Dog owners have a difficult choice when it comes to holidays: do they leave them at home or take them along? While leaving them in kennels is an option it’s nice to be able to spend a few days away together in a safe and dog-friendly environment.
Taking three lively springer spaniels on holiday poses its own unique challenges, where to go and what to do uppermost among them.
But, after watching a few episodes of Vera, the detective series set in the wilds of Northumberland, I realised this was the perfect place for our weekend away.
The beaches were empty for miles upon miles, the scenery spectacular and, after a bit of research and help from Northumberland Tourism, I discovered there were plenty of dog-friendly cottages available to rent for a weekend in the winter.
Northumberland is one of the most sparsely populated counties in England and stretches right up to the borders of Scotland.
It is, however, very easy to access from Yorkshire, thanks to the A1 which delivers you right into its heartland.
There is only one beach in the whole county where dogs are not allowed (Newbiggin) so there’s no danger of falling foul of local byelaws at any time of the year.
Our base for the weekend was the village of Howick (not to be confused with the Scottish town Hawick) which lies on the coast between Boulmer and Craster.
Nearby Howick Hall is the ancestral home of Charles Grey, Second Earl Grey, prime minister from 1830–834 and after whom the famous tea was named.
Visitors to the estate can visit the extensive grounds with their formal gardens during February to November and 65 acres of woodland walks which are accessible all year round.
Charles Grey had a colourful life: He and his wife Mary had 16 children, but before his marriage to her, he also fathered a child by the married socialite Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, during a high-profile affair and it was rumoured he had many other such liaisons.
We opted to stay in the Old Schoolhouse, which, as is obvious by the name, was once the village school and is now a beautifully-restored one-bedroom holiday cottage with every modern convenience.
Situated as it is, just a five-minute walk from the coast, it’s absolutely perfect for couples with dogs.
Within minutes of unpacking we headed off to the beach to take one of the many coastal walks that were a feature of the weekend.
The following morning we drove up the coast a short way to Bamburgh Castle, one of the largest inhabited castles in the country and the royal seat of the Kings of Northumbria.
It sits 45 metres above the coastline on an outcrop of volcanic dolerite, known locally as whinstone for the sound it makes when hit by a stonemason’s hammer.
Although much of the castle is inaccessible to the visitor – a number of high-profile people have apartments within its walls – there are 14 areas open to the public with plenty of information to make for an interesting day out.
Although we’d planned on cooking and eating all our meals at the cottage, we did venture out to the Bamburgh Castle Inn at Seahouses that evening.
This award-winning pub down by the harbour with its spectacular views, welcomes dogs and has a family-friendly menu at reasonable prices.
The nearby village of Craster is very famous for its kippers and we had been advised we should make a special effort to try some before heading home.
We’d left it a bit late in the day and managed to get the last packet from a little farm shop attached to a plant nursery in the village.
The following morning I was woken by the unmistakable smell of smoked herring coming from the kitchen and looked forward to my Craster kipper experience.
But,although the taste was superb, I’m afraid I just couldn’t get to grips with all the tiny bones and a lot of my breakfast went in the bin.
We enjoyed our marathon walks along the beaches so much that we found we had run out of time long before we’s seen everything the local area has to offer.
We had planned to visit Alnick Garden, which, since it was begun in 2000 has been transformed from a derelict site into a magnificent garden with spectacular water features and is one of the most visited attractions in the whole of the country. But, as I’m sure this won’t be the last time I visit this beautiful coastline, it will give me something to do when I next go back.
Julie Marshall was a guest of Northumbria Tourism (www.visitnorthumberland.com). www.bamburghcastleinn.co.uk; www.howickhallgardens.org; www.bamburghcastle.com.