull, a surpringly busy bar frequented by locals.
The meal at La Famiglia was expensive but very good. Jill had a perfectly cooked chicken breast in pepper sauce, while I went for a £35 fillet steak! The steak was slightly undercooked resulting an off putting trickle of blood into the plate-filling Dolcelatte sauce. This spoiled an otherwise excellent meal.
On the way home we paid yet another visit to the Co-op for groceries we’d forgotten (our memories were getting worse). We left with some beef stock pots, a packet of crisps and a small bottle of Jack Daniels to help settle a full tummy (purely medicinal of course).
Sunday 21st – Warkworth Castle
Warkworth was today’s destination, a very pleasant 1.5 mile walk along the River Coquet where herons could be seen patiently waiting by the weir for something to eat.
There were sculptures to admire along the way, a local art trail strangely named the Bord Waalk.
Weather was lovely with both of us catching a little sunburn. I was so glad that I’d taken along a jumper, jacket and a woolly hat.
The castle was superb, an audio tour included in the price with plenty of medieval architecture and history to explore. We must have spent a couple of hours roaming the grounds.
Thirsty and hungry we journeyed the short distance into the village for lunch at the Castle Brewhouse. Lovely salt and pepper potato skins and halloumi fries washed down with an excellent Anarchy Citra.
Monday 22nd – Hauxley Nature Reserve
A full English started the day, delicious sausages and bacon from the local butcher and some very tasty vine tomatoes from around the corner. Fuelled up and ready to go.
It was a short drive to Hauxley nature reserve where we enjoyed a good couple of hours walking around the area. There was plenty to see in the woods and on the lakes; lots of different birds including some we’d never see before.
We had planned to go to a nearby beach after the reserve but sun had changed to drizzle so we went to Alnwick instead. The rain didn’t last long however and we enjoyed a stroll around the centre, bought a few things for tea and finished our visit with a drink in the excellent Harry’s Bar.
Tuesday 23rd – Cragside
Venturing further afield today we headed inland to the home of William Armstrong. He was a wealthy Victorian industrialist and inventor, who made Cragside the first home to be powered by his own hydroelectric power plant.
We toured the labyrinth of a house firstly; the original building had been added to several times and you could easily have gotten lost in it. I lost count of the number of kitchens it had, all supplied with hot and cold running water and even an a dishwasher from Armstrong’s own man made lakes and plumbing systems. The house was way ahead of its time with its hydroelectric lift and heating system, a fascinating place to visit.
The surrounding grounds were vast. Jill wanted to visit the powerhouse and pump house, where Armstrong’s original machines could be seen. We wrongly assumed that they would be near to the house that they worked to power but they were actually quite some distance away. There were also gardens to explore. If we’d put a bit more thought into it we could probably have worked out a logical way round what we wanted to see. But in the end we went back and forth over some very hilly terrain with lots of steep steps. We were both absolutely shattered by the end of the afternoon.
Wednesday 24th – Beamish
This was our second visit to Beamish. The last time it had been a freezing cold December; this time we had plenty of warm Maytime sun.
We tried to cover the things we didn’t have time for before, although we did visit the 50’s chippy again for some beef dripping chips.
We did enjoy a brief visit along one of the mineshafts though. A group of us donned hard hats and did our best to avoid banging our heads on the 4′ 6″ high roof as we walked down to the coalface. It was fascinating to see and hear about the conditions the miners worked in.
The evening’s entertainment was a visit to the harbour front Fish Shack. I’m not a sea food fan myself but Jill had been wanting to go since we’d arrived in Amble; in part I think because the Hairy Bikers had been there during one of their programmes. She plowed her way through a large and scary looking bowl of langoustines, squrting herself in the face as she struggled to crack open the claws with the pincers.
Thursday 25th – Alnwick Castle
We caught a bus for a change, enduring a very bumpy 30 minute ride on the top deck. The station was only a few minutes walk from the home of the Duke of Northumberland.
We opted to start with a guided tour of the grounds, a really interesting and informative history of the castle and the Percy family who have owned it for 700 years. I didn’t realise what a big part this family had played in Britain’s early history including the Gunpowder Plot and the War of the Roses (on the wrong side!)
Into the state rooms next. The decor and furnishings in these rooms was astounding. It was unusual to see the rooms which were actually used by the family when they were in residence. Proof of that was the huge TV sat in the bay of one of the ‘sitting rooms’ along with numerous family photos.
We had a spot of lunch and finished with a tour of the towers which were now museums.
Alnwick Castle is an amazing place with a fascinating history, well worth a visit.
This was our last night in Amble finished with a home cooked meal and packing ready for Friday’s departure. All in all a very tiring but very enjoyable holiday.
Friday 26th – Raby Castle
We made a day out of the journey home, visiting another castle at Raby. I’d meant to visit this place decades ago but never got around to it until now.
As is often the case in these places there people in the main rooms waiting to answer your questions, only this lot didn’t wait. As soon as we entered each room they welcomed us and launched into what sounded like a pre-recorded message! What they told us was interesting though; however a couple of the volunteers were stumped when I askd a question they couldn’t answer.
Following an entertaining tour of Raby, we took a stroll through the deer park, managing to spot a few from a distance.
We’ve now visited Northumberland several times and enjoyed it immensely. I’m sure we’ll be back.