Bloggers give the best recommendations. And when the lovely Rachael Stray wrote about her stay at Hesleyside Huts at exactly the time I was searching for “glamping in Northumberland” it seemed daft not to take heed of a fellow blogger’s suggestion.
Tempted as I was by two storey huts and private verandahs and copper baths, Bracken was the only hut available for our planned September break post-birthday celebrations (getting through a whole year of being 40). And as this was also the hut that Rachael has stayed in I knew we were in for something special.
Bracken is one of five shepherds huts on offer in the grounds of the beautiful Hesleyside Hall. We drove down the tree-lined avenue after a rain-lashed journey up the M6 from Birmingham; Bracken and sister hut Heather are located together beyond an iron gate at the end of the driveway (watch out for the gate – it can be quite lively and gave me quite the bruised finger). A cute touch is the wheelbarrow for taking your belongings from the parking area to your hut – Mr Fletche refused my plea to transport me across the wet grass in this manner.
Bracken is tardis-like in that it is surprisingly spacious once you step inside. There is an elevated king size bed (with a super-comfy mattress and quilt) which did cause some concern on the first night as to how many limbs we’d break if the outside sleeper rolled off. There’s a monks bench with storage underneath, and a handy table tucked into the base of the bed, all made using reclaimed timber from Hesleyside Hall itself. There’s a small kitchen area with belfast sink, plenty of crockery and cutlery supplied, a shower room with power shower and – our old nemesis from Wildernest – a wood burner. There are ample fire lighters, kindling and logs supplied, but remembering our previous attempts at fire making we fully expect to have to replenish our supplies on Day Two.
It’s the little touches that matter. A hot water bottle. A selection of Penguin classics. Marshmallows for toasting and a jar of sweeties. Cards and dominoes. A box for locking away your phone if you want to do the digital detox thing properly (I failed). And they even provided us with a bottle of water and a bottle of wine as an apology for an inconsistent water supply on our first evening, unnecessary but appreciated.
It’s a short drive to the nearest town of Bellingham where there is a Co-op supermarket open til 10pm as well as a butchers and a bakers (no candlestick makers though) if you want to pick up fresh supplies. There’s also three pubs, including the Cheviot Hotel where we ate on our final night (booking recommended) and also cafes and tea shops. For a fab Full English, I highly recommend the Fountain Cafe. There’s no fridge in the hut – this is camping after all, albeit of a more glamorous kind – so be mindful of that when buying groceries. If you plan on cooking using the wood burning stove, choose foods that don’t require much heating through…we “enjoyed” lukewarm soup on night 1 and lukewarm beans (spaghetti hoops for Mr Fletche) with slightly toasted bread on night 2. We’re city folk. Don’t judge us for our terrible lack of survival skills. We didn’t even attempt a campfire.
There is so much to do in the Northumberland county that at least another week or two in the area would be required to cover everything – we barely scratched the surface with just two full days. So these are our recommendations for a whistle-stop tour only…
There’s more than 30 miles of coastline to discover in Northumberland, and although its a bit of a drive from Hesleyside Huts, it’s definitely a trip worth making. From Holy Island in the North, down to Bamburgh with its imposing castle overlooking a stunning white sand beach. From Seahouses – the gateway to the Farne Islands – to Beadnell with its sweeping bay. Spending a day at the seaside is a wonderful way to blow away the cobwebs
There are so many reasons to pop by this historic market town, not least that castle which has a rich history of its own even without being linked with that wizard. We chose not to give the castle a visit this time (as much as I was dying to get a broomstick training lesson) as we didn’t have the time that it would have deserved to take in the Capability Brown designed grounds, medieval towers and dungeon, but it’s definitely on the list for next time, as is Alnwick Garden which must be absolutely spectacular in the spring and summertime.
I have to confess that my main reason for our brief stop in Alnwick was to visit Barter Books. Housed in a beautiful old Victorian railway station, this second hand bookshop is a bookworm’s dream, with cosy nooks and a roaring fireplace where you can settle down with a cup of tea and a book, a labyrinth of shelves delving into every subject possible, poetry and quotations decorating the walls and ceilings – and even a model railway running above your head. It’s dog-friendly, there’s a vintage railway station type cafe and the owners are even responsible for the resurgence of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster. And although you can buy books here, bartering by exchanging your own books is positively encouraged – hence the name.
Northumberland National Park has been designated a Dark Sky Park, and is officially the best place in the country for stargazing, and is Europe’s largest protected area of night sky. On a clear night, you can see million of stars, the Milky Way and even the Andromeda Galaxy, all with the naked eye. At Hesleyside Huts, you have access to binoculars and a telescope, so you can play at being Patrick Moore/Professor Brian Cox to your heart’s content. And if you prefer a bit of expert guidance, the Kielder Observatory is only a 20 minute drive away; you can book for an opportunity to learn from experienced astronomers – events tend to book up well in advance though so plan your trip carefully.
Did we get to stargaze? Unfortunately the skies were a little cloudy during our stay, yet even then we could see more stars than we’d ever seen before in this country. There was also something twinkling which could have been a planet, or could have just been a speck of dust on my glasses…
No visit to Northumberland is complete without a trip to Hadrian’s Wall, be it visiting one of the Roman sites such as Vindolanda, Housesteads or Chesters Fort, or hiking a section of the 84- mile footpath, following this historic landmark along ridges and crags. We chose the 7.5 mile circular walk from The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre towards Housesteads, and then returning back via farmland and country lanes, past Vindolanda, before heading back to The Sill. It’s an absolutely spectacular section of the wall to walk, with a few inclines but not too tough to follow. Star attraction is “Tree of the Year 2016” at Sycamore Gap (wonder who won in 2017? Please enlighten me in the comments if you know!)
There’s so much that we didn’t get to do in Northumberland, but the area definitely won our hearts and we’re already wondering when we can fit our next trip in! We loved our stay at Hesleyside Huts – 2018 has definitely been the year of quirky accommodation – and would highly recommend to anyone who wants to try rustic living without quite letting go of the luxurious touches…
Address: Hesleyside Huts, Bellingham, Hexham, Northumberland, NE48 2LA
Price: Bracken and Heather cost from £95 per night, Bramble from £100 per night, Holly from £120 per night and Rowan from £125 per night. 2 night minimum stay applies
Please note that Hesleyside Huts cannot accommodate dogs