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Family Traveller editor, Jane Anderson, explains why the North East of England should be top of your family holiday bucket list this summer
Whether you’re a fan of the north east of England or its never remotely crossed your holiday radar, this summer is a great time to visit with the kids. Not only is it the 20th anniversary of the Angel of the North, Antony Gormley’s iconic sculpture, but The Great Exhibition of the North is being hosted by Newcastle and Gateshead from June to September. This new 80-day exhibition echoes the title of the Great Exhibition of 1851 held at Crystal Palace in London, or the 1929 North East Coast Exhibition staged at Exhibition Park in Newcastle.
This year’s extravaganza is a cultural and technological cornucopia of all things northern from the return of Stephenson’s Rocket to its birthplace to the work of iconic northern artists such as Hockney and Lowry, and the space suit of Sheffield born Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut and the first woman to visit the Mir space station. Rather than being held in one place, the city of Newcastle is the canvas for the exhibition with a spectacular 80-metre long water sculpture in the River Tyne.
Set right on the river, the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art will present the best in Northern contemporary art during the exhibition, including a new solo show from Turner Prize nominee Michael Dean. New artist commissions will take to the streets with artworks on display in and around the NewcastleGateshead quayside.
Highlights at the Sage concert hall on the south side of the river will include Sunderland’s Lauren Laverne curating a Great North Soundtrack series of gigs, sure to attract all ages.
But of course, one of the great attractions of the northeast of England is its coastline and epic beaches dotted with historic castles and holiday hotspots that your grandparents may well have made for.
One of Newcastle’s closest seaside spots, Whitley Bay is chasing a second heyday with an ambitious programme of regeneration along its seafront. The jewel in the crown is a total refurbishment of Spanish City, originally constructed in 1910 as a fairground and pleasure gardens.
The iconic white-domed building is all set to emerge this summer as a multi-use attraction of family friendly restaurants, tearooms and event spaces. There’s even a champagne and oyster bar to rival the fish and chips restaurants round the corner.
A seafront Premier Inn has already opened next door and Whitley Bay beach is looking smarter by the day with a new promenade. Head north up the coast into Northumberland, and the beaches get even wilder and imposing.
Bamburgh is one of the most impressive with the backdrop of its majestic castle high on a rocky promontory. The pretty village behind has the feel of somewhere that’s woken up to its charms, and is having the kind of makeover Cornwall had when the Eden Project opened in the 2001.
Make a beeline for the state of the art RNLI Grace Darling Museum and get into the spirit of female empowerment as your kids learn about Grace’s heroism as the daughter of a lighthouse keeper who she risked her life to rescue others from certain death in a terrible sea storm.
Take a two-hour walk south along the beach with its wistful sand dunes and fine sand that wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean and the next town is Seahouses, a modest fishing town that is full of hidden gems. It may not have the historic pomp of Bamburgh, but it has an attractive working harbour with traditional fishing boats and nets.
Its here that Billy Shiel’s boats and Serenity Boat Tours depart for the Farne Islands, one of Britain’s top nature reserves, managed by the National Trust, and a gem of a place to see puffins and seals.
After a day out on the islands, head back to Seahouses for a plate of fresher than fresh plaice and chips at to Pinnacles or smuggle the kids into The Olde Ship Inn, a salty old pub with a snug covered in maritime memorabilia from compasses to ships logs.
And don’t miss a rummage in the Farne Islands Gift Shop, a tardis of a place selling everything from kids fishing nets to Jesmona Black Bullet sweeties. There’s a plethora of sporty activities to keep kids on their toes from surfing to cycling with Boards and Bikes at Beadnell Bay just down the road.
Book a kite surfing lesson with Kevin Anderson Kite Surfing and head to the Seafield Ocean Club afterwards for a swim and an Elemis spa treatment. Base yourselves at Seahouses and there’s so much within driving distance including a trip to Lindisfarne (Holy Island) Pilgrim’s Path and Lowry Trial, the harbour town of Craster with its famous smoked kippers from Robson & Sons Smokehouse and Dunstanburgh Castle and Howick Gardens nearby.
Then there’s Alnwick Castle and Gardens, with its Harry Potter Wizarding School where you can learn to fly a broomstick. And don’t miss a visit to Barter Books in Alnwick town. For parents on the lookout for vintage finds, head to the Old Diary at Ford, an architectural salvage yard and quirky café. Kids will love a rummage too.
One of the most impressive collection of self-catering accommodation across the North East is Coastal Retreats with an impressive range of family-friendly properties all to a high spec.
The Beach Pad in Seahouses is indicative of how founder, Fiona McKeith, can take an average ground floor flat on the sea front and transform it into an upbeat, nautical themed holiday home, with everything you need for a comfortable stay from board games to welcome pack of local goodies on arrival. In the flat is a huge amount of info on what to see and do in the area, with discounts at the Seafield Ocean Club.
The corner living room makes the most of the view of the Farne Islands, and two ensuite double bedrooms are full of nautical themed touches from porthole cabinets to fish shaped cushions, whilst a huge photo of Bamburgh beach emblazoned across the wall, transforms an average kitchen into an atmospheric space.
Coastal Retreats have added The Lantern House and the Deck House to its new beachside development at Beadnell Bay. These New England style houses are perfectly situated for families wanting to access the beach, village and watersports.
Also new is Seagrass, an eco-lodge just outside of Bamburgh with views of the castle and the coast. Set in the once working quarry of the Budle Hall Estate, the area has been turned into a collection of 12 privately owned eco lodges with solar heated water supplies, using the Whinstone rock cliff as a backdrop.
At the top of the cliff there’s an exclusive viewing point with panoramic views of this magnificent and still largely undiscovered coast.