Week­end away

FOR WALKS GA­LORE, A SPOT OF STARGAZ­ING, AND A TEMPT­ING TEA­ROOM OR TWO, BEAU­TI­FUL NORTHUM­BER­LAND BECKONS

The Simple Things - - ESCAPE | A PLACE TO STAY - Words: KATE PETTIFER

Northum­ber­land is best known for its cas­tles and coast­line, but what about in­land? There has to be more to it than Harry Pot­ter lo­ca­tions, we rea­soned, and packed up the fam­ily for an ex­plo­ration of the county’s Dark Sky Re­serve, stay­ing near Kielder Wa­ter. We’re in ‘sav­age coun­try’, be­tween Hadrian’s Wall and the Scot­tish bor­der, sur­rounded by Na­tional Park. Our des­ti­na­tion is coun­try es­tate Hes­ley­side, just out­side Belling­ham and home to a hand­ful of pur­pose-built glamp­ing huts as well as Hes­ley­side Hall. It’s the chil­dren’s first trip to Northum­ber­land, first time to Hadrian’s Wall for my hus­band and I, and a new ex­pe­ri­ence for all of us, stay­ing in an Amer­i­can-style wilder­ness cabin.

Where we stayed

Rowan Hut ( left) is one of two cab­ins at Hes­ley­side able to host fam­i­lies (there are three fur­ther shepherd’s huts that each sleep two). Perched at the edge of the woods, it looks out onto fields that tum­ble down to the big house. Dur­ing our stay, the field was full of sheep, watch­ful of our com­ings and go­ings. Rowan is a dou­ble-height hut, with a cosy kitchen-din­ing area at its heart. Off of this space, there is a neat lit­tle bath­room, plus a chil­dren’s bunkroom, with wooden ‘hatches’ open­ing onto each bunk. A stair­case takes you up to a mez­za­nine dou­ble in the roof. A gor­geous deck – which comes with an out­door bath and pair of rock­ing chairs ( be­low) – makes up for the com­pact liv­ing area. The firepit and cast-iron pots ex­tend your op­tions for cook­ing.

What we ate

In­spired by our wilder­ness cabin, we went all cow­boy and cooked sausages and beans on Rowan’s out­door firepit. (Hosts Anna and William took de­liv­ery of our ini­tial cook­ing sup­plies, or­dered on­line, ahead of our ar­rival, or you could stock up at the Co-op, butcher’s and bak­ery in Belling­ham, two miles away.) We also or­dered a Hes­ley­side break­fast bas­ket which, sure enough, ap­peared on the deck bright and early one morn­ing: in it were lo­cal ba­con and sausages, eggs from the es­tate, ce­real, milk, crois­sants and pre­serves. Car­riages Tea Room in Belling­ham of­fers lunch or af­ter­noon tea with a dif­fer­ence. We en­joyed salad, toasted sand­wiches and pani­nis on board a re­stored train car­riage. The cakes looked in­cred­i­ble, moist and tow­er­ing, and there were few ta­bles that weren’t re­served for af­ter­noon tea (car­riagestea­room.co.uk).

What we did

This is coun­try­side made for walking, ex­plor­ing his­tory – re­cent or an­cient – along the way. From the Na­tional Trust’s Steel Rigg car park (which has a very wel­come cof­fee van), we took a hilly hike, fol­low­ing Hadrian’s Wall to Sy­camore Gap (above right) and back. Vis­i­tors seemed largely di­vided be­tween those with an in­ter­est in Ro­man his­tory, and those who wanted to see ‘that tree out of Robin Hood’. A three-mile circuit at Hare­shaw Linn proved less stren­u­ous, pass­ing through an­cient wood­land and zigzag­ging bridges over the river. The Linn is a for­mer Vic­to­rian iron­works, but also home to rare ferns and mosses, and twit­ter­ing with birds. At the end of the trail, you reach an im­pres­sive wa­ter­fall – a pic­turesque rest­ing point be­fore turn­ing back to­wards Belling­ham.

We also liked

A lot of thought had gone into our ac­com­mo­da­tion. Small though Rowan Hut may be, it was kit­ted out with ev­ery­thing we could need, from matches to blan­kets. The kids loved their ‘wheel­bar­row trips’ up to the hut ( be­low). It was colour­ful, too, with Pen­guin book mugs, Mex­i­can-style bowls and plates, and tinted glasses. Gen­er­ous ex­tras in­cluded tea and de­cent cof­fee, plus marsh­mal­lows for toast­ing. The hut it­self is built from re­claimed lo­cal tim­ber and fea­tures a cou­ple of stained-glass win­dows. As well as thought­ful­ness, there is prag­ma­tism, too, with a boiler in situ to counter Northum­brian tem­per­a­tures, and a much-ap­pre­ci­ated ra­di­a­tor, mean­ing we never had cause to light the mini wood­burner.

The best thing

What is a Dark Sky Re­serve good for, if not stargaz­ing? Binoc­u­lars and sky guide are pro­vided, for starspot­ting – ei­ther from the out­door bath, be­neath a blan­ket on your rocker, or se­creted from the el­e­ments at your bed­room win­dow. The peace was as much of a perk as the dark­ness: my heart quick­ened with de­light at the sound of first barn owl, then tawny, an­swer­ing each other across the woods, as I lay snug­gled be­neath my du­vet and Rowan’s beau­ti­ful beams. We stayed in Rowan Hut (sleeps up to 2 + 2 chil­dren). A (min­i­mum) two-night stay in July costs £300; from £250 in low sea­son; hes­leyside­huts.co.uk.

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