Thursday, 18 July 2019

Bike Riding and Cycle Hire at National Trust Wallington, Northumberland

As we're all friends here I'm not afraid to tell you that as I write this I'm nursing a bit of a sore bottom that's making sitting at my desk a little uncomfortable! This morning we decided to try out the cycle hire scheme at National Trust Wallington and after a couple of hours of bike riding, we're both feeling a little saddle sore.

Bike Riding and Cycle Hire at National Trust Wallington, Northumberland
I've been wanting to try the cycle hire at Wallington ever since I first saw it advertised last Summer. As we don't have bikes of our own and definitely wouldn't have the confidence to peddle out on the roads we thought it would be a great way to reintroduce ourselves to cycling in a safe environment. What I didn't realise was what hard work it would be and what fun we would have. I decided I just had to share our experience with you - if you want to get back into cycling or just fancy going on an adventure by bike you really must give this a go.

The cycle hire at Wallington is part of a National Trust partnership with British Cycling and HSBC UK, offering great value, affordable bike hire to visitors wanting to get out on two wheels.  There are currently only three National Trust properties that offer the cycle scheme so we are incredibly lucky that Wallington is one of them.

 Cycle Hire at National Trust Wallington, Northumberland

You'll find the Cycle Hire Hut at Wallington along a path just off the carpark on the left hand side as you drive in. Easy to miss, especially if like us you never usually access the site that way. If you're unsure just ask where to find the bike hire as you drive into the carpark and you'll be pointed in the right direction. Make sure you leave yourself plenty of time as pre-booking isn't available and the cycle hut can get busy.

We turned up around 30 minutes after opening and it was already fairly busy with a small queue of families forming wanting to hire bikes. When it was our turn we had to fill in a short form and we were then matched to our bikes. The first one I was given was a little too big for me so it was easily swapped out for a smaller frame and once I'd given it a quick test drive I was confident I'd be able to handle it around the Estate. Next we were fitted with our helmets and once we were ready we were off on our great adventure.

 Cycle at National Trust Wallington, Northumberland
The Dragon Cycle Trail at Wallington begins at the far end of the main carpark and is around 3 miles, the blue trail is the main trail, however there is also a shorter green trail which is ideal for families with smaller children.  The two hour bike hire time is more than enough to complete the entire trail and still have more than enough time to stop to admire the scenery and have a picnic.  We're pretty unfit and still managed to finish the trail with 30 minutes to spare despite stopping regularly to rest and take photographs.

Cycle Hire at National Trust Wallington, Northumberland - Dragon Cycle Trail

The majority of the Dragon Cycle Trail is only accessible by bike, making it a pretty special way to explore Wallington and experience a side of the estate that you won't have seen before. The terrain and scenery changes pretty frequently so one moment you can be cycling on a nice flat path and then next you'll be racing down hill through the delicious smells of the pine woods. It's a real treat for the senses.

The route is definitely not without its challenges as Simon and I discovered when we reached the Broomhouse Farm part of the trail and suddenly found ourselves cycling up what felt like a never ending hill in the middle of a sheep field.  We were surrounded by the cutest lambs on either side of the path so it was a beautiful route but wow did it work out our legs. Being a complete kid I absolutely loved cycling straight through all the sheep poo on the path, but be warned it does get a little messy.

Bike Hire at National Trust Wallington, Northumberland

Unfortunately as hard as I peddled I couldn't quite make it to the top of the hill in one go, if you're not a super fit cyclist you probably will need to walk your bike up a few hills. Don't worry though, we saw plenty of others doing it, in fact there was only one guy that I saw that managed to do the whole of that hill in one go.

Cycling at National Trust Wallington, Northumberland
Of course, what goes up must also come down and to give your legs a lovely rest there are some really fun big hills down that are brilliant if you want to feel the wind in your hair and forget all your troubles.  Luckily there's plenty of warning before they come up because a couple of them are very big hills (I did worry I might end up in a bush at the bottom at one point!)

As we're not regular cyclists (it had actually been a good couple of years since we'd last been on a bike) we definitely found it tough on the ol' legs and sore on the privates but there are plenty of places you can stop and rest if you fancy a break. There are some absolutely beautiful views across Northumberland at various points along the trail which are ideal for stopping or if you want to cool off the pine woods would be a great place to take a breather. There are also plenty of gates that have to be opened and closed throughout the trail which although a little bit of a pain at times, definitely acts as a welcome rest after some of the more strenuous parts of the route.

Cycling Trail at National Trust Wallington, Northumberland

As with any great adventure that we both love Simon has completely run off with the idea now and has decided that we should buy our own bikes and take up cycling. I absolutely love that our little trip to Wallington has left him so passionate about wanting to start a new hobby and I think the cycle hire probably leaves a lasting impression on most people that partake.

We had the most incredible morning and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences we've ever had in Northumberland - if you're wanting a great adventure in the outdoors with the family I highly recommend giving it a go .. just be prepared to not be able to walk the following day!

Cycling Trail and Bike Hire at National Trust Wallington, Northumberland
 What you need to know:
  • Cycle hire at Wallington is available every day during Spring and Summer between 10:00 - 16:00 (last hire is available at 15:00)
  • Bikes are hired out for 2 hours with the first bike costing £4.00 and any additional bikes £3.00 each
  • Trailers or Tagalongs are also available and cost £1.00 to hire
  • Balance Bikes and Helmet Hire are both free
  • For more details about the cycle route check see here
Find Wallington at:

Near Morpeth
NE61 4AR

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Steak and Seafood at Spanish City, Whitley Bay - A Review of 1910 Restaurant

This is an advertisement feature with Spanish City

Although Spanish City has only been open for a year, it's hard to imagine the seafront of Whitley Bay without it. The beautiful dome has become one of our favourite places to visit and we have spent the last twelve months slowly working our way round all of the restaurants. We've had afternoon tea, enjoyed fish suppers and indulged in a few gins at the bar, but there was just one place we had left to visit - 1910, the Steak and Seafood restaurant that we have been saving for a special occasion.

Steak and Seafood at Spanish City, Whitley Bay - A Review of 1910 Restaurant

We've always seen 1910 as the fanciest restaurant in Spanish City and, despite having spent far too long carefully studying the menu over the last year and planning what we'd order, we still hadn't made a plan. I think we all know that often when you leave something for a special occasion, that occasion never actually arrives, so this month we decided enough was enough! Why not celebrate the new look Spanish City's first birthday with an indulgent evening of steak and seafood - it was the perfect excuse to finally book ourselves a table at 1910.

A Review of 1910 Restaurant - Spanish City Whitley Bay

You'll find 1910 on the top floor of Spanish City with the best sea views in Whitley Bay, the perfect spot for a romantic date, Simon and I settled ourselves down on a table for two. We had managed to bag ourselves the best seats in the house (top tip, ask for the table by the window at the far end, it has the best sea views). After discovering that dolphins had been spotted close to the shore earlier in the week we spent a while just gazing out the window looking for wildlife. Trying to get Simon's attention back on me, I got the response "I look at you every day, when do I ever get to see a dolphin" - romance eh?

1910 promises creative steak and seafood dishes created using the best ingredients with outstanding service and with the menu prices on the higher end we were definitely expecting a pretty special evening. If there's one thing I really dislike it's menu prices not accurately reflecting the quality of food or service.

Spanish City Whitley Bay - 1910
Our experience began with one of the best bread baskets I have ever had. Three homemade rolls including the most incredible Caramelised Onion (it was so delicious I noticed a bloke on the table next to us having a good smell of it before he tucked in!), served with a big wedge of butter and a heavenly beef dripping that I will be dreaming about for many days to come.

1910 Spanish City Whitley Bay - Bread
As a huge fan of bread it took all of my willpower to say "no thanks" when our waiter asked us if we'd like any more, I desperately wanted another of those beautiful rolls but as we'd decided to have a full three course meal it would have been a bit stupid to stuff ourselves silly on the bread.  I loved the added touch of being offered more, when you're treating yourself to a fancy meal it's nice to feel well looked after and we were off to a great start.

1910 Spanish City Whitley Bay - Breads

As 1910 is a Steak and Seafood restaurant I decided I wanted to try out both so went for a fish starter - the Grilled Queenie Scallops (£12.50) were served in Almond and Garlic Butter with Gruyere Cheese and a Fine Herb Crumb.

1910 Spanish City Whitley Bay - Scallops
Can you believe that I had never tried scallops before? I guess for your first time a seafood restaurant with incredible coastal views is the very best place to try them. Served on a beautiful platter in shells they looked so good and tasted even better. I will definitely be ordering some more fish courses on our next visit.

1910 Spanish City Whitley Bay - Seafood
For the main event I had to go for a steak, you can't truly judge a steak restaurant without ordering one and believe me I'm very critical when it comes to how my steak is served, this was going to be the greatest test.  1910 have three different cuts available on the menu - Sirloin 250g, Ribeye 300g and Fillet 200g, all aged for a minimum of 36 days.

I opted for the Fillet (£34.00) which came served with Bernaise alongside French Fries, Slow Roasted Tomato, Portobello Mushroom, Onion and Pancetta Compote and Water Cress.  There was an option to opt for a different sauce for an additional £3.00 and there were a variety of sides available at £3.50 each including Mixed House Salad, Steamed Greens and Maple Glazed Root Vegetables. I was a little disappointed there wasn't a Mac n Cheese option because it is my absolute favourite side when I'm enjoying steak.

1910 Spanish City Whitley Bay - Steak Restaurant

I've recently introduced Simon to ordering his steak rare (he used to always be a "medium" kinda guy) so he decided to order exactly the same as me which is a good job because he would have been gutted if he'd missed out on this. Our steaks were superb - perfectly cooked, they were pink, so tender and packed with flavour. We were also particularly smitten with the french fries which were thinly cut, perfectly seasoned and not at all oily.

Hands down one of the very best steaks we have ever had, we both cleared our plates and I noticed that we weren't the only people in the restaurant praising our meals, the table next to ours were commenting how great their food had been. Nothing beats a restaurant of very happy diners.

1910 at Spanish City Whitley Bay

We were full, very full! But when the dessert menu appeared, we couldn't say no. Simon went for the Fresh Cherry and Vanilla Meringue (£8.00) served with Cherry Sorbet. I have to admit that usually a meringue dish wouldn't get me very excited but when Simon's beautiful presented meringue sphere appeared I did feel a little jealous - how incredible does it look!

As he cut into it I couldn't help but stare, it was filled with zingy colourful fruit and ice-cream and wow did it look good!

1910 at Spanish City Whitley Bay - Dessert

I had my eye on a dessert that wasn't in the ala carte menu, I had spotted the Cherry and Almond Tart on the early evening menu when we first arrived and had my heart set on trying it. Deciding that "shy bairns get nowt' I asked if I could order that instead and was over the moon when I was told it was no problem.  When a restaurant goes above and beyond to give you a great experience I immediately add it to my little list of very special places, I was so happy that they were so accommodating.  The tart was delicious - a very generous portion and the perfect sweet treat, it was a great way to end our meal.

1910 at Spanish City Whitley Bay - Cherry and Almond Tart

We were completely blown away by our first experience of 1910 at Spanish City. The setting was stunning, the service was first class and the food was spot on. As we waddled our way back to the car we actually discussed if we had any criticisms at all that we could share on my review and neither of us could think of a single thing.

It was one of the best dining experiences we have had, I wouldn't hesitate to go back and even though it is a little on the pricey side I honestly feel like our incredible evening justified the price tag.

1910 Restaurant at Spanish City Whitley Bay
What you need to know:

  • 1910 is open for dinner Thursday - Saturday 6:00 pm to late (last tables at 9:00 pm) and Sunday Lunch between 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm.
  • If you're after a bargain, the early evening menu is available between 5:30 pm and 7:00 pm serving a set menu of 2 courses for £28.00 or three courses for £32.00
  • If you're a dedicated foodie try out the 1910 Dining Club for amazing collaborations and experiences. Find out more here.

Find 1910 at:

Spanish City
Whitley Bay
NE26 1BG

0191 691 7090

We were treated to a complimentary meal for two people in exchange for this honest review.

Friday, 12 July 2019

The Best Value Stay in Northumberland - The Bunkhouse at Calico Barn, Hemscott Hill Farm

I wasn't going to write about our latest adventure at Hemscott Hill Farm, only because our visit coincided with a Summer's day that looked anything but Summery. Torrential downpours, strong winds and angry dark skies welcomed us to Druridge Bay for our overnight stay at The Bunkhouse at Calico Barn - not exactly the beautiful Summer break we had been planning and it definitely didn't result in beautifully lit photographs.

But as this little space of mine is all about sharing our favourite discoveries in the North East it would be very wrong of me not to tell you about our latest, I think we may have found the best value stay in Northumberland and believe me, it's something you need to know about. Our stay only cost us £25.00 each for an overnight break - pinch me!

The Best Value Stay in Northumberland - The Bunkhouse at Calico Barn, Hemscott Hill Farm

If you're not familiar with Hemscott Hill Farm then allow me to give you a little introduction. They are a wonderful family run working farm nestled in the beautiful Northumberland countryside a short stroll from the sandy beaches of Druridge Bay and the perfect place to head if you fancy a break with a difference. They have the most stunning bar inside a barn (I'm talking full on magical fairy lights and hay bales), offer alpaca walking, glamping in their cosy Shepherds Hut and an amazing events diary filled with live music, gin nights and murder mystery parties.

We had decided to visit for gin night and after debating about who should drive home afterwards reached the conclusion that maybe we should stay over, and that's when we discovered the amazing Calico Barn. Calico Barn at Hemscott Hill Farm is a lovingly restored barn that's been transformed into a bunkhouse ideal for walkers, cyclists, hen parties, family parties and erm ... a couple from Newcastle who really like gin!

Arriving at Calico Barn after a pretty miserable drive through Northumberland in the pouring rain we were thrilled to step through the doors and into such a welcoming environment. The Barn has a communal living room with comfy chairs and a wood burner (which you wouldn't think we'd need in June but believe me it was very welcome on our visit!) which leads through into a little dining area and then to the kitchen.

The Bunkhouse at Calico Barn, Hemscott Hill Farm
Calico Barn is a great no fuss place to stay and allows you to be completely self sufficient which is sometimes exactly what you need when enjoying a break. We had a code to allow us access to the Barn and if there was no one about when we arrived we had all the information we needed inside to let us know what room we were in and the pin for our door.

The Bunkhouse at Calico Barn sleeps a total of 18 people in bunk beds spread across five bedrooms made up of two twin rooms, two quads and a six bed dorm room. With only one other person booked in the night of our stay, Simon and I booked a twin room but were very kindly given a quad to give us a bit of extra space. Our room was simply furnished but really comfortable and cosy and, I have to admit, we were completely thrilled at the idea of sleeping in bunk beds.  I hadn't slept in one since I was a kid.

Bunkhouse at Calico Barn, Hemscott Hill Farm
Settling down for the night we both decided we wanted to go for a climb and sleep in top bunks. I will admit I was a little nervous about what may happen if I needed the toilet in the middle of the night, having safely got myself up to a top bunk I was determined not to move again until morning. Each bunk comes with a little power point and shelf to put your phone (essential!) and the wifi is super fast - we enjoyed snuggling up in our separate beds catching up on social media ... I'm sure other married couples will agree with me that sometimes it's actually quite nice to have your own space for the night.

Bunkhouse at Calico Barn, Hemscott Hill Farm Northumberland
After a great night's sleep I was awake early and ready to begin my day. There are three shared bathrooms at Calico Barn each fully enclosed with a loo, shower and basins. If, like me, you are a little squeamish about sharing your personal space don't worry the bathrooms are super clean and there are instructions in all the rooms encouraging guests to clean up after themselves.

All rooms include a basic self serve breakfast of cereals, porridge and toast which you can prepare yourself in the shared kitchen. As I had surfaced quite a bit earlier than Simon I made myself breakfast and enjoyed some nice quiet time in the living room reading some of the tourist leaflets (it doesn't matter how long I live here, I will always lose my head over tourist leaflets!)

Calico Barn, Hemscott Hill Farm Northumberland

We enjoyed our stay at Calico Barn so much and both agreed it's not only a fantastic budget stay for a couple but it's also a really great place to host a party. I've started to think I may host my impending 40th birthday with some of my closest friends, I just think it would be such an incredible place to celebrate!

As always we loved our experience at Hemscott Hill Farm and I just can't wait to see what they've got up their sleeve next.

Hemscott Hill Farm Northumberland

What you need to know:

  • Prices at Calico Barn start from only £25.00 for a single bed in a shared dorm
  • Twin Rooms cost £50.00 per room per night (single use £40.00), Quad Rooms are £100.00 per room per night and the Six Bed Dorm Room costs £150.00 per room per night
  • All rooms include bedding and a simple self service breakfast (towels are not included)
  • Calico Barn is available for party bookings but only if booked for exclusive use by prior arrangement
  • There are various activities available at Hemscott Hill Farm including Alpaca Walking, The Gin Club and Old Tom's Bar as well as Live Music Nights and Supper Clubs - check the website for up to date information 
Find Calico Barn at:

Hemscott Hill Farm
NE61 5EQ

01670 458 118

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Llama Trekking in the Lake District with Once Upon a Llama

I was casually perusing the internet trying to decide what to do during our short break in the Lake District when I stumbled across Once Upon a Llama who offer llama trekking in the beautiful countryside of the Lakes. Have you ever heard of anything more up my street?

Llama Trekking in the Lake District with Once Upon a LLama
Of course, I immediately wanted to get involved and spent the next three days (I'm not even joking) wondering how on earth I'd manage to convince Simon, my adventure phobic husband, to not only go for a Lake District hike but to do it with a llama! Anyone who knows my husband will probably be very amused at the thought of Simon walking up a hill with a llama - I mean it just wouldn't ever happen would it?

Would it?

Llama Trekking in the Lake District Once Upon a LLama

I'm a very lucky lady because seeing how much it meant to me and how desperate I was to go Simon agreed to humour me and before he could change his mind I had booked tickets. I guess it's not the kind of activity that would be on everyone's bucket list but ever since enjoying an Alpaca Walk in Northumberland a few years ago I have always wanted to go on a proper llama trek - I couldn't believe my dreams were about to come true.

As well as the joy of hiking with a llama one of the other things that really appealed to me when booking our experience with Once Upon a Llama was that we would be getting a fully guided 2.5 mile walk in one of the most beautiful part of the Lakes. Simon and I have never been on a proper walk in the hills (I've always feared our inexperience and limited skills would see us getting lost in the middle of nowhere) so having the chance to finally go on a proper walk in the Lakes was very exciting.

Llama Trekking Once Upon a LLama
Llama treks take place Thursday to Sunday at 11:30 am and start at Little Town Guesthouse just outside Keswick, the drive to our meeting point took us down some very tiny roads with Simon breaking out into a bit of a sweat trying to navigate our car round some pretty terrifying corners whilst I gawped out the window talking endlessly about how beautiful it all was. It was quite an adventure and despite the lovely landscape I think we were both pretty relieved when we got to our destination in one piece. Parking for llama trekking is at the Guesthouse with plenty of spaces available and a £3.00 parking fee left in the honesty box.

Having travelled from Newcastle we were busting for the loo by the time we arrived which weren't terribly easy to find. Although there is a toilet in the guesthouse this is only available for customers of the tea room, llama trekkers use an outdoor loo which, although perfectly clean, was a little cold, dark and I'm pretty convinced there were spiders in there. Top tip, turn up early, head to the tea room for a cuppa and a scone (they do a decent one) then use their far fancier toilets while you're there.

Llama Trekking in Lakes Once Upon a LLama

Groups for llama trekking are kept small and there were nine in our group in total including a solo traveller from Australia, a Mum and Daughter and some friends visiting from China. It's a great place to make new friends - believe me nothing quite breaks the ice like being pulled up a hill by a llama.

Important safety rules first and we were taken straight to the llama field to meet our new buddies and get a briefing about dos and don'ts for hill hiking with furry friends in tow. Hearing stories about people accidentally dropping the lead for their llama and the team having to run about hills for 7 hours trying to retrieve them was quite fun - there was no way I wanted to be the person who accidentally dropped my llama lead!

Once Upon a Llama - Llama Trekking

There are two options when you book a llama trek with Once upon a Llama - you can either have a llama all to yourself for £50.00 or share a llama with a friend for £78.00. We decided to share and it was definitely the sensible option. We found it was so useful to have one of us with spare hands to carry the water or help remove coats and there was plenty of time for us both to have a go walking - the hike takes 2.5 hours and with a few stops for photos there's opportunity to swap over walking duties.

Our pal for the day was Frodo, a beautiful dark coloured llama with the most incredible huge dark eyes and a habit of stopping to eat at every available opportunity (mmm, sounds like someone else I know!)  Frodo is a natural follower so he was on his best behaviour when trekking behind a leader. There's a very clear hierarchy in llama land with the leaders having to march at the front of the group and the followers happily plodding along behind.  Try and break the order and the llamas soon let you know they're not happy.

Once Upon a Llama - Llama Trekking in Lakes
Our route for our trek was a nice, steady climb up Catbells, apparently one of the easiest walks in the Lake Districts, despite being told it was a bit of an easy hill I was still a little nervous. Having never been for a hill walk in the Lakes I was really hoping that we'd both be fit enough to make the journey, especially with a llama!

Our walk began along the road from the farm which attracted a fair bit of attention from passing walkers. If you ever want to know what fame feels like, go for a stroll with a llama - people take your photograph and stop you every few steps to ask you llama questions that you really don't know the answer to. We had been warned about this reaction and were under strict instructions not to let any strangers touch or take our llama so we did a few polite nods and smiles (I dread to think how many tourists photographs me and Frodo now feature in) and carried on our way.

Once Upon a Llama - Llama Trekking in Lake District

The first part of the climb was very gentle although still required a certain amount of concentration when I had a llama to look after. It took me a while to get used to Frodo and the idea that I was supposed to be walking him, he shouldn't be walking me. We soon got into a routine though and happily trotted our way up the hill. I didn't get a chance to admire the beautiful scenery, I was completely distracted by those beautiful big eyes and checking with every step that he was OK.

It wasn't long before our first photograph stop and we all got some special llama cookies to feed to our new friends. I'm pretty sure Frodo understands the word "cookies" because it was very impressive how quickly he looked up when he heard he was about to get a treat. Standing still with the llama is a great time to make friends, and although they are a bit wary of new human companions to start with, if you give them lots of reassuring strokes on the neck when you're stood still it isn't long before they start to trust you and if you're very lucky you may even be allowed a cuddle!

Once Upon a Llama - Llama Trekking Lake District

Our Once Upon a Llama Guide was fantastic with photograph opportunities and knew the best spots to position people to get a photograph with their llama and ensured that everyone had plenty of photographs of their special moment. Of course I had Simon, Instagram Husband extraordinaire with me, but our guide still ensured that we got plenty of photographs of the two of us with Frodo.

Once we were all rested it was time for the slightly trickier part of the walk, the stoney incline to the top of Catbells. Well, let me tell you, I thought I was fairly fit until I climbed Catbells with Frodo the Llama. I've never seen anyone climb up a hill so fast. He was up that hill like a shot with my little legs frantically trying to keep up with him. I muttered the whole way up about how I wish I was as fit as my llama and by the time we got to the top I definitely felt like we'd had a good work out. I'm just glad it wasn't too far to the top!

Once Upon a Llama in Lake District - Llama Trekking
We all needed to take off some layers and down water by the time we all reached the top and what a place to do it. The views down to Derwent Water from Catbells are just incredible and I can't believe this stunning place is so easily accessible by a short walk. I had always been put off doing any kind of Lake District walking, believing that the best views would surely involve hours and hours of hill climbing. I'm just so glad that Once Upon a Llama have opened my eyes to what is available even for the most inexperienced hiker.

By the time we had reached the top Simon had also bonded with Frodo so it was only fair that I handed over the lead to let my husband walk him back down the hill. If I had thought climbing up a hill with a llama was hard work, making my way down without one was even harder. Suddenly far more conscious of my climbing skills and where to put my feet on the stones I had to keep my momentum going at a pretty fair pace to stop the llama behind me suddenly appearing at my shoulder. I actually think being "chased" down a hill by a llama would be a great fitness class.

Once Upon a Llama in Lake District - Llama Trek
Joking aside, neither Simon or I are particularly fit and we both survived our llama treck but I would say you need to have a moderate level of fitness to be able to keep up with the llamas and truly enjoy your experience. Although no one gets left behind and there are plenty of stops when you need them, it is still a bit of a hike and the llamas like to move at a canny pace.

If you love getting out and about in the countryside, adore animals and want a really fun experience with a difference I highly recommend giving llama trekking with Once Upon a Llama a go. We had such a fantastic time and I am so glad that we booked a hike.

Once Upon a Llama in Lake District - Llama Treks
What you need to know:

  • Llama Treks with Once Upon a Llama costs £50.00 per person or £78.00 to share a llama with a friend
  • Treks last a minimum of 2.5 hours
  • Treks take place every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 11:30 am
  • The walk does involve rough terrain and a moderate climb - good fitness levels and sturdy walking boots are sensible
  • Dogs aren't allowed on walks and the experience is only suitable for 16 years or over
  • Hikes depart from Littletown Farm Guesthouse nr Keswick where you'll find parking, toilet facilities and a tea room
  • Book a Llama Hike here

Find Once Upon a Llama at:

017687 78328

Monday, 8 July 2019

Wine and Dine on the Newcastle Quayside at St Vincent

This is an advertisement feature with St. Vincent

Dining on the Newcastle Quayside is one of the best ways you can spend your evening. The perfect location for date night, a catch up with friends or seeing the family, its wide variety of restaurants and River Tyne views make it one of the most popular places in the city for an evening out. Today I thought I'd share with you my current favourite spot to wine and dine on the Newcastle Quayside - St.Vincent!

Wine and Dine on the Newcastle Quayside at St Vincent
Simon and I first stumbled across this little gem on a Saturday morning when we found ourselves strolling along the river absolutely gasping for a coffee. I suddenly remembered we were yet to try the brand new cafe bar on the Quayside and so walked into St. Vincent looking for a pick me up that soon turned into a lovely long leisurely coffee with a side helping of pastries. We instantly fell for the lovely European style vibes of the cafe and vowed to return to try out the breakfast menu or perhaps sample some wine.

Wine and Dine on Newcastle Quayside at St Vincent
St. Vincent is a little different to a lot of other restaurants in the area and it is actually pretty hard to call it just one thing as it works for so many occasions. Whether you want to enjoy the day time cafe with a relaxed lunch, indulge in the European chic style bar for after work drinks or go all out and book a booth for a wine and tapas evening with friends - it really is a wonderful place to hang out.  Open from breakfast until late, St. Vincent captures those lovely holiday vibes without having to leave the Toon.

Wine and Dine on Newcastle Quayside -  St Vincent

Having already experienced St. Vincent during the day, a beautiful Summers evening seemed like the perfect time to indulge in an evening of delicious food and wine and experience some of the cafes other offerings.

Before we begin let me point out that I am definitely no wine expert, in fact I know very little. I like what I like and you'll definitely never find me in the wine aisle making informed and well thought out decisions on what bottle of wine to put into my trolley - I'm the kind of person that looks at a wine list in a restaurant and instantly feels a little overwhelmed.

Newcastle Quayside -  St Vincent

So St. Vincent was perfect for me, offering a great chance to try different wines, all expertly chosen by our waiter who wowed me with his extensive knowledge yet never once made me feel awkward. If you appreciate a good wine but don't know where to start then St. Vincent is such a treat.  When I got stuck I was recommended different wines to try, all perfectly selected to compliment the food - it's always so great dining and drinking somewhere where they really know what they're talking about, as someone who is very indecisive I need all the help I can get!

If you were ever in any doubt about how seriously St. Vincent take their wine then you may be interested to know that Vincent was actually the patron saint of winemakers in Medieval Europe, the story being that an angry God turned St. Vincent into stone after he abandoned his mission to bring good wine back to heaven after becoming so entranced by the amazing vineyards in France that he forgot to return.

Newcastle Quayside -  St Vincent Wine
There are so many great wines to choose from at St. Vincent with their focus being on old-school yet not necessarily familiar, they select their bottles from small, independent producers - simply choosing the wines that they really rate and are excited to share with their customers something I think you definitely experience as soon as you take your first sip.  Plenty are served by the glass, a relief when you want to try something lovely but don't want to spend your entire month's wages in one evening.

The wine list at St. Vincent is a lovely walk through the bottles on offer with plenty of quirky wine facts to read, some helpful tips (removing red wine stains is the greatest life skill!) and a few dos and donts of wine drinking. I already knew that I should definitely not be holding my white wine glass the way that I do (you don't want the temperature of your hands warming the wine!)

I really appreciated trying some different wines including a sparkling red served chilled (mind blown!) and even an orange wine that before this night I didn't know existed. The beautiful rich orange colour of the wine is produced by leaving the skins on the grapes - it's delicious and if you're visiting St. Vincent you really must try it.

Newcastle Quayside -  St Vincent Orange Wine
Of course, all great wine drinking is best coupled with some delicious food and St. Vincent concentrate on small plates, perfect for sharing with friends and ideal for enjoying with a couple of glasses of wine.  Most dishes are sourced from small, independent producers and the menu is split into Charcuterie, Cheeses, Vegetables, Meat and Seafood. This isn't a "Starter, Main and Pud" type affair, and we loved that our food came out as and when along with a lovingly selected glass of wine to compliment our choices.

We started our evening with the Cheese Selection (£13.50) which we decided to order after not being able to decide which cheese to go for! The Selection comes with all four cheeses available on the menu served with some very fancy looking crackers, a delicious fig jam and amarena cherries which were absolutely beautiful.

Newcastle Quayside -  St Vincent Cheese
We loved the variety of the selection, it suited every taste with some stronger blue and some delicious creamy cheeses. I can honestly now see why everyone says how great wine and cheese are and if you're going to visit St. Vincent for anything I'd say you can't go wrong with a night of wine and cheese, it was such a lovely way to start our experience.

Following our cheese selection we decided to choose four dishes to share starting with the Leek, Parmesan and Truffle Tart (£7.00) and Crab on Toast with Crushed Broad Beans and Lemon (£10.80). My favourite was definitely the Crab, it was piled so hard on the toast that sharing it between us was a bit of a messy challenge but one we both thoroughly enjoyed.

Newcastle Quayside -  Crab on Toast

The Small Plates arrived as and when they were prepared which I really enjoyed, I don't have the best memory so each plate arriving was a bit of a thrill, I had forgotten what we had ordered and as each dish turned up I couldn't help but let out a little "ooooh"!

The Macaroni Cheese with Summer Truffles (£8.50) and Duck Pastilla (£11.60) was up next.  Duck is my favourite meat and the St. Vincent offering was beautifully prepared (you must order if you visit!) and as for the Macaroni Cheese, I've never had one quite like it. If I ever spot Mac on a menu I have to order but I've never had one quite as fancy as this one, the seasoning made it extra special and I could have indulged in bowls and bowls of it.

Newcastle Quayside -  Macaroni Cheese

If I'm being completely honest having already filled ourselves up with cheese and small plates I wasn't sure that we'd be able to fit in dessert but I was determined to carry on - all of the food had been so good I really wanted to see how the afters compared.

I opted for the Florentine Doughnuts (£5.50) they came served with a huge pot of zingy Strawberry Jam and Chantilly Cream - leaving all graces at the door, my polite dipping soon turned into full on dunking - the delicious light doughnuts were so good completely covered in sticky jam with a generous helping of cream on top. Definitely no polite way to enjoy these properly they were absolutely delicious.

St Vincent Newcastle Quayside -  Florentine Doughnuts

I really loved my first experience of evening dining at St. Vincent and I'm so happy that we have somewhere on the Quayside that serves such great quality food and wine, it's different to anything I've experienced in Newcastle before and I really do recommend that you all give it a go - it's the best way to spend an evening.

Find St Vincent at:

29 Broad Chare

0191 232 1331

I was treated to a complimentary meal and wine for two in exchange for this honest review.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Meet the Tyne Kittiwakes with Wild Intrigue - Kittiwakes and Doughnuts at The Baltic

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A few weeks ago Simon and I found ourselves on the NewcastleGateshead Quayside for a very special experience - a chance to meet the Tyne Kittiwakes with our favourite local explorers, Wild Intrigue, as part of their very first Kittiwakes and Doughnuts event at The Baltic.

For many years I took the gulls on the Newcastle Quayside for granted, in fact I barely gave them a second thought as I scurried my way along the River Tyne on a daily basis. But for some reason, over the last year, I've started to take an active interest in the birds and found myself with a few questions - Are they seagulls? Why are there so many here? and why I am forever dodging bird poo under the Tyne Bridge?

Meet the Tyne Kittiwakes with Wild Intrigue - Kittiwakes and Doughnuts at The Baltic

Have you ever met the Tyne Kittiwakes?

Even if you've never come face to face you definitely will have seen and heard them if you've ever spent any time on the Newcastle Quayside over the Summer months. Very much a part of our landscape, you'll usually find these beautiful birds living by the sea but rather remarkably they have been visiting Tyneside since the 1960s.  Every March the Kittiwakes return to the Quayside to nest and spend their Summer holidays on Tyneside breeding and raising their young before leaving the Tyne in August to return out to sea.

Their arrival has been met with much debate, a bit of frustration but, most importantly, an overwhelming amount of love from many locals who realise how lucky we are that they are a part of our city landscape.

Tyne Kittiwakes with Wild Intrigue - Kittiwakes and Doughnuts at The Baltic

Often mistaken by visitors as seagulls, the Kittiwakes congregate on the Quayside with a few local business owners viewing them as a bit of a nuisance when their outside seating and window ledges get covered in bird poo as the nesting Kittiwakes take over the outside of their buildings.

Many of the buildings along the Quayside have taken action over the years, covering ledges, roofs and windows with spikes and netting to prevent the birds from landing.  I'm not sure anyone really expected the overwhelming support that the Kittiwakes had from locals who were passionately vocal about not wanting to lose our birds, because, despite having all been covered in a bit of poo from time to time, (I once got covered in Kittiwake poo twice in one day!) the birds are very much a part of life on the Newcastle Gateshead Quayside and a stroll along the River Tyne just wouldn't be the same without them.

Tyne Kittiwakes with Wild Intrigue - Kittiwakes and Doughnuts

Over the last year or so many organisations including the local Councils and wildlife groups have worked together to create solutions to help the Kittiwakes thrive on the Quayside and luckily the use of netting and deterrents is now closely monitored to ensure that none of the birds get harmed during the nesting season.

One place that has gone above and beyond in recent years to protect the Tyne Kittiwakes is The Baltic who boast the most impressive amount of nesting Kittiwakes on the ledges of their building and encourage them to nest in peace all season whilst providing visitors and locals with a prime spot to view the birds.  It was the perfect place to begin our great adventure with Wild Intrigue.

Tyne Kittiwakes - Newcastle
We met Heather and Cain, the founders and expedition leaders of Wild Intrigue, at the entrance to The Baltic ready to begin our two hour experience. With tickets limited to around 15 people per tour the Kittiwakes and Doughnuts events are a wonderfully intimate experience offering a great chance to fully immerse yourself in some unique bird watching and with plenty of opportunity to ask questions, something I took full advantage of as we began to meander our way along the river on our Kittiwake quest.

Our experience began with a circular walk of the Quayside starting from the Baltic and walking along the river to the Tyne Bridge where we enjoyed the views of the birds circling over our heads before heading our way up some stairs to the bridge.

Tyne Bridge Kittiwakes - Newcastle
I'd never realised before all of the great places you can view the Kittiwakes from and I particularly loved this lovely view of the Kittiwakes settled on the bridge with the Swing Bridge in the background. What a place to go bird watching.

Tyne Bridge Newcastle - Kittiwakes

As we made our way along the bridge we peered over the side for a great view of the Kittiwakes nesting just below us on the edge of the Tyne Bridge. Being very careful not to disturb them, we couldn't believe how close we were to the nesting birds.

Tyne Bridge Newcastle - Tyne Kittiwakes
This colony of Kittiwakes is the most inland breeding colony in the world which makes the NewcastleGateshead Quayside so special - we are the only city centre in the world to have a seabird colony at its heart, and that really is something to be truly proud of, peering over the edge to watch the birds circling over my favourite city gave me goosebumps.

Newcastle Quayside - Kittiwakes
As we walked a little further we were thrilled to stumble across some nests and, for the first time that day, we spotted a Kittiwake chick popping its head out of its nest. The Kittiwakes lay their eggs in May and June so now is the ideal time to see the babies before they fly their nests at around 42 days old.

Newcastle Quayside Walk - Kittiwakes

We continued our journey from the Tyne Bridge along the Newcastle side of the Quayside before returning over the Millennium Bridge to Gateshead for our first glimpse of the Kittiwakes on the Baltic. They build their nests on narrow ledges on the north wall of the gallery and, whilst I love seeing the birds close up, I really do enjoy watching them circling above the building whilst I walk over the bridge.

Did someone say doughnuts? Wild Intrigue have teamed up with our favourites Proven Doughnuts who are providing one of their famous hand rolled doughnuts to enjoy with a hot drink as part of the Kittiwake and Doughnuts experience.

It was time to rest our feet with a cuppa and a sweet treat inside the Baltic whilst enjoying a special Kittiwake talk by the Tyne Kittiwake Partnership's, Dan Turner. Simon and I have both heard Dan talk about Kittiwakes before and having studied the birds for many years, he has a fantastic knowledge of the birds. The very first time we met Dan I had so many questions for him and he was really happy to take the time to answer them all - it's so great to meet someone who's so passionate about what they do.

Kittiwakes and Doughnuts with Wild Intrigue

After the talk it was time to head up to the Level 4 viewing platform at The Baltic, the perfect spot to see the nesting Kittiwakes. It's pretty incredible how many birds manage to fit along the ledges of The Baltic and I find it completely mind blowing to watch the birds swoop in with food to feed their young knowing that they have caught their dinner out on the Northumberland coast before returning it to Newcastle. Imagine flying all that way for your tea!

Tyne Kittiwakes at The Baltic
I'd had my fingers so tightly crossed at the start of the tour that we'd get to see some Kittiwake chicks so couldn't believe my eyes at how many there were snuggled up in their nests along the ledge at the Baltic. Every other nest had a cute fluffy grey baby Kittiwake in and seeing them so close felt very special. People travel miles and miles for such a great view of these beautiful seabirds and we have them right on our doorstep in the centre of our city.

Tyne Kittiwakes at The Baltic Gateshead

I really hope that our adventure today has inspired you to find out more about our feathered friends on the Quayside and if you're after a really enjoyable experience with a difference I can't recommend the Wild Intrigue Kittiwakes and Doughnuts tour enough, I discovered a new side to the city that I'd never seen before and we have both walked away with a real passion for the Tyneside Kittiwakes. I have to say that meeting Wild Intrigue has truly inspired me to learn more about the wildlife of the North East - their enthusiasm and passion is infectious and going to one of their events really will open your eyes and change how you see the world around you.

There are three more Kittiwakes and Doughnuts events happening this month and I'd love to know if you're planning to go along to one!

Kittiwakes at The Baltic Gateshead

What you need to know:
  • Kittiwakes and Doughnuts Events are happening on Saturday 20 July, Sunday 21 July and Thursday 25 July
  • Tours start at 11:00 am and last approximately two hours
  • Tickets cost £20.00 for adults and £12.00 for under 18s with all profits going to The Baltic's - Care for Our Kittiwakes campaign
  • Book your Kittiwakes and Doughnuts Experience here
  • Read more about the Care for Our Kittiwakes Campaign here
Discover Wild Intrigue:

Wild Intrigue are a passionate small team of wildlife lovers dedicated to inspiring and educating others to explore the nature on their doorsteps, rediscover the wilds of the countryside and learning how to conserve Britain's wildlife.

Wild Intrigue run expeditions and mini expeds perfect for capturing your imagination and opening your eyes to the beauty of the great outdoors.  So whether you fancy a night of Bats and Pizzas, discovering the wilds of Ouseburn or glamping under the dark skies of Northumberland there's something for everyone.

Discover more at:

Find the Baltic:

South Shore Road

Kittiwakes at The Tyne Bridge NewcastleGateshead
We were invited to attend Wild Intrigue's Kittiwakes and Doughnuts Event free of charge in exchange for sharing our experience. 
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