Northumberland National Park is the northernmost national park in England. It covers an area of more than 1,050 square kilometres between the Scottish border in the north to just south of Hadrian’s Wall, and it is one of least visited of the National Parks.
Address: United Kingdom
Phone: +44 1434 605555
Coordinates: 55°19′N 2°13′W / 55.317°N 2.217°W
Best for: History
Northumberland National Park spans the old borderland between England and Scotland – across its territory you’ll find silent battlefields and mediaeval castles still keeping watch over the moors and forests of this frontier. But its greatest landmark, for the past two millennia at least, has been Hadrian’s Wall – and arguably the most lovely stretch of the entire monument sits at the park’s southern edge. Set out on a march to Housesteads – the best preserved Roman fort along the wall – or else go wandering amid the cliffs and lonely quarries of Walltown Country Park.
Where to stay: Walwick Hall is a dapper country house hotel a short hop from Hadrian’s Wall.
Here are some of our top sights and landmarks you should visit whilst in the Northumberland National Park
Cragside House and Gardens
Cragside House is an extraordinary Victorian house, built on a rocky crag high above Debdon Burn, which was the family home of Lord Armstrong, the fondly-remembered Victorian inventor and industrialist. It is a building of interest being the first one in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity and throughout the interior, all sorts of gadgets are on display from fire alarm buttons to a passenger lift.
As well as being a successful inventor, Armstrong was a lover of the outdoors and constructed five lakes along with planting over seven million trees and shrubs, so you can only imagine the beautiful grounds to explore here. Dogs are welcome in all outdoor areas, just remember to pick up after them!
Location: Morpeth, NE65 7PX
- A day can be spent exploring the house, gardens and woodland
- The estate has more than 30 miles of footpaths and lakeside walks
- There is a play area, a rhododendron maze and a trim trail for family fun
- The estate provides a shelter for the endangered red squirrel – often sighted!
Brinkburn Priory is an impressive 12th-century monastery which is one of the best examples of early gothic architecture in Northumberland. Built on a bend in the River Coquet near Rothbury, little survives of the structures that were originally erected by the monks, apart from the Priory Church. In the 19th century the roof was restored, and the stained-glass windows inserted which you can go and admire today.
The Priory is now used as a venue for music concerts, weddings and even the Brinkburn Festival, but without all of that, it is a peaceful and tranquil place to go and visit.
Location: Morpeth, NE65 8AR
- The neighbouring abandoned manor house (16th century) can also be explored
- Walks by the river are pleasant and otters have been spotted here by visitors
- The on-site gift shop has a vending machine that serves tea, coffee and hot chocolate
- There are benches on the grounds where you are welcome to bring a picnic
Sycamore Gap walk
This is a lovely circular walk which leads you to the iconic Sycamore Gap – the most photographed tree in Northumberland! Voted England’s tree of the year, this sycamore grows in a gap near Castle Nick on Hadrian’s Wall. This gap is said to have been created thousands of years ago by vast amounts of meltwater flowing beneath ice sheets that once covered the area.
Scientists say that there were likely to have been more trees here, but these may have been removed for game shooting, or improving landscape views but none the less this one stands strong and has become quite the national treasure with over 12,000 posts on Instagram alone.
Location: Henshaw, National Park
- Start off at the visitor centre (located on the B6318 between Greenhead and Chollerford) to the Roman Fort and swat up on your knowledge
- Enjoy views of Hadrian’s Wall
- Immerse yourself in history as you return via the Roman Military Way
- Also known as ‘Robin Hood Tree’ after featuring in ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ starring Kevin Costner in 1991
You have probably guessed by the name that this farm has links to Lord Armstrong too, and you would be right! He remodelled this farm himself in the 1880s to keep his prize cattle, and it sits quietly on the edge of the famous Cragside Estate in Rothbury. Like Cragside House, he got the farm running on hydropower, which back then was revolutionary.
Now privately owned, it is a working farm in which the family live and run, and the Victorian farmworkers’ cottage is now a holiday home. The farm and historic site is open to the public to enjoy and makes for a fun day out.
Location: Rothbury, NE65 7XN
- Historic tours available on site – book in advance
- Pedigree Whitebred Shorthorn cattle and Park Type Cheviot sheep roam the farm fields
- Lots of interesting artefacts to see dating back to the 15th century
Towns and Villages in Northumberland National Park
There are a few significant settlements in the National Park itself, with most lying around the borders. These picturesque villages are fun to discover and potter around, spending as much or as little time as you like in them. Each one has something different about it, giving you lots of variety on your village tour. The ones we have featured are within easy reach of each other, making it possible to visit more than one in a day amongst nice walks and coffee stops.
Alwinton is a village nestled in the South Eastern foothills of the Cheviots, in the Coquet Valley, and is best known for its ancient church. Named after the River Alwin, it lies on the edge of the National Park making it an ideal destination for outdoor activities and relaxing breaks. Although there are no shops here, there is a popular pub called The Rose and Thistle which offers a delicious menu of home-cooked meals and a wide range of drinks. Stay in Bridge End Cottage (sleeps five) to experience this tiny village for yourself.
Bellingham is situated on the banks of North Tyne and is generally known as the gateway to Kielder Water and Forest Park. There is a thriving community here with a café, three pubs and a hotel with swimming pool. There is an excellent 18-hole golf course and a fitness centre for those who like a bit of gentle exercise and we have heard the North Tyne river makes a good spot for some fishing! Brookside Cottage (sleeps two) lies in the heart of Bellingham and is the perfect base to get out and explore from.
Otterburn is a small village about 30 miles north-west of Newcastle and it has a fascinating history. It is the site of a major Battle of Otterburn in 1388 between English and Scottish armies. It also saw a lot of action during the days of the Border Reivers when rival gangs terrorised the local people. Thankfully, it is a lot quieter today (!) and has a vibrant community at the heart of the Resesdale Valley. The Otterburn Mill is a big attraction with its museum focusing on the history of weaving and wool milling in the area. Weavers Cottage (sleeps four) is a charming cottage in Otterburn close to restaraunts and shops; make this your next holiday base in Northumberland.
Holystone is a tiny stone-built village well known for its little pool called Lady’s Well. History rumours that this pool was originally associated with the Anglo-Saxon Saint Ninian, who baptised many early Christians in its holy water. If you visit, you will see the stone cross placed in the centre of it by Victorians; you can decide if this is eerie or magical. Set on the edge of the National Park, it is well placed for venturing in and enjoying the wilderness. The Green Barn (sleeps six) nearby in Low Alwinton, would be a nice base for you and your family to explore from.
Rothbury is a traditional market town in central Northumberland and is known as the Capital of Coquetdale, offering a peaceful haven to those who come and visit. Home to the National Park Centre, this is a popular starting point for lots of walking routes in the region. It has a bustling high street complete with shops, cafes, pubs and tea rooms. Rothbury is the centre for fun events that run throughout the year, including a traditional music festival in July. Cragside View (sleeps eight) is a fantastic base for exploring this area and is ideal for families, keen walkers and cyclists too! Read all about the town in our guide to Rothbury.
Natural attractions at Northumberland National Park
Kielder Water and Forest Park
This forest park covers a whopping 250 square miles and is a large adventure playground for those who love outdoor activity, woodland walks and peaceful nature. With a variety of habitats that range from woodland to marshy bogs, Kielder Forest is a haven for wildlife throughout the year. The forest is home to about half of England’s red squirrel population and ospreys started nesting here in 2008 – a great feat! Other animals such as roe deer, water voles and otters can also be spotted with patience throughout Kielder. The waterside park has three play zones for the children where they can play in safety, surrounded by nature.
This is a smaller option to Kielder Water and perhaps a more family-friendly one when it comes to fishing. It is located within easy reach of Tyneside and offers top-class fly and bait fishing for all levels of angler. There is also a waterside park which offers charming circular walks and playzone which is great for the kids. They are sure to burn energy on the swings, slides, climbing frame and zip swings – you might enjoy it too! Being here makes you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere and the 3.5-mile circular walk is a lovely way to immerse in nature and spot wildlife like squirrels, badgers, roe deer and swans.
Walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders will love the enchanting atmosphere of Thrunton Wood as trails weave and cut through the woodland, eventually reaching open views across moorland and the Whittingham Vale and Cheviot Hills. Wildlife is abundant here, with squirrels, deer and birdlife and mischievous hobgoblins are fabled to dwell here – it’s up to you whether you believe it or not!
Rothbury riverside walk
This is a really easy walk which would be a perfect option if you have small children with you although the path is thin so not very pushchair friendly. The route starts at Beggars Rigg car park and takes you on a pleasant stroll alongside the River Coquet and into Rothbury. This walk will give you a lovely mix of peace and culture as you pass other holiday makers, locals, cyclists and horse riders! This is a nice round-trip with an explore around Rothbury in-between; perhaps a spot of lunch is in order too!
Activities in the Northumberland National Park
Being largely rural with an interlacing network of quiet roads, Northumberland is a gem for cycle touring. Cycling is an excellent way to explore a new area: you can take in the sights a lot slower than you can when in a car, you can get to places cars can’t get and it’s environmentally friendly! The wild open spaces make it a haven for mountain biking with lovely natural trails and, with over 100 miles of purpose-built trails, there are so many options for family days out. That’s it, get the bike rack on!
This activity centre offers exciting and exhilarating outdoor adventure for groups of friends and families. Activities include archery, laser-clay shooting, a high-ropes course, canoeing, abseiling, sailing and zip wires, amongst many more! There is so much fun for everyone here, and there are even options for those who don’t want the thrill of hanging from high ropes – the swimming pool and sauna may be more up your street. Day tickets are available.
There are two golf courses within Northumberland’s National Park.
- Bellingham Golf Course is an 18-hole golf course situated in the North Tyne valley between Hadrian’s Wall and the Scottish border. The course overlooks the village with lovely views up the valley towards Kielder Water and Forest Park. For those enthusiasts out there – there is a pleasing mixture of testing par threes, long par fives and a memorable collection of tricky par fours! Location: NE48 2DT
- Rothbury Golf Course is nestled in the heart of the Coquet Valley and is a pretty 18-hole course, popular with locals and tourists alike. The course boasts amazing views of the valley and the Simonside Hills so a game of golf has never been so pretty. Visitors are welcome so make sure you take your clubs and pay them a visit! Location: NE65 7RX
- Check out more Northumberland golf courses
Places to eat in Northumberland National Park
It is important to take a break from your adventures to rest and re-fuel so here are some great options for places to eat in Northumberland National Park. Whether you want a big meal, a light bite, or coffee and cake, these are the eateries to keep in mind.
Carriages Tea Room – Bellingham
Enjoy good food from soup of the day to home-cooked meals in a quirky train carriage. You can even enjoy a refreshing beer on the platform!
Open: 10am – 4.30pm daily
Afternoon tea served 2pm – 4pm
Address: Station Yard, Woodburn Road, NE48 2DG
Rocky Road Café Takeaway – Bellingham
A lovely informal café with a homely buzz, serving delicious coffee, cakes and traybakes. Perfect for a quick stop to refuel
Open: 8.30am – 4.30pm daily. Sunday: 9am – 3pm
Address: Manchester Square, Bellingham, Hexam, NE48 2AH
The Vale Café – Rothbury
A welcoming family-run café serving delicious home-cooked food, particularly popular with bikers and cyclists.
Open: Monday: 9.30am – 4.30pm, Tuesday: 8.30am – 5pm, Wednesday – Friday: 8.30m – 5pm, Saturday – Sunday: 9.30am – 5pm
Address: Coquet Dale House, High St, Rothbury, NE65 7TE
The Border Reiver Shop & Café – Otterburn
A cheery café bar serving filling breakfasts, lunches, dinners and tasty traybakes. Expect good British food.
Open: Monday – Thursday: 6.30am – 8.30pm, Friday: 6.30am – 9pm, Saturday: 7.30am – 9pm, Sunday: 8am – 7.30pm
Address: Otterburn, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE19 1NP
William de Percy Inn & Creperie – Otterburn
A homely inn offering great food for everyone, from classic fish and chips to a traditional Sunday roast. Perfect for a stop on your way through Otterburn.
Open: 12pm – 9pm daily.
Address: Jedburgh Road, Otterburn, NE19 1NR