I spent three blissful years living up in Newcastle, and while there were many things that made it, in my mind, the ideal place to spend my university years, the best thing about it was undoubtedly its proximity to the beach.
When the weather was beautiful in the summer, we’d gather up our books and jump on the metro, and 20 minutes later we’d be stretched out on the sand revising. Admittedly, a lot of paddling and napping and ice cream got in the way of revision and those days probably weren’t productive in the slightest, but hey, we all passed eventually.
From Newcastle up to the Scottish borders are swathes of ancient forest lined by stunning coastline and dotted with castles, as well as some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.
There are many beautiful places worth stopping by including the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and Bamburgh with its imposing castle, but here are my top three.
Where the river meets the sea is a little town called Tynemouth. It’s not as famous as neighbouring Whitley Bay, but it’s much lovelier.
On the road leading down to the sea from the station is a great chippy (Marshall’s, if my memory serves me correctly) — there are often queues stretching out the door, but it’s worth the relatively short wait. Best to take your warm newspaper bundle and head down to the shore. Find yourself a bench and dig in.
When it’s sunny I love to going to sit on the smaller stretch of sand at King Edward’s Bay, which is overlooked by the ruins of Tynemouth Castle and Priory high on the hill above it. It may be gorgeous in summer, but it’s equally as romantic in winter when the wind gets up, the waves crash theatrically right over the sea wall.
So Alnwick isn’t technically the beach — that’s Alnmouth — but I just couldn’t leave out my favourite little town in Northumberland. There are two things in Alnwick you just can’t miss. The first is Barter Books, a cavernous second-hand and antiquarian bookshop covering pretty much every topic you could think of. It’s located in the town’s rather splendid former Victorian train station and little toy train does its rounds on top of the bookshelves. There’s a buffet and a tonnes of comfy seating and big old fires in winter to stave off the cold of Northumberland.
The second is Alnwick Castle. This is yet another place that Harry Potter was filmed, and it truly is beautiful. You can go into the castle itself, visit the extensive manicured gardens, or eat at the restaurant in the giant treehouse. I recommend the lot, but if you only have time for one, you must have Sunday lunch in the fairylight-strewn treehouse.
“It looks like Australia!” These were the words my friend Anna used when she first told me about this place. And she was right. On an average day, it’s likely you’ll have Druridge bay’s seven miles of white sand nearly exclusively to yourself. There aren’t any shops or facilities here, so best bring a picnic, a frisbee and a dog if you have one. Oh, and unlike the other Alnwick and Tyneside, which can be accessed by public transport from Newcastle, you have to have a car to get here.
Running behind the beach is national parkland, meaning it really does feel like you’re in the wilderness. If you ever need to escape from the city and spend some time thinking on things, this really is the perfect place to run too. When the tide comes in it laps so far up the beach that the sky is often perfectly reflected in the sheen of the wet sand. I didn’t think beaches like this existed in England until I came here, but I can honestly say, this is one of my most peaceful happy places.
I’m almost reluctant to tell everyone how awesome these places are, as I suspect many people who haven’t spent significant time living in or visiting this area are barely aware of their existence. I’ve still got strong links to Newcastle and this wild little corner of the country, so there’s plenty more coming up soon! I hope to persuade you to look beyond what you think you know about Newcastle, and maybe visit and appreciate its beauty and history and culture for what they’re truly worth.