A visit to the history-rich and beautiful Holy Island of Lindisfarne, cut off twice daily from the rest of the world by fast-moving tides, is an adventure not to miss. Start at Lindisfarne Priory, the epicentre of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon times, and the birthplace of the Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the world’s most precious books. Ransacked by Viking raiders in the eighth century, it’s now in ruins. Explore the small but commanding Lindisfarne Castle too.
Seeing the sunrise at Bamburgh Castle
Bamburgh Castle dramatically towers above sand dunes on a wild stretch of England’s north-east coast and, as one of the country’s largest inhabited castles, is living history and one of England’s most iconic landmarks. The remote site has witnessed bloody battles, royal rebellion and secret negotiations. And while the views of the castle stealing into daylight at dawn are spectacular, so too are the views looking out across the North Sea to the mesmerizing Farne Islands.
Day 1: Northumberland’s coast
This wild, 40-mile-long edge of northern England is an enduring landscape of vast sandy beaches, sand dunes, rocky islands and castles that range from the still-lived-in to romantic, crumbling ruins. It’s crammed with wildlife, from seabirds to red squirrels, and the seafood, fresh from the North Sea, is fantastic. Start the day by watching the sunrise light up spectacular Bamburgh Castle as you sit on the vast expanse of beach below.
Take a boat trip from Seahouses to see the multitude of puffins that make the Farne Islands their summer home. Follow the boardwalks around the islands and watch puffins scoot into their burrows. Then, gape at the seabird spectacle on the rocky shores and cliffs, where crowds of razorbills, guillemots, eider ducks and puffins jostle for position. Look out for England’s largest breeding colony of grey or Atlantic seals too.
The Northumberland coast is well known for its seafood, from traditionally smoked kippers to centuries-old oyster beds, and the fishing harbour of Craster is one of the best places to sample it. Try The Jolly Fisherman pub’s crab sandwich or soup in front of distracting sea views, and visit the shop and restaurant of L Robson & Sons Ltd, which still cures kippers and salmon in their original smokehouses, which are over 130 years old.
Day 2: Inland Northumberland
From Craster, it’s an easy drive to the spectacular wilderness of inland Northumberland, much of which is a National Park. It’s known for its brooding hills, ancient archaeological sites, rich array of wildlife and for being the largest International Dark Sky Park in Europe. There’s a plethora of activities to keep you busy, from hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking to afternoon tea at the birthplace of Earl Grey at Howick Hall.
Home to some of Europe’s darkest night skies, Northumberland International Dark Sky Park has truly spectacular galaxy gazing from atmospheric locations and ancient Roman sites. As darkness falls, head to the Kielder Observatory, a public astronomical observatory that runs all kinds of stargazing events, such as Aurora Nights, Night Sky Safari, Family Astronomy and Astro Photography as well as talks and guidance on how to use the large aperture telescopes.
One of the best places to sample Northumberland National Park’s bounty is Vallum, a farm community of local artisan producers. Have lunch in the restaurant, which uses produce from the on-site bakery, kitchen garden, smokery and dairy; kick back with a cup of tea or choose from 16 flavors of home-made ice cream in the tea shop; or pick up Vallum-made breads, cakes, pastries, cheese, beers and pies in the deli.
Alnwick Castle is the second-largest inhabited castle in England. Within its walls, you’ll uncover stories of drama, intrigue and extraordinary people; learn about a gunpowder plotter, visionary collectors and medieval England’s most celebrated knight; and ogle one of the country’s finest private art collections. You can also learn to ride a broomstick – Alnwick stood in as Hogwarts in Harry Potter; this is where Harry had his very first Quidditch lesson. It was Brancaster Castle for Downton Abbey’s Christmas specials too!
Day 3: Hadrian’s Wall
Northumberland National Park reaches up to Hadrian’s Wall, which unfurls across the north of England. Built almost 2,000 years ago by 15,000 men, it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Explore it on foot, by bike or on the special AD122 bus. Immerse yourself in the life of a Roman soldier at the Roman Army Museum, watch live archaeological excavations at Vindolanda, and enjoy panoramic views from ancient Housesteads Fort.
Sycamore Gap is an iconic spot along the 6 miles (10km) of wall cared for by the National Trust. Walk there from the visitor centre and have a picnic under the lone tree nestled in the dip, looking out at far-reaching views across Northumberland National Park. Incidentally, it’s also where Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood saves a boy from the Sheriff’s men in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which is why it’s sometimes known as Robin Hood’s tree!
Chesters is Britain’s best-preserved Roman cavalry fort. It housed around 500 cavalry troops over 300 years and the remains of the four principal gates, officers’ quarters, hall and regimental shrine are all still there to see. Don’t miss the Roman Bathhouse, complete with hot, cold and steam baths as well as a changing room – the river views from here are as pretty today as they were back then.
If you’re feeling active, walk Hadrian’s Wall National Trail, which stretches coast-to-coast for 84 miles (135km) across northern England. It follows an ancient path that takes in Roman forts, views that have remained unchanged for centuries, bustling market towns, the cities of Newcastle and Carlisle, as well as cozy inns, museums and microbreweries. Walking the length of it will take you about seven days; luckily there are day trip options too.
Days 4-5: Lake District National Park
Tucked away just beneath Hadrian’s Wall in northwest England, the Lake District is known for tranquil lakeland scenery, quaint towns and villages and historic sites. But a host of adrenaline-fuelled activities take place here too. As well as hiking England’s highest peak, you can go rock climbing, wild swimming and kayaking or test your mountain biking skills on Grizedale Forest’s rocky descents. Visit in November for the annual Kendal Mountain Festival, which celebrates the area’s thrilling landscape.
At Honiston Slate Mine, you could simply don hard hats to tour the mine…or you could travel the precipitous original miners’ track. Attached to a fixed cable, you’ll scale rock faces for an eagle-eye view of the beautiful valley below – no climbing experience required. The Via Ferrata Classic is the easier route to the top, but for extra adrenaline book the Via Ferrata Xtreme and tackle cliff-edge ladders, vertical climbs and a Burma Bridge and Cargo Net crossing.
At Go Ape’s Zip Trekking Adventure in the depths of Grizedale Forest, you can soar through Douglas firs as the forest floor drops away beneath you. The experience includes seven zip wires covering a total distance of almost 2 miles (3km) – it will leave you breathless, and not just because of the adrenaline. The tree-top views are spectacular, and you’ll get to hike through the forest too.
One of England’s finest restaurants, L’Enclume, is a reason in itself to visit the Lake District. Set in a 13th-century building that was a blacksmith’s until the 1950s, this pioneering restaurant-with-rooms makes skilled use of unusual foraged herbs and home-grown vegetables, deeming it worthy of not one but two Michelin stars. The super-pretty dishes draw on nature for inspiration and presentation as well as flavor to make your taste buds sing.