With 30 miles of beautiful beaches, countless dog-friendly pubs, historic market towns and more castles than any other county in England, Northumberland has a lot to offer. Its dramatic coastline is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and it was even voted 2017’s Holiday Destination of the Year by BBC’s Countryfile magazine. Discover this spectacular part of Britain for yourself before everyone else does…
WHAT ARE THE MUST-SEES? Don’t miss a trip to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, a few miles off the Northumberland coast. The island, which was once home to St Oswald, has a religious history dating back to the 6th Century. Because of this, it has long been a place of pilgrimage – but most people making the trip these days are tourists.
Holy Island is accessed by a causeway that is completely cut off by the tide twice a day. Because of this, it’s vital to check the tide timetable before you visit. You can find the most up-to-date information here. Once you’ve made it across, you won’t be able to miss the large car park, which costs £2.40 for three hours or £4.40 all day.
There is plenty to see and do on the island. At its heart lies a small village, with dog-friendly pubs, cafes and craft stores. Check out the hipster Pilgrims Coffee, which roasts its own beans from a yurt in the garden, and The Ship Inn, where you can sample the world-famous Lindisfarne Mead.
During the summer months, you can also visit the remains of Lindisfarne Priory, which is now owned by English Heritage. Tickets cost £6.80 for adults. Dogs are not allowed on the site but you can still get close enough to have a good look. You can also visit Lindisfarne Castle, which is owned by the National Trust and has just reopened after major repairs. Tickets cost £7.30 for adults but bear in mind that dogs are not allowed inside the castle, only in the grounds.
Make time to visit the historic market town of Alnwick. Its most famous attraction is, of course, Alnwick Castle which had a starring role in several Harry Potter films. The Alnwick Garden next door is also beautiful but sadly, pets are not allowed to visit either attraction. Adult tickets to the castle cost £16 on the gate or £14.40 if bought in advance. The cost of visiting the garden starts from £4.29. Combination tickets are available.
Alnwick’s independent shops are a bit more dog-friendly, however. Don’t miss Barter Books – one of Britain’s biggest second-hand book stores housed in an old railway station. Remember to look up and see the model train chugging around! Taste of Northumbria in Market Place is also great place to stock up on local food and drink, while The Beehive in Narrowgate is packed with vintage and antique treasures.
Berwick-upon-Tweed, the northernmost town in England, is also a delight. In Elizabethan times, the locals built a huge wall to keep invading Scots out and much of it remains today. A walk along the walls is a must, taking in the grand, historic homes and views of Berwick’s three bridges over the River Tweed. One of them – the iconic Royal Border Bridge, was built by Robert Stephenson.
The coastal town of Bamburgh is well worth a visit too, if only for Bamburgh Castle. The self-proclaimed “King of Castles” dominates the skyline like something out of Game of Thrones and is quite a sight to behold. Dogs are not allowed inside the castle, which costs £10.95 per adult, but you can get a sense of its grandeur from the outside and follow a trail around the base.
Bamburgh is also where you can pay your respects to Grace Darling. The lighthouse keeper’s daughter became a national heroine in 1838 when she saved nine men from a shipwreck off the coast of Northumberland. Countless books and poems were written about her, portraits were painted and she had many offers of marriage so it was a real tragedy when, just four years later, Grace died of tuberculosis at the age of 26.
She is buried with her parents in a modest grave in St Aidan’s Churchyard but the public raised enough money to build a memorial for her – and you can still visit it today. Opposite the churchyard, you’ll find the RNLI Grace Darling Museum. Entry is free, but it is not dog-friendly.
If the weather is on your side, consider taking a boat out to the Farne Islands, between Bamburgh and Seahouses. Whether you’re keen to spot some seals and puffins or want to learn about local history, try Golden Gate Boat Trips. Dogs with sturdy sea legs are always welcome onboard and, as skipper George Shiel is also a lighthouse keeper, he’s the only person who can take you on a guided tour of Longstone, Grace Darling’s lighthouse. Tours take around two hours and start from £15 for adults. Dogs sail for free.
WHERE’S GOOD FOR WALKIES? All of the beautiful sandy beaches get a big thumbs up from us – and depending on the time of year you visit, you may find you have them all to yourself! Alnmouth Bay is one of my favourites and there are no restrictions on dogs. It is right next to Alnmouth Village Golf Club, which – history buffs will be interested to know – is one of the oldest courses in England. Dog-friendly pubs and tearooms abound in Alnmouth, too.
St Aiden Beach in Bamburgh offers amazing views of the castle and the Farne Islands, several miles from the mainland. From here, you can walk to nearby Seahouses, three miles away. Both towns have plenty of dog-friendly pubs and cafes where you can refuel – try The Victoria Hotel and The Bamburgh Castle Inn.
If you’re in Berwick-upon-Tweed, a stroll around the Elizabethan Town Walls is a must, if only for the fantastic views of the town bridges. A full loop should take no longer than an hour. Alternatively, follow in the footsteps of artist LS Lowry, who was a big fan of Berwick and spent many years holidaying here. The Lowry Trail will lead you to some of his favourite spots – just look out for the easels dotted around town.
Another bracing yet beautiful coastal walk is from Craster – famed for its kippers – to Low Newton, via the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle. This six-mile walk will take you past rock pools, sand dunes and the long sweep of Embleton Sands and ends in another fantastic pub (see below). For more information about the route – which is National Trust approved and accessible all year round – click here.
BEST PLACE TO GRAB A BITE? The Ship Inn in Low Newton is worth making the effort to get to. This tiny pub is right on the beach and has its own microbrewery so it does get very busy. Local delicacies such as crab and stotties are the order of the day but don’t even bother trying to park outside – it’s for residents only. Your best bet is to park in the car park 500m up the road and walk down. It costs 50p for an hour’s parking or £1 for two.
Pubs don’t get much more dog-friendly than The Brown Bear in Berwick-upon-Tweed, either. Saved by the community in 2016, this Berwick stalwart has a hint of old school glamour about it. Pub dog Sam (a Caucasian Shepherd) is incredibly welcoming and at £7.95, the bargainous pie and mash meals can’t be beaten. In Berwick, the Barrels Ale House and The Curfew micropub are also worth a visit – although bear in mind the Barrels doesn’t serve food and dogs are only allowed in the Curfew garden.
The Lindisfarne Inn, just outside Berwick-upon-Tweed, is also great for people travelling with their pets. The warm and welcoming pub with rooms is located on the A1, by the Holy Island turnoff, and staff really make a fuss of visiting doggos. The pub even has its own dog-friendly dining area, complete with water bowls, and the food is first-class. Try the Scottish Borders favourite, Rumble De Thumps – a hearty potato and vegetable dish.
If you’re looking for traditional pub grub, head to The Black Swan in Belford. With two resident spaniels, a big box of treats behind the bar, a roaring log fire and bottles of dog beer, it’s a pet-friendly paradise. Food is served Thursday to Sunday and there’s a charity quiz night every Thursday.
WHERE SHOULD I STAY? Old Templars Cottage in Spittal, just outside Berwick-upon-Tweed, is ideally located for exploring the Northumberland Coast. It sleeps three and is just moments from sandy Spittal Beach. Read my review of the stylish one-bedroom apartment here.
GET ME THERE: Virgin Trains East Coast offer regular services to Berwick-upon-Tweed from London Kings Cross. The trip takes around three-and-a-half hours. Single Standard class fares start from £23 one-way, while the same trip in First Class is from £57.50, including complimentary food, drink and WiFi. It takes around six hours to drive to Northumberland from London, but consider car hire from the Berwick-based East Coast Rental, which starts from £43 a day. Once in Northumberland, the A1 is the main road you will need to follow to get around.
FIND OUT MORE: For more dog-friendly ideas and inspiration when it comes to visiting Northumberland, click here.