The best places to visit in Northumberland: a tour of castle country

    best places to visit in Northumberland
    Sunrise over Bamburgh Castle. Credit: Adam Burton/AWL Images

    Daniel Stables follows his stomach from countryside to coastline to castle on this whistle-stop tour of the best places to visit in Northumberland

    As part of our 38-page Northumberland Feb/March 2023 special issue, we’re taking a foodie-themed whistle-stop tour of castle country.

    For our round up of the best attractions and places to stay, eat and drink in Northumberland, click here. 

    A landscape of crumbling coastal castles, winding Roman ruins, dark forests and windswept fells, Northumberland is an enchanting but often overlooked pocket of England, tucked away in the country’s northeast corner. The region’s history and natural beauty are matched by the produce of its coast and countryside, and a food and drink tour is a great way to get a taste for Northumberland as you travel. This itinerary of the best places to visit in Northumberland for food and drink starts in the Northumberland interior beside the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall before heading east, via cheesemakers and a nice cup of tea, to the magnificent coast, where each morning fishermen haul in some of Britain’s finest seafood.

    The best places to visit in Northumberland – if you love beer

    Just south of the majestic ruins of Hadrian’s Wall lies a village with a perplexing name. Travel from east to west along the Military Road and a sign will herald your entry into the village of Once Brewed; from west to east, the same village is rendered as Twice Brewed. Whatever the hamlet’s real name, and whatever the cause of the confusion, one thing is certain: after a day trudging the hill paths and Roman ruins of Hadrian’s Wall, a drink is in order, and the Twice Brewed Brew Co. is the place to go.

    The beers here reflect the long history and storied landscapes of this corner of the country. “We feel a strong  connection to the Roman history especially since our closest Roman site, Vindolanda, was home to Atrectus, the first named brewer in British history,” says head brewer Matt Brown.

    the best places to visit in northumberland
    Sycamore Gap at Hadrian’s Wall. Credit: Visit Britain/Andrew Pickett

    “To celebrate the 1,900-year anniversary of Hadrian’s Wall in 2022 we brewed a Roman-inspired beer using local botanicals – meadowsweet, mugwort, and elderflower – and no hops.” Sycamore Gap is a pale ale named for a famous tree that stands between two hills along Hadrian’s Wall. Ale Caesar!, meanwhile, is, well, fairly self-explanatory.

    A post-walk beer-tasting can be followed by a classic home-cooked meal in the comfortable restaurant and new conservatory of the Twice Brewed Inn. There are also some comfortable rooms for overnight stays, with the stargazing, supper and slumber package offering a two-course meal and a stargazing adventure, where you can learn from the experts in the Northumberland Dark Sky Park, and use the latest telescopes to watch the night sky from the observatory (available from October to March).

    The best places to visit in Northumberland – for a gastro experience

    the best places to visit in northumberland
    Hjem Lounge. Credit Sam Harris

    Another stop worth making close to Hadrian’s Wall – in the village of Wall, no less – is Hjem, perhaps the region’s finest restaurant. Helmed by a Swedish-English husband-and- wife team, Hjem has won a Michelin star for its Scandi-infused Northumbrian dishes, such as langoustine flavoured with pine.

    The best places to visit in Northumberland – for cheese lovers

    In the fields outside the village of Blagdon, just eight miles north of central Newcastle, is the much-loved Cheese Farm, home to the Northumberland Cheese Company – one of the most prized regional producers. The company’s story began in 1984, when farmer Mark Robertson developed Redesdale – a creamy, tangy confection made with the milk of his sheep, with the first batch made in his kitchen sink. It was an instant hit with his neighbours, and over 30 years later continues to take pride of place in the company’s range, alongside a zingy goat’s cheese and such creative offerings as cow’s cheeses flavoured with nettles or smoked with oak wood.

    the best places to visit in northumberland
    The Northumberland Cheese Company is one of the region’s best loved food producers

    Robertson is retired now, but his methods and ethos remain at the core of the company. “The clean air of the Northumberland countryside definitely contributes to the nice flavour of the milk,” says office manager Ann- Louise Scott, “but it’s the dedication of our cheesemakers that results in our award-winning cheeses.” Head to the farm shop to pick up some cheese for a picnic, or pull up a seat in the Cheese Loft Café, where the ‘cheese lover’s afternoon tea’ sees the farm’s produce put to magnificent use in an array of delicious sandwiches.

    The best places to visit in Northumberland – for tea drinkers

    the best places to visit in northumberland
    Howick Hall, the home of Earl Grey. Credit: Izel Photography – B1 / Alamy

    No historic Northumbrian knew the value of a nice cup of tea more than Earl Grey, who served as British Prime Minister between 1830 and 1834. So enamoured was he of the caffeinated beverage, that he put his own twist on it, adding bergamot oil to give it an aromatic, slightly citrussy edge. It’s said that the blend was engineered specifically to suit the water at Howick Hall, the Grey family seat; it proved so popular with friends and visitors that the decision was made to take it to market, and the Earl Grey blend was set on its way to becoming one of the nation’s most popular refreshments.

    Howick Hall is as elegant a pile today as it was in Earl Grey’s era, and its splendid gardens and arboretum are well worth a visit. A highlight of any trip is the Earl Grey Teahouse, a gorgeous wooden-shuttered café where you can enjoy a cup of Earl Grey just as the man himself did 200 years ago, when he was perfecting his now-famous blend. Home-baked scones and cakes are also on offer, alongside local specialities such as Northumbrian rarebit.

    The best places to visit in Northumberland – for seafood fans

    the best places to visit in northumberland
    The small fishing village of Craster, with its picturesque harbour. Credit: Jim Monk / Alamy

    The gorgeous smell of oakwood smoke shrouds the Northumberland coastal village of Craster, which has been famed for almost a century as the home of the Craster kipper, perhaps the most prized of all Northumbrian produce. The L. Robson & Sons smokehouse, a gorgeous old stone building, is open for visitors to come and sample the kippers, which are produced by butterflying herring and smoking them over a smouldering oak fire. Particularly prized as a breakfast food, appearing on the menu of any Northumbrian B&B worth its salt, they also make a lovely savoury addition to a picnic.

    the best places to visit in northumberland
    Craster Kipper Smokehouse. Credit: Clearview / Alamy

    It would be remiss to visit Craster without lingering over a long lunch or dinner at the village’s finest and most famous pub, the Jolly Fisherman. This stone-walled, oak-beamed inn has been a refuge for thirsty fishermen, wayfarers, and locals since 1847, and as its name and coastal location might suggest, seafood is high on the menu. The fish board, which includes pâté of Craster kipper and Lindisfarne oysters, is justly renowned, and it’s hard to think of a better place to sample the bounty of the North Sea, hauled in fresh off the fishing boats every morning.

    the best places to visit in northumberland
    Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland seen from the beach at Craster with waves washing over the rocky shore. Credit: National Trust Images/David Sellman

    As the road hugs the coast and winds north from Craster, the view is dominated by a succession of impressive castles in varying states of splendour and decay. The first you’ll reach is Dunstanburgh, the skeletal ruins of a 14th-century fortress, battered during the Wars of the Roses, which now keeps lonely lookout over the windswept North Sea. Next is the handsome Bamburgh Castle, with a history dating back some 1,400 years, but looking nearly as good as new thanks to extensive renovations in the 19th century. The sumptuous state rooms are particularly pleasant.

    The best places to visit in Northumberland – for an ancient tipple

    the best places to visit in northumberland
    St Aidan’s Winery continues to make Lindisfarne Mead according to the monks’ ancient recipe

    There are few more impressive sights in Northumberland than the tidal island of Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island for the monastery which stood here for almost 1,000 years. The monks have been gone for some five centuries, but the Lindisfarne mead which they perfected – a unique twist on traditional mead that sees grapes blended with the fermented honey – continues to be produced at St Aidan’s Winery to an ancient recipe. The concoction includes botanicals such as meadowsweet and heather, infused in pure water drawn from Holy Island’s ancient well.

    The end result is a true one-off, a warming and delicious tipple that makes for the perfect gift or souvenir. Lindisfarne, which can be reached by causeway at low tide, is a great place not just to drink, but to eat. The Island Shack, just outside St Aidan’s Winery, serves up sandwiches stuffed with locally-caught crab, while the Crown & Anchor is a classic country pub where you can enjoy local dishes – try the Northumberland cheese sausages – while enjoying a magnificent view over the atmospheric ruins of Lindisfarne Priory.

    This extract is part of our 38-page Northumberland special in the February/March 2023 issue of Discover Britain, which will be on sale from 6 January. Get your copy here. 

    For our round-up of Northumberland’s top attractions click here. 

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