Northumberland is the perfect family destination for a UK holiday; it really does have it all. So we’ve put together 10 Things to do in Northumberland with Kids
We have stayed in various locations on numerous occasions and thought we’d visited just about every site and attraction. So, when Crabtree and Crabtree invited us to come and explore Berwick and the Scottish Borders, we challenged ourselves to find some hidden gems to visit. My husband was working, so along for the ride were my children, sister-in-law and nieces (children’s ages: 9, 8, 6, 5, 2).
Crabtree and Crabtree (who specialise in handpicked holiday homes in Northumberland, the Scottish Borders and East Lothian) kindly provided us with accommodation near Berwick-on-Tweed. This was the perfect location for discovering what the Borders had to offer. We aimed to not be in the car for more than an hour a day……..and you do you know what, it was a surprisingly easy challenge to meet!
These are our top 10 hidden gems in Northumberland with Kids
1 Eyemouth Harbour
A busy working harbour would not have been my first post of call (excuse the pun!) as someone who does not eat any seafood and detests the smell of fish, however, I am so very glad that we made the trip. This is a busy harbour with quite large fishing boats coming and going, fisherman walking around and a very large and busy fish market. The children were fascinated. There is also a lovely little beach were the children enjoyed an unexpected paddle (ok, they actually ended up fully swimming in their clothes. We were totally unprepared with a couple of towels between 5 of them and no change of clothes!). There are a few options for places to eat fish and chips; a must when by the sea, so we stayed for dinner. For dessert you’d struggle to beat an ice cream from Giacopazzi’s. After our visit every other person we met in Northumberland asked us if we’d had an ice cream there, so it seems to be the stuff of legends locally.
So, leaving the best to last, the reason for our visit, we were promised seals. There are apparently always seals in the harbour. I expect it has something to do with the guaranteed supply of food as there is a fish stand on the harbour edge that sells tubs of halved mackerel to feed to the seals. There are fishing rods set up by the stand. You attach the fish to a clamp at the end of the rods (gloves and hand sanitiser are supplied) and wait for the seals. The guy working on the stall will assist you if you need help in getting the attention of the seals. Whilst we were there, 4 seals paid us a visit. They elegantly swam and danced around in the relatively clear water, much to the delight of the children. We had expected to spend an hour in Eyemouth, feeding the seals and grabbing some fish and chips; we ended up spending 4.5 hours here and much fun was had by all. A hidden gem for sure!
2 Chillingham Wild Cattle
We’ve visited Chillingham Castle several times. It is a remarkable and slightly bonkers attraction. (If you haven’t been, go!). However, we have never visited the wild cattle in Chillingham Park, as this is something we thought the children might need to be a little older to appreciate.
The Chillingham wild cattle are one of the rarest animals on earth and have inhabited Chillingham Park for around 700 years. They are totally wild, completely inbred and are a scientific marvel. As they have been untamed since the medieval ages, their behaviour is completely natural and a world away from the farmed cattle we have today.
The walking tour lasts about 1 hour and is completely fascinating. I would suggest 7 as a minimum age. I would also caveat that recommendation by saying that our children live on a cattle farm and thus their interest level might be slightly higher than their peers. However, if your children are interested in animals, science or history, the excellent guide (Ellie) is sure to be able to keep them interested and entertained. (Sturdy footwear required and not buggy friendly).
3 Paxton House
Firstly, Paxton House is just over the border. Therefore, you will have a car of very excitable children as the signs declare that you have officially entered Scotland. Secondly, I am not sure how we have missed Paxton House on previous visits. I thought we’d done every historic house and stately home in the area; but not so!
The grounds are wonderful, a mixture of parkland and stunning established woodland, much running alongside the Tweed. If you do one of the trails (we did the fairy trail, you can buy the booklets from the gift shop) you will get a nice walk around the grounds and woodland whilst completing the booklet. The woodland paths are hilly, but buggy friendly. You could quite easily visit and experience the wonderful ambiance of Paxton House without going into the House at all, although the café in the old stables does serve a rather nice lunch! A “grounds only” ticket is just £5 for adults (£10 for an annual pass) and children go free. A total bargain!
Paxton House is famed for its collection of Chippendale furniture, having approximately 10% of all acknowledged pieces. The House itself has undergone substantial refurbishment over recent years, after being placed in the hands of a trust after the family signed it over to them. I found the House tour, just over an hour, very informative and enjoyed the life that the excellent guide was able to bring to the bricks and mortar. However, this is not a tour that you would want to take the children on, in all honesty they would be bored. No worries though, there is a rather amazing adventure playground to keep them entertained. It is spread over quite a large area and is on different levels, so you may need eyes in the back of your head with toddlers. The equipment all appears to be relatively new and is robust and safe; the children happily spent an hour playing and had to be dragged away by us boring adults who rudely wanted to take them on a boat trip.
4 Boat Trip on the Tweed
We wanted to do a boat trip and were considering a couple of options, until Paxton House told us that they do boat rides and invited us aboard. The Tweed is a rather mystical river, with the border between England and Scotland running down its center. That section that runs past Paxton House is wide, relatively shallow and, for a tidal river, it is very still. The beautiful light and scenery are reflected in the water and there is a somewhat magical stillness.
The trip lasted just over an hour and our lovely guides were full of knowledge and enthusiasm regarding the history of the area, the ecology of the Tweed and just some fun stories to entertain the children. They were also kind enough to let each of the children have a turn behind the wheel, and they delighted in criss-crossing the river between England and Scotland. When we disembarked everyone was fascinated to see an enormous net being bought in to reveal the salmon being caught in the traditional way (the fish were returned after being recorded). This really was a wonderfully relaxing and entertaining way to spend an hour; a wonderful gem!
10 Things to do in Northumberland with Kids
5 Berwick-on-Tweed Town Walls
Berwick is a town steeped in military history and with many attractions linked to its military past. It has passed between the English and the Scots at least 13 times! Whilst we have enjoyed spending time in Berwick in the past, we have not walked the impressive, well maintained and substantial walls. We followed this walk: www.theaa.com/walks/berwick-town-walls-420333, and really enjoyed all the sights along the water. Some parts of the walk are very blustery, so a hot chocolate at Cocoature (www.cocoature.co.uk) afterwards felt like a necessity, rather than a treat!
6 Heatherslaw Mill (Ford and Etal)
My Sister-in-Law had been to Ford and Etal previously, so to describe this as a hidden gem might be pushing it a bit. However, we took part in a couple of experiences during our day trip which can defiantly be described as gems and therefore inclusion on this top 10 was a must. Ford and Etal villages are picture perfect and just having a gentle meander around is rather relaxing. Etal Castle (owned and managed by English Heritage) has an interesting display on the Battle of Flodden. The grounds and ruins are nice to wander around. The children were only interested in the ruins they were able to climb on of course! Lady Waterford Hall was really rather beautiful, and the murals were very unusual for an English house. The children enjoyed the activities, however our visit was short due to a booking that Ford and Etal and kindly made for us in the “dough zone” at Heatherslaw Corn Mill.
There is over 700 years of milling history at Heatherslaw Corn Mill. The Mill is powered by a magnificent 16 foot water wheel which is still used to make flour today, using local wheat. (We brought some home as a gift for my husband, who bakes all the bread in our house, and he assures me it is the most wonderful flour). We had planned to tour the Mill after the “dough zone” experience, however, that was not necessary. We had not appreciated that Dave, the rather excellent and friendly miller, would be providing a children’s tour as part of the dough zone package. The children met Dave around a well-worn farmhouse kitchen table, were donned in aprons and within minutes were being guided through making dough using the Mill’s own flour. Whilst the dough was proving we were taken on a tour, including the exciting experience of stopping and starting the enormous water wheel, which is viewed through a glass floor. The children then returned to the table to knead and plait their dough, which took as long as you might expect and was lots of fun! Whilst the bread then went off to be baked, the tour continued. This time the children learnt more about the life of a miller in the ‘olden days’ and the way in which the Mill would have been operated. (There’s also the opportunity for the children to be weighed on the old sack scales; the Mummies all politely declined the invitation however!). The bread was then returned to the table and the children admired their work
Whilst the bread cooled we were free to explore the Mill, which culminated in half an hour’s play in the dressing up clothes whilst living the life of a Victorian farmer in the well-stocked cottage play area. We could easily have spent more time here; the children were in full on role play mode and had the most wonderful time. The smell of warm bread was calling though, so we made our way to the local shop and bought butter and jam, then headed the beautiful Ford Moss Nature Reserve where we found the perfect picnic spot. Much of our picnic went untouched as we all filled up on the delicious bread slathered in local butter! This experience was a real highlight of our holiday and is most definitely a ‘gem’!
7 Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre (Ford and Etal)
After lunch we made the short journey to Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre. We’d visited back in November, on a cold, wet, windy, Northumberland day. Visiting in the sunshine was a very different experience indeed! The Farm is quite isolated and in an exposed spot, you therefore get magnificent views of the surrounding area (we utilised the dedicated picnic spot, which has the best views on the Farm, to have some left-over picnic cake later in the day!). I have a soft spot for heavy horses, the tractors of their day; their gentle nature and obvious power and strength is captivating. The Farm has the largest herd of Clydesdale heavy horses in the North of England. Along with rare breed sheep and pigs, they can be viewed in their natural habitat in the fields surrounding the visitor’s centre. The visitor’s centre itself, all under cover, houses the largest collection of horse drawn machinery I’ve ever seen (and I have seen a lot, honestly, I’m married to a geeky farmer!). There are also numerous heavy horses stabled indoors, who the children delighted in feeding (you should only feed the horses with the specially prepared pellets purchased from the coffee shop). We were lucky enough to be there not long after one of the foals was born.
So, what was the ‘gem’? A wonderful horse drawn carriage ride up the lane. (The rides only appear to run over a limited period during the summer and are not an all year-round attraction). The carriage ride really gave you a sense of the power of these beasts and the way they would have worked as part of the farm team with the farmers and other horses. The shame of it is the ride lasted only 10 minutes or so (although a longer ride into the village does take place once a day). A charge is made for the carriage ride, although admission to the Farm itself is free (donations gratefully received by the charity of course!). If you take a wander to visit the horses out in the fields and grabbed a coffee, you will easily spend a couple of hours here. Apparently, they are soon to venture into children’s parties, which quite frankly makes me sad that I do not live closer. They are such special beasts and the general atmosphere at the Farm is so calm. You’ll leave with a smile on your face for sure.
8 Cement Menagerie, Branxton
This recommendation came from my Step-Mum, who had read about it in a French guidebook to the United Kingdom. It certainly doesn’t appear in any guide I’ve ever seen here! It sounded rather random, and we like random things, so off we went….
Essentially this is a menagerie of approximately 300 painted cement animals which have taken over the garden of a bungalow in the middle of the village. The garden is free to explore; however, donations are much appreciated. Many of the sculptures are showing signs of age and wear, but here is a very special feel to the garden and the children had the most wonderful time running around and exploring every nook and cranny of this truly unique attraction. There is no website, so this link to an old Telegraph article is the most useful guide I can find on this curiosity: www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/gardenstovisit/3325952/Incredible-hulks.html
9 Chain Bridge Honey Farm
We’d heard of Chain Bridge Honey Farm. They have leaflets in every tourist centre in Northumberland. To be honest I’m not sure how it is that we’ve never made it there. We allotted an hour to go and see the visitor’s centre, explore the shop and have a cup of tea in the converted bus café. As seems to be a theme with our “hidden gems” we stayed a lot longer, 3 hours to be exact (including a trip of the Bridge, see below). We were surprised that there is no entrance fee (donations welcome) given all that is on offer. The visitor’s centre has a glass observation hive, which is fascinating. Watching the bees busy away was quite hypnotic. There is also lots of information regarding bees and the history of honey making and a shop selling various honey products (including divine lip balms). However, it is almost a bit of a side show to the large collection of agricultural machinery, vintage vehicles and just interesting ‘stuff’! The children had a great time exploring the garage areas, walking in the beautiful bee garden and playing in the play area, which to be honest was aimed at children younger than all but 1 of them! We had a nice lunch admiring the views, before following the signs to the Union Chain Bridge, which is a short walk from the Honey Farm.
10 Union Chain Bridge
During our boat trip on the Tweed we went under the Union Chain Bridge. The 200-year-old wrought iron suspension bridge, unites England and Scotland. The red brick from the local quarry, along with the spider’s web of wires, is quite something. The occasional car does travel across the Bridge, but it is essentially pedestrian. You can feel the Bridge moving when you’re on it and you will need to keep a tight hold of small children as there are large gaps in the wires to the side. There are the obligatory photo opportunities on both side with large signs welcoming you to Scotland/England respectively. The views from the Bridge are fabulous as you stand over the majestic Tweed. The tourists are of course all looking for the midway point, so they can have a photo with a foot in each country; we were no exception!
Northumberland truly is the holiday destination that keeps on giving. Even when you think you’ve done everything, there are plenty of hidden gems waiting to be discovered!
Whilst we stayed in Northumberland as guests of Crabtree and Crabtree and were provided with entrance to Paxton House and Ford and Etal, all views are our own.