Since Roman days Newcastle has been a gateway to the Border Country and Scotland. Today Newcastle is also a gateway to the delights of Northumbria. Two circular tours give some idea of what lies just beyond the city limits. East to the coast first, to Whitley Bay and Tynemouth (with frequent ‘trains’ on the Tyne & Wear metro). A real seaside resort area with beaches, and a walk to St Mary’s Island at low tide; Whitley Bay itself has one of the biggest amusement parks in these parts. Blyth, further north, is an industrial centre, but it does have the headquarters of the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club, a long stretch of white sand and an eighteenth-century lighthouse. Warkworth, to the north, is a lovely village of Georgian and Victorian houses with a castle stronghold and medieval bridge towering above.
Ainmouth, a wayside station on the East Coast main line, is on the north bank of the River Aln and was, at one time, the port for Alnwick. The old granaries have been converted into houses, and the quay has gone, but there is sport to be had – sea and river fishing and a golf course. A mile or so inland is Ainwick. The Hotspur Tower is the last surviving tower of four which once stood guard over the town. Beyond the tower is Ainwick Castle with its walls, keep and towers unchanged for six centuries. It is the home of the Percy family who became the Earls and Dukes of Northumberland. The town itself is en f�te the last week in June when the Mediaeval Fair is held.
Driving up the coast towards Bamburgh call in at Craster, a small fishing village which has a huge reputation for its oak-smoked kippers and shellfish. Nearby is eighteenth-century Howick Hall and further north the gaunt, forbidding ruin of Dunstanburgh. At Bamburgh, lSOft up on top of a craggy cliff stands mighty Bamburgh Castle with its commanding views of the Fame Islands, home of grey seals and sanctuary for many sea birds. The birthplace of Christianity in England is Lindisfarne, on Holy Island, and Grace Darling was the daughter of the keeper of the Longstone Light; her fame lives on at the RNLI museum, and in the churchyard is her monument.
At Wooler, in the Glendale district of Northumberland National Park a plaque on a house in Queen’s Road commemorates where Josephine Butler, a fighter for women’s rights was born. This is a good starting place for walking the Cheviots: there is an information centre in the town which will provide you with information on Discovery Walks and Trails, either with or without specialists or wardens. The Park stretches south to Hadrian’s Wall. Much is open moorland, home to the famous Cheviot sheep and there are fortified farmhouses, pele towers and remains of battlefields to remind you of the area’s barbaric past. Inside the park is the largest man-made lake in Europe, Kidder Water in Kielder Forest, where numerous water sports are available.
In any event, do go to Hadrian’s Wall at Housesteads, not only the best known of the Roman forts but also the best preserved. The best piece of the wall is between Chollerford and Gilsland, the most spectacular view where the wall runs along the edge of Whin Sill Crags at Crag Lough. Then head back towards Newcastle taking in the Hunday National Tractor and Farm Museum at Newton. To the south is Washington, Open All Year – closed Wednesdays; winter, weekends only, the seat of the ancestors of President George Washington, and in the possession of the Washington family until 1613. Celebrations are held here on Independence Day.