Highlights from Northumberland and Durham, North East England

Some journeys are about the pursuit of pleasure and the exploration of lusted-after destinations; some are a quest for self discovery. Some voyages are about understanding your roots and origins and some, in contrast, are about retracing the steps taken by your loved ones.

This journey was one of those.

North East England highlights attractions

Nearly 40 years ago, my parents departed the warmer climes of northern India and landed in the more unforgiving, icy-cold winds of North East England. My Dad still remembers the one single suitcase and 5 pounds he arrived with and the life he founded with those simple staples, spurred on by his infallible work ethic and his larger than life dreams, dreams which did indeed come to life.

beautiful old English castles
Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland

As I would grow up, I would find it entertaining that so many of our family friends had their own ‘5 pounds and a suitcase’ tales, each one equally poignant, equally inspiring, equally incomparable to anything I could ever comprehend.

One of the first places my parents would call home in the UK was a small village you most probably have never heard of – a friendly place known as Shotley Bridge in County Durham. A district general hospital once stood there and the embracing, welcoming hearts that filled its walls provided a sanctuary of warmth and reassurance to two scared young adults, embarking on a new life.

visiting Northumberland Durham blog
Idyllic stone houses in Northumberland

One of those compassionate, caring souls was a nurse, who would take my Mum and Dad under her wing and provide them with the type of friendship they had never imagined possible in their new world, one that continues to this day. After my sister and I were born, that very nurse became our Godmother and despite the long geographical distances between us, Auntie E has always been another Mum to us.

Durham riverside views
Riverside beauty in Durham

It was with great pride and excitement, therefore, that Pumpkin and I traversed the country in September to try to get a long-overdue glimpse into this region of England and to explore some highlights of Durham, Northumberland and the North East of England, guided by our resident experts, Auntie E and her husband. I had not realised quite how much there is to see and do and two nights was not nearly long enough but having seen how picturesque this part of the UK is, I need no persuasion to return.

North East England flowers fauna

Highlights from North East England

Lindisfarne Holy Island

Lindisfarne landscape scenery photo

Lindisfarne, a small holy island, filled with historical and religious heritage, can be reached by a road that runs literally through the sea and is by far the most remote place in the UK that I have ever visited.

Lindisfarne Holy Island Northumberland

It was a reasonable drive even from the cosy pub hotel we were staying at in County Durham but with its rugged coastline, serene abbey and castle views, it was worth every mile.

Lindisfarne Island Northumberland England

Just make sure you check out the daily tidal information to avoid driving there or back at a time when your car is most likely to end up submerged under the North Sea! I kid you not. There is even a raised safe house for shelter on stilts raised above sea level for those who get trapped.

Seahouses Fishing Village

For me, no visit to the British seaside is complete without fish and chips but given that it isn’t known for being a particularly healthy meal, Pumpkin and I tend to reserve our chippie quota for seaside breaks and on this occasion, it was a colourful, fishing village called Seahouses. Having reached at around 3pm, we were ravenous and dined al fresco on wooden benches outside the chip shop in the sunshine and blue skies (not something I imagined I would be saying about a September day in Northern England.)

Seahouses seaside fishing village Northumberland

With the crisp sound of our teeth penetrating the batter and the sharp taste of vinegar lingering on our tongues, we sat back to take in the view of the old fishing boats carrying their faded paint well, whilst the seagulls circled above us with virtually no one else around, an unfamiliar trend I was increasingly becoming aware of in Northumberland.

seagulls Seahouses Northumberland

The warmer months allow you to take a boat ride from Seahouses to the remote Farne islands, an ecological haven, where you may even be lucky enough to spot puffins.

Bamburgh Castle

I must admit that my anniversary visit to Leeds Castle last year made me realise how much I take it for granted that I live in a country dotted with so many magnificent, historical castles.

Bamburgh Castle Northumberland

The impressive brick-red Bamburgh Castle faces the sea and as I stretched my neck in true ostrich fashion to look up to the fortress that made me feel so tiny, I gained an appreciation as to just how important these castles were from a defence point of view in years gone by.

tourist attractions Northuberland North East England

Once you have completed your castle experience, walk just a little further up the road to discover the most wonderful ice cream shop with a tempting array of novel and classic flavours.

pretty villages Northumberland England


With a tiny population of just a few hundred people and its cosy, stone houses, the miniscule Blanchland in Northumberland is a real-life Instagram filter of a village.

Blanchland village Northumberland

This is the England of period drama movies and of ancient postcards and yet, somehow, perhaps by virtue of its tiny but loyal community, it appears to have remained completely unscathed by the transition through time.

Northumberland villages attractions blog post

The first sight of this little, crimson door had me momentarily pining to be a village GP in a place like this, a rustic door harbouring secrets of laughter and woe and a dramatic contrast from the shiny, multi-purpose, multi-floored London surgery I work in.

In fact, I was so intrigued with the stories that must lie behind this little door that a photo went up on my Instagram page as soon as I had the chance and before I knew it, a local resident had spotted it and filled in a few of the blanks. This, in my opinion, exemplifies precisely the intimate sense of community spirit so rife and apparent in village locations like this.

pretty villages Northumberland Blanchland church

The Sage Building, Gateshead

From the old to the new: countryside retreats are all good and well but viewing The Sage in Gateshead, gave us an insight into its to the more fresh, urban and edgy side of North East England.

The Sage Building Venue Gateshead

The performance venue, which opened in 2004, hosts musical performances and provides a forum and space for music development and education and is the location for renowned festivals such as international jazz festivals. Its quirky design and architecture certainly catch the eye and in my opinion, although it is a structure likely to divide opinion, personally, I was quite taken by this funky, partially reflective monument.


The market town of Hexham was a pit stop we made after my Dad had suggested I visit, recalling his own memories of the place from the 70s. With a beautiful open air park, the Queen’s Hall Arts Centre and Theatre and an abbey with a crypt dating back more than 1300 years. Hexham was indeed a beautiful little town filled with the usual culprit well-known high street shops.

Hexham Abbey Northumberland

I am not sure I would describe it a tiny village as compared to somewhere like Blanchland for example but to relate to how my parents must have seen it, I tried to imagine how Hexham must have looked on an ordinary day in the 1970s.

Queen's Hall arts centre theatre Northumberland


Our mini break in the North East ended with a morning spent in Durham before we proceeded onto a hectic afternoon in York. For reference, half day sessions in both of these locations does not do them justice but with work looming the next day, we were on a clock.

main square Durham England

The university town feel of Durham is very much alive though I think we were visiting just before the annual academic year had started and it seemed there were more tourists wandering around than there were students, as far as we could tell.

Durham University Library

At the very least, Durham Cathedral and Durham Castle must be seen but I enjoyed the ambience at the main square in Durham, which almost had a slightly continental European feel to it with impressive statues dotted around, raised balconies and benches around the shops.

visiting Durham Castle Cathedral

If time permits, a waterside stroll also enables you to see the castle from a distance giving scenic viewpoints.

Durham tourist attractions

A little tip that had been given to us is that parking can be tricky in the main city area so one of the several Park and Rides proved a great option with frequent and brief bus services to and from them at a fraction of the cost that many of the central car parks would be likely to change.

picturesque Northumberland countryside

The Nortuhmberland Landscapes

For me, despite all of these individual attractions, sights and regions of Durham and Northumberland, the aspect I found most alluring was just how vast and unspoilt the scenery and landscape is in this part of the UK.

Northumberland scenery

Perhaps your eyes veer towards stony cottages with coloured doors or flawless or starlit skies; perhaps you crave seaside smells, lime green hills studded with earthy, hay bales; perhaps you find moments of peace in seamless, hilly expanses or like us, you just feel grateful to find lilac-tinted sunsets stretching out for miles with not a soul in sight.

Northumberland sunsets Whittonstall

Whichever camp you fall into, you will find it lurking in Durham and Northumberland. Shhhh though…..let’s keep it on the down low so it stays that way.

fauna plants flowers Durham Northumberland

Have you ever visited this part of England?



27 thoughts on “Highlights from Northumberland and Durham, North East England

  1. Gosh, this might be my favourite post ever. I spent many happy summers playing with my friends in copses and meadows in Durham and your post reminds me that those romantic childhood memories are probably still true.

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) January 25, 2016 — 11:19 pm

      Mandy, that’s such a lovely comment! Thank you, I’m so delighted to hear you enjoyed this post 🙂 And it sounds like you enjoyed some wonderful childhood memories there, I hope this helped you take a trip down memory lane too. What a lovely part of the country to have spent playing in!

  2. Awww such a sweet post Shikha and so lovely that your family is still in contact with Aunt E after all these years. I’m looking forward to visiting Northumberland this year xx

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) January 25, 2016 — 11:22 pm

      Thank you so much for such a kind comment Kelly! It was a long overdue trip up to this part of the country, as Auntie E is one of those people we’ve had by our side through decades and distances so it was high time that we went to explore the region that she always tells us about! I hope you enjoy it too when you visit and am looking forward to seeing which parts of Northumberland you uncover during your visit 🙂

  3. We often think that the stories of our parents’ lives are more amazing than our own – they really had to struggle more back then (like your father, starting off with only a suitcase). Anyway, what majestic castles! Interesting how you have to time your visit to Lindisfarne! The sea was no doubt very good natural protection in times gone by…

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) January 25, 2016 — 11:23 pm

      Yes, I absolutely agree Janice & George. Sometimes when I hear my parents’ stories, it really makes me stop to realise how easy it is for me to take things for granted nowadays so it always helps to put things in perspective! Lindisfarne is beautiful and so remote but I really would not want to be one of the people who miss the tide timings and end up stranded in that safe house on stilts!

  4. I loved read this, hearing about your parents journey from India to England and reading all about this beautiful place. I think that in order to truly understand and appreciate our parents we need to know as much about their lives as possible, we need to try to walk in their shoes.

    After visiting a few castles in Denmark I am now completely obsessed, and would love to visit Bamburgh Castle!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) January 25, 2016 — 11:30 pm

      Awww, really appreciate your lovely comment Carolann. I completely agree with you about understanding our backgrounds and our parents’ backgrounds. I have often heard their stories about their time in Northern England before we were born but it is difficult to actually picture it without going and thanks to Auntie E, I was actually able to see the streets they lived on and worked in etc, which was really special. I missed out on seeing castles when I went to Denmark so if you’ll be sharing pictures, I’d love to see them 🙂

  5. Such a great round up! I have never been to Northern England but I would love to go. Durham and Bamburgh Castle look particularly beautiful!

    Ash | Liakada

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) January 25, 2016 — 11:33 pm

      Thanks Ash! I was pretty much equally guilty as charged on that front as it’s usually quicker to get to continental Europe from London than it can be to get to Northern England. But having seen some of Durham and Northumberland, I highly recommend making the trip because it has such beautiful unspoilt scenery and hasn’t quite yet been taken over by large tourist crowds like I’ve seen in some of the other beautiful parts of the UK.

  6. The riverside in Durham looks absolutely stunning and the Sage Building in Gateshead looks equally interesting to visit

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) January 25, 2016 — 11:34 pm

      We were so lucky with the weather that weekend Suze to have had such bright blue skies and warm weather by the river. Had we had a little more time, I’d have loved to have been able to see a performance or take a peep inside the Gateshead building.

  7. ladies what travel January 21, 2016 — 5:25 pm

    Was lovely to read this post, Auntie E sounds so lovely! Its nice to have somewhere special like this to go back and visit – my nana comes from up near Newcastle and I remember family holidays up there as a kid. I’ll have to go back up for a trip down memory lane…

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) January 25, 2016 — 11:37 pm

      Thank you Keri and thanks for mentioning your own memories of the place. Auntie E is indeed so lovely and I only wish I’d listened to her sooner about visiting the area! I’ve been enjoying reading some of these comments and hearing people share their own experiences of this part of England too. I hadn’t realised there was quite so much to see and do in Northumberland too so I left still having lots of things left on my list to see so there are no excuses not to return 🙂

  8. such a gorgeous place with so much variation!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) January 25, 2016 — 11:39 pm

      Absolutely Andy. I think it doesn’t necessarily get the same widespread acclaim that places like the Lake District or the Cotswolds get and yet the scenery was absolutely spectacular with so many gorgeous villages, castles, islands etc. It’s definitely a part of England that has a lot to boast I’ve learned!

  9. Oh, Auntie E! What a lovely story, Shikha ❤ Gorgeous photography too, and it's definitely given me a few more ideas for weekend trips this year 🙂 x

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) January 25, 2016 — 11:44 pm

      Thank you so much Emily 🙂 I’m so pleased you liked the photos and yes, Auntie E has always been the best Godmother and I’ve now learned, is also a pretty great tour guide too!! It was actually really lovely arriving knowing very little about Northumberland and Durham and being shown such beautiful sights. It seems a long way from down South but if you do get a chance, it is definitely worth the drive and if you can find a place elsewhere en route to break up the journey, then that works quite well too!

  10. I’ve never been to Durham, but a few of my friends lied their while they were studying. It sounds quintessentially English somehow- I’m glad you had a great time!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) February 1, 2016 — 12:59 pm

      It really is, Katie! I had a few friends who studied there too and having visited it on this trip, I now see why it must be such a beautiful place to be studying in, just so picturesque with a real community feel too ☺

  11. Wow!! You’ve convinced me that this is a part of England worth visiting. That last purple sunset picture across the field is gorgeous! And I absolutely loved the story of your Auntie E. My mom had her “Auntie E” too when she first moved to the States. I know that having that special person made all the different in her experience. 🙂

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) February 1, 2016 — 1:58 pm

      Where would our parents have been without these kind people whose generosity made such a difference Anna? I have to admit that even though auntie E has been telling me for years how beautiful the north east of England is, I don’t think I’d had any appreciation of just how true it is until this visit. But if you do end up visiting one day, go for longer than you might think – there’s a lot more to see than I had realised especially if you like natural beauty and ancient castles and things like Hadrian’s Wall which I didn’t make it to this time!

  12. No, I haven’t but I’d love too!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) February 8, 2016 — 12:16 pm

      It is such a beautiful and unspoilt part of the UK Tanja ☺

  13. Yes, I am from there actually, my mother born in Gateshead me in Gosforth Newcastle! I hadn’t been back for 33 years and got to take my two sons who were now in their 20’s, they loved it. We too visited those places! They’re American born and have lived in Hawaii, San Diego; and Las Vegas and we’re in absolute awe of the North East of England! Hope to go back soon, it’s beautiful. Rothbury and Alnwick ( Northumberland) are wonderful towns to see as well!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) July 17, 2017 — 11:00 am

      What a wonderful journey it must have been for you and your sons to see the region you came from especially after they’ve grown up & lived in so many other further & very exotic, glamorous destinations all over the world! Areas of the UK like the Lake District & the Cotswolds always get all the acclaim but Northumberland seems to still be a bit of a stunning a secret that doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. I was blown away by its beauty & definitely want to return to explore so many of the areas I missed on this trip! Thank you so much for reading & for sharing your story! ☺

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