Stay for the Weekend: Northumberland National Park

Immerse yourself in this award-winning National Park!

Northumberland National Park is not a place that is shouted about often, which is why I was so happy to hear that it had recently won the National Park of the Year award from the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards.

In the years that I’ve spent living in Bardon Mill I’ve popped up to visit Northumberland National Park many times, it’s a great place for long walks and also offers visitors the opportunity to walk alongside Hadrian’s Wall. Not only is the water and air cleaner here than any other part of England, this park is also the least populated of all the National Parks making it a real sanctuary for families and couples alike.

The first time I dropped in through this area was on the way back from a skiing trip in the Highlands. I thought that I’d been treated to a week of holiday in one of the most scenic parts of the UK, a friend of mine owned a number of lodges in Perthshire at the time and I remember feeling elated at staying somewhere to so stunning for next to nothing. On a whim I decided to drive through the Northumberland National Park on my way back, it was a little out of my way but I had time on my side and was eager for my holiday to continue in some way. I can still remember my jaw dropping as I drove through the Park for the first time. After a breathless half an hour drive through the park I’d decided to return as soon as possible, but this time for much longer.

I often like to equate visiting a place like Northumberland Park with going somewhere like Disneyland in Florida: you simply can’t do it all in one day. In order to get the most out of these places you need to get right in amongst them and stay for at least a few days, ideally a week. I’ve done exactly that a number of times over the years and stayed in a variety of different accommodations all of which have their various charms.

In no particular order I present to you the places to stay in and around the Northumberland National Park that I keep on returning to:

Barrowburn Farm

There’s a reason why Northumberland is such a peaceful place to visit: the lack of people. There aren’t many folks who are lucky enough to call this wonderful place their home but Scott and Catherine at Barrowburn are two of them and they’re kind enough to welcome a small number of visitors onto their farm land every year to stay. You can either choose to pitch up a tent, throw a roll mat down in their rustic camping barn or splash out for their self-catering accommodation, the Deer Hut.

Hethpool House B&B

Set on the outskirts of the fantastic College Valley (which is a haven for hikers and mountain bikers alike) Hethpool House is one of those rare places that truly takes your breath away. This Edwardian Country House feels like something out of a Studio Ghibli movie with its gorgeous turrets and expansive grounds ripe for exploration. If you’d rather not get the complete B&B experience then you can stay in their self-catering cottage for that extra bit of seclusion.

Clennell Hall Hotel

If you’ve set your heart on an opulent experience then Clennel Hall Hotel should be at the top of your agenda, this well kept hotel offers 10 unique rooms which come complete with king size beds and modern bathrooms. Prices start at £85 (including breakfast) so it’s not what you would call cheap, but if you’d prefer to save on cash you can always choose to stay in one of their hostel style ‘Bunk’ rooms for just £20 a night (Full English breakfast included with a £5 surcharge).

Summertime Fun in the Pennines

Have you thought of trying one of these activities out?

Most folks come to the Pennines to simply gaze at the landscape which is completely understandable when you consider how beautiful it is, but I’d be remiss in not mentioning the wide array of activities that you can get up to whilst you’re here.

If you’re thinking of visiting the Pennines soon then take a look at what else you could get up to first, so that you can share an experience that you’ll remember for a lifetime:

Taking a Birdwalk

I love a good hike, but I know full well that they’re not always to everyone’s taste, especially children. Birdwalks are great work-arounds for these problem people and there are plenty of great trails to take advantage of whilst you’re in the Pennines. There are a few rules you need to follow in order to undertake a birdwalk responsibly which you can read in full here. The general gist is that you must remember to respect the environment around you, do not disturb the birds or their nests and make sure to keep dogs (and children!) on a short leash.

Visit the Killhope Museum

Don’t let the rather macabre name put you off, Killhope is an award-winning museum that lays out the history of mining in a truly fascinating way. Visitors of all ages can enjoy what’s on offer here, a practical hands-on museum that embraces the physical landscape and takes you deep into the bowels of the Pennines themselves! A working waterwheel and historical mine are just a couple of the authentic attractions that are on offer at Killhope, a surefire win for kids and history buffs alike.

Discover Eggleston Hall Gardens

Eggleston Hall Gardens is one of those rare places that has risen from obscurity thanks to a small network of devoted individuals from the local area. Literally hundreds of plants are on display here at these historic gardens which have been the home of plant life since the 16th Century. Just a quick glance at their informative ‘About‘ section on their website shows you how much the owners care about the heritage of this lovely place – definitely worth a visit for anyone with green fingers.

Get splashed at High Force

Kids and older folks alike will all be able to marvel at High Force waterfall, England’s biggest waterfall. At a staggering 70 feet high, it’s truly a sight to behold and the woodland walk that leads up to it is always a sure-fire winner for the younger ones. There’s nothing like seeing the amazement and surprise on someone’s face when they see High Force for the first time, try and keep it a secret to get the maximum impact!

Learn how to survive in the wild

Whilst camping might not be to everyone’s taste you might find that a day learning bushcraft could change all of that. There are a handful of companies and individuals who hold bushcraft workshops in and around the Pennines, although I’d say Wild North Discovery are perhaps the most flexible company to deal with. They can take you and a group through everything from basic bushcraft (shelter construction and fire building) to weaving willow baskets, or even your very own Hunger Games experience!

A Change of Pace: Country vs. City Life

My transition from temping to professional organiser…

Moving home is always an exciting prospect, but it’s made a lot more thrilling when you’re virtually transforming your lifestyle.

I’ve met many workaholics in my time, both in my work life and my post-work life – today I’m happy to say that I’m free of that particular vice, but I still play host to many of my old friends from the city who have yet to shake off the yoke of hard working oppression. I have more than enough memories of putting long days and nights into my city job and although I’d like to say that all of that hard graft was worth it, in truth I feel like I probably could have gone home earlier a bit more often and worked a few less weekends in my 30-year career.

For those three decades I was one of a very few professional organisers working in the city of London. Whenever I tell people about how I made my living they often laugh and say something along the lines of ‘I didn’t know that was a job!’ It’s true that I certainly didn’t see it as a viable profession back when I started, I just assumed that every one was as organised as I was, I certainly didn’t see my organisational skills as something that I could make money out of.

My first job came to me through a boss that I was temping for in the 80s. I’d come into the office for a few months to lend a hand with some basic admin duties and had impressed higher-ups with my skills, but the work dried up and I soon found that I was unemployed once more. Thankfully, in that short space of time I’d made quite the impact by streamlining processes and restructuring certain workflows; within a week of leaving I received a call from my old boss asking if I’d be interested working as a private consultant for him in his own home.

I’d always assumed that successful people were by their nature organised, but what turned out to be my first client certainly proved me wrong on that part! He might have presented a good image in the workplace, but it was pretty evident that zero attention went into his home. Papers were stacked on top of papers, old takeaway boxes spilled out over unwashed shirts and a layer of clutter obscured the carpet from view.

I was initially baffled by the mess and then slowly pieced together how this could have happened. For my entire time temping in this man’s office he was the first one in the office and the last one out, often spending long evenings at his computer. Clearly his time at home was limited to sleeping, changing clothes and scarfing down the occasional takeaway. The first step in organising his life was restructuring how he spent his time, introducing him to the concept of taking some off-time was a challenge but one he started indulging in doing so, he soon grew to understand the mental benefits of taking some time off…

I think he even started enjoying weekends too!

Stay for the Weekend: North Pennines

Embrace your wild-side in the North Pennines!

Whenever I’m asked to pick between either the North Pennines or Northumberland National Park I have to simply shrug – they’re both fantastic places to come and visit, and I’ve had wonderful times in both.

I suppose if I had to pick hairs and choose one I’d go for the Pennines simply on the basis that there is so much more to do and see there than in Northumberland. There you go, I’ve said it and now I fully expect to be hammered with hate mail: so have at me!

In all seriousness though, the Pennines are a truly wonderful place to visit, especially if you’ve got an eye for rare birds and wildlife. Over 2000 square kilometres of rugged landscapes offer even the most casual of hikers the chance to cover some serious ground and gain some real height whilst they’re at it too! There are peaks a-plenty here, not to mention babbling brooks, rivers, waterfalls, valleys and stunning landscapes (both natural and land-made) to keep you interested.

So – by now you’re more than likely chomping at the bit to get stuck into the Pennines and see what it’s all about, but before you run head long into a whirlwind rural adventure you’ll need to get yourself somewhere to stay:

Lovelady Shield Country House Hotel

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Lovelady is a little pedestrian for a country house hotel, but what it lacks in immediate exterior ‘wow-factor’ it more than makes up for in interior opulence. Immaculately decorated with a designer’s eye, Lovelady is a joy to visit – perfect for relaxing in after a long day of walking through the rugged wilderness of the Pennines.

Lord Crewe Arms Hotel

Rated as one of ‘the most romantic hotels in Europe’ by the Sunday Telegraph and also winner of the Inn of the Year prize in 2018, the Lord Crewe Arms is a must-visit pub that is worth visiting for its excellent food alone.

A night’s stay in their dedicated ‘Canny Room’ will set you back just under £200 which also gives you the option of booking a table at their award winning restaurant.

Low Cornriggs Farm

If you’d rather have a more cosy, rural experience then you can stay with Janet & Harry at their 4-Star Bed and Breakfast in Killhope.

This B&B is wonderfully free of stiff-collared formality whilst being a haven for home-cooked, locally sourced food. Janet is an award-winning baker who’s been claiming prizes for over a decade, she’ll happily cook you an English Breakfast in the morning and a delectable evening meal too, should you desire it.

YHA Dufton

Cheap and cheerful youth hostels have always been a great shout for un-fussy travellers and big groups alike, the YHA run place in Dufton is no exception to this rule.

This lovely example of North Pennines architecture is full of character and is also perfectly located for would-be walkers and explorers.

Greg’s Hut

This simple stone shelter is one of many scattered all over Scotland and the North of England.

Known as ‘bothies‘, these buildings are very basic on facilities (there are no toilets or running water) but the four walls and a floor provide essential shelter for hikers caught out in a storm, they’re also perfect for adventurers who are looking to really rough it!

Missing Oven Parts and Lost Travellers…

Now, I’m not one to complain but…

Over the  years I’ve entertained many people in my little home in Bardon Mill.

It’s a small thatched cottage with just enough space for two bedrooms, a bathroom, well-equipped kitchen and boxy living room; as people say ‘It’s not much, but it’s home’. Despite my relatively humble abode (and it really is that pokey, I’m not being modest!) I’m often showered with compliments from visiting guests who effuse with enthusiastic notes of jealousy and coo with envy at how privileged I am to live somewhere so peaceful, away from the hectic noise and smoke of the city. Of course, these urbanites never stay long enough to appreciate all the little disadvantages that can sometimes make living in the country a real pain!

You see, despite being an out and out country mouse for over decade now there was a time when I lived in a city, which made making the move out to Bardon Mill a little tricky at first. Just like my friends and family, I’d always been in awe of the beauty and tranquillity that the British countryside offered, but hadn’t quite cottoned onto the consequences of living there. Moving homes to the country was a trial by fire, wherein I was to discover just a handful of the little drawbacks to living in the Garden of Eden.

My troubles began almost as soon as I decided to move. With only a pokey Nissan Micra in my garage I was faced with the intimidating challenge of moving my entire life from my apartment in London to my new home in Bardon Mill.

I had to call six removal companies before finding one to hear me out (most companies in London prefer taking extortionate amounts for shorts trips around the city, rather than leave the safe bubble of the city limits) but of course the final asking price was so high that I ended up just hiring a van and driving myself.

Once I’d made the trip I had the joys of discovering all the little nooks and crannies that the previous owners had done such a good job of hiding before, like the busted Belling oven elements (which would take months to track down and replace), the battle-scarred counter worktop (previously hidden with classy chopping boards) and the metric tonne of garbage that he was kind enough to leave me in the loft. Solving these problems would have been small fry in the city with a litany of services at my disposal, but together they formed a gargantuan task that I wouldn’t overcome for months.

There were other cultural changes that I had to get used to of course, like the lack of world food, the distance to cinemas and major music venues – but these were less problems and more teething issues. Once my home was in order I found that I soon began to acclimatise to my new home. Today I can say that these minor gripes have been firmly set aside: with the countryside, fantastic pubs to eat at, activities galore and high speed internet now worming its way through rural England there’s never been a better time to live in the countryside!

My Favourite Pubs in the Area

I love a good pub.

At the end of a long day of walking there’s nothing better than a big plate of wholesome food to revive you. These pubs are my favourite places to visit during the Summer and Winter – you can even stay at a few of them if you fancy it! 

Milecastle Inn

Just half a ‘click’ from Hadrian’s Wall, the Milecastle Inn is one of my favourite places to stop for a drink at whilst I’m having a kick around the wall. Unsurprisingly this charming little place is consistently packed out with tourists and walkers, but it’s also supported by the local community who are more than happy to prop up the bar. I often stop by to say ‘Hello’ to Clare and Kevin who, after a few years away, have recently reclaimed control of this thoroughly excellent British pub.

Opening Hours: Monday-Sunday: 12-11pm
Rooms for Hire? No
Telephone: 01434 321 372
Address: Milecastle Inn
Military Rd
Haltwhistle
Northumberland
NE49 9NN
Website: http://www.milecastle-inn.co.uk/

The Twice Brewed Inn

If you’re someone who likes to go ‘all out’ when they dine in restaurants then I can happily recommend Twice Brewed Inn as the place to do that! Not only are you within spitting distance of some truly epic scenery but this well rated pub offers some of the best food and drink. Whenever I have friends visiting I always make sure to take them here for at least one dinner, the food is always carefully prepared and the service is excellent. If you’re thinking of staying the night you can also make use of their affordable B&B accommodation too!

Opening Hours: Monday-Sunday: 12-11pm
Rooms for Hire? Yes
Telephone: 01434 344534
Address: The Twice Brewed Inn
Bardon Mill
Hexham
Northumberland
NE47 7AN
Website: http://www.twicebrewedinn.co.uk/

Carts Bog Inn

The Pennines are well worth a visit if you’re passing through Bardon Mill and The Carts Bog Inn should certainly be your pub of choice whilst you’re in the area. Just outside the pleasant village of Langley, The Carts Bog Inn can be dated back to the late 18th Century and takes its name from the boggy area that would waylay cart drivers in the local area. Today it exists as a picturesque country pub that boast pleasant panoramic views and lovely food. The Famous Bog Pie is a personal favourite, just the thing to warm your cockles after a mid-winter hike.

Opening Hours: Monday-Tuesday – Closed
Wednesday-Friday – 12-3pm & 5pm-11pm
Saturday – 12-11pm
Sunday – 12-10:30pm
Rooms for Hire? No
Telephone: 01434 684338
Address: The Carts Bog Inn
Langley
Nr. Hexham
Northumberland
NE47 5NW
Website: http://www.cartsbog.co.uk/

The Bowes Hotel

There simply aren’t enough establishments like the Bowes Hotel anymore. Staffed and run by local people, this is a truly old fashioned pub in the very best sense of the word. Visitors from out of town are always welcome here, in fact the pub actively invites newcomers to drink at the bar and get to know the local people! The food menu here is not what you’d call extensive but everything is home-cooked and perfectly prepared.

Opening Hours: Monday-Sunday – 12-11pm
Rooms for Hire? Yes
Telephone: 07547 630009
Address: Bardon Mill
Hexham
NE47 7HU
Website: http://www.cartsbog.co.uk/

Manor House Inn

Although closer to rural Newcastle than Bardon Mill, the Manor House Inn is too good to miss out here. I often stop on the way back from visiting relatives in Durham on a Sunday, their roast dinners are truly sublime and the ale is so good that you will wish you’d booked out one of their cosy rooms to stay the night in. From this you charming country pub you have free reign to explore the North Pennines – perfect for a relaxed Sunday out in the great outdoors!

Opening Hours: Monday-Sunday – 12-11pm
Rooms for Hire? Yes
Telephone: 01207 255268
Address: Consett
DH8 9LX
Website: http://themanorhouseinn.com/

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