A special occasion trip spent with our special people

Gillian Thornton takes a three-generation holiday on the Northumberland Coast

Bucket list trips come in all shapes and sizes from long-haul adventures to cosy couple city breaks, so when my husband and I reached another zero-milestone this year, friends were agog to know what this pair of enthusiastic travellers had planned. 

Expectations were high when we talked about a destination we had always meant to visit but never got around to. So it was fun seeing their faces when we announced we were heading to the Northumberland coast. Even more so when we said we were taking the family with us – our son and daughter and partners, their three small children, and a bouncy cockapoo. But what could be nicer than building precious memories with the people you love most in an area with something for everyone?   

We agreed from the outset that we didn’t have to do everything as a tribe. Everyone needs space, whether to pursue their own interests or simply to enjoy quiet time away from the group – essential when small children (and adults!) can get over-tired and fractious. So here are our top tips for a three-generation break in stunning Northumberland.

Self-catering choices

All the big cottage companies offer rental properties in the popular destinations of Alnwick, Seahouses, and Bamburgh, but you do need to find the right house. Our daughter has a six-year-old daughter and a toddler son; our son, a girl rising three. So, a child’s bedroom up a separate staircase or on another floor simply wouldn’t work.  We needed plenty of downstairs space for kid-friendly activities and a fenced garden for small-sized people and dog. 

We finally settled on The Old Manse in Seahouses, a luxury house that lies just offshore from Amble. With a strategically placed en-suite bedroom downstairs – the perfect bolthole for us grandparents – and four more upstairs for the family, it was the perfect configuration with driveway parking for three cars and a secure wraparound garden. And we loved the comprehensive guide to the property and surrounding area, downloadable to phones and tablets.

Birds, beaches and castles

Classic image of the Northumberland coast is a chain of sandy beaches dotted with castles, but we soon found the shoreline exceeded our expectations. From the harbour at Seahouses – a buzzing little town bracketed to North Sunderland on the landward side – we looked north to the beachside bulk of Bamburgh Castle and beyond it, Lindisfarne Castle on the tip of Holy Island. And from nearby Beadnell Bay, we built sandcastles with the grandchildren whilst looking south to the extensive ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle, a 1.3 mile walk across farmland from Craster.  

Some castles are more suited to small children than others. With three children of six and under, our family opted out of Bamburgh in favour of swimming, but John and I enjoyed our visit to this multi-layered fortress steeped in history from the Anglo-Saxons to the Normans and Wars of the Roses. Restored by Victorian inventor William Armstrong, of which more later, it is crammed with collectables and stirring stories.

Lindisfarne however proved a big adventure for the smalls as we drove across the causeway to Holy Island – technically not an island at all as the road is only covered by sea at high tide (do check times before you travel!). The atmospheric ruined priory (English Heritage) stands on the edge of the family-friendly village centre and we all enjoyed the beachside walk to the castle, converted by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to a holiday home for the founder of Country Life magazine (National Trust).

Every Northumbrian beach has its own USP. At Beadnell, hire paddleboards or swim in the sheltered waters; go rock pooling at Seahouses; or soak up the solitude of the vast beach leading to Bamburgh. And in the hamlet of Lower Newton, we found a warm family welcome at The Ship Inn, set amongst whitewashed cottages that form three sides of a square opening onto the sands. 

We got out on the water too and all enjoyed our 90-minute cruise from Seahouses with Billy Shiel’s Boat Trips to the Farne Islands. In late May, the children were captivated by close-up views of basking seals, nesting guillemots, cute puffins, and gannets diving like missiles for a seafood snack.  

Excursions for Silver Travellers

From Lindisfarne, John and I headed the few miles north to explore Berwick-on-Tweed, England’s most northerly town. Take the lofty walk around the ramparts and follow in the footsteps of frequent visitor L S Lowry. That evening, with the children in bed, the adults swapped stories over a scrumptious gourmet meal cooked in our kitchen by visiting chef Eddie Saint.

On the one damp day, we headed inland to the National Trust property at Cragside, former home of Bamburgh-buyer William Armstrong and acclaimed as England’s first ‘smart home’ thanks to innovations that include lighting powered by hydroelectricity, a flushing toilet, and early dishwasher. Definitely one to interest the kids when they are older. In late May, we also caught the terraced gardens and six-mile carriage drive ablaze with rhododendrons and azaleas. 

The Alnwick Garden and Lilidorei

The historic market town of Alnwick stands just inland from Alnmouth, once a bustling medieval port but now a sleepy village. Fans of Downtown Abbey and Harry Potter will want to see the filming locations inside Alnwick Castle, home to the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, but with younger ones in tow, we headed instead to The Alnwick Garden and the adjacent adventure playground Lilidorei.

Saved until our last day, these twin attractions – run as a charitable trust – soon proved to be a highlight of our holiday. The first thing most visitors notice as they enter the garden is the famous cascade, but our tractor-mad toddler instantly spotted the three toy vehicles freely available for small riders.

When eventually we could tear the grandchildren away, we found new delights round every corner. Tunnels inside hedges. Dancing fountains. A bamboo maze. And a wealth of interactive water features in the magical Serpent Garden. All beautifully maintained and captivating for all ages. And whether you are a keen gardener or just thrill to the unexpected, a half-hour guided tour of The Poison Garden is a must.

The neighbouring fantasy village of Lilidorei is home to nine clans who worship Christmas. Adults are positively encouraged to ride the six tubular slides and climb bridges and ladders with their children, so we left them to it in favour of Alnwick’s pretty town centre. Don’t miss Barter Books, one of Britain’s largest second-hand book shops in the atmospheric surroundings of the old railway station, complete with high level model trains and many original features. A wonderful day to end a ‘bucket list’ birthday trip packed with priceless family memories.

Next steps

To plan and book your multi-generational family holiday, either in the UK or abroad, call Silver Travel Advisor on 0800 412 5678.

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Gillian Thornton

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