With three Wolsey Lodges B&Bs There’s nowt like Northumberland

Stars and night sky

There’s nowhere quite like Northumberland. Amongst all Northern England’s many regions Northumberland is riding the crest of something of a tourist wave – and it’s easy to see why. With three Wolsey Lodges B&Bs in the area the time to visit is now.

Gold Tier Dark Sky Reserve

The North of England basks in long summer days, so these months are not, perhaps, the best time to experience a Dark Sky Reserve – but it’s a very good reason to plan a winter visit. The Northumberland International Dark Sky Park was designated in 2013 and the National Park – along with the adjacent Kielder Water and Forest Park – now serves as a bulwark against light pollution.

There aren’t many of these Dark Sky Parks. In England there’s only two, with the other in Bodmin Moor; Wales has another in West Penwith and there are two in Scotland (the Cairngorms and Galloway). There are a handful more scattered across Europe but essentially the reality of this crowded age is that light pollution is found almost everywhere.

It’s worth planning your visit carefully. There’s a reason astronomers park their telescopes in Chile as clear conditions can be almost guaranteed. But cloud cover isn’t the only thing that can spoil your experience. There’s little point in travelling to one of the UK’s darkest regions if there’s a socking great moon reflecting light from the sun. The Dark Skies project, however, is administered from the States and so of course there’s an app to forecast your prospects on any given date. This matches given dates to the lunar cycle and has a good stab at predicting the cloud cover and visibility too: to check your dates click here.

Ingram House B&B

Ingram House B&B Alnwick
Ingram House B&B

Built as a farmhouse in 1704, Ingram House has evolved into a tranquil 4-bedroom B&B set in a rural location in the middle of the park. In the two-acre gardens there’s a restored summer house that is ideal, with binoculars or even a telescope – for taking in the stars as the light fades from the sky.

Ingram Valley Farm Safari
Ingram Valley Farm Safari

Walks are from the door – and fascinating they turn out to be. This part of the Cheviots – and specifically the Breamish Valley – has a history dating back to the volcanic era, but has been inhabited continuously since the Neolithic age. Everywhere you look there are the turf-covered mounds of Hill Forts, inexplicable hollows, heaps of stones, and the remains of tumbled walls. The farm right next to Ingram House, known, perhaps unsurprisingly, as Ingram Farm, runs half-day safaris – morning or afternoon – that bring the ancient world to life, as well as introducing you to the deer, cattle and sheep that have, over the era, adapted the landscape into what you see today.

There’s plenty of more recent history here too. The Romans never got to this part of England – Hadrian’s Wall is well to the south – and there are no less than 33 castles in the area and 70 in the county as a whole. This wasn’t enough to keep Scottish raiders completely at bay so, castles apart, the area remained pretty unpopulated, with towns battering down, villages fading to hamlets and farmers bearing arms. It’s one of the most sparsely-populated areas you’ll find anywhere in the country.

Ad Gefrin

ad gefrin
Ad Gefrin, Northumbrian museum and distillery

Leave the park and it’s 20 minutes to the North north-east to the next Wolsey Lodge, but a stop just off the route gives the chance to see Northumberland’s newest and most impressive attraction: Ad Gefrin. Part distillery, part museum, and very much an experience of Northumbria’s royal courts of the 7th Century. Despite being an all-new building it’s light and airy and manages to vividly recreate something of the tone of medieval Anglo-Saxon royal court that once stood nearby. Construction was massively impacted by covid, which could hardly have been timed worse, but against all odds Ad Gefrin finally opened in 2022: it’s and is one of the county’s most impressive and visionary ventures. There’s a Great Hall for events, a bar and bistro and a comprehensive collection of medieval artifacts found in the area. Last but not least there’s the super-modern distillery, all gleaming copper stills using the latest technology. They make a special brew Northumbrian gin but their pride goes into their single-malt whisky. Distillery tours and whisky-tasting experiences are a speciality, with skilled guides and whiskys which, though young, are already delicious. Time will tell how the Cheviot water ages: you’ll have to wait a while for their earliest brews to age that critical first three years.

Chillingham Manor B&B

Chillingham Manor B&B
Chillingham Manor B&B, Northumberland

Barely 20 minutes from Ingram House you’ll find one of the most atmospheric castles in the region, Chillingham Castle, and right opposite its gatehouse you’ll find Chillingham Manor B&B. This delightful manor house was built in Strawberry Gothic: the ‘new’ part of the house was added in 1828 at the height of the Victorian era’s architectural ambitions and period features abound. There are three guest bedrooms, all beautifully modernised, but expect roll-top cast-iron baths and huge period windows: the house was designed to make the most of the light and it’s a remarkably comfortable place to be. Through the winter months evening meals are available on request, but at any time of year breakfast is flexible – frequently rolling over into a fantastic brunch.

Chillingham Castle is perhaps the local highlight: this 12th century monastery was fortified in 1344 and kept in the same family since. It’s got lavish state rooms, a suite of torture chambers, dungeons and formal Italian gardens. There are few better medieval castles in England, and this stands as a symbol of the traditional amity between the English and Scot. It even takes guests but markets itself as very much as haunted, so if you’d rather sleep somewhere that’s not infested with ghosts then Chillingham Manor has always been a much better choice.

International visitors flock to this hamlet, bizarrely, to see cows. Chillingham Cattle are properly wild, and have been for the last 700 years in their own private park. They provide a vivid glimpse of how cattle must have been in the medieval era and are the closest you’re going to get to seeing what the – now extinct – wild cattle that predated domestication. You don’t want to wander across their territory with your dog – they’re properly wild and will kill you – but their long years of genetic isolation make them perhaps one of the world’s rarest species and something of genetic treasure.

Budle Hall B&B

Budle Hall B&B
Budle Hall B&B

Both Ingram House and Chillingham Manor are pretty close to the coast, but if you want to be in walking distance then take a look at Budle Hall. This wonderful family home has four guest bedrooms, all huge, and can sleep 12 with ease, and two grand pianos on the ground floor give you some idea of the space available. The grounds are huge, with two walled gardens, and it’s only a seven-minute walk across the dunes to Northumbria’s unspoiled coast. A few minutes walk along the beach reaches Bamburgh Castle and Bamburgh Village, with its shops and restaurants. Though most of the time the beaches are sunsoaked and deserted the weather can change: the Grace Darling museum vividly brings to life the fact that storms can transform this coast into a wild and windy place.

Lobster potsIt’s hard to know where to stop with things to do and see here. From the nearby harbour at Seahouses boats head out to the Farne Islands, the tidal island of Lindisfarne is just offshore. There are castles galore and Craster nearby, famous for its freshly-caught kippers.

It’s not surprising that Budle Hall is often fully booked. But further accommodation is in two self-catering holiday homes on the grounds, and more in wild camping pitches in a sea-view field. And a final option is their converted combine harvester which has space for an adult and a child.

There’s every reason to visit Northumberland and, with three fantastic Wolsey Lodges in the county, every reason to do it now.

 

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