Remote and breathtakingly beautiful, the county of Northumberland forms the bulk of the northeast of England. An enticing medley of delightful market towns, glorious golden beaches, wooded dells, wild uplands and an unsurpassed collection of historical monuments, it’s undoubtedly the main draw in the Northeast, and where you should focus the majority of your time. South of Northumberland lies County Durham, famous for its lovely university town and magnificent twelfth-century cathedral, while to the southeast and edged by the North Sea is industrial Tyne and Wear. It’s home to the busy and burgeoning metropolis of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a dynamic and distinctive city crammed with cultural attractions, great shops and an exceptionally energetic nightlife.
While its most recent past is defined by industry and in particular post-industrial hardship, the Northeast has an eventful early history: Romans, Vikings and Normans have all left dramatic evidence of their colonization, none more cherished than the 84-mile-long Hadrian’s Wall, built by the Romans in 122 AD to contain the troublesome tribes of the far north. Thousands come each year to walk along parts, or all, of the Wall, or to cycle the nearby National Route 72. Neighbouring Northumberland National Park also has plenty for outdoors enthusiasts, with its huge reservoir, Kielder Water and surrounding footpaths and cycleways.
As well as Roman ruins, medieval castles scatter the region, the best preserved being Alnwick, with its wonderful gardens, and stocky Bamburgh, on the coast. The shoreline round here, from Amble past Bamburgh to the Scottish border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed – and officially the end of Northumberland – is simply stunning, boasting miles of pancake-flat, dune-backed beach and a handful of off-shore islands. Reached by a tidal causeway, the lonely little islet of Lindisfarne – Holy Island – where early Christian monks created the Lindisfarne Gospels, is the most famous, while not far away to the south, near Seahouses, the Farne Islands are the perfect habitat for large colonies of seabirds including puffins, guillemots and kittiwakes.
South of Northumberland, County Durham and Tyne and Wear better illustrate the Northeast’s industrial heritage. It was here in 1825 that the world’s first railway opened – the Darlington and Stockton line – with local coal and ore fuelling the shipbuilding and heavy-engineering companies of Tyneside. Abandoned coalfields, train lines, quaysides and factories throughout the area have been transformed into superb, child-friendly tourist attractions.