Northumberland in May

Northumberland May 2012

Saturday morning arrived – grey, dull, cold and slightly damp. Not a promising start for our week in Northumberland and to complete the poor start I pulled a muscle in my back! However we set off on the first part of our journey to Whittingham (near Alnwick) with a planned stop at the RSPB reserve at Saltholme. Needless to say with a temperature of around 9 degrees and a biting wind we did not stay too long here! We did however stay long enough to watch swallows flying low over the lake and stopping to take insects off the water or drink from it. A pair of avocets also arrived which was an unexpected surprise. So earlier than expected we set off for Morrisons at Alnwick to buy our provisions for the week. As we had been expecting cold and wet weather it was somewhat of a surprise when the sun appeared and the temperature rose (just slightly). It was an indication of things to come! Accommodation when we arrived at it (Bluebell Cottage) was lovely – everything we needed was there and it was in a lovely peaceful location in the middle of the countryside near the village of Whittingham. After a warm welcome we unloaded and relaxed for the evening with a glass of wine and nice meal! There was also a pair of swallows nesting outside the front door.

Sunday – what a weather change! Warm and sunny – we set off for Craster where we planned to walk to Dunstanburgh castle. With the car parked we set off through the village and onto the beach (rocks here mainly). Fantastic views of the castle from here and we had loads of fun exploring the rock pools where we found some shrimp although the colour suggested they may be prawns. Picnic on the beach in full sun and warm (not something we ever expected). Decided to walk back to the village where we explored the harbour and then left cameras in the car so we could get some refreshment in the Jolly Fisherman (lovely beer from the Mordue brewery based in North Shields) while watching the harbour. We also spotted some butterflies here (not in the pub!) on the grassy shoreline – wall brown and small copper. Also linnets in the gorse bushes which have an annoying habit of sitting at the top of bushes until you point a camera at them! From here we went to Embleton and walked from the golf club over the dunes to a fantastic beach (they all are in Northumberland!) and saw the castle at Dunstanburgh from the north side. This side is even better than the view from the other side as you get a cliff face to the left of the castle. More wall browns here in the dunes. As we had planned a trip to the Farne Islands we headed to Seahouses so we could check parking and our departure point. Back home for another lovely meal (and wine and beer!)

Monday – foggy start. Kielder today – we wanted to find red squirrels but as we were told they did not come to the feeding stations it was unlikely. Sadly this was true so the quest for red squirrels will continue another time. Weather was foggier until we arrived when the sun had burned off the low cloud and the day became warm and sunny. We concentrated around Leaplish Waterside Park and the viewing hide – no squirrels but plenty of birds. Unfortunately they were only chaffinches – all of them apart from a few siskins. After lunch we went to Kielder Castle where we at least managed to see a squirrel at a feeding station in the forest (via a webcam at an undisclosed location!). Then to Bakethin Nature reserve where we sat for half an hour and saw cormorants and a buzzard. Everywhere in Kielder we noticed that signage was noticeably absent so we struggled a few times to find places! Temperature now in the 20s and feeling pleasantly warm – also of note was the fact we drove 45 miles with not a petrol station in sight (apart from a village one at £1.55 a litre – we did not fill up there!). Home for another lovely meal.

Tuesday – sunny and warm again! Heading for Druridge Bay today which we hear is good for birds. We parked in the country park and walked into the nature reserve at East Chevington which has the noisiest bird hides in the world! All constructed of metal so when you open or close the doors (or windows) there was a loud clanging sound! Plenty of warblers all around plus linnets, swallows, herons and the usual water birds. Drove back to Hauxley Nature reserve which was brilliant. Wall browns again spotted as well as small copper butterflies – from the hides we saw oystercatcher and lapwing chicks. Then on to Amble and Alnmouth via Warkworth – a lovely town which deserved more exploring. We found a lovely pub in Alnmouth (Red Lion) which does amazing food (at least our bowls of homemade chips were). Home again to charge batteries and format memory cards as tomorrow is the highlight of the trip. We saw a hare loping down the drive in the evening after tea. Hope the weather stays warm and sunny for tomorrow!

Wednesday – weather warm and sunny with no wind! We set off for Seahouses full of anticipation. We had booked with Billy Shiels for his all day bird watching trip – mainly to get 2 hours on each of the islands (Inner Farne and Staple Island). Even if you are not particularly into wildlife this trip is fantastic for the sheer sight and sound of the sea birds. Thousands of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, terns and hundreds of seals. As well as the landing on each island (National Trust – there is a £6.20 charge for each if not a member) we got a trip around the islands to see the cliff nesting birds from the sea and good views of the seals. As far as photographic opportunities go this was heaven! Puffins with sand eels in their beaks flying past at a rate of 2 or 3 per minute (probably more) terns (arctic, common and sandwich) everywhere not to mention all the others (Kittiwakes also). Good value at £30 each for a trip lasting from 9:45 till nearly 5 pm. After such a lovely day we had to find out if the fish and chips in Seahouses was as good as it was supposed to be. It was!

Thursday – even warmer! Today was our day locally in Alnwick (although we did not go into the castle at the high price that was being charged) so we visited the market, had coffee in the market place, looked around the shops etc. It is a lovely little town with some individual shops. Later in the afternoon we visited Cragside (National Trust again) – this is a must if you are in Northumberland. A large estate which used to be home to Lord Armstrong and the house is full of his inventions. A large park also with some formal and some wild places. Then back to the house to collect our picnic for the beach at Embleton. We had planned to do this so we could see Dunstanburgh Castle at sunset. Sadly the weather didn’t know this and a veil of mist descended until the castle completely disappeared! Never mind – the beach was splendid anyway.

Friday – why does a week always go so fast when you are on holiday! Day for Lindisfarne today. Warm (even hot) and sunny again. Having already checked the tide tables we knew that the causeway opened at 9:05 today so we planned to arrive as soon afterwards to see could maximise out rime on the island. Driving over the causeway was a delight – golden sand on both sides until we got to the nature reserve when we had beach on one side and nature reserve on the other. A small flock of plover were on the beach. On to Holy Island and we parked in the large car park (there is a shuttle bus to the castle which is about a mile walk). As the weather was so nice we decided to walk and got some lovely views of the castle and the harbour. We then did the marked walk around the nature reserve – lots of warblers, a pied wagtail nest in the hide and lots of northern marsh orchids. Also some more wall browns! Lovely to see them as they are so rare back home in Derbyshire! As this was the last evening we drove down the coast taking in the castle at Bamburgh, the village of Beadnell and finally finding a lovely pub for tea in Embleton – The Greys Inn. Fantastic food (huge portions) friendly staff and good beer. What better way to round off a fantastic week than sitting in a warm and sunny beer garden with good friends enjoying a great meal. An added bonus was that we walked to the beach after tea and found the castle (Dunstanburgh) bathed in warm evening sunlight.

That’s it – off home tomorrow but have to say the week in Northumberland has been a fantastic experience.[/size]