We spent Christmas 2018 in Northumberland and between family gatherings in the coastal village of Seahouses we also visited places such as Hexham Abbey, Lindisfarne and the Angel of the North so it was all very varied and full of interest.
Christmas Eve in Hexham:
Hexham is dominated by St Wilfred’s Benedictine Abbey, just down the road from our hotel, and the venue for 9 lessons and carols in the evening on Christmas Eve. It was very peaceful when we visited in the morning and we had the whole place to ourselves surrounded by Christmas trees and crib figures. There is an exhibition about its history and a cafe serving coffee and mince pies.
Hexham also has a 14th century gaol which was the first purpose built prison in the country. It is now a museum but was closed over Christmas so I intend to return another time. Buses run from the town up to Hadrian’s Wall nearby.
Christmas in Seahouses:
The village of Seahouses is small with a picturesque harbour from where we had a good view of the Farne Islands and Lindisfarne. There is a good walking route north along the coast to Bamburgh where I visited the Grace Darling Museum. She lived in a lighthouse on the Farne Islands and became a national celebrity in 1838 when she saved people from drowning. The museum is small but has lots of information on her family background, lighthouses in general and a panoramic view of her grave in the churchyard opposite.
Boxing Day on Lindisfarne:
Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island, is a must see at any time of year. The island is accessible by the causeway at low tide. It was quiet and the scenery was wonderful. St Aidan established a monastery there in 635AD. There is also ruins of an abbey, a 16th century castle and a visitor centre. They were closed for Christmas but I walked to the castle on the headland for fantastic views of the island and mainland. In one of the churches there was an exhibition about the Lindisfarne Gospels which were written on the island and are now in the British Library, London.
St Cuthbert also ran the monastery on the island and was also a spiritual healer. Lindisfarne is still a place of sanctuary especially at high tide when there are less visitors and several of the guest houses offer spiritual retreats. Good for meditation, writing and walks! Two long distance footpaths in Northumberland both go to Lindisfarne.
Lindisfarne has a few hotels, gift shops, cafes and pubs plus a bus service to and from Berwick on Tweed. Information about the times of high and low tide is available locally and on the internet and if you get stuck on the causeway when the tide comes in you can climb the wooden platform half way across and wait for the tide to go out again.
The day after Boxing Day:
There were 2 highlights on the journey home… Firstly, Barter Books, one of the largest second hand bookshops in the country housed in a huge Victorian converted railway station in Alnwick. It was wonderful with lots of atmosphere, murals, a log fire, a cafe and a model railway above the bookshelves. It’s a haven for bibliophiles and railway enthusiasts. I didn’t want to leave and would go back to Northumberland again just to visit Barter Books.
Secondly, we went to see The Angel of the North, said to be the largest sculpture of an angel in the world. It’s high up on a hill and the height of 4 double decker buses and has wings the size of a plane. The sculptor Anthony Gormley said he made it because no one has ever seen an angel and we need to keep imagining them. Just before Christmas someone put a red and white Santa hat on the angel’s head and it looked very seasonal. The Angel of the North is near Gateshead, just off the A1 and accessible by bus from Newcastle. Click here for pictures.
And finally…all the places we visited would be of interest to walkers, writers, historians, and culture lovers so there’s something for everyone at any time of year. I will go again when the museums are all open. See below for more of my blogs about places to go.