900 miles, 10 days, 6 Air BnBs
A tour of the North of England and Edinburgh
One of the things I knew I wanted to do when we retired was see more of the UK. As a child we only had one UK holiday - that was a week in Scotland when we re-visited friends from our time living in Royal Deeside - it rained all day, every day for a week and we were staying in a caravan. My dad refused to holiday in this country ever again.
When my sons were small we holidayed in the UK several times, mostly in the South of England, in the New Forest, Dorset, The Cotswolds and Kent.
When we knew we would be holidaying really late in the year this year, I came up with the idea of a whistle-stop tour of the North East of England, taking in Edinburgh too so that we could visit friends and family there, returning via the Lake District.
Having never used Air BnB before I thought it might be a good time to try - 6 Air BnBs in one holiday, what could go wrong?
York is one of those cities trying to dissuade cars from its centre so while we were there we used the park and ride to get into the town centre. Our first stop was Cliffords Tower. It was a brief visit because Ian is terrified of heights and given that the barrier around the top would have just about prevented a toddler going over the edge, he did the fastest tour round the top possible and waited for me back on the ground. From there we walked through The Shambles (which was as pretty as it was busy with fellow tourists) and visited the Minster. The Minster is beautiful and well worth the time and price. The sheer size of it is breathtaking - it’s so easy to forget that it took 2 and a half centuries to construct and was essentially built by hand, then we nearly lost it to a great fire 35 years ago.
After lunch we wandered round a little more, through the Museum Gardens and along part of the wall. We sought out a particular shot of the railway station that Ian wanted to get, but as time was getting on we didn’t visit the Railway Museum, so that’s one for our next visit!
Regular readers will know that we like our food, so I’d done a little research and we’d decided to have lunch out in York rather than go to the trouble of returning again in the evening for dinner.
Trip advisor recommended a little place called Los Moros, serving African/Middle Eastern/ Mediterranean food. The food was incredible and such great value, and the service was very good, especially as we ate upstairs (with a nice view of The Shambles).
The night before we had eaten in the local pub and had a very mediocre carvery (although Ian will say his was good and it was my fault for opting for an anaemic salmon fillet instead of a proper roast).
The Dorm was a converted outbuilding, completely self contained, with parking and a small garden. As well as the bedroom area it had a small kitchen area, a small seating area and an ensuite shower room. It looked instagram-perfect and there was breakfast for our first morning. Whilst it was spotlessly clean and looked perfect we did have a couple of niggles which we fed back to the owner when we left, rather than in the official review because I always think moaning in a review without actually having tried to deal with the issue in situ isn’t really helpful or constructive! The surrounding village was lovely and there was a nice pub (except for the dodgy carvery) less than five minutes walk from the house. We would definitely stay here again if we were in the area. I would rate as 4/5
The next day we had thought about visiting Cliveden House on our drive from York to Whitby, but changed plans at the last minute and visited Fountains Abbey (we are NT members so it seemed daft not to) instead. What a stunning place; the ruined abbey and its surrounding water garden is breathtaking and a gift for children (and photographers!). We had no idea it was so large and spent hours there in the unexpected sunshine.
We arrived in Whitby on Sunday evening, taking the scenic route from Fountains Abbey through some stunning North Yorkshire moors countryside. Having grown up in Norfolk and Suffolk I get very excited by hills.
Whitby was bigger and busier than I thought it would be. I had imagined it to be somewhere like Padstow or Brixham but it’s much bigger than either of those. It’s not without its charm however and I would love to visit it again some day (possibly in winter). Even on a Monday out of school holidays it was very busy. The house we were staying in was a very short walk down to the marina area meaning we didn’t have to use the car the entire time we were there. Sunday night was spent doing what everyone should do when they’re Whitby, having a fish and chip supper.
We spent Monday exploring the town on foot, walking all the way down to the pier at the harbour mouth, then back to the swing bridge, and eventually up the 199 steps to the Abbey. High on the cliff, the ruin made famous by Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” looms over the rugged coastline. It was also very busy with student parties, but not so busy that we couldn’t get some great shots of it.
After dinner that night we spent the golden hour and sunset on the small sandy bay inside the harbour mouth before walking back to our house. Whitby definitely makes pretty photos.
We also visited Whitby Deli, ostensibly for me to buy some tonic but in reality for me to buy some Whitby Gin, which I can tell you is very very good. I would like to have taken advantage of some of their edible goodies too but amazing though it all looked, it wouldn’t have been very practical to cart it all over NE England with us for the next week.
We had our fish and chips in Trenchers as recommended by our host. I have had good fish and chips in my time - I did grow up in Lowestoft after all - but this was probably the best I’ve ever had (sorry East Anglia). It was the best of the two places we ate at while we were in Whitby.
On our second night we ate at Abbey Wharf, which has great harbour views. If Trenchers is a traditional fish and chip restaurant (bright lights and formica tables) then Abbey Wharf is a more contemporary offering with scrubbed wooden floors and tables and a great beer selection. Trenchers fish and chips just pipped it to the number one spot though
In Whitby we stayed in the only Air BnB of our trip which wasn’t completely self-contained. I was a little nervous of this stop as I thought staying in a strangers house might be weird and although we would have our own bathroom, it was on a different floor to the bedroom. I needn’t have worried. Our host was brilliant and as the other room they let out wasn’t occupied whilst we were there we had the whole floor to ourselves, including the bathroom on that floor, so no midnight flits to the loo hoping not to bump into anyone else! The room was beautiful, white wooden floors, original
furniture and hidden in the cupboard was a fridge, with everything you might need, fresh orange juice, butter, jam, cereal and milk, a kettle and a toaster. Breakfast was also included and was left on a tray outside the room in the morning with fresh croissants and bread for toast. We had a key to come and go as we pleased and nothing was too much trouble for them. They even allowed us to park in their yard as they didn’t need their parking space while we were there. 4.5/5 from me - the only issue I had was there was no shower, so you had to sit in the big (victorian) bath tub and more or less shower sitting down.
If it’s Tuesday this must be Newcastle…
From Whitby we made our way up to Newcastle, via Corbridge and Housesteads Fort to visit Hadrian’s Wall. Corbridge village is very beautiful but also very busy, so we only passed through it to visit the original site of Corbridge, now an English Heritage site. I had to struggle to recall my schoolgirl history of the the Romans in Britain (I used to love history, I really need to read more about it again), but it was a fascinating site and I couldn’t help wondering how much of the way we live today will survive centuries of being buried. Not much probably, except all the plastic.
We continued on to Housesteads where the fort forms part of Hadrian’s Wall. Sitting on an escarpment, it is the most complete example of a Roman Fort in Britain. Historic sites like this make me feel very small and insignificant. It certainly made me feel exhausted by the time we’d reached
the top, but it was worth the effort. We stopped for coffee and cake in Corbridge on our way back through, and a wander down by the rural riverbank of the Tyne, before continuing on to Newcastle.
Once again we were at our next stop for two nights so we were able to have a whole day wandering round Newcastle on the Wednesday. We found a city walk online and created our own photographic tour from that, taking in lots of bridges, the castle, the Baltic centre cafe and the Sage centre. We decided against the top of the Baltic centre, because of Ian’s height phobia!
On our first night we relied on Trip advisor to find somewhere nearby for dinner and visited Topolino, a small Italian restaurant which was small and friendly but not earth shatteringly great. However, on our second night we visited Peace and Loaf which was the only restaurant I researched and booked in advance of the holiday. The chef, Dave Coulson, trained under Michel Roux Jnr and the menu looked really imaginative. We were not disappointed. We decided we couldn’t manage a full tasting menu so ordered from the A la Carte menu. The staff were really knowledgable about the menu, and as well as the food we ordered we were offered several extra amuse bouche at the beginning of dinner and between courses. The menu changes regularly as it prides itself on being seasonal. It is definitely worth booking if you are in the area
We stayed in the Quayside area of Newcastle in a ground floor, two bed flat (two doubles) with private secure parking. This was one of the larger properties we stayed in on our tour and was again perfectly located for walking everywhere. We had the whole flat to ourselves and it was an absolute bargain compared to the hotel prices for the same time. It was exactly what you would expect of a modern flat and we were glad of a bit more space than we had had in our previous two stops. We were met in person and there were some provisions in the flat including milk, which was useful. 5/5 for this property.
From Newcastle we moved on to Northumberland. We took the coast road where we could, avoiding the A1 as much as possible! The scenery is stunning in this part of the world; wide, wild beaches and castle after castle. Our destination was Bamburgh Castle, although in the end we only visited it from the outside. We parked in the carpark, then followed the path down into the dunes and walked round the castle and back into the village where we had lunch.
After lunch we continued our walk further along the bay. We were so lucky with the weather on our trip given that it was only mid-May and, let's face it Vera Stanhope seems to be forever trudging round in a rain coat on TV.
Our next stop was Holy Island. We’d missed the low tide in the morning so had to be content with a flying visit in the evening. We were too late to go to the castle itself but not too late to clamber over the dunes onto the north shore and do some seal watching. Someone had kindly left a line of sandcastles on the beach so we could find our way back over the dunes but we still ended up going wrong and spent a nervous 20 minutes trying to find our way back to the car park. When we did spot the car we were on the top of a ridge that we had to scramble down on our bums. I was glad to get to that night’s accommodation!
We ate lunch in the Lord Crewe pub, on the green at Banburgh. Ian had a hot beef stottie, which, it turns out, is a really heavy bread, that was filled with roast beef, it came with gravy, chips and fried onions and would have fed about 3 people. He demolished it. Must’ve been the sea air. I had a prawn sandwich…
The owner of our accommodation that night had booked us into the local, The Black Bull, for dinner, which turned out to be excellent, serving really good gastro pub fare and had a huge range of gins.
That night we stayed in our smallest property, a shepherd’s hut, in Lowick. It was a proper traditional shepherd’s hut in someone’s actual back garden, but overlooking fields for miles. Whilst it was lovely, and had everything you could want it was really too small, the bed was barely a
double and I had to sleep up against the wall, which I hate so I think I had the worst night’s sleep of the holiday here, despite the peace. It was a good job the weather was good and we could keep the door open otherwise I think it would have been terribly claustrophobic. It’s a fine line between cosy and tiny! I was really glad we were only here for one night. 4/5 as it was cute but so small
There were several holiday cottages in Lowick and the pub itself also has rooms, so if you’re looking for somewhere a bit off the beaten track to stop in Northumberland, this would be a great location and perfect for Holy Island and Lindisfarne.
Friday meant moving on to Edinburgh, via the lovely North Berwick. We were expecting rain once we arrived in Leith (and we were correct!) however our luck with the weather held whilst we were in North Berwick.
On our way we stopped at Drift, a little roadside cafe that came recommended to us. It’s housed in a couple of shipping containers, but is lovely inside and the view is stunning, looking out over Bass rock and the small bay at the bottom of the cliff. The cake was fabulous.
What a beautiful little town North Berwick is, quite small and a Padstow-Type feel that I was expecting of Whitby. Because it was only May the beach was empty apart from a few dog walkers. North Sea wasn’t quite warmed up* at this point so I avoided paddling. We walked along the sand, looking out to Bass Rock, then around the harbour, and out on to the lookout on the rocks. We didn’t bother to go in to the seabird centre as there was plenty of bird life outside. It’s very unspoilt. I hope it stays that way.
Our main reason for going up to Edinburgh was to visit family and friends, so there wasn’t much sight seeing happening, although our friends gave us a whistle stop tour of Leith on the Saturday. It’s certainly changed a lot over the last few years, and has a thriving restaurant scene, including the award winning Kitchin. You can also visit the Royal Yacht Britannia should you so wish.
We stayed in a two bed flat in Leith with private parking. The flat was relatively new, nice and bright and as with all our properties on this holiday, it was spotlessly clean.
Leith is a brilliant place to stay if you want to visit Edinburgh, it’s just 20 minutes out of the city by regular bus (slightly less if you cab it). Cars are slightly discouraged by 20mph limits and one way systems so just use public transport for the city centre. 5/5 - clean, neat and tidy, and well located
We ate lunch in the Ship on the Shore, which has family connections. The fish and chips was almost as good as those we had in Whitby ;)
The Lake District
On Sunday morning, slightly the worse for wear, and with promises of Hogmanay on a Scottish Island ringing in our ears we moved on to our final stop, Grasmere in the Lake District. The drive down was through some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen in the UK. We left Leith in the mizzle and arrived in Grasmere in glorious sunshine. We were staying just outside Grasmere, but close enough to walk into the village itself, which we did on our first afternoon there. Grasmere Lake itself was only seemingly accessible via FaeryLand (yes it’s really spelt like that) and as it closed at 5pm we never actually made it down to the lake itself. We did find a very nice pub though, called The Good Sport, a tap room for the local brewery, where we managed to rally ourselves to the walk back to our accommodation.
On our final day we visited Windermere, where we took a boat out on the lake for an hour and after lunch we drove further on to Grizedale Forest where we walked the sculpture trail. Safe to say it was a bit longer and steeper than we thought and at one point we thought we were lost (again) but it was worth it. Grizedale forest has a great visitors centre with maps available for walks and cycling. They also have a Go Ape centre there and regularly during our walk the peace was interrupted by distant squealing!
Finally we drove round to Coniston Water which Ian really wanted to visit and we arrived at the perfect time because it was empty of everyone apart from a young couple having a swim (in May! Bracing!). We visited a lot of beautiful peaceful places on this trip but this spot will stay in my mind for a long time.
On both nights we ate at the Travellers Rest Inn, a gastro pub a few minutes walk from our accommodation. It was really good food and the service was excellent. We also found a lovely cafe in Bowness. Away from Lake Windemere and down a small side street, away from the obvious tourist places to eat, we found the Easy Breeze, where we had a smashing lunch
Our final Air BnB stop was on a farm offering various different accommodations. Ours was a studio. Once again it was very small, smaller than it appeared on the website, but it was very cleverly done, and the owner had left us fresh hens eggs for our first breakfast. We were there two nights and I think it would have been too small for any longer. 4/5 for being smaller than a normal hotel room (and the Shepherd's hut!)
We thoroughly enjoyed our tour, although I think we probably should have taken more time over it, it's quite tiring packing everything up every other day. As we are now planning an 8 week tour of North America next year this is something I'm trying to remember! We will definitely return to the Lake District at some point and spend some more time there. We were lucky with the weather, I think if it had been as forecast (mostly wet) it wouldn't have been the same holiday. That's the trouble with holidaying in the UK although I guess we are used to our erratic weather. It does generally mean more luggage, only this time we took lots of wet weather gear and not enough pairs of shorts!
Do you have a favourite place to visit in the UK? Do you prefer holidaying at home rather than flying abroad?
*The North Sea NEVER warms up