I recently spent a week on holiday around the beautiful Northumberland coast, which has confirmed beyond doubt that it’s one of my favourite places in the UK. My Mum and I decided that the seaside village of Seahouses provided an ideal central base, and each day we travelled to a different town or attraction to explore as much of the area as we could.
Northumberland is a vast county and I’m desperate to go back and experience the woodland and National Parks area in the future. However, if you’re considering or planning a trip around the coast of Northumberland, here are my five top recommendations for wheelchair users:
AD – Thank you so much to Visit Northumberland for their excellent recommendations and for providing press tickets during our trip. Gifted/press experiences are marked with *. As always, all views and opinions are my own!
This was my second visit to The Alnwick Garden and once again, in true British summertime style, we were welcomed with rain and grey clouds. But rest assured, not even the drizzle can take away from the gorgeous surroundings here. Be sure to pick up an Accessibility Map as you collect your tickets – this will show you the different routes around the vast outdoor space which are suitable for wheelchair users. Although there are some slopes and uneven terrain in places, there is level access throughout all areas of the contemporary gardens, making it easy to immerse yourself in nature among the water features and ornamental displays, get gloriously lost in the Bamboo Labyrinth, enjoy the peace of the iconic Rose Garden, and plenty more.
The Alnwick Garden is also home to The Treehouse Restaurant, a magical dining venue nestled in the treetops. There is level access all along the walkways leading to the restaurant, adorned with twinkling fairy lights, which will bring you to either a vast outdoor dining space or into the cosy restaurant setting where you can settle in to enjoy some great food. Booking in advance is essential, and if you have food allergies, I’d advise contacting the venue to discuss your requirements ahead of time. I had very limited choices due to my allergies, especially for starter and dessert, but can wholeheartedly recommend the Vegan Treehouse Burger as a main!
2. Barter Books
If you’re familiar with my blog, you’ll know how much I love my books. Imagine my delight when I first found out that Alnwick is also home to Barter Books, one of the largest second-hand bookshops in the UK… and also gloriously wheelchair accessible! Despite the building being part of a working Victorian railway station built in 1887 and keeping many of its original features, it’s remarkably pain-free to make your way around the space and browse the endless aisles of books as a wheelchair user today. Don’t forget to look up to read the bookish quotes bridging the shelves and see the charming model train chugging along them too!
My best advice for making the most of Barter Books, whether you’re a disabled person or not, is to go as early as possible in the day or anticipate when it’s likely to be quieter. On a rainy day, people will flock by their hundreds into the space, making it very challenging to move around and indulge in the book browsing as much as you would like to. Truthfully, I came away from my visit this year feeling quite heartbroken that the time we had allocated to pop in fell at an extremely busy period, where it was incredibly difficult to move (let alone have a proper look at the books) due to the sheer volume of people lining each aisle. Fortunately, I still have very fond memories of my previous visit to fall back on. Not that you’ll need any motivation to avoid the crowds and go early, but if you do, don’t forget to treat yourself to a hot drink and/or some cake from the popular Station Buffet also located inside!
I am so grateful to the Visit Northumberland team for putting this hidden gem of an attraction on my radar. If you’re able to drive inland from the coast, you’ll be able to enjoy a wholesome experience travelling on the Heatherslaw Light Railway. You begin your journey at the station in Ford, where you can purchase a ticket and find indie shops and cafes to look around while you wait for the next train to arrive. Once you’re on board, you’ll take a journey of around 20 minutes through the rolling hills and stunning countryside, before disembarking in Etal – one of the most charming little villages I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. You can see the castle, wander through the lanes lined with pretty cottages, walk through the park or down to the river, or enjoy food and drink at the pub or The Lavender Tearooms, as we did. The staff here were so lovely, and it’s worth saying that they usually have vegan cheese available for toasties and paninis, even if it’s not on the menu.
In both stations, Ford in particular, you should be aware that the ground is deliberately made up of deep layers of small stones and pebbles. This may look beautiful, but it’s extremely difficult to navigate as a wheelchair user. My best advice is to get dropped off as near to the station platform in Ford as possible before your companion(s) park the car elsewhere, and to be prepared for a very bumpy journey. In the future, I hope the attraction will consider leaving a path clear for people using mobility aids or even create one themselves. However, boarding the train itself on both the outbound and return journey was comfortable and easy. Head to the priority accessible carriage at the front/back of the train (depending on which way you’re travelling!) and ensure the staff know you are there – they will unlock the side of the carriage and fold it down to create a sturdy ramp for you to board. Once you’re in, there’s a surprising amount of room for turning and manoeuvring to get yourself comfortable too – all the better to enjoy the journey!
We visited a few little coastal towns and villages throughout the week, with no real agenda or where we’d go or what we’d do. Of these, the port town of Amble was by far the most wheelchair accessible. We went for a wander after parking the car, and were delighted to find Amble Harbour Village, a waterside area lined with plenty of cute wooden pods with indie businesses selling everything from handmade jewellery to dog accessories. If it had been the right time of year, we would have booked the Puffin Cruise around Coquet Island from the harbour too, in the hope of spotting the diverse range of marine life the area is known for – although it’s unclear online whether this activity is wheelchair accessible or not. If you’re looking for somewhere to eat, Radcliffe Café Bar has a lovely outdoor seating area and does a fantastic vegan Bratwurst!
In case it’s helpful to know, the other areas we briefly visited were Berwick-upon-Tweed, Alnmouth, and Bamburgh. Berwick-upon-Tweed town centre was the area I found most difficult to navigate as a wheelchair user, with many uneven surfaces and a severe lack of dropped kerbs which made it really hard even to get from A to B. Alnmouth also has a lack of dropped kerbs, but the coastal walk from the Beach Car Park to the main street of amenities is absolutely gorgeous and surprisingly doable in a power-chair – as long as you’re mindful of where the sand is the deepest so you don’t get stuck and have to dig yourself out. May or may not be speaking from personal experience there…
Bamburgh was also beautiful, always bustling full of people with a wonderful holiday atmosphere. The dropped kerb situation was a little better here, and some of the shops in the historic buildings lining the street had level access so I could do some browsing. If I were in the area again, I would definitely make the time to visit the majestic Bamburgh Castle, which stands grandly on a hill and is visible from miles away!
On the final day of our trip, we drove onto Holy Island. Be sure to check the crossing times on the day of your visit – there are two windows of time per day where you can drive on and off the island via the causeway before the tide comes in, and it’s essential to cross with care. The main purpose of our visit was to see Lindisfarne Priory, namely the ruins of a 12th-century monastery where Irish monks once settled and established one of the most important centres of Early Christianity. The ruins were visually stunning, and thanks to ramps and slopes, it was surprisingly easy to get up close and have a real look at them, so you could truly take in the scale of the building that once stood there.
It’s worth mentioning that there is a separate step-free entry point if you want to visit the ruins, and three accessible (free) parking spaces just around the back of the entrance that are available to book ahead of your visit, even if you don’t have a Blue Badge. These spaces are very near to the black fence which leads to the step-free entrance, but it’s worth noting that you’ll need a staff member to unlock these for you, so you’ll have to go around to the main entrance and then head back to where you came from. If you have limited walking and standing capacity, it may be wise to send a companion to collect your tickets and ask a member of staff to come and assist you in order to reduce your journey.
In my head, I was expecting Holy Island to be a small, quaint place – in reality, it was certainly quaint but much bigger than I was expecting, bustling with visitors and a really lovely community atmosphere. I was already having a great time, but then I stumbled across a small ice cream parlour and genuinely had to suppress a squeal when I saw what was inside…
Pilgrim’s Gelato is a small, family-run business that creates vegan and gluten-free ice cream (and other treats) in a range of exciting flavours, with no nuts used on-site either. Their premises were accessible so I could have a good look at all the different offerings and choose (choose!!!) which flavour to get, and in the end I opted for Sea Salt Vanilla which was absolutely delicious. I can also vouch for Honeycomb which my Mum chose, as well as the homemade cookie and frozen cookie ball treat I came away with too. Finding safe and delicious treats like these is so rare when you have multiple allergies, so the fact I stumbled across this place so unexpectedly and in such an unlikely area meant it was one of the ultimate highlights of my holiday. Research tells me the shop is around a three-hour drive away from where I live, and yet I wouldn’t rule out a road trip specifically with the purpose of visiting again. That’s how much joy it gave me.
If you’re planning a trip around coastal Northumberland as a wheelchair user, I hope this post was helpful! If you have any accessible recommendations of your own (especially for the forest region), I’d love to hear them. Look out for a little Reel from my trip over on Instagram too!
As I went on holiday with my Mum (and Ruby the puppy) this time, I was very fortunate to have the use of a car for this trip which meant I could cover a lot of ground and visit plenty of different places. If you’re reliant on public transport or without a vehicle, as I usually am, you may enjoy this vlog from a trip to Northumberland with my best friend in 2021!
[AD] Thanks again to Visit Northumberland for their excellent recommendations and for providing press tickets. You can find plenty of comprehensive information and plan your own trip on the Visit Northumberland website. It’s such a beautiful area, and I can’t wait to visit again in the future!