Living / 15 August, 2019 / Charlotte Pearl
Northumberland farm is less than a mile from the beach. It’s a traditional, working farm owned by the Douglas family for many generations, with grassland supporting cattle and sheep, and cereals such as wheat and barley. There are six Canvas Frills Lodges on its grounds, part of the Feather Down Farm franchise, each with room for six people and a well-behaved dog (on a lead). The nearby Seahouses harbour town is well equipped with shopping amenities.
I have to admit that we weren’t all equally enamoured about the idea of a family glamping holiday. The children and I were most excited but my husband Rufus had his reservations. “Camping,” he said, “isn’t really his thing,” added to which the weather forecast was looking increasingly dubious.
The journey from London to Northumberland is longer than my sadly remiss sense of geography had led me to believe (6-ish hours by car from where we live in London, 3 hours 49 minutes by train from Kings Cross St. Pancras into Alnmouth, followed by a 20-minute taxi to the site). We decided to train it so that we could relax and cut down on travel time. However, not having a car does mean you are reliant on the local bus (approx. every 2 hours, or the local taxi which is often not available). We managed to get everywhere we wanted with a little bit of forward planning and much scrutinising of the bus timetable! We were adamant that this family adventure was going to be worth the trials and tribulations of getting there whatever the weather.
And then realisation dawned on my eldest children. No WiFi for three days… shock horror for them and my husband, Rufus. Bliss, for me. I had somehow managed to convince Rufus to take Friday off work because it was a bank holiday weekend so we were staying three nights, coming back Monday evening. It was only once on the train I realised the bank holiday alert I had seen pop up on my iPhone was in fact only in Scotland… too late to turn back, thank goodness.
Once we had settled in and got our bearings, we realised that the location of the campsite is brilliant. Seahouses is a typical English seaside town and a great starting point for getting to all the places I had ear-marked to visit. It is also the launch point for boat trips to the Farne Islands that I had always wanted to do since hearing that it’s David Attenborough’s favourite spot for wildlife in the British Isles.
Now the word tent does not do justice to our accommodation. This was the sort of camping even Rufus approved of. Substantial canvas structures or Canvas Frills Lodges with a raised wooden floor, en-suite bathroom with a flushing loo, a shower with hot water, and proper beds; a darling little double cupboard bed tucked away behind wooden shutters where the girls cosied down, a cabin bunk bed for the boys and a separate double bed for Rufus and I. Best of all, a wood-burning stove that kept us warm and cosy and was perfect for making hot chocolate on.
I had spent the evening before we left googling food to bring on a camping holiday and the following morning we set off with a lot of halloumi (according to BBC good food website an essential barbecue ingredient) marshmallows, digestive biscuits and chocolate (s’mores) hot chocolate powder, (pasta and pesto as a fall back meal). When the time came, halloumi didn’t feature at all in our menu, marshmallows and hot chocolate was obviously brilliant and pasta, pesto was munched the first evening; after our long journey, lighting the barbecue and boiling water was pretty much our maximum skill capability, allowing us time to settle into the no electricity lifestyle. By the second day, Rufus had whipped up a full English breakfast on the barbecue situated just outside the tent, alongside slightly tepid coffee which we ate in a most civilised fashion round the wooden trestle table on the decking outside the tent.
Check-in at the site was at 4 pm so we whiled away the time after our early arrival by walking to the coast where the children promptly galloped into the sea regardless of the fact we were totally unprepared with towels or a change of clothes. The lovely Grace who looks after the site very kindly picked us up from town to take us to our accommodation once our tent was ready.
From the moment the children saw the tent they were entranced. Chickens roaming freely with coops outside the tents where we could collect fresh eggs in the morning, a little honesty shop with a charging point for phones, (and surprisingly good 4G just in case…) local sausages, ice packs to keep food fresh in the cool chest, milk, chocolate, wine…) and the sunsets. Magnificent. Following our rather unadventurous pasta, we got the bonfire burning to toast marshmallows, basking in the peach light of a giant, uncluttered sky such as you never see in London.
This part of the Northumberland coast is absolutely stunning. Vast expanses of unpeopled, sandy beaches, huge yawning skies, freckled with glorious castles on the horizon. It is absolutely oozing with history from Viking invasions to Norman conquests and the incredible story of Grace Darling, the lighthouse keeper’s daughter and her daring rescue. To top it off the weather was wonderful- probably enhanced in our minds because we had expected it to be dismal. So lovely in fact that Rufus and I found ourselves following in our children’s sandy footsteps and wading into the sea more than once.
A trip to the Farne Islands with Serenity boats in the morning http://farneislandstours.co.uk
The children loved this: an hour-long boat ride tour where we saw seals and puffins galore. We then walked three miles along the glorious coast from Seahouses harbour to the magnificent Bamburgh Castle, stopping for a picnic along the way.
Another walk but this time from Low Newton, where we had delicious crab sandwiches at the Ship Inn, along the beach to beautiful Embleton Bay. (When I say ‘walk’ it was very much a stop-start affair with much sand dune jumping, wave jumping and sand castle building stops built-in and I can’t impress enough quite how dramatic this part of the coast is.)
Craster Village is a quintessential, fishing village of higgledy-piggledy cottages crowding around a dramatic harbour, famous for its kippers. We stopped at the Jolly Fisherman Inn, a lovely pub overlooking the sea and much to the rest of my family’s horror I popped across the road to L. Robson & Sons to buy the famous Craster kippers, vacuum packed to make the long train journey home! Squeezing every moment out of our mini staycation we then wandered along the path that winds its way from the pub to the sea to go rock pooling before setting off back to London
YES! Apart from the fact that there are still sights I want to visit which we just didn’t have time for: a trip to Lindisfarne and the Holy Island, Alnwick castle (where Harry Potter was shot) and re-visiting the Farne Islands but in July when it’s Puffin season), this was an incredibly special adventure for us that I would absolutely repeat. It really brought us close together as a family (literally because we were sharing a tent) and also in as much that no one could slope off and watch TV or look at their phone. Everyone returned home effervescent with how much they loved it –no mean feat when our family encompasses tots to teenagers!
We all dug in together, went on long coastal walks, mucked about in the sea, played family games of Uno by candlelight and giggled whilst roasting marshmallows around the campfire. On our last night, we watched in awe as a huge electrical storm tore up the sky, glad of the warmth of our roaring wood-burning stove and the sturdiness of our tent. But even this seemed put on for our entertainment! Apart from one man and mouse moment, it was a complete success; (the mouse won). The owner, Meg is wonderful and has thought of all the extra little details that made our stay so magical. A completely idyllic family adventure.
Find out more on Featherdown.co.uk