1 - Carlisle Park, Morpeth
Carlisle Park in Morpeth is the park that has it all and is very popular throughout the year with families. Young children will love the large outdoor paddling pool, sand pit and park while older children will enjoy the skate park, park olympics and over 8's play area. If you would like to get away from the hustle and bustle of the play areas, a relaxing river walk to the William Turner Gardens and a visit to their aviary is a must. Families enjoy hiring rowing boats along the river and sports on the park's tennis courts and bowling greens. There are even woodland trails behind the park where you might be lucky enough to spot some Roe deer.
Top tips:- pack some bread to feed the ducks and visit the infamous Chinese van in the car park on your way home to pick up some delicious and reasonably priced food for supper.
I have fond memories of visiting Plankey Mill for big family get togethers when I was a child. It is a picnic spot on the banks of the river Allen that makes you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. The river near the car park is ideal for plodging and collecting pondlife with a net and bucket or simply building a dam and learning to skim stones across the water. From my childhood I remember a huge rickety old Indiana Jones style bridge crossing the river and shrieking as I ran across and it wobbled. Sadly this has fallen into disrepair, however work has started to restore it to it's former glory and should be completed soon. The bridge takes you to some magical woodland and I always remember feeling like I was in Alice In wonderland as I walked among the flowers. After about 15 minutes of walking through the woods you will come to deeper part of the river which is always a popular swimming spot.
Top tip:- Plankey Mill is signposted on the right hand side along the A69 a few miles after Langley Castle
3 - Plessey Woods
Plessey Woods is half way between Cramlington and Bedlington in Northumberland and is a fantastic spot for a picnic. There are large open spaces by the entrance to the woods which is such a suntrap where families can enjoy picnics, BBQs and ball games. There is also a small enclosed play area for younger children, a visitor centre and a cafe (although not always open). There is nothing like a walk in the woods to build up an appetite - The River Blyth is well signposted as you walk through the woods. Part of the shore by the river is decked and a popular spot for older children. Toddlers will love climbing trees, spotting wildlife and chasing the butterflies in the meadow.
Top tip:- Take some change for parking and the ice cream van you have to walk past to access the woods.
4 - Causey Arch
There is something enchanting about climbing aboard a steam train and letting it take you to a secluded picturesque spot in the countryside to enjoy a picnic before returning for you an hour or so later. The Tanfield Railway in Gateshead does just that. An unlimited family trip on the railway will cost £23 and is highly recommended as a lovely family day out (review here). Causey Arch is the place to disembark the train and enjoy a picnic - if you are lucky, you will have the place to yourself. The bridge is beautiful (be warned it's high) and the views as you walk across it are breathtaking. You can walk through the woods or climb down the numerous steps to the river below. We usually take our picnic just beside the railway track as there is lots of beautiful green grass and the anticipation of waiting for your train to return is great.
Top tip:- English Heritage members can purchase 2 tickets for the price of 1 on the railway.
If you like to golf, Tyne Green is the park for you as it is right next door to Tynedale Golf club (clubhouse cafe is open to the public). The park is spread across 19 Hectares of land so there is an abundance of space to spread out and enjoy a picnic or BBQ. The river Tyne runs adjacent to the picnic fields and a walk along the river to spot local wildlife is a nice way to spend part of your day. There is a cute little bridge across a stream before you get to the main river which is ideal for playing pooh sticks. The main attraction however is the large enclosed play park which is always popular with children.
Top Tip:- Parking is free
The Rising Sun County Park is an oasis in the most of unlikely of places (behind Asda Benton). The Visitor centre is a picturesque place to enjoy a picnic and offers stunning views across Swallow pond. There is a small wooden play park, cafe and artificial stream for children to play in too. After your picnic why not follow one of the woodland trails - we like to follow the arrows to the Rising Sun Farm which is home to a few animals and a fruit and veg stall with honesty box. Entry to the farm is free and children love saying hello to the chickens, rabbits, sheep and pigs. There are plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife on your walk - pick up a map from the visitor centre and look out for the bird hides and dipping ponds. If you are lucky you might even spot the elusive rising sun stag in one of the fields.
Top tip - The gates to the visitor centre car park often close at 4pm - check before you leave your car.
There is so much to see and do at Druridge Bay. Your picnic is best enjoyed by the shore of Ladyburn lake - there are lots of picnic tables to choose from and the view is splendid. A walk around the lake is a toddler friendly 1.3 miles and includes steppy stones across part of the lake (there is also an accessible route). Your walk will give you the opportunity to spot lots of wildlife including some charismatic Muscovey ducks. There is a visitor centre complete with wildlife displays, a small play park and a cafe too. Should you need a change of scenery, Druridge Bay beach is a few minutes stroll from the car park.
Top Tip:- Watersports are permitted on the lake in the summer months for a small charge.
8 - Gibside
Gibside is one of our favourite national trust sites (read our review in the sunshine and our review in the mud). The site is vast and there is a lot to explore - our two favourite spots for picnics are the strawberry castle play area with it's wooden forts and castles and the vast avenue which is a never ending stretch of tree-lined lawn in front of the beautiful Gibside chapel. Dog friendly.
Top tips - there is an uphill walk from the car park to Gibside's entrance - look out for the free courtesy bus if needed. If you are not a national trust member there is an entrance fee - check website for details)
So that is our list of our favourite family picnic spots in the North East, other suggestions I received on twitter included Jesmond Dene, Bamburgh, Wallington Hall, Marine Walk - Roker and the beach at Howick. I would love to hear your favourite picnic spots - please feel free to comment.