If you really want to escape the crowds in England, Northumberland is the place to run to. Fewer people live in Northumberland than in many London Boroughs, and yet it’s the sixth-largest county by area. With no cities, Northumbrians live in fishing ports, distinguished market towns and far-flung hamlets in the deep valleys of the Northumberland National Park.
Castles are almost ten-a-penny here, and a lingering reminder that battles and sieges were a part of life in this region for hundreds of years. Some like Bamburgh Castle and Alnwick Castle are family-friendly days out with quirky re-enactors, while many others are spectral ruins that complement the untamed countryside perfectly.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Northumberland:
A market town full of poise, Alnwick has terraces of limestone flat-fronted townhouses with second-hand bookshops, coffee shops and pubs.
The big sight is the town’s castle, which is the second-largest inhabited castle in the UK, after Windsor.
You’re free to poke around in the summer, and there’s extra incentive for Harry Potter fans as the property was Hogwarts in the movies.
You’ll also be spellbound by The Alnwick Garden, landscaped hedges and flowerbeds around a water cascade.
To arouse morbid curiosity there’s a Poison Garden growing hemlock, foxglove and the plants to make ricin and strychnine.
Also, make excursions to the castles at Chillingham, Edlingham and Dunstanburgh and to experience the awesome beachscapes at Low Newton and Embleton Bay.
England’s northernmost town is a couple of miles short of the Scottish border at the mouth of the Tweed.
You’re left in no doubt that this community has been wrested from both English and Scottish grasp down the centuries.
When Richard I captured Berwick from the Scots in the 1300s he built the town walls, which were adapted to withstand artillery in the 1500s during Elizabeth I’s reign.
Most of these defences are still here, which is very rare for English towns.
There’s much more to see, from the three sandy beaches to the Tweed Estuary, crossed by Stevenson’s imposing Royal Border Railway Bridge.
The Berwick Barracks date to the early-1700s, at the time of the Jacobite risings and have enthralling exhibits about the last conflict fought on British soil.
This beautiful, mysterious and ancient island can be reached on foot via an ancient route known as the Pilgrim’s Way, but obviously you’ll need to keep an eye on the tide times before you set off.
At Lindisfarne you’ll encounter a priory that was first established in the 600s and then resurrected by the Normans a few centuries later.
At this site you’ll be going back to the earliest years of Christianity in Britain, but also the English language, as a biography of the 7th-century St Cuthbert is the oldest surviving English text.
The English Heritage centre has astounding Celtic religious carvings, and recounts the violent Viking raids that wrecked the island in the 800s.
4. Northumberland National Park
The least-inhabited national park in England encompasses 400 square miles of remote uplands littered with abandoned historic sites.
In the north are the Fleck Towers, small fortresses standing as watchtowers and beacons in the Scottish Marches in the middle ages.
And slicing across the south is the bulk of Hadrian’s Wall, with fragments of the forts that were stationed every few miles along the route.
Meanwhile, walkers, horse-riders, mountain bikers and anyone else aching for peaceful open spaces can fill their boots in this far-off land.
At night the skies are darker in the park than anywhere else in the country, another happy consequence of the lack of large settlements and literally heavenly for stargazers and amateur astronomers.
If you want to know more about Northumberland in Roman times, you couldn’t pick a better place than Hexham, which is directly on the wall.
The only trouble will be knowing where to start, as the forts in this part of the county, like Vindolanda, Cilurnum and Housesteads, are in good condition considering their antiquity.
The Roman Army museum adds another layer of interest and the Temple of Mithras at Carrawburgh is a reminder of just how much activity there was in this land 2,000 years ago.
Newer but no less enthralling is Hexham Abbey, with Early English Gothic architecture from the 12th century.
Go below to investigate the crypt built entirely with Roman stones that still bear their ancient inscriptions.
On the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Seahouses is an uncommonly pretty fishing village with a working port.
Many of your activities will be centred on the handsome harbour, where you can climb aboard boats for seal-spotting trips or adventures to the Farne Islands just offshore.
And after all that crisp sea air you can retire to the warmth one of the village’s inns for a pint and meal.
There are sand dunes and enormous sandy beaches both up and down the coast, and if you’ve ever fancied horseback riding you can saddle up for a ride here by the water in the most romantic setting imaginable.
A cultivated town in the south of the county, Morpeth has kept hold of most of its historical buildings.
Among them is the clock tower from the 1600s and Morpeth Chantry, a 13th-centruy chapel that holds the tourist information centre.
Harmonising with the elegant townscape is the Sanderson Arcade, a shopping gallery that looks like it could be 100 years old but was completed just a few years ago.
Young ones can make some animal friends at Eshott Heugh Animal Park and the Whitehouse Farm Centre, while there’s culture too at Belsay Hall and Wallington, two acclaimed country piles minutes outside the town.
Also in the Northumbria AONB, Bamburgh draws holidaymakers for St Aiden Beach, hilly sand dunes and an exceptional castle.
This mighty landmark stands on a volcanic plateau and was the throne of the Norse Kings of Northumbria, boasting medieval Norman architecture, but with a tale that begins as far back as the 400s.
There’s another angle to Bamburgh’s allure: The village has a museum for a Victorian resident, Grace Darling who was the daughter of the Longstone Lighthouse keeper on the rocks off the coast.
In 1838 she helped rescue nine people from the wreck of the Forfarshire paddle steamer, becoming a national folk hero in the process.
In the county’s remotest western fringe, the village of Kielder is about as far as you can be from civilisation in England.
And yet despite (and because of) this remoteness there’s a great deal going on.
Near the crest of Black Fell, Kielder Observatory is an Eldorado for amateur astronomers, and if you’re new to the science there are even volunteers to show you how to use the telescopes.
In the village, Kielder Castle is actually a hunting lodge constructed by the Duke of Northumberland in 1775, but has an informative visitor centre.
And for total seclusion there’s Kielder Forest Park, which was only planted in the 1950s when it became the largest man-made forest in Europe at 250 square miles in size.
On the southern cusp of the Northumberland AONB, Amble is a cute old seaport where the Coquet empties into the North Sea.
Nature-lovers arrive in summer for cruises to Coquet Island, when 35,000 puffins jostle for space to make their nests.
The cute waterside village of Warkworth has a boundless sandy beach, as well as a tremendous landmark in Warkworth Castle.
During the Anglo-Scottish Wars in the 14th century this was a much-coveted stronghold and came under siege twice by the Scots.
And if you’re willing to go the extra mile you can go on a quest to discover Warkworth Hermitage, a medieval chapel that is cut from the cliffs on the Coquet and can only be reached by boat.
Right away something that might excite you about Corbridge is that many of the buildings are made from recycled Roman stone from the abandoned town of Corstopitum.
You can go and see what’s left of this garrison, which is still one of the most complete archaeological sites on Hadrian’s wall, and furnished with information boards to bring the foundations to life.
There’s medieval history to uncover at Aydon Castle, a medieval manor house that owes its defensive appearance to centuries of conflict along the Scottish border.
Put the first weekend in June in your diary, for the Corbridge Festival, which has street theatre, market stalls, a real ale talent competition and an excellent lineup of live music.
Up to the 1840s Ashington was little more than a hamlet, but the area’s coal seams were soon exploited and the town grew to become one of the largest settlements in Northumberland.
This being a working town the blockbuster attraction is the heritage colliery at Woodhorn, moments east of Ashington.
Very little of this turn-of-the-century mine has been altered, and the winding house, towering headframes, engine house and a great ensemble of original outbuildings are as good as new.
For smaller visitors there’s the Woodhorn Railway, that uses two locomotives that had industrial uses, one at the Seaham Colliery and another at the Channel Tunnel.