Barter books - Alnwick

This post is from 2014. For a more up-to-date review, please check out this post: Visiting Barter Books in 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 post was published in 2014. Please check with venue direct for the most up to date info. 

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.

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. 


A trip to Holy island

This post was published in 2014. Please see this post which is more up-to-date: How to spend half a day on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne 

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. 


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

This post was published in 2014. Please check with venue direct for the most up-to-date info. 

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.


The Lindisfarne Inn

This post was based on a visit in 2014. Please check with venue direct for the most up to date info. 

We recently won a Visit Northumberland competition to stay at
The Lindisfarne Inn which is a pub with rooms located just off the A1 at the entrance to Holy Island. We were not obliged to blog about our stay but we had such a fantastic time that I wanted to tell you all about it.

The welcome at the Lindisfarne Inn is warm and friendly. They have a small team of staff who seem to get to know you during your stay and take the time to find our what you've been up to which is nice.

Parking is free and we were allocated a double room in a side building which was spacious and spotlessly clean. It was lovely being a couple of steps away from a pub!

The rooms featured a tea tray made up of goodies from Ringtons tea which was a welcome treat.

During the Winter months, The Lindisfarne Inn runs a fantastic deal which is such good value for money.

£44.50 per person per night for dinner, bed and breakfast is such good value!

When staying on this deal, you can choose any 2 courses from the main menu or special boards - these include dishes such as duck, pheasant and steak. Don't worry if you're not the adventurous sort as the menu also features firm favourites like steak pie and fish and chips. We enjoyed all of our meals at The lindisfarne inn but the huge portion of homemade sticky toffee pudding and a pheasant dish really stood out for us.

Breakfast is served in the pub - you can help yourself to unlimited toast, fruit juice and hot drinks and then order a cooked breakfast from the menu. The Breakfast really set us up for the day.

During our stay at The Lindisfarne Inn, we enjoyed a trip to Holy Island (2 minutes drive away) and Dunstanborough Castle and Craster. It really is a lovely base to explore Northumberland. Sunnyhills farm shop is just up the road as is the town of Alnwick with Alnwick castle, Alnwick garden and Barter books all easily within reach to explore. It is a real treat being able to relax in front of a real fire in a pub and enjoy a glass of wine or a pint of real ale whe you return after the days adventures.

So, next time you are looking for a base to explore Northumberland, or even as a place to escape for a night or two, why not try The Lindisfarne Inn?


Secret recipe chicken soup

"If you're feeling down with this cold and miserable weather,
Try our secret recipe chicken soup and we're sure you'll soon feel better"

I am very pleased to be sharing with you my absolute favourite Winter recipe. I have been making it since I was a teenager and it never fails to comfort me. It's simple to make and you can keep it simmering on the hob as you are bound to go back for more! It's a perfect Monday night recipe as you can use chicken leftover from Sunday lunch.

Serves 4

2 litres chicken stock
Leftover chicken, shredded (any amount fine - we tend to use approx 300g)
1/2 small tin of sweetcorn
6 nests of vermicelli
150ml double cream
1 tbsp cornflour made into a paste with a little milk
125g grated cheddar cheese
Worcestershire sauce to taste
Crusty bread/French stick to serve


1- Put the chicken stock in a large pan and bring to the boil. Add the shredded leftover chicken and sweetcorn. Simmer for 5-10 minutes.

2- Carefully place 6 vermicelli nests in the soup and simmer for a further 12 minutes. 

3- Add the cream and gently simmer for about 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Make sure it is a GENTLE simmer as you don't want to split the cream. Add the cornflour paste in the last few minutes to thicken and stir well.

4- Now it is time for the secret part. Add a handful of grated cheese to the bottom of your soup bowls. Ladle the soup over the cheese and it will slowly melt into the soup as you eat it giving a wonderful rich flavour.

5- Add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and serve with lots of crusty bread. There should be enough in the pan to go back for a little extra.

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