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.
When people ask how to get the kids outside my response is always walking. It’s: –
- fun for the whole family
- child friendly
- dog friendly
- costs nothing
- great for mind and body
- an easy way to explore new areas
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.
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 was 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.
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.
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.
Dunstanburgh Castle itself is a picturesque ruin with a genuinely enchanted atmosphere, allegedly haunted by a ghostly knight seeking a long-lost sleeping maiden.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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!
ALNMOUTH – The Old School Gallery, just a short walk off the coastal path is worth a visit at the end of a walk.
There is great coastal scrambling along much of the AONB with my particular highlights being at Dunstanburgh, Rumbling Kern and Howick Haven.
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: –
- Bamburgh – The Victoria Hotel
- Seahouses – Neptune Fish Restaurant (fish & chips) and a yummy doughnut van on the harbour!
- High Newton-by-the-sea – The Joiner’s Arms
- Low Newton – The Ship
- Embleton – Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Club
- Craster – The Jolly Fisherman pub, Shoreline cafe and tasty kippers from L Robson & Sons
- Boulmer – Fishing Boat Inn and a cute pop-up cafe if you’re there on the right day at the right time
- Alnmouth – Red Lion pub and The Village Tea Rooms cafe
More outdoor inspiration
Browse The Outdoor Guide for walks near where you live.
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
Northumberland Walks book
Walkers Guide Book to the History of Northumberland