Q: You then visited Northumberland; what is it that makes this such a lovely area to walk in?
Northumberland is relatively quiet and largely unspoiled. Yes, there are busy places, like Alnwick, Seahouses and Bamburgh, and the magnificent beaches will always draw people out for an invigorating stroll even when the weather is less than clement. Yet it’s still possible to experience a sense of freedom and isolation as you walk through meadows and woods, or along golden sandy beaches backed by tall dunes - and always with a brooding castle in the far distance to entice you on, or a rocky island just out to sea, home to myriad seabirds. There are bustling fishing villages but no heavy industry; there are seaside towns but no ‘resorts’; and there are even red squirrels in the woods if you look hard enough!
Q: Describe your favourite route here.
I do love walking along the coast. The ever-changing sea is always mesmeric and the crashing (or lapping of waves) creates a soothing backdrop to the otherwise noisy clutter in my head. Having said that, one of the walks I most enjoyed – probably because of the contrast – was a circuit around Hulne Park, laid out by Capability Brown for the Dukes of Northumberland. I like the fact that the gatekeeper opens the gates at 11 o’ clock and not a moment sooner; there is no traffic to worry about (apart from the occasional farm vehicle); dogs are banned; it’s beautifully maintained; and hides a folly tower, the private cemetery of the Percy family, a hermit’s cave, a hill-top priory, an ancient abbey gatehouse and hundreds of spectacular mature trees – oh, and there are lots of sheep. It’s a short walk from the centre of Alnwick yet is an oasis of calm serenity and quiet common sense. I was fortunate to be there in September when the trees were displaying their full autumn glory! It was a magnificent sight.
Q: And which castle were you most impressed by?
The castles at Warkworth, Alnwick, Bamburgh and Lindisfarne are all magnificent in their own right and worthy of serious admiration, if not veneration. However, the one that really evokes a true sense of the region’s rich and turbulent past has to be the romantic cliff-top ruin of Dunstanburgh, set upon a rocky promontory a short walk north along the coast from Craster. It doesn’t suddenly sneak up on you but can be seen from miles away, drawing you ever closer and adding a touch of majestic, if somewhat dilapidated, grandeur and wonderment to an already beautiful landscape. And when you get there you suddenly realise how small you are, dwarfed by its immense drum towers on either side of the gateway, their dark window openings like soulless eyes staring down at you and wishing you could see all they have seen over the centuries. That’s the thing about ruins as opposed to lived-in castles – you don’t need to read the guide book, you can let your imagination run wild and invent its past.