The 7 am light is casting a thin, illuminated line over the North Sea as the train clatters over one of the three old bridges in Berwick upon Tweed, making its way south back to Newcastle. The sun is trying its hardest to peep through the hefty, dark clouds, as the railway line opens out into the lonely headland dunes of the Northumberland coast.
A coast which has made its mark on me this week.
Starting two days previously, I took an early morning train from Penrith, keen to make the most of my 3 days off from work, chugging across the Hadrian’s Wall line from Carlisle to Newcastle, where I swapped trains for the fast Edinburgh bound train which whisked me half an hour north to Alnmouth, in the south of Northumberland.
A lazy afternoon: Alnmouth
Alnmouth is a little estuary village, a 20 minutes walk from the train station, past wide open fields, full of early summer wildflowers. Red campion and the off white cow parsley dance gently in the unusually cool late May breeze.
A handful of charming cafes, pubs, and a post office selling children’s fishing nets lined the high street before the path veers off to a grassy track past the golf course and opening out to a sandy beach.
I pull my bobble hat on to protect against the bite of the Northwind and wander past a group of young lads who had set up fishing rods at the mouth of the estuary.
Cobwebs blown away, it was time for tea. I choose Scotts purely because I could see large stacks of cookbooks, waiting to be thumbed through on a lazy afternoon. I used to read cookbooks in the same way people read novels, but often not just for the recipes. It’s the stories behind the recipes that I’m so captivated by, the inspiration and the narrative behind dishes and ingredients. I dive into Time by Gill Meller, who writes so beautifully about how his childhood kitchen shaped him as a person.
Eventually, I prise myself away and walk back up towards the station where I catch the bus to neighbouring Alnwick. As I plan to use the buses over the coming days, I buy a Discover North Northumberland ticket, decent value at £15 for 3 days or £6.60 for a day ticket – perhaps the equivalent of one of the car parks in the summertime.
The bus to Alnwick is half an hour late, so I sadly don’t have time to look around much, as the last bus up to Berwick, where I’m staying for the next two nights is at 4 pm. I opted for X18, a slow journey of two hours meandering up the coastal road as opposed to the X15 which speeds up the A1 in just over an hour.
I choose a seat on the top deck so I can suss out where I want to visit tomorrow. It’s half term, and 3 excitable children are at the front of the bus, squealing with delight as the bus heads towards the coast, past the waning yellow rapeseed fields.
Craster, Seahouses, Bamburgh, I make mental notes of the places I’m drawn too.
Home for the night: Berwick Upon Tweed
Eventually, the bus crosses one of the grand bridges into Berwick Upon Tweed, one of the last towns in England before crossing into Scotland. The town is famous for its town walls, still intact from Elizabethan and Tudor times. After dropping my bag at the hostel, I follow the circular path around the walls, catching the evening golden light before the clouds muscle in.
The hostel had given me a useful town map which pointed out landmarks on the trial, supplemented by info boards at each site. Russian guns, gun powder storehouses and even a quirky use of a football pitch all featured.
The Manchester-born artist LS Lowry was very drawn to Berwick, famous for his simple paintings based on city life.
The town has put together a self-guided trial you can follow to find out which landmarks inspired him to paint. An exhibition is also running in the same Arts building the YHA hostel is housed in, which is also a multi-level art centre.
The next morning, I’m up with the larks to catch the 7.20am bus down to Alnwick. The first bus from Berwick back down the coastal route isn’t until 10 am, and I’m keen to make the most of my time and pay a special visit to a certain shop.
Second-Hand Books: Alnwick
Alnwick is a charming town, with sandy coloured stone buildings and is most famous for it’s grand, imposing castle which has been used in numerous films, including most famously the Harry Potter trilogy. The entrance fee, however, is pretty steep at nearly £17 for an adult, it would need a whole day to justify the cost, and I was keen to get more of an overview of the area – so I’ve saved it for another time.
I opted instead to head to a remarkable bookshop I had read about on Claire and Laura’s mini-adventure.
Barter Books is one of the UK’s largest second-hand bookshop and is housed in the former train station on the edge of the town. And my, what a bookshop. The kind you want to stay for hours in, with cosy nooks, armchairs, an honesty cafe where you can get a cup of tea for 35p and a homemade biscuit for 65p.
You can also pick up an info sheet for 20p with a self-guided tour and history the bookshop. The second room has a model railway touring the high ceilings, with quotes from famous writers and a large mural of numerous famous writers upon the walls.
The last room is split into genres, making it easy to browse between worlds. The old waiting room has been turned into a cafe, I imagine quite a nice place to spend a rainy afternoon with a novel.
No time to linger, it’s back to the bus station to pick up the X18 again, a half an hour trip on the top deck to the quaint fishing village of Craster.
Castles and Kippers: Craster
Jumping off the bus, I notice the air is thick with an earthy, woody smoke. Plumes are curly out from the old building up on the hill, the smokehouse which is famous for its kippers and smoked fish. I pick up a pair for my breakfast and remember how much they remind me of my grandad.
A breakfast treat when we would visit him in the school holidays, grilled with butter and served on toast. My grandmother would complain about the smell, but my grandpa would just smile and wink, gently reminding her they are good for the mind.
On the horizon is the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle, built in the 14th Century and an easy mile and a half walk along the coast path, past the crashing waves and wide open fields filled with buttercups and the coconutty scent of gorse flowers.
The grassy path is full of families in waterproofs, kids in mini hiking boots trying to make the most of the mediocre weather. An elderly lady in a lemon coloured beret stops pauses at the gate to admire the scene. I walk right up to the main gates of the castle to admire the grand entrance but decide not to go in for a closer look.
The dark clouds began to gather, giving the castle an imposing and dramatic feel, and my imagination is filled with images of Vikings and crusaders doing battle at these castles which dot the Northumbrian coast line. I’m taken back to a book we read at primary school, sat with the whole class in the ‘reading corner’, gazing up at our teacher as we read a story about Vikings landing on Holy Island.
Sadly, the hopper bus that connects the mainland and Holy Island isn’t running today due to the tides (a good excuse for me to come back), but I’m hoping to catch a boat out to the Farne Islands instead.
An afternoon boat trip to the Farne Islands
Regular boats depart from Seahouses, another half an hour by bus from Craster. With amusement arcades, bucket and spades for sale and a collection of fish and chip shops, it has an air of old school British seaside resort, similar to my childhood visits to Skegness. The main high street was decorated with lines of bunting with the little red and yellow flags of Northumberland, patriotically waving in the breeze.
Remarkably, as it’s just me, I manage to get straight on a boat leaving within minutes of arriving at the harbour with Billy Shiels. There are numerous options to choose from when heading to the Farne Islands – you can choose to land on the island, combine a trip to Holy Island or simply take non-landing tour around the island.
I opt for the later which is £15 for an hour and a half cruise to the Inner Farne Islands, the closest to the mainland. As the boat draws close, we spot our first puffin gliding through the air, and as we near the rocks scores and scores of guillemots, arctic terns and kittiwakes gracefully swoop and arch on the island peninsula, with many more gathered on the rocks. An awe-inspiring site, it reminds me of Hermaness Nature Reserve in the Shetland Islands, that same wild magic.
The boat circles the island, before moving into the choppier waters where grey seals lounge lazily on the rocks like holidaymakers lounging on towels on the beach.
As we make our way back to the shore, I spot Bamburgh castle and choose to make it my last stop of the day, only a 10-minute bus ride from Seahouses.
Last stop: Bamburgh
Short of time before the last bus back to Berwick, I head straight to the sand dunes to see the majestic castle from the shoreline. And wow, what a beach, still dotted with people even at a slightly chilly 5 pm. A group of lads playing football, dog walkers and two lonely surfers braving the North Sea waves. A mighty fine place for a castle.
Back in Berwick, I head to Atelier, a quirky little bar a stone’s throw from the hostel. Mismatched stools and armchairs, a selection of gins and local beers, and sharing platters with local produce, I opt for the Meditteranean vegan platter, a colourful array of roasted veg, pickles and a tasty butter bean stew and the cheerful barman even throws in a trio of nuts in shot glasses when I ask for no bread.
I set back in a cosy armchair with a little pile of postcards, putting pen to paper, postcards to be added to my memory box.
And it occurs to me, that having trotted the globe fairly comprehensively, that the short little local trips can leave as big a mark as those big, grand trips to far away places.
Make it happen
Newcastle to Alnmouth – 30 minutes, the single flat fare is £11.
Cheaper by bus, but much, much longer.
Newcastle to Berwick – 50 minutes.
Plenty of advanced fares on this route, I booked the day before and managed to get one for £6.40.
The standard fare is £25 so book in advance!
Numerous options for day and multi-day tickets itinerary
The Discover North Northumberland pass includes various bus companies and is available to purchase on board for one, three or seven days
Catch up with the video highlights from my Northumberland adventure on my Instagram Stories
More Ideas for tiny quirky adventures in England