Updated: Jun 8
Whether we like it or not it looks as if it will be another year where international travel will be difficult, to say the least. Other words that spring to my mind are – risky, stressful, trapped abroad. There is this constantly evolving set of rules and requirements, lock-downs, etc…
So, for us, even though it means not seeing most of my family who live in the USA and Australia, we will do another year of the Staycation.
It’s not so bad, but my flight log together with my passport are not happy about not having an outing. Saying all that I do know how lucky I am to have these choices and Britain is a beautiful place to explore! I thought I would share our Staycation last year in case you are, ready or almost ready, to think about an escape for this year.
This is what we did in Part One of our Northumberland two-week British Staycation:
Northumberland – up at the Scottish Border
Holiday within a holiday
Craster, Dunstanbourgh & Bamburgh Castles
Making the choice of destination
No matter how far or near you go from home you still have the same choices, right?! What to pack? where to go? how to go? where to stay? etc. This is a short account on how we decided on our destination last summer for our British Staycation.
I have travelled around the UK may times, both when I first arrived years ago and off and on in the years I have lived here. My first observation on my first ever journey here was “wow, there is so much here to see outside the main city attractions and so beautiful!”.
Where do you start when planning a holiday? It’s probably always slightly different, this time, after being in a London Lock-down, we craved open spaces, sea air and the night sky, well that was more me, the night sky part. So, there it is, the wonder of the night sky was our starting point and getting away from the big metropolises. Where in Britain is the best place to find space for both the feet and the heavens? Northumberland, it has one of the largest Dark Sky Parks in the world, sea, countryside and just in case a city – Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.
Ok, first step done, Northumberland it is!
We decided to take the car so that we could carry our own bikes, although you could rent bikes in Kielder very easily, and to see as much as possible of the countryside.
Northumberland - “Northumberland is the northernmost county of England and stretches over almost 2,000 square miles of breathtaking countryside, award-winning coastlines, rolling hills and charming market towns” says the official tourist information site.
In 2013, the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park was unveiled. It covers 580 square miles which includes within it, the Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park, perfect, we thought!
That is where we started. Everything else about the trip blossomed from there.
Northumberland International Dark Sky Park
So, next step where to stay. Well, actually, to be really honest, I booked tickets to go to the Kielder Observatory before we booked a place to stay…See Accommodation section below.😉
What we did know is that our accommodation had to be close to the observatory as the tickets were for very late-night events, we had to wait till the sun went down, so our ticket was for 23:55 on the 8th of August 2020 and the event was called the Late Night Explorer. It was for about 2 hours and we had the most amazing clear skies.
It was worth every second both inside and outside the observatory with the amazing staff who were even more excited (if possible) then us to see the skies so clear. We looked through all the equipment they had, took a break with hot chocolate for me and coffee for Ben. Growing up in Florida, home of the NASA space shuttle program. I watched the launches as a kid, you could see them going up from where we lived.
The night sky has always held a fascination for me. Just look at the photo I took through the telescope at the Kielder Observatory with my phone, I kid you not!
Our daughters, then 14 and 16 years old had to go on another night as spaces are limited due to COVID restrictions and the size of the observatory. They went to the earlier session at 8:30pm a few days later. Unfortunately, the skies were not as clear but we still stayed for about one and a half hours as the staff had plenty to show and tell us, including space rock samples, telescope equipment and there is always the hot chocolate.
My husband and I also managed to be part of this session, as the sky was not co-operating, we took the slots of those who did not turn up. It is exhilarating to be on a mountain top at night and watch the light fade, with or without clouds.
If this is something for you click on the links in this blog post to go directly to the Kielder Observatory for all their news and bookings.
We were in Northumberland for two weeks and this was only three nights of it so what else did we do you may ask or yes that is interesting but not for me, fair enough! There are plenty of other things to see and do.
Kielder Water & Forest Park
It all sparked off with the Dark Sky Park but it just so happens it also has, in the same area, the Kielder Water and Forest Park, with one of the biggest man-made lakes in northern Europe and the biggest working timber forest in England.
Kielder Water - Cycling (& Hiking)
Kielder Water, the man-made lake has a bike trail the whole way round it, called Lakeside Way, which was an amazing day out for us all.
It is classified as a blue in difficulty and is 26 miles (42kms). So not for the faint-hearted but doable and for us and our two teenage daughters. Almost all of it is off road which makes it easy, safe and it is well marked. You could all go at your own pace, stopping to admire the scenery while waiting for someone to catch up.
If that ride isn’t for you there are also MTB trails in the area and easier rides to do with younger children. Follow my links here to get all the information. I would have to write a book to cover everything to do here.
Most parts of the bike trails can be walked as well and the MTB trails looked amazing, we stayed off these this time. Although, if you have tried mountain biking there is nothing like the rush of those MTB trails!
On these trails you can also find some amazing Art & Architecture from a programme run by the park which has become, you guessed it, the largest open air space in the UK to experience art and architecture.
Bike Hire – Kielder Castle among many other places have bike rental available.
Kielder Forest Park - Hiking & Picnicking
There is a lot in this area to see and do even though we were, and are, in the middle of a pandemic when not everything is operating. We did not have any problem filling our days. Our cottage backed on to the forest where we went hiking and even spotted a