Travel: Art holiday in Northumberland

Sketching on the beach in front of Bamburgh Castle. Picture: Julie Gregory
Sketching on the beach in front of Bamburgh Castle. Picture: Julie Gregory
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Go on admit it, who doesn’t love the feeling of sand between their toes or a paddle in the sea? Everyone has a favourite seaside destination. It would seem that even artists feel the same, with matchstick man LS Lowry enjoying a good bucket and spade adventure to Berwick-upon-Tweed. He escaped his industrial buildings and back-to-back terraces to visit this town famed for its bracing sea-air and bathing pool, exploring the Elizabethan Walls, sketching from the promenade and painting impressionistic beach scenes from Spittal. You can still have a grand day out in his footsteps today, on The Lowry Trail, a walking route.

Turner was a fan of Northumberland, drawing inspiration from the Holy Island and Morpeth, Alnwick, Bamburgh and Warkworth Castles, and the romantic ruins of Dunstanburgh. Both these painters had different styles but were similarly inspired by the beautiful light, and big dramatic skies of this picture postcard region.

I’m visiting Julie Gregory at Springhill Farm, Seahouses, a self-taught artist who runs a series of residential art breaks from her family-run holiday accommodation business. She invites a series of guest artists to run painting courses throughout the year.

Her own Walk, Sketch and Paint My Coastline courses cater for everyone, from absolute beginner to established artists. A local lass, Beadnell-born and bred, her enthusiasm for Northumberland inspires you to get painting out in the open air. She has honed her craft at art clubs and workshops and knows from personal experience just what makes amazing art holiday memories.

Accommodation-wise I’m thankfully not stuck in an artist’s garret, but in the Lookout, which is a comfortable bunkhouse with eight en-suite bedrooms and the studio space just outside your door has north-facing light which makes it perfect for painting. You just need to bring your bedding and your preferred artist materials, but easels are supplied. Each bedroom can take an additional three guests, so there is plenty of space to bring any non-arty friends. There is also a large sitting/dining area and a well-equipped kitchen where you can self-cater during your stay. If communal living isn’t your cup of tea, you can stay offsite and just take part in the day-time activities. At Springhill Farm, accommodation options range from campsite, wigwams to luxury self-catering homes. So pack your sketchbook and watercolours and head here, where you will be welcomed warmly with a slice of cake before being introduced to your fellow artists and having your first meal together.

Our first sketching adventure begins with a trip to the nature reserve at Budle Bay, with hilltop vistas looking out towards Lindisfarne across Ross sands. Before you start sketching, grounding mindfulness exercises fine-tune your creativity. Julie knows trying something new can be daunting, but will put you at ease. Endless miles of shifting fine sand and glimpses of Longstone lighthouse will provide the backdrop to your artwork. We shelter from the wind at Stag’s Head beach, crack open the pastels and get arting. Nothing is more off-putting than a blank piece of white paper when you haven’t drawn for an age. But our party is soon happily putting pen to paper, and with views as beautiful as this it’s hard not to be inspired. After lunch at the Lord Crewe Hotel we head back to the studio to make a start on turning preliminary sketches into finished artwork.

Other days showcase more of the area, with sketching on Lindisfarne timed to return to base before the tide covers over the causeway. Julie is an ideal local guide who knows the best places to capture the area’s beauty. Another outing is to Low Newton by the sea, where I recommend ending the day with a pint at The Ship Inn. Throughout your visit you can wander at will, sketching Dunstanburgh Castle which was beloved of Turner, and creating a series of masterpieces to record your stay. Northumberland is an inspirational place, and with views like these you really can’t go wrong. It turns out that learning something new is another reason why I do like to be beside the seaside. ■

Julie Gregory’s next Walk, Sketch and Paint My Coastline course 
is scheduled for 15 September 
offering four days of art with five nights’ accommodation costing 
£425 for a painter staying in the Lookout, £275 for a non-painter 
in the Lookout and £325 for 
painter staying offsite. Visit,or 
tel: 01665 721820 for more information;