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.

A trip to Dunstanburgh castle and Craster

Dunstanburgh castle is somewhere I have always wanted to visit. Every time we have paid Craster a visit I have looked at it in the distance and thought 'one day'. The thing is, the castle is fairly remote (a 1.6 mile walk along rugged coastline) and there are no toilet facilities on site. Because of this, I have not been brave enough to attempt the walk with a toddler or two. However this week it just so happened that we were in the area and child free so we decided to finally pay a visit.

To visit the castle you need to park in the main car park at Craster (£2 all day). Make sure you visit the loo's in the car park as you won't get the chance again for a while! The walk from Craster to Dunstanburgh is very popular with walkers. You walk on grass alongside a very rugged coast which makes the whole walk seem very dramatic. At one point you need to walk through a field of sheep, but don't worry, they are perfectly friendly. Make sure you keep dogs on a lead at this point though. 

Throughout the whole walk, Dunstanburgh castle is in view standing proud on this remote part of the coastline.

Our walk in February was just after a period of very heavy rain. The route was muddy and slippy, involved climbing over a few small rocks and crossing a stream. Not a route recommended for the infirm as there are no seats or resting points en-route.

You feel great when you reach the castle. Entrance fee in only £4.20 for adults and even less for children or free if you are National trust or English Heritage members. There is a small shop on-site selling gifts and more importantly cold bottles of water! The assistant was very friendly and advised us about various points of interest. He was so enthusiastic that we decided to buy a guide book to learn more which at £3.50 was a bargain. I enjoyed reading about the history of the castle especially how it was used in world war 2.

Dunstanburgh castle is a very rugged ruin of a castle. Don't visit expecting ornate rooms. Do however expect dramatic and inspiring views. I managed to take some wonderful shots from various points in the castle.

You can climb right to the top of the castle for spectacular views across the coastline in both directions. Be warned though that the steps are steep and I must admit to feeling a bit sick as I was climbing up. The views are certainly worth it though, so do climb to the top if you can.

There are picnic spots within the castle ground and dogs on leads are allowed too which I think is marvellous.

We spent about an hour in the castle, admiring the views, taking photographs and reading about it's history before heading back along the coast to Craster.

I would recommend a visit with children aged 5+ as in my eyes, the site isn't particularly toddler friendly (no loo's, long walk and steep stairs - not the castle's fault might I add). 

Most people end up at The Jolly Fisherman pub after their walk. This is the only pub in the village and always bustling. They serve real ales and boast spectacular views of the coast from both the dining room and the outdoor terrace. The food is pretty amazing too. We enjoyed salmon sandwiches and homemade fishcakes just before lunch service finished at 3pm. The real star of the show though were the beef dripping chips which would be worth the journey to Craster alone.

If you continue walking past the pub (in the direction away from the castle) you will come across a lovely little park which is perfect for the kiddies.

Within the small village there is also an art gallery, coffee shop and the world famous Robson's smokehouse whose delicious smokey aroma you can smell throughout the village. Make sure you pop into the smokehouse shop for some signature kippers and the adjoining fish restaurant is also very good.

Craster is a village that has it all. I absolutely love it and I'm pleased we have finally managed the walk to Dunstanborough castle and back.


Belsay hall, castle and gardens

Despite being on our doorstep, we have never paid Belsay Hall a visit. This is mostly because they tend to have their special events on at weekends when I am at work. I generally like to visit places when they have a special event on as you get better value for money.

Anyway, they opened up this half term and were running a fairytale trail event everyday which I knew was something my children would enjoy.

A family ticket to Belsay hall is £20.50 (2 adults and 3 children) or entrance is free if you are English heritage members. Please check the English Heritage website for opening times and up to date prices.

Parking is free at Belsay hall and you purchase tickets in the gift shop. The staff were very friendly and handed all of our children a fairytale trail sheet and pencil. They then gave us a map and have a few pointers of where to explore.

The grounds of Belsay hall are truly beautiful. Our children raced through them to try and find the answer to the first clue on their sheet. You can just about make out the pink plaque on the gate which helped us with our first question asking how many bowls of porridge the three bears had.

Next, we explored the hall which features some amazing architecture. The rooms are huge and the whole building has a very grand feeling. I loved the library where the walls were lined with bookshelves.

In hunt of more clues, we ventured into the Quarry gardens next which feature lots of beautiful wildlife and have been very well cared for over the years. We spotted lots of snowdrops on our walk which was lovely.

We followed the signs and completed more clues on our trail - the children were having a great time running ahead to find the next clue while the grown ups strolled behind and took in the scenery.

At the end of our walk through the wooded gardens we spotted Belsay castle which is much more of a ruin than the hall but still worth a look around.

The fairytale trail was fantastic fun and a great way to ensure we walked around the main parts of the attraction. Our 3 year old just about managed it, but younger children may need a buggy or carrier.

We walked back through the woods - stopping to look in a few little caves and climb on some rocks.

We handed our completed fairytale trail into the staff at the shop and were rewarded not only with a certificate but also with a crown each to make. This was all included in the admission fee. I had 3 happy children as you can see.

We had built up an appetite with all that walking so decided to pay the tearooms a visit before leaving. The tearooms are a foodies paradise - about 15 types of homemade cakes (with some unusual or rare flavour combinations), homemade soup and scones and stottie sandwiches all feature heavily. I decided on a lemon thyme chicken stottie and hubby opted for the more traditional ham and pease pudding stottie which were both served with a dressed side salad. We both ordered a drink and a slice of cherry and blackcurrant cake. Everything was fresh and delicious. Next time we visit we have our eye on the soup and scone deal (all homemade) or the cream tea deal.

We ordered the children a children's lunch box deal - you could choose a ham, cheese or jam sandwich, a piece of fruit, a bag of crisps, a biscuit and a carton of fresh juice for £4 which I thought was a good deal and the children enjoyed it.

Our lunch was £28 which is about average for a family of 5. The tearoom is definitely worth a visit.

I am so pleased we finally paid Belsay Hall a visit. We all had a lovely time and are already planning to visit again in Spring to see all of the wonderful floweres in bloom.

© North East Family Fun | All rights reserved.
Blogger Template Designed by pipdig