What to do at Ford & Etal (an itinerary for first time visitors)

This post was published in July 2020 during the Coronavirus pandemic (when most restrictions had lifted).

Ford & Etal is somewhere I have wanted to visit in forever. I did have a trip penciled in for Easter but thanks to Coronavirus, it had to be postponed to this summer. 

What to do at Ford & Etal  (an itinerary for first time visitors)


I had viewed lots of photos online but was not really sure what to expect in practice. In my head, I wondered if it was one large estate you walked around or would need to drive between attractions?

I did a bit of research and Ford & Etal is basically a set of unique villages each with a charm of their own. They are within a few miles of each other and it will be possible to walk / cycle between most of the attractions but like most, we found it much easier (and quicker) to travel between each area by car.  

Ford & Etal is located between Wooler and Berwick-Upon-Tweed. There are free car parks at every village / attraction and we managed to get parked everywhere with no trouble at all on a sunny day during the school holidays in July. 

Below is the itinerary we followed. It worked really well for us & I would recommend for first-timers. We did spend a fair bit of cash but it was our first visit and I wanted to see the main attractions. It is perfectly possible to visit the area and spend a lot less than we did - in fact, you could bring a picnic, enjoy the charming surroundings and not spend a penny. 


Hay Farm Heavy Horses


Hay Farm Heavy Horses is a not-for-profit attraction. Every penny raised is ploughed back into the centre. It is also the only rare breed approved conservation centre in the country. 

The centre used to rely on donations only but thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic has now had to enforce a visitor charge of £5 per adult (kids go free). 

The centre is small so do not expect a big day out at a farm. As a family who love animals, we really enjoyed our visit and we are pleased we popped in. For me, I was happy to pay £10 to help towards the animals. 

The main stable area is where you will find the main Heavy Horses. They were beautiful and very friendly. You are welcome to give them a stroke and hand sanitiser is available for afterwards. We could not believe the size of some of the horses. If your kids love horses, they will really enjoy it here. 






There is also a small museum which houses horse machinery and pays tribute to the horses which have died in service. 


Outside you can meet some cheeky geese and do not miss the pigs. Heidi is obsessed with pigs and we really missed our usual farm trip over Easter so it was good to give her a pig fix!





Then in the fields, they had more horses, sheep and a pony to meet. I believe during normal circumstances there are carriage rides but these have been suspended at the moment. 

There is a very small shop/ cafe and outdoor seating area too. 

Like I say, the place is small but it was quiet and we were able to spend quite a bit of time with each animal which was really nice. We spent around 40 minutes here in total. 





I often moan that websites do not mention accessibility at all so I am pleased to see this at Hay Farm: 


  • Postcode: TD12 4TR
  • Free on-site parking
  • £5 per adult, kids free
  • Website: https://www.hayfarmheavies.co.uk/
  • Open daily 10am-5pm (closed Mondays except for Bank Holidays)
  • Dogs welcome on leads
  • Toilets open 
  • No pre-booking
  • Card payments accepted
COVID 19 
  • All visitors to wear a face-covering  
  • One-way system 
  • Limited numbers
  • Details taken for track and trace
  • Hand sanitisers 
  • Children to stay with adults at all times
  • Website states temperature will be taken on arrival but this was not the case for us
 


Heatherslaw  

Heatherslaw is a few miles drive from the Heavy Horse Farm and absolutely beautiful. The Heritage Railway has its own customer car park for customers and there are a few parking areas in the village. We parked in the car park opposite the railway car park before you cross the bridge - it was free with no restrictions. 


It is so beautiful here. The visitor centre is based in the village and might be a good place to start your trip. The River Till runs alongside Heatherslaw along with the heritage railway and the Corn Mill Tearoom has outdoor seating overlooking the river and mill which is just the most beautiful setting. 





The Corn Mill is in the heart of the village. You cannot miss it. We paid £17.60 for a joint family ticket which provided entry to Heatherslaw Corn Mill and Lady Waterford Hall in Ford Village. I really wanted to visit the Corn Mill as it was something a little different and I had never been inside a real mill before. 

There are the usual trails for kids but my three are sick of museum trails now and just roll their eyes if I mention them. I am sure these are fab for younger kids through. 



The Mill is fantastic. You actually get to walk around the whole thing and see all of the working parts. I absolutely loved the area of glass flooring where you could see the water wheel turning in the river below. It was fascinating and felt like a real piece of history. 


There is a real miller available to demo / chat / answer any questions too. Usually, kids can bake bread / make pizzas but this has been suspended for now. 




In the basement, we learned about what happens to a water mill when the river floods. In 2008, the water level was over 200m higher than the level we were standing on. You never really think about how global warming has an impact on things like making flour so this was food for thought. 


The mill takes you through the various periods of its life and kids can dress like a Victorian and take a little glimpse into what life was like.




You can have a go at hand grinding too - not the easiest of tasks as my three found out (hand sanitiser is available for before and after this activity). 



The gift shop is fab - you can pick up some bread making kits and flour to take home. Heatherslaw Flour Mill is again, pretty small but it is really interesting and I am so pleased we visited. We spend maybe 25 minutes here but had a train to catch so did not spend as much time as we could have reading all of the info etc....


Accessibility: 


  • Use postcode TD12 4TJ to park next to the railway and cross the bridge to access the mill, tea room and visitor centre. 
  • Open daily 11am - 4pm
  • Public loos available in the village, mill and visitor centre
  • £12 for a family ticket (or £17.60 for a joint ticket with Lady Waterford Hall - save 20%)
  • Website: https://www.ford-and-etal.co.uk/heatherslaw-mill
  • No pre-booking
COVID 19

  • Details taken for track and trace
  • One way system in place
  • Limited numbers 
  • Sanitisers available
  • We were wearing masks but they did not seem to be compulsory as other visitors were not 



Heatherslaw Light Railway 



Heatherslaw Light Railway runs along the River Till from Heatherslaw to Etal. The views of the Northumberland Countryside are gorgeous. You cannot pre-book, simply pay at the ticket station. At the moment, trains leave Heatherslaw at 10:30am, 11:45am, 1pm, 2:15pm and 3:30pm (check website for up to date info). Return times are displayed in the ticket office but as a guide are 35 minutes later. 

 

The 15 inch Diesel Engine will take you on a 4 mile journey. We loved it! Now I did my research beforehand and a Heritage Train ride is classed as public transport. With the current restrictions in place (masks are compulsory on public transport for those who can wear them over the age of 11), I was really shocked to see that we were the only passengers on a full train wearing masks. Come on people!!! 

Tickets cannot be pre-booked and our train was full, some people were turned away and it is an hour and 15 minutes until the next service so if you have a particular time in mind, arrive and buy your ticket in good time. 




Accessibility: There are two wheelchair-accessible carriages 

  • Cost: £3 - £7.50 per person (it was £28.50 for the 5 of us)
  • Website: https://www.heatherslawlightrailway.co.uk/
  • Postcode: TD12 4TJ
  • Free parking and dogs travel free
  • Small gift shop at ticket station
  • Public toilets in Heatherslaw and Etal Villages 
COVID 19 
  • One person per family allowed in the ticket office at one time
  • Their website states time is given to disinfect trains between services - however, we did not see this happen (passengers were invited to climb aboard as soon as others left)
  • Extra time given for passenger changeovers
  • Card payments where possible
  • Mask wearing does not seem to be enforced but check current guidelines
  • No sanitisers available 
  • No track and trace system
  • On paper, Heatherslaw Light Railway seems the most relaxed when it comes to their COVID procedures. We didn't feel unsafe though - there is perspex screen between carriages, we had our masks and own sanitiser. The staff were so lovely and welcoming. 

Etal Village 

We left the train and enjoyed a very short walk (less than 5 minutes and ok for a pushchair) through some woods to Etal Village. It is so beautiful here! If you do not catch the train, there is ample free parking in the village (either on the street or in the car park).  

With its pretty thatched-roof cottages, Etal is super charming and quintessentially English. We walked through the village to the Lavendar Tearooms for lunch. There is ample indoor and outdoor seating. You take a seat and then place your order at the tills inside. 



The Tearoom doubles as a village shop and Heidi and Jack spent some of their pocket money on little soft toys. 


Lunch and drinks for the five of us was just over £30 which was really reasonable. Everything was homemade and the service and surroundings were fantastic. I love lunches in little tearooms like this, one of the best parts of summer. Dogs are welcome outside.  






As we were waiting for our lunch, Heidi and I had a little wander around the village. Just gorgeous! There is a village pub too - the only pub with a thatched roof in Northumberland apparently. 




Lunch was served really quickly. I ordered a Singing Hinnie (a Northumberland specialty). It was served warm and just so soft and delicious. We all really enjoyed our lunch here and I would recommend. 




At the opposite end of the village you will see Etal Castle (English Heritage). It is currently closed but due to re-open on 1 August. You need to pre-book tickets online if you wish to visit. 

One family was sat enjoying a picnic just underneath the castle which looked like a lovely spot. There are pretend cannons outside by the portcullis and their little boy was having a brilliant time. 
 


If you follow the signs for the riverside walk for a few minutes, you can see the river which is beautiful. It is possible to cross here with care (your feet will get wet) and walk along the riverside. There are picnic tables too or you can enjoy a little paddle.




For us though, it was a walk back through the woodland to the train station. I will definitely add the village of Etal of my places to stop when we are travelling North in future - it is gorgeous. 



COVID 19 

  • Limited seating inside the tea rooms, extra outdoor seating
  • 3 people allowed inside of the shop at any one time
  • Food served in bio-degradable packaging
  • No track and trace 
  • Pre-booking only from 1 Aug for Etal Castle



Ford Village 


Our final stop of the day was the village of Ford - a few miles drive from Heatherslaw where we were reunited with our car after our return train trip. Jack was especially keen for us to visit so he could show us Ford Castle where he stayed with school last year. 

Unfortunately, there is no public access to the castle - it is for organised group activities only. You can still admire from outside though and I am pleased we were able to see it. 

How beautiful is Ford! The Post Office doubles as a little tea room with seating on the green. The tables are made from reclaimed wood from the old school stage which was a nice little fact to read as I was waiting for our coffee. 



We visited Lady Waterford Hall in the village. Lady Waterford played an important role in how Ford developed and we were able to watch a short film about her life and admire her murals on the wall on what was once an old school. 

The gentleman who greeted us here was the loveliest man. So friendly and helpful - he was one of those people who really enhance your visit without being overbearing. 



It is a small place but so unique and striking. I am pleased we visited as it really helped us to understand more about the history of the place we were visiting. 

Children's quizzes and trails are available but again, it was a no from my three. When did they get so grown up??





Another walk around another stunning village. There are a couple of places to stop for a drink but I could not resist te post office. There is lots of grass for kids to run around so our three did this as we enjoyed our final brew of the trip. 





COVID 19

  • Hand sanitiser & limited numbers at Lady Waterford Hall
  • No guided tours available at the moment
  • Track and trace info taken
  • Masks did not seem to be compulsory 

Ford & Etal Final Thoughts

We thoroughly enjoyed our day at Ford & Etal. What I liked the most was that it offered something a little different to the rest of Northumberland (ie visiting a flour mill with a working water wheel and learning about Heavy Horses). 

It was so picturesque too and everyone we met was so happy and friendly. The estate kind of feels like you have stepped back in time to a simpler world and it is a nice place to visit for an old-fashioned day out. 

We visited on a sunny mid-week day in the school holidays and it was pretty quiet - not too overcrowded at all so there was plenty of space. 

This is the first time we have visited any indoor attractions during Coronavirus with the kids and everywhere was really well signposted with one way systems and hand sanitisers. I was however shocked by the lack of mask-wearing by visitors inside and assumed everyone who was visiting would be wearing one - this wasn't the case and we were definitely in the minority. 

I have nothing to measure this against though so maybe this is the norm everywhere. I just assumed we would all be wearing face coverings when visiting indoor attractions this summer.  

I love that there are so many open toilets at Ford & Etal and they have really taken the time to include accessibility info on their website (see here) which I really appreciate. 

Ford & Etal is the kind of place you can pop to for a picnic, paddle and a nice potter around a few villages or spend time (and money) enjoying some of the various and unique attractions on offer. 

We spent around 5 hours at Ford & Etal but could easily have spent longer (or less). 


Ford & Etal FAQs

Can we visit by public transport? 

It is possible to visit Ford & Etal via public transport. The 267 bus from Berwick to Wooler stops at Etal, Heatherslaw and Ford. You can catch the train from Newcastle-Berwick in less than an hour. Find out more here. 

Are public toilets available and open? 

Yes - every village and attraction had open toilets.  

What are the opening times and prices? 

See here for a full list. 

Are face coverings compulsory?

On the date of our visit, the only place they were compulsory was the Hay Horse Centre (and you really should wear one on the Heatherslaw Light Railway too as it is public transport). 

Are dogs allowed? 

Yes - dogs were welcome in all outdoor areas on a lead and on the train

Can I bring a picnic? 

Yes - there are lots of spots. I would recommend the area outside Etal Castle,  by the river in Etal, Heatherslaw Village or  Ford Village. 

Is the area pushchair/baby friendly?

Yes - click here to read about their facilities. 

Can I stay over? 

Yes - I would love to do this! See here for a list of recommended places.  We stayed at Riverside Park in nearby Wooler a few years ago and highly recommend it. They offer glamping, caravans and lodges. Alternatively, Haven Berwick is not far away and another site we love. 




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Always check updated opening hours / protocols with venues direct before setting off as things may have changed after this post was published. 




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What to do at Ford & Etal  (an itinerary for first time visitors)


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