Travel review: North East of England

Tynemouth Castle and Priory

Tynemouth Castle and Priory

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It was the battle of the conservationists. In the red corner English Heritage proudly prepared its frontlines ready for the onslaught of the mighty National Trust limbering up in the purple corner.

So who would win this mighty fight? My two little soldiers , Ruaridh (9) and Flora (6) weighed up their options and after due consideration (as they tucked into an afternoon tea of scones and clotted cream), they declared it a draw.

English Heritage's majestic Homesteads Fort

English Heritage's majestic Homesteads Fort

They will no doubt make good politicians in the future, but for now they were concentrating on letting their young minds absorb as much culture and information as their mother (that’s me!) could persuade them to as we enjoyed a trip to see the historical gems on offer in the North East.

As parents we often find it hard to entertain the children during the long summer holidays, but these days there is so much to see and do, you just have to jump on board and have some fun.

And English Heritage and the National Trust have embraced this philosophy and these days their once stuffy (well that’s what we thought as children!) properties are now child friendly and laid out in such a way that the whole family really can have a good time together.

The North East of England has its fair share of places to visit and with such lovely rolling countryside and a short drive from Lancashire, it’s the perfect place to spend a few days exploring.

The National Trust's Wallington. Photo by John Millar

The National Trust's Wallington. Photo by John Millar

Ruaridh and Flora had enjoyed a taste of English Heritage’s Hadrian’s Wall trail last year and enjoyed it so much, they wanted to go back for more.

This time we headed for Homesteads Roman Fort, perched high on the hills above Haydon Bridge. The fort was built in Roman times as a blueprint for similar forts around the world so that everything would be set out in the same way at each site to make it easier for soldiers when they were sent around the world.

Homesteads is a fine example of a fort and after a short walk up the hill you find yourself in the visitor centre where an exhibition is dedicated to the fort and the items found over the years. Felix the soldier provides information for the youngsters on the same interpretation boards as the adults read. And its fascinating stuff, with Ruaridh and Flora’s minds in overdrive as they looked at the artefacts, such as tools and jewellery left by the soldiers and discovered by archaeologists over the years.

Outside you can look round the remains of the fort which sits proudly infront of Hadrian’s Wall, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We had great fun pretending we were standing in the soldiers’ barracks, commander’s living quarters and looking at the hospital and granaries.

From here we took a short hop to Birdoswald, neighbouring Cumbria’s Roman fort and also where the longest section of Hadrian’s Wall can be seen (or walked if you can persuade the children!).

A product of 1,800 years of occupation, this fort is different in that it stands just infront of a mock medieval farmhouse built in 1858. With stunning landscape surrounding it, it really is a lovely spot to visit.

After all that history, we were in need of some fun by the seaside (but with a spot of culture thrown in too) and so we headed to Tynemouth, a great wee spot with old-fashioned entertainment on offer. After a bracing walk on the beach we headed for the imposing priory and castle which dominates the town.

It was once the most fortified place in England and dates back 2,000 years. Its well spread out, so we all got to stretch our limbs as we headed back in history and took in all the fascinating parts from the beautiful and tranquil 13th century chapel to the restored gun battery and cannons. And some fantastic views of the North Sea to boot.

As with all the English Heritage sites over the summer, there are some great activities on offer from clash of the knights contests to kite flying.

And working just as hard as English Heritage to bring our history to life are the people working for The National Trust.

The North East has some great examples of this work and we headed for two of them. Our first stop was Seaton Delaval Hall at Seaton Sluice in Northumberland. This wonderful property was designed by architect Sir John Vanbrugh and home to the party loving Delaval family. It is of Georgian style, but with a mischievious past.

The Delaval’s were known for their high spirited and flamboyant lifestyle and everyone wanted to go to their parties. They loved to play pranks, some guests woke up to find their furniture stuck to the ceiling!

The hall has survived a fire and houses some lovely rooms and furniture for you to look round and the gardens are amazing, literally with a box hedge maze for the children to enjoy as you take in the gorgeous scents of the flowers.

From here we headed for our final stop of our adventure, Wallington, once home to the Trevelyan family.

Just outside Morpeth, this 13,000 acre estate is a joy to visit. Gifted to the National Trust by Sir Charles Philips Trevelyan, a controversial socialist MP, it is a wonderful place.

Another unconventional family, the Trevelyan’s home boasts huge pre-Raphaelite paintings telling the history of Northumberland and beautiful furniture and treasured collections in the rooms.

The house has a remarkable collection of dolls houses and some fabulous old children’s games to have a go at. Outside is a landscape of lawns, lakes, woodlands, parklands and farmland and a magical walled garden where you can relax and let your mind re-live all those adventures you have just enjoyed – long may English Heritage and The National Trust reign!

Fact file:

We are lucky in the Northern part of Great Britain to have so many national treasures on our doorstep. Throughout the summer both English Heritage and The National Trust have special events on to keep all the family entertained as you learn about the nation’s history.

For more information, log onto www.english-heritage.org.uk and www.nationaltrust.org.uk