I’m trying something a little different today – a throwback post back to the UK! It was only fitting that my first post about my home country should be about my home region, too. So here’s a local’s guide to some of the many charming points of interest in the north east of England. If you’re visiting my little corner of the world, these are the first places I’d send you!
Harry Potter magic at Alnwick Castle and Garden. For fans of Harry Potter, Alnwick Castle is a natural first stop. (It’s the filming location for Madam Hooch’s flying lesson in the first film.) If you can, combine the castle with nearby Alnwick Garden. Their Treehouse restaurant looks almost as magical as the castle, plus the tour through the poison garden is brilliant. You’ll learn so much about deadly plants that it’s basically a Herbology lesson. 😉
A bookshop in an old railway station. If you love second-hand books as much as I do, the wonderful Barter Books is unparalleled for selection, setting and atmosphere. Housed in a gorgeous former station building, it’s a unique mix of ‘impressive library’ meets ‘cosy reading nook’ that I’m yet to see rivalled.
2. Barnard Castle
A touch of France in the Teesdale countryside. The Bowes Museum is the jewel in Barnard Castle’s crown. Housed in a jaw-dropping French-inspired building is a solid permanent collection, including a glittering silver swan automaton that performs daily. The museum hosts an impressive roster of temporary exhibitions, too, often with a history of fashion focus.
A shopper’s delight. There are stacks of antique shops here, but a good place to start is the Mission Hall Antiques Centre on the Bank. For modern design (stationery, books and art), Oswell’s is superb…I can rarely resist a browse in here when I’m in town.
3. Hadrian’s Wall Country
Roman ruins, Robin Hood and rugged scenery. If you’ve ventured this far up north, chances are you fancy a look at some Roman remains. For a glimpse of rugged scenery, best to don your walking shoes and head along Hadrian’s Wall itself. I particularly like the walk from Steel Rigg to Sycamore Gap. A lone tree is the star of the show here – you might recognise it from Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. For more striking Roman remains, continue on towards Housesteads Fort.
Inspiration for your dream country home. I’m a diehard National Trust fan, and Cragside is probably my favourite in the North East. The English Gothic country home of Lord Armstrong, this was the first home to be lit by hydroelectric power. The house alone is fascinating; among its many beautiful rooms is housed its own Turkish Bath, complete with plunge pool and cooling room! There are some gardens and wider grounds to wander, too.
UNESCO, Harry Potter and Avengers-approved history. On Palace Green you’ll find two parts of Durham’s World Heritage Site, Durham Cathedral and Castle. The Cathedral is magnificent architecturally, but has additional cachet as a Harry Potter filming location (both the cloisters and Chapter House feature). Apparently it’s going to be in Avengers Infinity War, too. Durham Castle is part of the University, so entrance is by guided tour only. Even though it wasn’t used as a filming location, its Great Hall isn’t a million miles away from the one in the Harry Potter movies!
A pretty riverside and a “Greek Temple”. Take in the lovely scenery and skyline from different angles by taking a walk along the riverside or taking a rowing boat out on the river itself. See if you can spot The Count’s House, an ornamental, Greek Temple-style folly built by Józef Boruwłaski, a Polish musician and dwarf who lived out his retirement in Durham.
6. Kielder Observatory
A place to stargaze. If you appreciate the wonders of the night sky (and who doesn’t?) I’d recommend making a journey to Kielder Observatory. Set in the heart of the largest expanse of dark sky in Europe, it’s ideally placed for seeing a range of celestial pheneomena. Though sightings can’t be guaranteed – we went to see Jupiter and sadly the weather wasn’t playing ball – you’ll still get a really engaging and informative talk on the topic of your chosen event. They’re popular, so be sure to book in advance.
7. Beamish Open Air Museum
Time travel through 19th and 20th century Britain. If you like history, I can’t recommend Beamish enough – it’s a living museum, so the closest thing I can think of to stepping back in time. They’ve transplanted an array of actual historic buildings from around the north east into one small area, including a 1900s high street (complete with a functioning bakery and sweet shop, along with a stationers, bank and other businesses and residences) and Pockerley Old Hall, a gorgeous little manor house from the 1820s.
8. The coast – Lindisfarne, Dunstanburgh Castle & Bamburgh Castle
Spectacular stretches of coastline. The north east has some beautiful coastal areas. I particularly like the walk to Lindisfarne (aka Holy Island) but, being an island, access depends very much on tide times, so exercise caution. The beaches around Dunstanburgh Castle and Bamburgh Castle are photogenic, too, even more so with the castles on the horizon.
Border country and LS Lowry. If you drive much further north from Bamburgh and Lindisfarne, you’ll hit the northernmost English town, Berwick-upon-Tweed (and the Scottish border soon thereafter!). It’s a pleasant seaside destination of particular interest to fans of LS Lowry, with remains of Elizabethan fortifications belying its troubled history on the border.
Fun fact: Berwick is also the subject of a great story that claims the town is or has recently been technically at war with Russia. Sadly that’s apocryphal!
10. Newcastle (& Gateshead)
I was a little reluctant to include a large city here as my favourite north-east locations are definitely rural rather than urban, but I’ll admit Newcastle does have its charms. Some favourite sights include:
Centre of town
- The honey-hued architecture on Grey Street is a sight to behold, and the historic tile work and mosaic floors of Central Arcade make it one of the prettiest spots in the city.
- Grainger Market is worth a visit if you like browsing market stalls – they have an adorable Marks & Spencer’s Penny Bazaar selling cut-price M&S goods, plus great food at Pet Lamb Patisserie and Slice Pizza, amongst others.
- For a bit of culture, check out the Laing Art Gallery or the Tyneside, an independent cinema with lots of history, is worth a visit, whether for a tour or to catch a film.
- I love both the Star & Shadow Cinema and Seven Stories National Centre for Children’s Books (geared towards children, but still!).
- Tour Victoria Tunnel, provided you’re not claustrophobic! Its history as a subterranean wagonway and then a WWII air raid shelter is intriguing to say the least.
- A great area for a photo walk, with its series of interesting bridges (including the Tyne Bridge, the design of which was based on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The likeness is kind of striking, actually.)
- On the Gateshead side is possibly my top thing to do in Newcastle/Gateshead: the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. Entry is completely free and it’s packed with excellent exhibitions. Besides the art, it’s got great views, a lovely café and an awesome shop.
- The Sage, a really wonderful cloud-shaped music venue, is also recommended if you have the time to attend a concert.
Over to you
Have you visited the North East before? Or is it somewhere you might visit in the future? I’d be very interested to hear where you went and what you thought in the comments. 🙂
I’m definitely missing the history and charm of the UK being here in New Zealand. Look out for a few more UK guides in the future. 🙂
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