North-East’s seductive secrets
There’s much more to the Northumberland than hen parties and the Metro Centre, says Anthea Gerrie
Could raucous Newcastle, the hen-party capital of Britain with its showboat casino, vodka bars and famously scantily-clad ladettes, really be a serious venue for a romantic honeymoon?
Seriously, yes, now Jesmond Dene House has opened on the edge of an enchanted forest in the suburbs.
This striking renovation of a Georgian mansion is the work of Terry Laybourne, who helped sophisticate Newcastle with his Michelin-starred cuisine at Café 21. It is still a fixture on the quayside, and it cannot be long before his new enterprise, in a beautiful, leafy neighbourhood enhanced by handsome 18th- and 19th-century houses, brings the city a second star.
Since it was developed by a chef rather than a hotelier, the rooms in this former home of a shipbuilding magnate who entertained the likes of Rudyard Kipling and Baden-Powell, have their quirks — robes are skimpy, and you need deft footing to make a safe exit from the deep Japanese-style bathtubs. But honeymooners would love those tubs, and what may be the largest, most comfortable hotel beds in Britain.
We were soothed to sleep by the sound of running water in our room overlooking the Dene, but had to enter what was once a fantastical private garden to find its source — a gentle waterfall framed by huge, curlyrooted trees straight out of “Harry Potter”. The park is framed by walls of mellow golden stone, and other delights include stepping stones, picturesque bridges and a pedestrian tunnel beneath the forest. An arts and crafts market every Sunday morning completes the picture.
Those staying — or honeymooning — here must proceed to Holy Island, one of the most romantic spots in Britain with its castle and ruined priory. Cut off daily from the mainland, it is reached via a causeway at low tide. Apart from isolation and romance, it offers monuments. And what monuments they are — the imposing 16th-century castle on the headland was refurbished by Lutyens as an Edwardian holiday home, and is now set up for visits by the National Trust. A hike around its walls, followed by a wander round the haunting grounds of the even more ancient priory, build an appetite which will not be disappointed, at least by day. The elegant Bean Goose café, its handsome tables laden with freshbaked scones and cakes, deserves the title of best café in Britain; all-organic lunches are served here as well as teas, and the two sisters who run it have a passionate commitment to
Picturesque Beadnell Harbour on the wild and beautiful Northumberland coast