Barter books - Alnwick

Barter books in Alnwick is one of the UK's largest second hand bookstores and really is somewhere special. It is also where you can find one of the original 'keep calm and carry on' posters on display.

Barter books is just a wonderful place to visit with the family and I can't wait to tell you about it.

One of the features of Barter Books is that you can take your own books along and trade them for barter credit which can then be spent in store. There are restrictions which you can read more about here - incoming books. You don't need to barter your own books and can simply purchase or browse books as you please. Books are second hand so are cheaper than new, however they are slightly more expensive than a charity shop. As a guide, we bought these 12 books for just over £20 (bookmarks were thrown in for free).

The first section we visited was the fantastic children's section. The variety of books here is better than our local library. There are toys too which keep the children entertained while you browse (don't leave them unsupervised though).

Look at all these Beast Quest books!

Lots of Thomas books for sale which pleased my toddler.

I even spotted a shelf dedicated to Sweet Valley high books!

One of the main attractions of Barter books is the miniature toy railway that runs above your head in the shop. My children love watching out for the trains.

I could spend hours in Barter books, there is literally so much to explore! Including rare and vintage books. I love how there are lots of seats and areas you can relax with a book throughout the store.

There is a lovely Station buffet cafe within Barter books which features roaring fires, unique seating and homemade treats. We did try and find a seat during our visit but it was just too busy :-( We have been before though and I can highly recommend the cakes if you can find a table which are set out like a station. As an alternative to the cafe, there are tea and coffee making facilities and biscuits near the entrance and next to the lovely main fire and seating area. This is self serve and there is an honesty box which is just fantastic and really sums up the atmosphere of Barter books.

If you are looking for somewhere different to visit, try Barter books.


Sunnyhills Farm Shop, Belford.

This half term we have decided to explore all that Northumberland has to offer. What better way to start our week than a hearty Northumbrian breakfast at Sunnyhills Farm Shop in Belford. Sunnyhills is located just minutes away from the A1 so is a perfect place to stop whilst exploring the area.

This was our first visit to Sunnyhills and we were very impressed when we pulled into the ample car park to see that their was a lovely children's play area outside. You can buy takeaway style hot drinks from the cafe and enjoy outside on the picnic tables whilst the children play. There was also a range of tractor and car ride ons to enjoy which our children loved. The grounds are absolutely immaculate and there are lovely countryside views to enjoy. It certainly does not feel or sound like the A1 is just a few minutes away.

We eventually managed to tear our children away from the play frame and ventured into the cafe. This is probably the nicest farm shop cafe we have ever been in. The tables are covered with beautiful Kath Kidston style cloths, there is a range of seating (with lovely unique cushions), it is bright and airy with lots of light and fantastic views and there are local photographs on the walls which provide interest and are available to buy.

It is table service at Sunnyhills which is unusual for a farm shop. It was welcome though and all of the staff were friendly, polite and attentive.

Breakfast is served 7 days per week from opening (currently 10am) - 11:30am. You can view the delicious menu here:- breakfast menu

Everything on the menu sounded delicious. I opted for a quarter stottie filled with sausage and bacon, our boys decided on a quarter stottie filled with sausages, Heidi decided on fried eggs on toast (her favourite) and hubby could not resist the full works and ordered the full English.

I was pleased to see that locally sourced food features heavily on the menu including free range eggs straight from the family farm. The bacon really stood out for us and this is cured in house by the farm's butcher Paul and always sourced from a farm in Northumberland.

All of our food was fantastic and nobody left so much as a crumb! We all agreed it was one of the best breakfast's we've had in a while. At one point during our meal everyone was silent and simply enjoying their breakfast which I have to say is a complete first!

There is a nice range of children's drinks on the menu, we were envious of the table next to us who all ordered hot chocolates. They were topped with lots of mini marshmallows and looked amazing! Definitely something to try next time. 

Our 7 year old loves a cup of tea as a treat when we enjoy breakfast out. He couldn't manage a whole pot himself but the staff had no problem in simply bringing him an extra cup so he could share his dad's pot of tea which was nice.

After our breakfast we had a quick browse of the attached farm shop which included a butchers, deli and lots of locally sourced food. There is also a gift shop selling a wide range of local and interesting gifts including toys for children.

You could easily spend a few hours at Sunnyhills farm shop. They also serve lunch and snacks daily and a Sunday lunch that has been recommended by others (booking advised - visit website for details). 

Sunnyhills is very family friendly with lots if highchairs available and a children's menu which is very good value.

They hold various events throughout the year and can't wait to return and enter the Easter egg decorating competition in April (check website for details).

Next time you are looking for somewhere to spend a few hours with the kids where you can enjoy fresh air, excellent food and pick up a few treats from the farm shop, I would definitely recommend you pay Sunnyhills in Belford a visit. 

Disclaimer:- we enjoyed a complimentary breakfast for the purpose of this review. All thoughts are our own


A trip to Holy island

Holy island is situated just off the North Northumbrian coast and is completely cut off from the mainland twice per day. Before you set off it is very important you check the tide times so you do not end up stranded.

We have visited Holy island many times over the years and it remains to be one of my favourite places in Northumberland. It has a very special and unique atmosphere that I have never experienced elsewhere and if you  visit early in the day it is just oh so tranquil.

Our recent visit to Holy island began with the picturesque 1 mile walk along the Coast from the main part of the island to Lindisfarne Castle which is owned and managed  by the National trust. The walk is absolutely stunning. You can access the shore easily en-route and we spotted one keen family collecting shell fish and other families exploring the rock pools despite the Cold February weather. There is also a wildlife hide at the beginning of the route which details some of the wildlife you may spot on the island. 

Entrance to the castle is only £16.95 for a family ticket (or free if you are annual members as we are) which is fantastic value for money. Make sure you check the national trust website for opening times.

The walk up to the castle entrance is full of anticipation. Be careful though as the cobbles can be steep here and slippy on a rainy day. The sea was so calm around the entrance on the day of our visit.

We were given a mini and informative guide to read as we explored the castle. I was interested to read that the castle had been used as a luxurious holiday home for the owner of country life magazine up until the 1900's. The castle had largely remained untouched since this period. We were greeted at the entrance by an enthusiastic guide who told us a brief history of the castle and encouraged us to come back with any questions. She also gave us a mini private tour of the kitchen which was nice.

I loved looking at all the interesting objects in the castle and spotting a few items that my grandparents have in their own house. There are cards in all of the rooms containing further information but I just enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere of the castle. Because the interiors have remained untouched, it is very easy to transport yourself back to another time.

On the rooftop outdoor battery we were surprised to find a guide standing next to a powerful telescope and binoculars which were available to borrow. We were promised that we would be able to spot some seals on the sand banks in front of us. I looked through the telescope but really couldn't see anything that looked like a seal at all! The guide was patient with me though and gave me some pointers of where to look and what to look for and then WOW as if by magic I spotted hundreds of seals all basking in the sun right in front of my eyes! It really was amazing. The guide was really passionate about the seals and provided lots of interesting facts which we really appreciated.

I absolutely loved Lindisfarne castle, it is simply stunning. We plan to visit again in Summer when the children can take their buckets and nets to explore the rock pools themselves.

Back on the main part of the island, is Lindisfarne Priory which is owned and managed by English Heritage. We have visited the priory before during a special 'Viking raider' event a few years ago. I was keen to re-visit whilst on the island and learn more about it's history.

The entrance fee is very reasonable at£5.20 for adults and £3.10 for children aged 5+ or free if you are English heritage members as we are. Check the English heritage website for priory opening times.

Included in your entrance fee is entry to a small exhibit surrounding the history of the lindisfarne gospels. We browsed for 5-10 minutes before entering the priory.

What I loved about the priory is how much extra information you are given. As you walk through the different areas of the ruin there are plaques detailing when that particular area of the priory was built and what it was used for plus additional useful information. I really enjoyed reading about the history of this building. They were just short paragraphs here and there but were really engaging and I think any child aged 6+ would enjoy reading them.

It was very interesting to read what happened to the priory through various stages of it's history - at one point it was home to only 3 monks because the threat of war from Scotland was too much for most. Also, the priory was raided by Vikings and it fell into disrepair during the reign of Henry VIII when he ordered the dissolution of the priory. During this time it was used for storage. It is just amazing walking around these ruins and learning about their history. You really feel as if you are stepping into a piece of history and you can really begin to imagine how the monk's of the priory lived.

The island is home to a few craft shops, a couple of pubs and a handful of coffee shops. One of the island's famous export's however is lindisfarne mead which is manufactured on the island. A trip to Holy island is not complete without a visit to St Aidan's Winery where you can sample the many different types of mead on sale and learn a bit about them from the helpful assistants. The shop sells lots of local produce along with the famous mead (we bought some Lindisfarne lemon curd) and stocks a wide variety of whiskeys and wines. The staff are helpful and able to give advice when needed.

Holy island really is such a unique place we are so lucky to have on our doorstep. It's charm, tranquility and history mean that for me, it is a place I will go back to over and over again.

Seven Oaks Hungry Horse pub

There seems to be a sudden influx of restaurant/pub openings at the moment in Cramlington. As this is my home town, I welcome this with open arms. I love having a choice of where to go when we dine out. We did seem to be missing a sociable friendly pub where you could enjoy a relaxed meal with family or friends. So when the hungry horse announced they were opening a pub close to the cinema in Cramlington, I was really pleased as I think it's just what we needed. We were invited along to take a look before their grand opening on Monday February 3rd. Here's what we thought:-

On first impressions the pub is very warm and welcoming. It is deceptively spacious with a selection of seating areas from large booths with their own private tv to small bar tables with stools for 2. There is a separate bar area reserved for over 18's only (and from what I could see of the bar it was very well stocked with a wide selection) The bar area would be fab place to meet for pre-cinema drinks. As with most (or all?) Hungry Horse pubs, the pub has been designed with the location being taken into account. I loved this photograph of Blyth harbour next to our seats.

We were given a prime table with our own tv. Kids thought it was great watching Cbeebies while we waited for our food. I'm sure Sky Sports news will be the channel of choice in these booths over weekends!

The children were given a colouring/puzzle sheet and packs of crayons and told they could choose their own balloon from the balloon tower on their way out (this was a great bribe to use when they showed signs of mis-behaving).

The main menu is large and full of deals. The two meals for £8.49 and curry club deal particularly caught my eye. We spotted a few fellow diners enjoying curries and they looked and smelled delicious - not like your usual pub curry. We will definitely try one next time we visit. £5.50 for a curry and a pint is fantastic value. 

There is a strong emphasis on 'sharing' throughout the menu which I personally love. It is an informal way of enjoying food with the kids and you can usually get them to try something they wouldn't normally try. The 'Slider board' looks fantastic and would be great to order and share amongst a group of friends (8 slider burgers - 2 each of beef burger, lamb burger, pork and chirizo burger and BBQ pulled pork burger, plus mini corn on the cobs and a mound of fries - £19.99).

There certainly is a lot to choose from. I settled for the slow cooked lamb shank which was served with a HOMEMADE Yorkshire pudding (delicious), peas and mash. At £8.99 this was very good value for money and it was great to have a homemade yorkshire rather than a bland frozen one.

Hubby was hungry and ordered the full Monty mixed grill which consisted of a 5oz rump steak, 5oz gammon steak, pork sausage and a farm-assured roasted chicken breast topped with a free-range fried egg and grilled pineapple ring. Served with chips, peas, onion rings, a flat mushroom and grilled tomato. Phew! At £9.79 this was again fantastic value. We asked for the steak to be served medium-rare and that's how it arrived so brownie points for that!

The kids menu is simple. You can order a small meal for £2.99 or large for £3.99 then add a drink and dessert for £2. All of my children love chicken nuggets and chips and always tend to order these when we eat in a pub. You can choose your own sides and I'm pleased that corn on the cob is an option as it's a favourite of ours. The chicken nuggets were very good quality and seemed to be homemade. I would (and did!) eat them myself which is always a good sign. We ended up with 3 clean plates.

The children enjoyed chocolate ice cream for dessert and we didn't want to miss out. We ordered the giant profiteroles (£4.39). I was expecting a giant tower of profiteroles but when it arrived it was actually two giant profiteroles! They were lovely but next time I think I will try the 'desserts your way' How fab being able to design your own dessert!

If I receive bad service it will take a lot for me to return somewhere, even if the food is fantastic. In my book bad service just really ruins a night out! I'm pleased to say that this was not the case at the Seven Oaks. It is clear that they have a rigorous recruitment programme and have invested time in training their staff. Everybody was friendly, helpful and going out of their way to make sure we were having a good time. A special mention to Alexis on the bar who served us. We were her first customer but she still managed to make us feel like nothing was a problem and took the time to ask us about our evening in a genuinely interested way. Service like this really does make the difference to whether or not you choose to go back somewhere and is great to experience.

We all really enjoyed our evening and left discussing when we will can go back. Our seven year old said it was 'really tasty' and our four year old said it was 'very yummy'. If they're happy, I'm happy!

The Seven Oaks opens in Cramlington (near the Vue cinema) on Monday 3rd February at 11am. 

We attended during a pre-opening evening and received a complimentary meal . We were not obliged to write this blog post. All thoughts are our own.

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