Ah, walking. So good for the soul. It doesn’t need to be a long hike (especially with our currently poorly dog), just gentle walking and movement in fresh air and open space. It’s rejuvenating and, just as importantly, fun. Add in a pub, cafe or playground en route and everyone wins.

Family Walking

When people ask how to get the kids outside my response is always walking. It’s: –

  • easy
  • fun for the whole family
  • child friendly
  • dog friendly
  • costs nothing
  • great for mind and body
  • an easy way to explore new areas
  • invigorating

Since moving to the north-east we’ve discovered some fantastic family walks on the stunning Northumberland Coast AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) which I’m sharing here along with some photos to whet your walking appetite.

Image of distant castle with turrets photographed through driftwood log frame in foreground on pebble beach
Dunstanburgh Castle

What is an AONB?

An area of outstanding natural beauty is a government-assigned protected area of countryside in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland identified as having ‘natural features of exceptional beauty’.

Map of the entire AONB plus map showing the Bamburgh to Boulmer section

The complete Northumberland Coast AONB runs from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Alnmouth but this post & pics cover the 20-mile stretch between Bamburgh (home of Grace Darling) and Boulmer, pronounced Boomer locally, near Alnwick (home to Harry Potter’s broomstick training film set).

60-Year AONB Anniversary

2018 is the 60th anniversary of the Northumberland Coast AONB, created in March 1958.

It is a truly stunning area of coastline with castles, playgrounds, museums, harbours, geology, wildlife, beaches, pubs and picnic spots along the way.

If you’re looking for free things to do with the family in Northumberland this is a great place to start.

Writing Competition for Kids and Adults

To celebrate this 60-year milestone the AONB has organised a writing competition with cash prizes open to all, from children aged 7 to adults.

What better excuse – walk a stretch of the coastline to inspire some creative writing!

Enter yours or your child’s story or poem in their written word competition by August 31st 2018.

Image of horseshoe shaped beach viewed from cliffs with cliff stacks to back of beach and sea in background
Rumbling Kern near Howick

20 Mile Walk via 12 Pubs?

The route from Bamburgh to Boulmer can be walked in either direction in one day (and is in fact undertaken as an annual challenge event by RAF personnel who walk via ‘checkpoints’ at each of the local public houses… all 12 of them!)

Family and Dog-Friendly Walking

Alcoholic establishments aside, the full 20-mile walk is too long for children and takes several hours. However, walked in bite-sized meanders as we do, or over the course of a holiday, it’s ideal for families.

The route is also dog-friendly if you follow the countryside code, and PLEASE pick up the poop!

How to Walk the Northumberland Coast AONB

We often park up and do a circular round trip walk depending how little legs hold out, or even there-and-back the same way to avoid using two vehicles.

The best way is to research the AONB’s free visitor guide in conjunction with an OS map (see links below) to choose which area you’d like to see. Check out or recommended eateries, play areas and things to see along the way and then grab a copy of The Great British Adventure Map to check out any wacky events or hidden locations.

Image of still estuary water flowing through grassy sand dunes to the sea

Estuary near Embleton golf course

One of my all-time favourite family walks on the Northumberland Coast AONB is from Craster village to English Heritage’s enchanting (and haunted?) Dunstanburgh Castle. A mostly flat walk along the coastline with far-reaching views north and south, there is rocky scrambling if the kids feel like it otherwise the trail is on easy turf tracks with a wander along the beach by the ruins.

Things To See and Do On The AONB

I like to give children an end goal or reason for a walk, to keep them going when tired. Here are some of the things you can see and do along the AONB to get the kids interested.

Ghosts

Dunstanburgh Castle itself is a picturesque ruin with a genuinely enchanted atmosphere, allegedly haunted by a ghostly knight seeking a long-lost sleeping maiden.

Castles

BAMBURGH – whilst I haven’t yet been inside Bamburgh Castle, it is an imposing sight rising up from the beach on a rocky headland. The landward view was used in Game of Thrones. Walk to Bamburgh along the beach from Seahouses or take a stroll from the beach car parks in the village itself, checking out the lighthouse and painted stag – see below.

DUNSTANBURGH – we have walked here from both the south at Craster and the north from Embleton golf club or Dunstan Steads. Read how to access this great toddler-friendly walk in my top 10 UK walk article.

Play Areas

If younger children need the lure of a play park for motivation there are a few along the coast.

ALNMOUTH – a lovely grassy play area at the edge of the estuary with views across the water and boats moored in the mud flats at low tide. Includes picnic benches and a public barbecue area.

CRASTER – to the south of the village along the headland is a grassy play area with picnic benches and great views across the North Sea.

SEAHOUSES – there is crazy golf and indoor soft play area near the harbour.

Harbours

BEADNELL – the only west-facing harbour on the east coast with lime kilns and a harbour wall

BOULMER – not a harbour as such but a proper fishing village to watch the daily boats returning with their catch

CRASTER – home of the kipper – pop in en route to take home a real taste of Northumberland

Image of sea harbour with cars parked on sea walls, boats in the water and a road to the right hand side
Seahouses Harbour, Northumberland Coast AONB

SEAHOUSES – there are Eider ducks and gulls to be spotted at the working harbour of Seahouses. Hire a boat to the Farne Islands for incredible nature spotting including puffins and terns in season, seals and occasionally dolphins.

We’ve visited several times and my post about Farne Islands wildlife tells all you need to know for a fantastic bird watching trip

Seabirds

There is a variety of seabirds along this whole coastline depending when you visit, from Guillemots and Kittiwakes to Fulmars and Curlews. Check out the cliff areas around Dunstanburgh, Howick and Seahouses.

Geology

The whole of this coastline is an ever-changing visual bombardment of geology from fossils and pebbles to fools gold, cliffs, rock arches, caves and geological upheaval in action as shown below near Dunstanburgh castle.

Image of rocky beach in foreground with sea and sky behind and humped geological rock formation looking like a road lifted by earthquake

I use a fabulous book by the Howick Heritage Group which walks you beach by beach down the AONB from Holy Island to Alnmouth detailing the rock types, history and special geological features to look out for. Well worth buying but only available in local shops – ask for Northumberland Coast Rocks by Helen Page and Dr Ian Kille.

Sculpture & Art

There is art in plenty along the coast – check out these iron bird sculptures on the walls near BOULMER.

Get the tide times right for spotting a rock art stag on the beach at BAMBURGH. Nobody knows how old it is, why not make up a mystery that the kids will love!

Image of white stag painted on rocks above rock pool with black dog splashing and child in orange top at edge

ALNMOUTH – The Old School Gallery, just a short walk off the coastal path is worth a visit at the end of a walk.

Bouldering/Scrambling

There is great coastal scrambling along much of the AONB with my particular highlights being at Dunstanburgh, Rumbling Kern and Howick Haven.

Pubs/Food

As mentioned above there are at least 12 pubs on the walking route from Bamburgh to Boulmer and many more along the AONB coast as well as some further inland if you’re travelling by car. There are also cafes and eateries galore, too many to mention here.

I’m happy to review any other local pubs or cafes (!) but our current favourite child and dog-friendly establishments along this stretch of the AONB include: –

For more family-friendly walks in the north east and around the UK read my walking and hiking pages, and check out The Outdoor Guide for walks near where you live.

Find more things to do and days out in my Northumberland articles here.

Maps and More

To get the best from your day make sure you’ve got the right maps – the AONB is shown on OS Explorer maps 332 and 340. And don’t forget your picnic mat and guide books! Click the pictures below for the best prices on Amazon.

OS Explorer Map 332

OS Explorer Map 340

Pacmat waterproof picnic mat

Northumberland Walks book

Walkers Guide Book to the History of Northumberland

Great British Adventure Map