The British Staycation – Northumberland, pandemic & all

Updated: Jun 8, 2021


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:


  1. Making the Choice of destination

  2. Northumberlandup at the Scottish Border

  3. Northumberland International Dark Sky Park

  4. Kielder Observatory

  5. Kielder Water and Forest Park

  6. Cycling

  7. Hiking

  8. Castles, Towns & Sea

  9. Holiday within a holiday

  10. Craster, Dunstanbourgh & Bamburgh Castles

  11. Down time Days

  12. Accommodation

  13. Conclusion & Top Tips


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!


Getting there


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 - “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

Kielder Observatory



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 HireKielder 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 Red Squirrel (Kielder is a home to these rare species).



Actually, someone else spotted it we happened to be there and asked what they were looking at. To which he handed over his binoculars and there was the squirrel! We did have the moment of, should we, shouldn’t we touch something a stranger was holding…. Crazy times. I did and he did and that was that.


We were also within walking distance of Kielder Castle (not open) but selling food so we had a picnic in the grounds and went in the maze (who doesn't love a maze).


You can also hike up to the observatory in the day time and take in the view. There are also hiking trails into Scotland from here. Like I said plenty of options.


Don’t forget your binoculars if you have them!!


Castles, Towns and Sea


Alnwick - Our Holiday within a Holiday


We decided to have one of our holidays within a holiday and spend a night just outside of Alnwick as a special treat. We stayed at the Doxford Hall Hotel and Spa, we just booked it last minute. Not a great deal of spa going on due to COVID restrictions but got a nice deal and it is in a stunning location. We all enjoyed the experience and it gave us more time on the coast to explore.


Alnwick itself is a lovely market town with an amazing second-hand bookshop – Barter Books – located in the Victorian Alnwick railway station, designed by William Bell and opened in 1887 operating until 1968. It is one of the largest second-hand bookstores in Europe. It is often described as "the British Library of second-hand bookshops." Well worth a visit to enjoy the toy train set roaming the tops of the bookshelves.




Alnwick Castle


Now, if you are a fan of castles and Harry Potter a must-see castle in this area is Alnwick Castle.

Various parts of the movies were filmed here. One of my favourite scenes, the one where they are learning to ride on broom sticks, takes place in the beautiful grounds. But if that is not of interest, the castle, the views, the garden and the parading ducks are all something to give you joy.



But book it before you go – you have to book the Caste and the Gardens.


After the excitement of the day, we decided to head to the town of Seahouses, a town full of fish and chip shops, all claiming to be the best! Make a choice or two and see who gets to the front of the line first! We went for an early dinner and sat in an area of terraced wooden benches beside the sea.


Bamburgh Castle