I don’t know how it came about, but I was talking to my coworkers about ideal places we would like to live. I mentioned my love of the countryside, somewhere quiet and remote and close to nature, and my coworker said that I would like Northumberland. I found myself returning to this conversation when I decided a couple of months ago that I really wanted a break. My birthday was coming up, it was summer, and the weather was beautiful. I was stressed and tired. I wanted to go chill out on a beach and go for long walks and enjoy the summer and just…be away from everything for a little bit. I didn’t want to fuss with flights or adjusting to another culture, I didn’t want to spend that kind of money. I wanted to stay in the UK. I wanted to get in my car and drive somewhere. At the same time I didn’t want to drive too far, still being a relatively inexperienced driver. So, remembering that conversation, I looked into Northumberland. Sandy beaches – check. Nature – check. Impressive castles – check. Me – sold. And it was under a three hour drive from me to boot. It was perfect. Everything was pretty expensive and booked out as I tried to find accommodation last minute in peak season but eventually I found myself a little cottage for a reasonable price. I booked it, booked my leave and counted down the weeks. Finally, it was July 21st. I packed up the car and I was off. One week in a little self-catered cottage in a tiny village in Northumberland, no responsibilities, and a list of things I wanted to see, but no itinerary.
First stop – the Angel of the North. The total journey time from home to the cottage in Budle Bay was around two hours 40 minutes so I had to stop, so why not make that stop touristy? Seeing so I was in the area I thought I may as well view an iconic British landmark. I pulled off the A1 and parked up and walked around the statue which…wasn’t as ugly as expected? I found it quite impressive? It’s bloody massive – I saw it well before the turn off. (It was very exciting. The drive was kinda boring so I got quite excited to realise I was near Newcastle, and thus finally in the county!) – and the engineering behind it seemed impressive. I took a bunch of pictures, had something to eat, and then carried on. I stopped at a supermarket, I got lost, I got hopelessly excited at my first glimpse of the sea, and finally I found my cottage. I admit, when I first saw it the location blew my mind – I was right next to the beach! But inside I wasn’t quite sure – the cottage was a little bland and there were a lot of bugs and I realised it didn’t have a shower. I started to fall for the cottage when I saw the beach views out of the window, and by nightfall I had definitely fallen for it – it was so damn cozy, I just had to adjust to all the bugs (which, is probably to be expected for such a remote location.) I did not do much that Saturday, or even Sunday. (On Sunday I literally lay on the beach and read for almost the entire day, that was it.) (It was perfect.)
On Monday I decided to venture out. I was going to go on a boat trip to the Farne Islands but I didn’t feel up to it, so instead I walked to Bamburgh to see the castle. The walk from Budle Bay to Bamburgh was unexpectedly long, and the weather was much hotter than I expected too, so I was hopelessly overdressed and feeling it. There were amazing coastal views though, and eventually pretty good views of the castle and the Farne Islands in the distance. Once I got to the castle I ate lunch (which was amazing – in particular the cake I had was to die for) and had a look around. The castle has been restored beautifully and it was really interesting. I took the bus back after, and chilled out back at my cottage (by this point I was really settling in. I had all my stuff out, my own bedding on the bed, and it was nice that. A real benefit of self-catering in your country is the amount of home comforts you can bring! I’m sad I forgot to bring my own pillow though…)
The next day I lazed away the morning then in the afternoon I drove down to visit Dunstanburgh Castle. I was expecting to park at the castle so got a bit lost before parking up and actually researching and finding I had to park at Craster and walk up to the castle. Oops. This did mean it was pretty late in the afternoon by the time I had parked up and started on my walk. I got to the castle about an hour before it closed. I think that was enough though. I had a look at the ruins, saw the kittiwakes on the cliffs by the castle, climbed up to the top floor of the gatehouse of the castle and admired the views, and then left. I had rushed the walk to the castle because I was aware I was pushing it for the opening times, so as I left I lingered, taking my time to walk back. The walk is right along the coast with rocky beaches with oyster catchers and gulls there. And, in a lucky moment, I turned back for some reason, caught sight of movement in the water a little way behind me. My first thought – whales!
I turned and ran pell-mell back the way I had come and paused on a high point and was amazed to see dolphins out in the bay. I ran a little more back, then set out to cross the rocks, trying to get closer to the water, trying not to trip and hurt myself, trying to watch the dolphins all the meanwhile. There were so many of them, they were moving northwards, and all I could really see was their fins, occasionally a dark sliver of their backs, but occasionally they would jump out the water and show themselves. It was the most incredible thing. I really couldn’t believe it. Real, wild dolphins. I knew they got them in the area but I never imagined I’d get to actually see them, not without taking a boat into deeper water. But there they were – a huge school, travelling together along the coast. I watched them and watched them and even when they had long disappeared I stayed there, desperate for another glance. Then I realised where I was – on a beach where I had no idea of the tide times and retreated reluctantly back to land. I kept on walking back towards Craster, even slower now. I kept watching the water, hoping to see the dolphins again, but they didn’t show up again.
I got back to my car and then drove to Seahouses, where I bought some chips and a battered sausage – typical British chip shop fare! – and found a place where I could eat them near the coast. From my vantage point I could see the sun set over the Farne Islands directly in front of me, and to the left of me, Bamburgh castle, also backlit by the warm tones of the setting sun. There in the bay I saw those black shapes in the water and I like to think they were dolphins, though it was so far, they could have been seals, or even nothing at all but my hopeful imagination. It was very peaceful and absolutely beautiful. I drove back to the cottage, ready to take an early night as the next day would be the highlight of the trip – a boat trip out to the Farne Islands.
What are these Farne Islands? A series of rocky islands in the North Sea where hundreds of sea birds come to breed – including puffins and arctic terns – and which seals also use as a laydown area. :) I was not looking forward to the boat trip in the slightest, but I was very excited as to what I was going to see out there!
(Title explanation – I decided that for this road trip I would take off my P plates. These are a sticker you put on the front and back of your car which have a big green “P” on them, with the theory being that these will alert other drivers to the fact that you are a new driver and so hopefully give you some space/understanding/patience. Yes, it’s been like a year since I passed my test. But I never had the courage to take them off even as I knew I was pushing it, with these that are meant to only be used when you have recently passed your test. I decided that I wanted this trip to either be the first or last trip with them on though, that it was time to take the jump and get rid of the P signs once and for all. The last trip seemed like it would cast a sadness on my trip, so I decided that it should be the first. To add a bit of extra excitement. In the end, it wasn’t that big a deal. Taking them off, or driving with them. I mean the P plates didn’t want to come off they had been stuck on so long, I had to take a soapy solution and very carefully wash the residue off. But once I’d started taking them off it was easy and I didn’t miss them, it was no different driving without them than with even… It was all rather anti-climatic really :| )