Why Northumberland is the best Destination for your family holiday

Have you heard that Northumberland has been nominated for a British tourism award? We have been selected as one of the best UK holiday destination's. I fully believe that Northumberland deserves to go on to win this award - after all, we have everything you need for a perfect family holiday. You can read more about the awards and vote for Northumberland here. Every vote counts and it only takes 2 minutes.

When the sun shines (and even when it doesn't) there is so much outdoor fun to be had in Northumberland. There are miles upon miles of  award winning unspoilt beaches to enjoy and a trip to Northumberland simply must include a walk along the idyllic Bamburgh beach, stopping off by the lighthouse to explore the plunge pools and rock pools.

If history is more your thing, a trip to Hadrian's wall has to be on your bucket list. There is lots of hands on fun to be had at The Roman Army museum near Haltwhistle and you can even sign your children up to Roman Army School at Chesters, Housteads or Birdswold Roman Forts (check website for details). Dad might get roped in too!

Northumberland is famous for it's castles and rightly so - let your children's imagination run wild at the spectacular ruin of Dunstanburgh castle, pretend they are King and Queen for a day at the glorious Bamburgh Castle. listen to battle stories of years gone by at Warkworth castle and even take part in a broomstick training lesson at Alnwick castle which is where the outdoor scenes of Harry Potter were filmed.

If the weather is typically British, there is still oodles of fun to be had indoors. Children and grown ups alike cannot fail to be captivated by the enchanting Barter books. Barter books is one of the UK's largest second hand book stores which features a lovely children's section - books start at only 25p! Everybody will love following the miniature train as it travels around above your heads and then taking their books to the cozy station buffet with it's roaring fire's and homemade cakes.

Northumberland also boasts a selection of interesting and specialist museum's - there is the bagpipe museum in Morpeth Chantry, Woodhorn museum near Ashington where our mining heritage is celebrated and even a bee and honey museum in Berwick. Inquisitive children will love exploring Cragside in Rothbury which was the first building in the world to be powered by hydroelectricity. Children can have a go at making their own electricity and there is always lots going on in their extensive grounds and play areas.

I cannot talk about Northumberland without mentioning some of the spectacular food we have to offer. There aren't many places on earth you can dine in a treehouse, enjoy lunch in a bus cafe or take afternoon tea in a castle. There are so many friendly, local and delicious places to eat - it would be impossible to list them all! One of our favourite's is The Running Fox bakery in the small village of Felton - people travel for miles to get their hands on baked goods from this gem of a shop. They'll even give you some bread to feed the ducks if you ask nicely. Of course a visit to Northumberland would not be complete without a visit to Craster to get your hands on some of their famous kippers. You can enjoy them in the smokehouse restaurant or take some away direct from the smokehouse to cook yourself later.

Finally, Northumberland is the best place to visit to get away from the stresses of everyday life. Leave modern technology behind and enjoy some quality time with your family. Marvel at the largest dark skies in Europe at Kielder Water and Forest Park. It is wonderful to get away from it all and spend a few hours admiring the beauty of our skies. Or, for a truly magical experience visit Holy island. The island is cut off from the mainland twice per day and you really do feel like you are on your own little adventure when you visit and explore everything the island has to offer.

I am sure you will agree, Northumberland really does deserve to win the title of 'Best UK Holiday Destination'. There really is something for everyone come rain or shine. Please don't forget to vote Northumberland and help us win.

This post is written in collaboration with Visit Northumberland. As always I write from my heart and I am proud to promote Northumberland - it really is a fantastic place to visit.


Sunday Lunch with the family at Jesmond Dene House

Those who know me personally will know that I work every Sunday. This certainly has it's advantages however I do really miss a good Sunday lunch. So when the lovely people at Jesmond Dene House asked our family if we would like to sample Sunday lunch in their restaurant, I swiftly organised a reservation for my next available Sunday.

I have dined at the Jesmond Dene house on numerous occasions - particularly on anniversaries and special birthdays. It is my number one place to visit in Newcastle when we'd like somewhere special to celebrate. The staff really do look after you and make you feel welcome and the food and wine is always stunning. I have never really contemplated the idea of taking three children with us (aged 7, 5 and 3) and I have to say I was a little nervous about how they might behave. I pushed my concerns to one side though and we were all looking forward to spending some quality time together over some lovely food.

Thankfully, all feelings I had that the children may mis-behave were quashed as soon as we stepped foot in the hotel lobby. The staff were extremely welcoming and friendly towards our children, engaging with them and taking the time to show them around. The atmosphere was not stuffy at all - it felt natural and informal and we all immediately started to relax into the very comfortable chairs in the bar area where we sampled some canap├ęs (including crisps for the children) and browsed the menu. There were lots of other families there enjoying their Sunday together - some people were dressed up (Heidi asked if they were going to a wedding) but others were in shorts and flip flops. Nobody looked or felt out of place and everybody was made to feel as welcome as each other.

The Sunday Lunch menu is a foodies dream. It was difficult to choose but we ended up deciding on Roast Northumberland Grand Reserve Sirloin of Beef, Yorkshire Pudding, Brown Ale Gravy and Roast Leg of Middle May Lamb, Roast Potatoes and Gravy. The children can choose a half portion of anything from the main menu at half the price or dine from the children's menu. As much as I would love it if my children would order North Sea Lemon Sole if there are chicken nuggets on a menu, they're going to order chicken nuggets (although my eldest did choose fish fingers).

We were taken through to our table in the conservatory which afforded splendid views of the beautiful garden. It really was a perfect spot. The sun was shining and we could sit at our table, sipping a glass of wine whilst watching our children play together on the lawn. Perfect!

Our food arrived swiftly and our hostess could not have been more accommodating towards our children - asking if they would like some ketchup and pouring them a glass of water each, the service we received as a family really was second to none.

Our food was perfectly cooked and one of the best Sunday lunches I have ever eaten. The brown ale gravy was unbelievable and I was very pleased you were given your own little jug so there was plenty of it to go around.

We had promised our children a dessert if they were good (yes we do sometimes have to resort to bribery) and as they had been as good as gold they chose a banana split, vanilla ice cream and a dark chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream from the children's menu. All were wolfed down in no time at all and our hostess did not raise an eyebrow at the mess three children and ice cream leave behind.

I decided to try the peach cheesecake and I was very pleased with my choice. The peach sorbet really was a treat for the tastebuds and tasted like summer on a plate. The presentation was gorgeous and the dish really made for a perfect ending to a wonderful meal.

After lunch, we spent some time exploring the wonderful gardens of Jesmond Dene House with our children and then spent a couple of hours walking through Jesmond Dene towards Pets Corner and the park to try and burn off some of our delicious lunch. We could leave our car in the car park at Jesmond Dene House which was very convenient.

Sunday lunch at the Jesmond Dene House really was the perfect way to spend an afternoon together as a family. The staff really made us feel welcome, the atmosphere was relaxed and the food was divine. The next time I happen to have a rare Sunday off work, I will not hesitate to book here again.


Tapas Lunch at Ora - Tynemouth

It was hubby's birthday last week and the sun most definitely had his hat on so we decided to head down to the coast.

It was a Thursday evening and Tynemouth was absolutely buzzing! So much so that we struggled to get parked. We eventually managed to find a spot in the free short stay car park near the sailing club.

After visiting ORA a few weeks earlier and enjoying a fantastic al fresco breakfast (see pic below) we had vowed to go back for their £20 tapas deal which gets you 4 tapas and 2 glasses of wine for £20. This deal is available all day Sunday-Thursday and until 5pm on a Friday. On a Thursday evening there is live music too which is an added bonus.

We arrived and found a bar table available so quickly nabbed it while we could and perused the menu. There was a good choice and it was hard to choose but we eventually decided on calamari, Patatas bravas with chirizo, Thai chicken skewers with a satay dip and Spanish style meatballs plus 2 glasses of red (both for hubby) and a coke for me as I was driving.

The atmosphere was casual and relaxed and it is always lovely dining with live music in the background. I had read a few reviews on tripadvisor stating service could be slow but we had absolutely no problems - service was professional, polite and proficient. 

Our tapas arrived in a lovely looking tapas tower (which is a genious idea as saves a lot if space - tapas normally takes over your whole table) and our server took the time to recap what we ordered which was a nice touch. 

The food was fantastic and plentiful - I was worried four tapas between 2 might not be enough but the portions were a good size and we were left feeling satisfied.

Everything was perfectly cooked but the star of the show was definitely the Patatas bravas with chirizo - the best we've had! Even better than the one's we've enjoyed across Spain.

We finished our evening with a few more drinks listening to the music and then a walk along the sea front - the priory looked magnificent. It was a perfect evening and we will definitely be back soon.


Top 8 Picnic Spots in the North East

Summer just isn't the same without a picnic with family and friends. Here is our guide to the Top 8 Family Picnic spots in the North East

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.

2 - Plankey Mill

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. 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.

5 - Tyne Green Country Park, Hexham
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

6 - Rising Sun Country Park
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.

7 - Druridge Bay Country Park
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.

(Image source)

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.


dAt bAr and The Fat Hippo Underground

It really does not seem like four whole weeks have passed since we enjoyed a fantastic night at The Sausage Emporium. Time certainly does fly when you are having fun! I have been dying to take hubby to the The Fat Hippo Underground after a fantastic night with my friend when it first opened (read that review here) and had heard so many good things about dAt bAr that is seemed obvious to combine the two on our next date night. My brother and his girlfriend tagged along too.

dAt bAr is located to the side of the Theatre Royal on Market Street. It is an independent bar specialising in craft beers, great wine and fantastic coffee. They serve pizza and burgers too which is now definitely on our radar for our next lunch date. The atmosphere is informal and not pretentious at all (unlike some of the bars in the area) - a retro comic book-style interior, a 'wall of death' bar, an eclectic soundtrack (which we loved) and a wide mix of customers make this bar a lovely relaxed place to meet with friends.

The men were very impressed with the huge variety of beers on offer - ranging from old favourites to something more unique. The barman was happy to give recommendations and offer sample tasters. We tried 7 different beers between us and a definite favourite was one of the smoked beers which actually tasted like a BBQ in a glass. None of us had ever tried or even heard of a smoked beer so it was great to try something new.

One of the things that really sets dAt bAr apart from the crowd is it's fantastic staff. I have never come across such a knowledgeable bartender (maybe he was the owner?). He was clearly passionate about his job, taking the time to make sure we chose the right drinks and even made me a personal off-menu cocktail after I asked for a recommendation which was perfect. It makes such a change to be served by an expert who wants to go the extra mile for you.

We got chatting to a bloke sitting at the bar who told us he had only found this bar by chance today and the discovery had made it the best day of his life. Kind of sums up the evening and we could have stayed longer. Next time we will definitely stay for food too.

We had other places to go tonight though so stumbled  walked wound the corner to The Fat Hippo Underground. Blink and you'll miss the doorway - look out for the neon hippo sign above the door on Shakespeare street (around the other side of the Theatre Royal).

The Fat Hippo is another one of those laid back relaxed-style restaurants we love. They focus on one thing (burgers) and do it well which is a business plan more places really need to try! The interior is rustic and stripped back - think wooden benches, exposed brick work and naked light bulbs.

I love the menu and variety of burgers to choose from. A peanut butter and jelly burger and a burger with candied bacon certainly stood out as unique. We ordered wasabi popcorn (which is amazing) and cajun pork scratchings to share and then a variety of burgers. Be warned, the burgers are HUGE so make sure you visit on an empty stomach. I couldn't finish mine.

We spent £15 per head which was very good value considering it included a bar snack starter, huge burger and hand cut chips and a round of drinks (including a delicious alcoholic butterbeer milkshake). We had no complaints.

At the end of the evening we ended up at Lady Grey's at the opposite end of Shakespeare street. I do like the concept here - it is a lovely traditional style pub. However, perhaps we had been spoilt throughout the evening as we did have a few niggles here - bar staff not knowing how to make an amaretto sour and an £11 bill for a Jack Daniel's and a bottle of beer left us thinking it perhaps wasn't the place for us. It did seem busy though so they must be doing something right.

We all really enjoyed our monthly get together and are already planning where to go next time. If you've been anywhere lately that you think we would enjoy, I would love to hear your recommendations.
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