The North-East’s seductive secrets
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fair-trade ingredients. Holy Island is easily reached from Newcastle; you can head straight up the A1, perhaps stopping at Alnwick to view its own castle and famous garden.
But on a nice day, it would be a shame not to take the longer coastal route. Bamburgh Castle, the most famous landmark, is a forbidding beast of a fort, but the surrounding town is green and pleasant, while prettier still is Warkworth, just a mile inland from the coast, whose own 14th-century castle was the setting for Shakespeare’s “Henry IV”.
One of the most attractive of these fortresses — a legacy of the border wars — is Dunstanburgh Castle, whose ruins sit atop a 100-foot cliff near the village of Craster, of kipper fame.
At nearby Beadnell is what must be the most romantic fish-and-chip shop in Britain: On the Beach, which enjoys a stunning sea view. As mentioned previously in these pages, award-winning Beach Court, right on tiny Beadnell Harbour, is a pretty and romantic place to stay for those not irritated by whimsy.
Considering it has just won its own GNER (www.gner.co.uk) takes you from London to Newcastle in three hours from £20 return. Jesmond Dene House (0191 212 3000; www. jestmonddenehouse.co.uk) and Matfen Hall (01661-855 725; www. matfenhall.com), offer deluxe rooms at £195 per double. The latter offers golf and spa packages
A treehouse at Alnwick, en route to Holy Island award for best large hotel in England, Matfen Hall seems too large and institutional on the surface to have any potential for romance — until you get into the VIP suite at the spa, that is. Here couples can enjoy a hot stone massage and the like in candlelit privacy, and the romantic mood is continued in a library restaurant where the food is very good indeed and strong on fabulously fresh fish from the Northumberland coast. A spacious room overlooking the golf course had robes whose fluffiness could not be faulted.
Matfen actually sits to the west of Newcastle in Hadrian’s Wall country, near Hexham, which has just won its own award as Britain’s favourite market town. Given the magnificent seventh-century abbey, handsome buildings and wonderful park worthy of a large city, it is easy to see why. There are also some quirky shops which are well worth a visit, including a violin repairer and at least two antiquarian booksellers. A good place to take children allergic to shops would be the restored Old Gaol, England’s first purpose-built prison, its 14th-century stones now viewable from a 21st-century glass lift.
The Exchange, in the central Queens Hall civic building, is the kind of buzzy neighbourhood café that every town deserves, and serves much better food than might be expected, strong on local produce incincluding local ice-cream. Much of the considerable bounty of Northumberland can be bought in Hexham’s twice-monthly farmers’ market, or