Travel Review: Northumberland

Warkworth castle - Photo: Gail Johnson
Warkworth castle - Photo: Gail Johnson

MY five-year-old son Ruaridh and I like nothing better than to start the day off with a nice cup of Earl Grey.

It’s a light and beautiful tea and no wonder why when you discover where it originates from. The tea was especially blended by a Chinese mandarin for Charles, 2nd Earl Grey, to suit the water from the spring at his home at Howick in Northumberland.

Lady Grey used it when in London entertaining and it became so popular, that tea giants Twinings were asked to market and sell it.

Howick Hall is now home to the current Lord and Lady Howick and this wonderful piece of architecture was designed and built by Newcastle architect William Newton in 1782.

And when I took Ruaridh and his two-year-old sister Flora to see it, they were enraptured. The house is not open to the public at the moment and so it is the gardens you visit. And they are magnificent. Ruaridh is a keen gardener thanks to his grandfather and quite knowledgeable for his age.

He loved Howick and it was only a shame that Flora’s young legs ran out of puff before we could take in all the delights.

Children are encouraged to fill in work sheets for different types of trees and flowers and butterflies and it was hard work trying to move an enthusiastic Ruaridh on as he worked out what was what!

The gardens are informal, but beautiful and our hot summers day made it perfect as we walked through the wild flower meadows, the woodland garden, rockery and terrace and borders as well as the bog garden. Lady Howick’s private garden was open too, so we had a good look at the lovely view the family have when they wake up each morning.

We were back in Northumberland after our successful trip to the tipi in Tarset, to take advantage of my brother Jeremy’s caravan on the cliffs above the beach in Warkworth.

Its half-an-hour drive from Howick and it too is stunning. The beach is usually deserted, but its gorgeous and could out strip any foreign one if the weather could be guaranteed.

We visited English Heritage’s Warkworth Castle and Hermitage. Once home to the Percy family, who now live in Alnwick, it is a large and impressive fortress, which houses many rooms for you to visit. On Wednesdays and Sunday’s and Bank Holidays, you can visit the Duke’s Rooms and the medieval Hermitage is a boat ride away up stream.

Howick’s neighbouring village of Craster is home to the magnificient Dunstanburgh Castle, which proudly stands on the headland looking out to sea. It can only be reached by a wonderful coastal walk and it is quite imposing as you begin to make its outline out.

It was built by Earl Thomas of Lancaster when relations between himself and King Edward II were not at their best. It was eventually finished off by John of Gaunt who converted the twin towered gatehouse into a keep.

The views are magnificient and would no doubt be even more wonderful today if you could enjoy a nice cup of Earl Grey while you gazed in awe!

For more information on Northumberland and its attractions, log onto www.english-heritage.org.uk/northeast for links to all the heritage sites and www.northumberland.com for tourist advice.