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May, 2015

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We took our cat, Niamh, on holiday for the first time in 2014 (See Gardenstown review) and as she enjoyed it we decided to take her again this year but not such a long car journey. We decided on a cottage in Northumberland, near Rothbury, as this is an area we wanted to explore in more detail. The journey only took 3 hours including a stop to stock up on food at Waitrose in Hexham and Niamh, despite being an elderly lady of nearly 15 years, was well behaved and delighted when she arrived at her temporary home. The cottage, the Coach House at Thropton, was smaller than we had anticipated but it made up for it with the wonderful views from all windows and it was very bright. Niamh explored it fully on arrival and decided on the sunny bay for most of the time, moving to the conservatory at appropriate times.
The village of Rothbury, 2 miles away, offered plenty of shops, including two antique shops, Co-op, health store, tea rooms and pubs and the Queens offered an interesting veggie sausage and mash with homemade sausages.

The first day we went to Morpeth in the morning, a nice town with a good range of shops where we visited the excellent Chantry museum dedicated to border pipes etc and were thrilled that a group was training that day so we had some live music. In the afternoon we went onto Belsay Castle, English Heritage, where there was an interesting display of quilts and a nice quarry garden but was otherwise disappointing as it is in a ruinous state so no furniture etc. As it was a lovely evening when we returned Niamh decided to run around the garden, we are amazed at how confident she is away from home when at home she does nothing but sleep!

On the Sunday we went in the morning to an antique fair at Newbiggin by the sea but could not get down to the seafront due to a VE day event. We moved onto Seaton Delaval (National Trust) which had very nice gardens but again was more or less a ruin, though a very dramatic one. We moved onto Newcastle, the Leazes area, for a very late lunch at an Italian restaurant. The next day we had planned to go to Kielder Forest but the weather was not very suitable so we drove towards Coldstream and Berwick on Tweed and visited the gorgeous historic villages of Ford (fabulous hall and architecture), Heatherslaw ( old working corn mill) and Etal ( very picturesque) en route. We also called into various antique centres en route or on the way back (a holiday without antiques is no holiday for me!) and I found the one at Powburn, Hedgeley Antique Centre, to be particularly good.

Tuesday was Tom’s birthday so I had booked tickets for Alnwick Castle, home of Harry Potter and Downton. The town of Alnwick was delightful, very historic and cobbled with nice shops so morning coffee was there before going onto the castle. This is rather pricey but in fantastic condition having been lived in for around 800 years and there was a lot to see and specialist tours to join. Some really good entertainment for those with children (or grandchildren) also with broom riding, dragon quests, crafts etc. We found the cafe to be somewhat overprices and offered little for vegetarians as is typical in such places, usually best to eat elsewhere if possible. We did not go to the garden (separate admission cost) due to the weather but drove down the coast to Amble which we did not find very exciting. In the evening we walked down to the Three Wheat Heads Inn for an excellent meal (see separate review).

The next day we travelled up to Otterburn Mill (not really worth the effort) then onto Newcastle again were we wanted to visit the Biscuit Factory, a large Arts Centre. This was not easy to find but it was very good, two floors of art and craft of a high standard. There were two eating places inside and we ate at the upstairs one which seemed to cater quite well for vegetarians including an interesting sounding afternoon tea for vegetarians with unusual savoury items. After lunch we moved onto Corebridge, a pretty town with roman ruins nearby and an interesting but pricey antique centre hidden behind the Shell Garage. We finished off at Hexham, a good shopping centre for both small independent shops and larger ones, Marks, Tesco, Waitrose etc.

As we had difficulty sleeping at the cottage due to the very noisy rookery on the grounds we decided to go home Thursday evening – you can’t really have a leisurely drive home anyway with a cat in the car! Before we went we visited Rothbury again and called in the excellent Coquetvale Arts Centre in the high st (shared premises with the Police Station!). We went onto the wonderful Cragside (NT) which is such an astonishing and gorgeous piece of architecture with fabulous furniture from our favourite arts and crafts period. No time for the garden as we wanted to get home and catch up but a wonderful place to finish our trip.

Tina Fox

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