Travel: A family holiday in Northumberland

The kitchen at Fernie, Mindrum near Cornhill on Tweed. Picture: Contributed
The kitchen at Fernie, Mindrum near Cornhill on Tweed. Picture: Contributed
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WITH rugged Northumberland to explore, a luxurious bolthole in Mindrum is a delightful treat for Alison Gray

The best thing about Fernie, our bolt-hole for the weekend, is that it has clearly been a much loved family home. Far from being a sterile holiday let, the public rooms feel relaxed and comfortable. Sofas are pleasingly worn – you know that it would not be the biggest disaster if someone accidentally spilled a mug of tea over an armrest. That’s not to suggest the accommodation is shabby – far from it. There is a drawing room with an open fire, and a mezzanine level sitting room, both home to those lived-in sofas. By contrast the bedrooms are fresh with firm mattresses and crisp white Egyptian cotton linens. We all slept well, which isn’t always the case on an all-ages family holiday, with the youngest and oldest often loudly indicating their preference for their own bed.

Bamburgh Castle and beach. Picture: Thinkstock

Bamburgh Castle and beach. Picture: Thinkstock

Staying at Fernie, at Mindrum, 11 miles from Cornhill on Tweed, is like being in a perfect bubble of English countryside with glorious views over rolling farmland to the Cheviot Hills beyond. Located up a mile-long farm track, it’s the ideal house for larger groups to get together, for a special birthday celebration or holiday.

The layout of Fernie is explained by its origins – a barn and former shepherd’s cottage were converted to create the spacious proportions of the house which has a very sociable hub, with four of the five bedrooms located off the main space in a long extension. Original exposed beams, a built-in drinks cabinet complete with fridge in the drawing room, family knick knacks and artworks add yet more character.

There’s a south-facing courtyard garden off the farmhouse kitchen which is a perfect suntrap. Sadly it was a little damp on our visit, but I could easily picture myself stepping out of the French doors with a cup of coffee to check on the goldfish in the pond. In the evening it would be all about the barbecue and a glass of something chilled.

Your nearest neighbours are geese. They were none too keen on us harvesting their ginormous eggs, laid on straw in a cattle feeder. We did seek permission, though crucially not from them. Fortunately the brave egg fetchers escaped a pecking on this occasion, and we scored seven tremendous eggs to make the last word in omelettes.

Stays both long and short are made more comfortable because the house is so well kitted out. Looking for a rolling pin? There it is, next to the chopping boards. If you’re unused to cooking on an Aga there is also a conventional electric cooker, gas hobs and a microwave.

There is a fantastic dining room which would be perfect for a big birthday dinner. Set with candles (supplied) it would be especially lovely at Christmas or New Year. On our relaxed weekend away however we decided to eat around the kitchen table, which comfortably seats six.

We were all about catching up on our country mini break, so our activities revolved around walking and talking. A 40 minute drive to Bamburgh allowed us to take in the magnificent castle but as the sun had come out by then we saved our tour for another day and instead walked one of Northumberland’s most beautiful beaches for three miles until we reached the metropolis that is Seahouses. You can get everything here – buckets and spades, a fish tea, and there are a couple of nice boutiquey shops to investigate if your holiday money is burning a hole in your pocket.

There’s a great fishmonger (Swallow Fish of Seahouses) if you are needing supplies to restock the kitchen at Fernie. We went for some dressed crab, peeled prawns and kippers with one of the two amateur chefs in our party disappointed that he had been too tardy to secure a whole sea bass or any Lindisfarne oysters. Next time.

Back at the ranch and as guests on the Mindrum estate you are welcome to visit the beautiful gardens that surround the big house – owned by your hosts, the Fairfax family. Open on various dates under the charitable National Gardens Scheme the three acre plot is quite magical, with lush planting interspersed with sculptures, water features and delicate wrought iron garden furniture on which you can take a seat and admire the view. In spring, when we visited, the head gardener among us was impressed with the unusual varieties of various familiar plants, and our host’s recounting of the story of the hillside limestone rock garden. Installed wholesale from the Chelsea Flower Show in the 1920s, at one stage it had two tonnes of earth dumped on top of it, before it made a phoenix-like reappearance in later years, the plants emerging miraculously unscathed.

There is also fishing by arrangement, if you are so inclined, for grayling, sea trout and brown trout on the pretty Bowmont Water which runs through the estate. Our resident fisherman set off ignoring our encouraging cries of “tight lines!” He caught only tiddlers, but then, the rest of the weekend had been a massive success.

• Fernie, Mindrum, sleeps 10-12. A week costs from £950. For more information contact Crabtree & Crabtree, 42 The Square, Kelso, Roxburghshire TD5 7HL, email, tel: 01573 226711 or visit