Friday 31 July 2015

North East Staycation: Northumberlandia, the Lady of the North

Having spent most of our Staycation dragging poor Designated Dave (aka Simon) all over the North East in our little hire car I decided that our last Staycation trip would be somewhere a little closer to home.

Opening up Google maps I had a little scout around and then remembered that we were yet to visit the Lady of the North.

I'm sure you've all heard of the Angel of the North but I'll forgive you if you haven't heard of the Lady because she's actually pretty new to the North East.

The Lady of the North, or Northumberlandia to give her her official name, is a public art sculpture set in beautiful hills just outside of Cramlington in South Northumberland.  Created using 1.5 million tonnes of rock, clay and soil she is the world's largest human landform sculpture.

The best thing about the Lady is that she's completely free to visit and offers 4 miles of footpaths on and around the sculpture to stretch your legs and take in some lovely scenery.

As soon as you enter the site from the carpark you are greeted with a fantastic view of the Lady's face, which is great for getting your bearings.  It can be pretty tricky to pick out her body parts as you're walking around but the face is a great reference point.

We began our visit by walking the 20 minute long parameter path.  Surrounded by wild flowers its a great place to do some wildlife watching.  We saw some beautiful butterflies, plenty of bumbling bees and even a rabbit hopping along one of the paths.

Once we'd had our warm up it was time to start climbing.  The Lady is 100 foot high and there are a variety of paths you can take and many different views you can enjoy during your visit.

It's not every day you can go for a stroll over some body parts emerging from the earth and our inner children were having a little giggle as we made our way up her boobs.   Reaching the top it was the perfect place for a "selfie" with the Lady herself!

The details of the Lady's face are fantastic and you can clearly see her eyes nose and mouth created in the grassy hills.   I was pretty jealous when a helicopter flew over our heads whilst we were visiting, I bet she looks gorgeous from the skies.

Northumberlandia has been created by the Banks Group who, whilst working on coal excavation at the next door Shotton Coal Mine, decided to create something lovely to be enjoyed by the community on land donated by the Blagdon Estate.  

The idea is that the Lady will be left to develop naturally over time, her paths are surrounded by long grass and wild flowers meaning that as time goes on her landscape will change. The Lady we see today could be pretty different to the Lady enjoyed by the next generation. 

All that climbing was obviously a little tiring so we decided to head out to the Milkhope Centre for a spot of retail therapy.  The Milkhope Centre has great shops for pottering - we particularly enjoyed the North East inspired art gallery and the farm shop packed full off delicious local produce.

It wasn't too long before our bellies were crying for cake so we found our way to Blacksmiths, a charming little tea room with homemade cakes. 

It was a tough food decision, especially when a tray of cheese scones appeared hot and fresh from the oven but in the end it was the banana crunch cake that caught my eye - what a beauty!

I really hope none of you have been counting how many cakes and sweet treats Simon and I have consumed this week ... we'll just put it down to holiday indulgence!

Our week long Staycation was over too fast.   We had the most fantastic time exploring more of our beautiful region and I hope you've enjoyed sharing our adventures with us.

If you've enjoyed this post please consider voting for New Girl in Toon in the "Best Travel Blog" Category of the North East Blogger Awards - you can find all the details here


Thursday 30 July 2015

North East Staycation: Bamburgh and Seahouses

If there's one place that has been recommended to me time and time again, it's Bamburgh on the North East coast of Northumberland.   If I ever mention to anyone that I haven't been living here too long and that I like to go adventuring they always ask if I've made it to Bamburgh yet.

I knew a place with that many recommendations would be pretty special so on our Staycation we decided to finally make the drive up to the coast to see what all the fuss was about.

As we approached the little town we got our first glimpse of Bamburgh Castle and our mouths dropped to the floor. Bamburgh looked absolutely stunning in the sunshine and we hurriedly parked the car so we could head out for an explore.

My friend Lisa had recommended us a perfect little spot to eat our lunch, a lone picnic bench sitting on top of a hill. 

As we picked our way through ridiculously long grass, carefully lifting our bare legs up to avoid the stingy nettles and thistles, I began to think maybe Lisa was having a laugh!

But as we made it safely to the other side and got to the bench I forgave all the scratches, the view was something else!

The view wasn't just perfect, it was award winning!   Voted one of the UK'S Top 10 Lunch Spots by Kingsmill and Visit England (anyone else feeling like they may want to look up the rest of the list and work their way round to all of them?)

This little bench offers the prettiest views across Bamburgh beach and it was a great place to tuck into our sandwiches.   Something tells me that next time Lisa and her hubbie climb up to their bench they may well find Simon and I already up there hogging it!

We could have happily sat up there all day enjoying the beautiful sunshine and indulging in a spot of people watching.

How lovely are Simon's brand new Converse?  I did try to convince him we should shoe swap, those red beauties would match my stripy dress perfectly, am I right? 

Fortunately for him I had something new of my own to occupy myself with.  After debating it for a while I finally bought myself a backpack for adventuring and it's love!  

This little guy came from Primark, was only £10.00 and we've been inseparable ever since.  He's perfect for taking out on day trips leaving me hands free to take photographs (and eat cake).  You know you love your bag when you've given it a gender, that and I spent the entire day saying to Simon "I love my new bag!"

Having spent our lunch watching people on the beach we quite fancied a walk ourselves so made our way back down the hill and to the sand.

Week day adventuring meant a pretty quiet beach and we had a beautiful stroll with clear sands as far as the eye could see.  With views of the Farne Islands to our left and the magnificent Bamburgh Castle towering above us to the right, it was the prettiest beach walk we'd ever been on.

Scrabbling back up the dunes, we made our way to the high street.  Bamburgh is a holidaymaker's dream - brightly coloured flowers, stone buildings and beautiful bunting swaying in the breeze, it is picture perfect Britain at its very best.

As we made our way along the street, admiring the cute little shops and independent businesses, we decided that there are two types of people - those that enjoy a drink in the beer garden and those that prefer to eat cake in a tea room.  Maybe we're old before our time, but we will always pick a nice slice of cake over alcohol so despite walking past many sunny pubs we were on a mission to find the Copper Kettle Tearooms.

The tearooms offer a lovely menu full of afternoon treats.  Simon ordered himself a scone served with jam and cream.   We were slightly disappointed that the cream arrived in a little pre packaged pot, but this was forgotten about when he tucked in and realised the scone was hot, straight from the oven.

I was very tempted to order some warm pie but decided eating hot desserts is more of a Winter time activity so instead I chose a slice of Victoria Sponge.  It was delicious.

After indulging in cake we always like to take a walk so we finished our trip to Bamburgh with one last look round the town. 

We returned to the car and took a quick 3 mile trip up the road to the neighbouring town of Seahouses.   Larger and louder than Bamburgh after such an idyllic start to our day we decided a game of very competitive Crazy Golf was in order.  Simon usually beats me and I sulk, but for some reason on this day I was the Master of Crazy Golf and actually won, something I went on and on about for the rest of the week.

Conveniently forgetting the tearoom visit in Bamburgh it wasn't long before we had ice-creams in our hands.  Such a hot and sunny day called for some epic cones and after scouting round the whole of Seahouses we decided to visit Coxons, home of the twisted ice-creams.

Forget plain old vanilla, these ice-creams come in a wide variety of flavours and are best served in a waffle cone. 

We enjoyed our ice-creams sitting by the harbour watching the boats coming in and out and making sure that the greedy seagulls didn't pinch our cones.

So that's it, I'm in love with Bamburgh!  I completely get it and my only regret is that we didn't visit sooner!

If you've enjoyed this post please consider voting for New Girl in Toon in the "Best Travel Blog" Category of the North East Blogger Awards - you can find all the details here


Wednesday 29 July 2015

North East Staycation: Afternoon Tea at St Mary's Inn

When it comes to holidays Simon and I are pretty different.  I like to get up early to make the most of my day whereas Simon prefers a more laidback approach.  Although we had pretty late starts during our staycation I knew that I'd still managed to exhaust Simon so I thought it might be sensible to plan a more relaxing day, just to make sure that we were still friends by the end of Staycation.
Say the words "relaxing treat" to us and our heads immediately wander to afternoon tea so we decided to pop along to St Mary's Inn in Stannington to try out their tea.  

I first visited St Mary's Inn for an evening meal when it opened at the end of last year but I was yet to share the cosy pub with Simon.  It only seemed right that we should try the afternoon tea for the first time together so we ventured off the A1 to hunt out some peace and quiet.
St Mary's Inn is beautiful and we felt ourselves relaxing the moment we stepped through the door.  As much as we wanted to explore the maze of cosy corners and open fire places our tummies were grumbling so instead we settled at our table and made ourselves even more hungry by studying the menu.

We ordered our usual (English Breakfast) and happily poured ourselves cups of tea whilst discussing our week's staycation plans, secretly both keeping one eye on the door for the arrival of our food.
It wasn't long before our cake stand arrived and it was like nothing we'd ever seen before, made of wood and metal, it looked amazing and was perfect for an afternoon tea out in the countryside.
First tier first, we attacked the sandwiches - Salt Beef & Mustard, Cheese & Pickle, Prawn Marie Rose and Egg & Cress.   Each one was delicious and generously filled.  
We were very happy to get three scones each – a Spiced Fruit and Blackberry, Keens Cheddar and a Plain served with clotted cream and homemade jam.
The scones left us feeling a little full but by this point we were committed so turned our attention to the top tier - Lemon and White Chocolate Macaroon, Chocolate Brownie, Strawberry Bakewell Tart and Rhubarb Pavlova.
I love a cake tier that's an eye catching display of colour as well as presenting lots of different flavours and this one ticked every box.

The afternoon tea was just as delicious as our favourite at Jesmond Dene House, and you don't get praise any higher than that!
When we'd finished I was keen to take a look at the outside courtyard, a great little suntrap surrounded by beautiful flowers, it would be a perfect place for a relaxing lunch in the sunshine.

Unfortunately it was a little cloudy during our visit to sit outside, but that's given us a great excuse to go back – I think alfresco afternoon tea at St Mary's Inn would be pretty special.
As we climbed back into our little car and headed home, feeling slightly plump, we were more than ready to attack another day of Staycation adventuring.

If you've enjoyed this post please consider voting for New Girl in Toon in the "Best Travel Blog" Category of the North East Blogger Awards - you can find all the details here

Tuesday 28 July 2015

North East Staycation: Beamish, the Living Museum of the North

If you grew up in the North East chances are you went on a few school trips to Beamish and have many fond memories of charging round the open air museum with a clip board in hand.   For people like me who are new to the area, seeing Beamish for the very first time as an adult is pretty special.

I will admit, when it comes to museums I'm a bit of a kid.  I find it hard to get enthusiastic about traipsing round miles of corridors reading facts and figures from a board and I'm usually rushing ahead to see if there's some buttons to push.   Beamish is a museum with a difference, it's a living museum that tells the story of life in the North of England during the 1820s, 1900s and 1940s - it's a walking, talking, smelling, touching experience that truly brings history to life.

Beamish is a huge 300 acres so there's a hefty bit of walking involved for those wanting some exercise.  For those enjoying life at a more leisurely pace, there are vintage trams and buses to take you round the museum.   As this was our first visit and we wanted to get a feel for the whole site we decided to do a full loop on a tram.

It was a very hot day when we visited so we appreciated the nice cool air as we rode the tram.  We managed to get a seat on the top deck for some wonderful views and although it was a little squished it was nice to chat to our fellow passengers.

Once we were back at the entrance we decided to head to the Colliery to learn about life for miners in the 1900s.   Sporting some rather fetching hard hats we ventured down the Mahogany Drift Mine for a tour that was far more authentic than we anticipated.  

Crouching down through the tunnels I realised pretty quickly how essential the hard hats were!   We splashed our way through the damp tunnels, avoided spiders and even got to experience the mines with the lights out to see what it would have been liked to work there.  I emerged with slightly soggy feet, coal smudges on my face and a rather large grin! 

Our next stop was the Pit Village where we headed back to School.  The School was slightly more familiar to me than it may be to other people my age.  I went to Primary School in a Grade II listed building built in 1845 and a lot of its original features were still in use during my time there in the 1980s.  

I hadn't thought about my old school for years but the school at Beamish was in parts almost identical and I found memories came flooding back to me which was quite a special moment.

Thoughts of our packed lunch were forgotten as the most delicious smells filled the air around the Village.  Davy's Fried Fish and Chip Shop had started serving dinner and suddenly our cheese sandwiches just weren't going to cut it!   Serving Fish and Chips cooked using beef dripping in coal-fired ranges they looked too delicious to resist.

The queue for food was pretty lengthy (I've heard at weekends you can be waiting for over an hour) but our lunch was worth the wait and I'd queue again without hesitation.   We ordered dab (half a portion of fish) and chips to share and they were absolutely delicious!  Usually we'd cover fish and chips in ketchup but our lunch from Davy's was perfection on its own.

Bellies full of a delicious lunch we made our way to the 1940s farm to learn about life on the Home Front in the rural North East during the Second World War.

Once inside the Farmhouse we cosied up by the Aga and learnt about food rationing and how the War effected those left at home.

Then it was back outside to visit the animals and learn about farming on a 1940s farm.    We were particularly fond of the pigs who were happily snoozing in the sunshine.

Just down the road from the Farm we stumbled across Rowley Station, an Edwardian railway station complete with signal box and steam trains.   During peak season you can take a ride on a steam train, unfortunately it wasn't running during our trip but it looks pretty amazing.

A quick walk over the footbridge and we found ourselves at the Fairground, complete with carousel and coconut shy.   Simon partook in some pretty enthusiastic ball throwing but unfortunately missed all of the coconuts.

Of course no day trip for us is complete without a naughty afternoon treat and we were happy to discover that there was a tea room at Beamish.  Forgetting about our cheeky fish and chip lunch we ordered a scone each.  A cheese scone smothered in butter for me, and a fruit scone covered in jam and cream for him.

Our favourite part of Beamish was the Town, set in the years leading up to the First World War.  Exploring the cobbled pavements and popping in and out of the various businesses was so much fun and we felt like we'd just stepped out of a time machine.
If you ask Simon what his favourite part of the Town was he'll enthusiastically tell you all about the sweet shop.   With jars upon jars of classics and favourites lining the shelves he was stood in front of the counter for a good few minutes with his mouth wide open before even attempting to make a decision.   I allowed him one paper bag full for good behaviour and he opted for some cherry bon bons.
A day of strolling about in the boiling hot sunshine was a bit too much for some and plenty of people were chilling out in the Town's Redman Park, seeking out shade in the bandstand.  We were happy to learn that the gorgeous bandstand originally stood in our favourite Gateshead Park, Saltwell. 
With closing time approaching we strolled back to the car park and happily stumbled across a farmer ploughing his field.  It was fascinating watching him at work with his horse and old farming equipment.
The beauty of Beamish is that there's always so much going on in different areas of the Museum every day that no two visits would ever be the same and with fun events taking place all year round there's always plenty to do.   Despite being there from opening to closing we didn't quite make our way round to everything and I can see why people return again and again.   Luckily the admission price provides you with entry for the rest of the year and we left wanting more!
The museum is always coming up with new ways to entertain its guests and the most recent plans are to build a 1950s town (so excited about this!)  Just yesterday Beamish announced that it would be taking down an old cinema in Sunderland brick by brick and rebuilding it into the 1950s town.
We were completely blown away by Beamish and had the most amazing day out, it was one of the best attractions I have ever been to and I really can't wait to return!  Just take a look at what they do over Christmas!
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