Travel: A perfect escape to Northumberland

Bamburgh Castle. Picture: Thinkstock
Bamburgh Castle. Picture: Thinkstock
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Northumberland may be close to home but it feels a world away on a rejuvenating short break, finds Catriona Thomson

There are times when the weight of work-a-day woes becomes almost too much to bear. It’s at this point self preservation takes over and a short family break becomes a necessity and not a luxury. When the going gets tough for our family we like to migrate south to our place of sanctuary, Northumberland. It’s an area we return to again and again. It’s not too far away, so we get off to a good start without having to fret about a long journey.

A holiday home in Northumberland owned by Judith O'Reilly

A holiday home in Northumberland owned by Judith O'Reilly

We head south down the A1 and turn off at Elford, worries evaporating as we drive. I’m travelling with my partner Graham and our daughters Eve and Hope, and tagging along is a school friend of Eve’s.

We are heading to House in the North, owned by Judith O’Reilly. She wrote a witty book and blog about her reluctant move from the London metropolis to the middle of nowhere in Northumberland called “Wife in the North”. “Moving to the North from London was not my idea. My husband was in fact the only one terribly keen on the move,” gives a taste of her writing style. She now lives a bit further south in Durham, and has turned the former family home into a luxurious holiday let.

The girls all approve of our accommodation. It’s like “our home” they say. “No way!” I exclaim. “It’s larger and better furnished for a start and much tidier.” The interior is full of art and books, there are wood burning fires, a games room and an Aga, need I go on? Sleeping ten, our small party can easily squeeze in.

We unpack and relax and everyone has a great sleep. Next morning Hope announces, “I only managed to use 1.3 per cent of my bed last night, and my whole class could fit on it.” She’s probably right. The interiors in every room are luxurious; there is even a chandelier in the kitchen.

I am usually the last person to treat myself, however on this holiday I’m being really spoiled with a spa day package at the nearby Ocean Club at Seahouses. A half hour back massage followed by an intensive facial is bliss, and while I am being pampered with Espa and Thalgo products, Graham entertains the girls as they take a dip in the pool. There are plenty of places to go out for lunch nearby but all we want to do is get back to House in the North for a glorious feast of Northumberland goodies.

A new day means a jaunt to Seahouses harbour and a voyage with salty sea-dog Billy Shiel, aboard the MV Glad Tidings V. It’s late in the year and we have missed the abundance of sea birds. Earlier in the season, there are cormorants, puffins and gannets galore. However we are in good time to spot this year’s new grey seal pups. Pale and vulnerable they lounge in the safety of the islets whilst the adults bob in the shallow waters around Longstone Lighthouse, and big Harcar rock, the historical location of a daring rescue by Grace Darling, and her lighthouse keeper father. The brave duo came to fame after rescuing the passengers from the Forfarshire in 1838. Today the most abundant species we spot are the blubbery human leisure divers who flock to the area in their droves for the clear seas. Their charter boats created quite a traffic jam in the harbour.

After we disembark, we head straight to the inviting Bamburgh Castle Inn with its warm and welcoming atmosphere, and pretty soon we don’t want to leave. A day at sea has given us all a good appetite so dinner is ordered and steaks disappear in seconds, whilst cod and chips varnish into thin air. Puddings are scoffed and coffees drunk while we watch the sunset over the harbour through the panoramic window.

The following day we head to Alnwick to another one of our favourite locations, Barter Books where we are on a mission to swap some old unloved novels for fresh ones. The girls select their purchases carefully and review them over a drink in the Station buffet. Graham is easily distracted by the military and medieval sections. However we can’t stay all day, much as we’d like to, as Northumberland beach beckons. The girls are keen to dive into the icy sea, and luckily they have come prepared with wetsuits and boogie boards. We stop to buy buckets and spades for the adults to entertain themselves. Graham and I make a massive sandcastle in the lee of the the real castle show stopper, Bamburgh. We stay as long as we dare before heading back home, because House in the North does really feel that way already.

• Three nights’ accommodation at House in the North, which sleeps 10, from Friday-Monday starts from £1,130, see www.coastalretreats.co.uk/retreats/house-in-the-north; a half day spa package at Ocean Club costs £65 Monday-Friday or £70 at weekends. The package includes a half hour facial and half hour back, neck and shoulder massage and use of the facilities, www.ocean-club.co.uk; www.bamburghcastlehotel.co.uk