NORTHUMBERLAND road trip – a foodie five-day itinerary

If you’re looking for a UK adventure, look no further than Northumberland for a road trip in England’s most northern county. The home of Earl Grey tea, fresh seafood and stotties, it’s a foodie’s paradise.

And thanks to its remote location, its sandy beaches are pristine, Anglo-Saxon castles have been well-preserved and wildlife is thriving. It’s also an area famed for its dark skies, perfect for stargazing in the wilderness. And 2022 is the 1900th anniversary since Hadrian’s Wall was built so there’ll be lots of extra events on, an ideal reason to make this the year you complete this road trip. 

Here’s my suggested five day itinerary, which is a bit shorter than the full Northumberland 250 Road trip. And gives you some pointers of where to eat what!

The Pearl: A boat trip to the Farne Islands is a must to see wildlife and hear the tale of brave Grace Darling. Book ahead.

The Grit: You can get around Northumberland by public transport but a car is easier if you want to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.

DAY 1 –  ALNWICK / CRASTER AND DUNSTANBURGH CASTLE / HOWICK HALL GARDENS / ALNMOUTH / AMBLE

A short drive out of Newcastle, Alnwick is a historic town which makes a great base to visit the many seaside villages suggested on day 1. (See Where to Stay below)

From Alnwick, go cross-country to Craster. Park just outside of the small fishing village and make your way on foot to the 14th-century Dunstanburgh Castle, a pleasant 1.3mile walk along the coastal path. Smoked kippers are a local delicacy if you fancy them for breakfast – buy them from the L.Robson and Sons smokery in the centre of the village. 

Craster fishing port
Craster fishing harbour

Hop back in the car and onto Howick Hall Gardens. Owned by Lord and Lady Grey, this is where the Earl Grey tea blend was invented in the 1800s. Sample some in their tea rooms once you’ve had a good ramble round the extensive formal gardens and arboretum. 

Then onto Alnmouth. Once a seaside retreat for Newcastle’s elite, Alnmouth is today a quiet village with a beautiful white sandy beach.

Finally, make your way to Amble, ‘the friendliest port in England’. Hop on a boat to Coquet Island for some puffin spotting (May to August). Then visit the lobster hatchery at the Amble Harbour village. Walk along the marina to dine at The Fish Shack but make sure you book ahead.

DAY 2 – ALNWICK / HADRIAN’S WALL / HEXHAM

Continue your Northumberland road trip by taking the B roads (B6342 and B6341) from Alnwick to Hexham. The cross-country route is spectacular. Winding country roads open up onto moors with purple heather in bloom, then sweeping vistas of green fields and valleys. Join the very straight Roman road outside of Hexham (B6318) and spend the day visiting ancient landmarks. The ruins of the temple of Mithras makes a brief but interesting stop. Then there’s the huge excavated Roman village and fort of Vindolanda – a proper attraction that requires booking tickets ahead.

To get up close and personal with Hadrian’s Wall itself which is celebrating its 1900 year anniversary in 2022, park at Steel Rigg and walk along to the Sycamore’s Gap. It’s also worth exploring the local visitor centre (they do decent homemade sandwiches) and checking out the 1900 anniversary festival happenings.

For a fancy dinner, head to the Beaumont Hotel next to Hexham Park. For something more relaxed, try Danielle’s Bistro for heartwarming dishes.

If you still have energy after a day of sightseeing, why not spend the evening stargazing? Book a tour at the Battlesteads Observatory. Or go it alone by parking at Cawfields, Walltown or Stonehaugh and looking up at the night sky.

DAY 3 – HEXHAM / KIELDER FOREST / BERWICK-UPON-TWEED

Leave Hadrian’s Wall country behind and delve into the Kielder Forest, a huge nature reserve that stretches to the Scottish border. We stopped off in Bellingham for a two-hour walk to Hareshaw Linn waterfall. For lunch, head to the Rocky Road cafe for some delicious paninis or a full English. (Note: There aren’t many restaurants or cafes in the forest generally so make the most of places when they’re open!)

Alternatively, you may want to go for a walk by the Kielder reservoir, a huge expanse of water. Many people spend longer here, camping, fishing and cycling. On the northern tip of the reservoir, you’ll find Kielder Castle and its Minotaur maze, as well as the spectacular 12 mile long Kielder Forest drive which then links you up to the A68. This is one of the prettiest parts of the Northumberland road trip.

Then follow the river Tweed from Jedburgh through the borderlands all the way to Berwick. With its Elizabethan ramparts and distinct bridges, Berwick-upon-Tweed is a jewel in Northumberland’s crown, although it was in Scottish hands several times over a 400 year period until 1482.

For pre-dinner drinks, pick up a local pint of craft beer or cider at The Curfew micropub on Bridge Street. For dinner, Atelier offers generous and delicious tapas platters, or try and get a table at the popular Audela across the road.

DAY 4 – BERWICK-UPON-TWEED / HOLY ISLAND

Start the day with cake and coffee at the Mule on Rouge on Bridge Street and then rent a bike from Berwick Cycles next door. Follow the Lowry trail from the lighthouse to Hud’s Head to see where the British painter got his inspiration from.

For lunch, grab a locally smoked hot salmon box at the Corner House, a cafe that feels as comfy as your sitting room, near the military museum set in the 18th century barracks.  

Then hop in the car and continue your Northumberland road trip. Along the coast you’ll find Lindisfarne Island, also known as Holy Island as healer St Cuthbert settled here. Plan ahead as the causeway gets covered in high tide and you don’t want to end up stranded. Once on the island, you can walk to the castle, the priory and the observation tower – look out for the grey seal colony in the bay. Pick up some Lindisfarne Mead from the local distillery or try Lindisfarne Gin or Holy Island Gin at a local pub.

DAY 5 – BAMBURGH CASTLE / FARNE ISLANDS

Start the day across the Tweed at the Riverside Cafe which welcomes Berwickers for a Full Monty Stotty, a full English breakfast in a traditional bread roll. Portions are huge and will keep you going for hours!

Then head over to Bamburgh Castle – make sure you have booked ahead as they have limited visitor numbers. Perched on the top of the cliff overlooking the sandy Northumberland coastline, you can see why the Normans built a fortress to look out for friends and foe. Every window overlooks the sea or surrounding countryside. The castle looks like it was used as the mould for sandcastles, with its turrets and ramparts and flags. Walk round the rooms full of artefacts, notably a piece of gold from 400AD depicting ‘ the Beast of Bamburgh’. 

After a dose of history, finish your Northumberland road trip with a taste of the sea and Northumberland wildlife on a boat trip round the Farne Islands. Get your ticket from one of the many operators in the Seahouses harbour. We went with Golden Gate which is the only operator that lands on Longstone Island. The lighthouse is where local heroine Grace Darling lived with her parents. She gained fame in 1838 when, at the age of 22, she and her father risked their lives to save shipwreck survivors in the middle of the night. As well as learning about her life, the island is home to a healthy grey seal population. And the Farne Islands are a haven for birds, particularly puffins from May to August.

Back on dry land, grab the best fish and chips from Lewis’s Fish, recommended to us by a local. Take a seat on one of the many benches overlooking the Seahouses port as you tuck in.

WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK

As you might have gathered from the itinerary above, Northumbria is full of unique spirits and delicious dishes to try as you go round the county. Here’s a recap of what not to miss:

  • A cup of Earl Grey tea at the place it was created
  • Locally smoked kippers for breakfast
  • Ham and pease pudding stotty, a north-east England delicacy
  • Local sustainable lobster and langoustines caught in the North Sea
  • Mead brewed on Holy Island
  • Salmon smoked just across the border in Scotland
  • A full English breakfast stotty (a challenge!)
  • Gins for nearly every place in Northumbria (Hadrian’s Wall, Alnwick, Lindisfarne…)
  • Fresh fish and chips overlooking a charming port

WHERE TO STAY

Alnwick

Close to Newcastle, the market town of Alnwick has its own castle and poison garden(!). For souvenirs, pick up some local mead, gin or tea at the A Taste of Northumbria. Or browse Barter Books, one of the biggest secondhand bookshops in the UK, housed in the Victorian Alnwick Railway Station. Open fireplaces, a model railway, antique books and a cafe make it worth a visit.

Hexham

Bordering Hadrian’s Wall country, Hexham is a good base to visit the Western area of the county. It has its own 12th century and varied eateries.

Berwick-upon-Tweed

A stone’s throw from Scotland, Berwick-upon-Tweed is a lovely seaside city with independent shops and cafes, great restaurants and an easy road down the Northumberland coast.

ROUTE DIRECTION

Days 1, 2 and 3 explore the Southern part of Northumberland, from fishing villages to Hadrian’s Wall and the Kielder forest. Days 4 and 5 explore the Northern coastal road including Holy Island, Bamburg Castle and the Farne Islands. You could switch these around.

TOP TIPS

  • Book attractions well ahead. Popular sites, particularly Vindolanda, Bamburgh Castle and boat trips, have limited visitor numbers and time slots. 
  • Reserve tables at restaurants. We found most restaurants aren’t usually open outside of dining hours. So check opening times and book ahead so you don’t end up eating a Tesco sausage roll for dinner in your hotel room (talking from experience…)
  • Make it your own. This itinerary is based on my experience but there are so many intriguing roads to explore, walks to go on, pubs to stop off at…use this as a guide and make it your own!

Liked this? Check out my other Coastal Break Ideas.

2 Comments

  1. Stuart Forster

    I love spending time in Northumberland. Craster kippers and Earl Grey tea go wonderfully well together for breakfast. I tend to enjoy them while on the road as my partner does not appreciate the aroma they leave in the kitchen when cooked at home!

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