Easter 2015 isn’t far away and, while the weather might not be kind, like the optimistic Brits we are, we’re going to make the most of the weather with a picnic.
There’s nothing like a picnic in the great British outdoors to make the most of nice weather. Yes, there might be ants in the sponge cake, sand in the sausage rolls and a wasp that acts like it’s got a personal vendetta against you, but eating outdoors is like nothing else – especially with the sun on your face and a beautiful view.
So where to go? Well, in the North East we’re spoilt for choice with gorgeous Northumberland, beautiful County Durham, the stunning coastline and even a few cheeky little spots in Newcastle itself to park your bum on a tartan blanket. Here, in no particular order, we run through our ten favourite picnic spots in the North East.
1) Little Church Rock, Simonside Hills
For a little solitude, try climbing up to the top of Little Church Rock, in the middle of the forest in the Simonside Hills, Northumberland. The walk there is well worth it, parking up in a clearing and then making your way through forest paths, occasionally breaking out into the open where the views across the barren hills are breathtaking. You’ll have earned your bait by the time you reach Little Church Rock, and there are even a few views from the top.
The name is thought perhaps to come from the rock’s use as a meeting point over the years and there are cups cut out of the bottom which are thought to be 4,000 years old.
To get there, head south from Rothbury on the B6342. After about two miles look out for the national park boundary sign and turn right on to a single track road. Pass the Lordenshaws car park then turn left into the main car park. For a full 3.5 mile family walk try the Forestry Commission website.
2) Warkworth Hermitage
A wonderfully bizarre place, and less well known than its cousin close by, Warkworth Castle. It’s only accessible by water (you can pay the ferryman to take you across) and no-one knows when or why the little chapel was carved. English Heritage even listed it as one of its six most curious sites in the country. Go for a walk around it, go out on the river, then find a quiet spot nearby and lay out your picnic.
3) Souter Lighthouse, South Tyneside
Another picnic where you can enjoy a brisk walk first to get your appetite going – plus, you’re carrying less on the way back. Start off in South Shields and make your way from the seafront along the coast, at the top of the cliffs to begin with and later on going down on to the beach around Marsden. Some of the beach rock formations around Marsden are extraordinary, with the wide expanses and little nooks and crannies of the rock towers being wonderfully emotive.
Then, head up to the lighthouse and sit on one of the picnic tables looking out to a huge expanse of sea, sheltered by the whitewashed walls of the lighthouse grounds. The shop also sells bottles of Wylam beers which could supplement your picnic. There’re also a couple of pieces of children’s play equipment.
4) Cawfields Quarry, Hadrian’s Wall
Guess what? It’s another walk (unless you live there, obviously). But what a place to do it. Besides, you technically don’t even need to do the walk, as there are parking spaces, picnic tables and public toilets at the quarry.
But who wouldn’t want to enjoy the scenery – the Pennine Way National Trail and the Hadrian’s Wall Path both pass through and there’s easy access to Milecastle 42, one of the fortifications the Romans built on their fancy new wall. The quarry itself is dramatic – cut out of the dolerite bedrock of the Whin Sill (the rock running under Hadrian’s Wall that forms many of the imposing cliffs and outcrops along the length), it opened in 1930 and was operated by the Alston Limestone Company. It sits below a huge cliff and, at night, is also popular with astronomers who have held several events at Cawfields Quarry.
Head along the B6318 towards the Milecastle Inn – which is handily close by for a post walk drink.
5) Jesmond Dene
For people living in Newcastle, why look any further than the peaceful world away from the busy city, yet right in the heart of it? Jesmond Dene was purpose built to be beautiful and offer quiet spots for a picnic, so check the forecast then head out.
Our favourite spot is the soft green grassed area near to the stream, on the other side from the ruined mill. Enter from the direction of the twin roundabouts then keep walking down until you get to the mill; cross the bridge then double back on yourself on the other side, and you’ll see the grassed area slightly away from the path. Alternatively, from the Jesmond side, pass the public toilets on your left then turn left after walking down the steps.
6) Hethpool Linn, College Valley
It might be pretty inaccessible and a long car drive from almost everywhere, but the achingly beautiful College Valley in Northumberland is unusual in that it bans cars except by permit, making for an experience you can rarely enjoy these days – almost free from engine sounds.
The journey’s well worth it and makes it the ultimate picnic location. Let’s face it, if you’re going to just sit on a bit of grass with cars going past surrounded by houses, you may as well just stay in your garden.
Head north from Wooler on the A697, then branch on to the B6351. You’re heading towards Hethpool Linn, a small waterfall which gives the perfect setting for a picnic. For those feeling particularly fit, there’s also nearby Yeavering Bell, technically a mountain, with a neolithic burial cairn at the top. A quick shin up and down then a walk to Hethpool Lake and Linn – perfect.
7) Penshaw Monument, Sunderland
Penshaw Monument, built on top of a hill between Washington, Houghton le Spring and Sunderland, is visible for miles around and looks very impressive. It is a folly, copying the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens, and offers some pretty impressive views from the top. You can even get higher, climbing to the top of the 70ft high monument on tours which begin again at Easter. Go to the National Trust Penshaw Monument page for booking details.
Park up at the bottom, then climb the hill to the top. It’s a fair old walk and will probably have you out of puff – but then, your food and drink always tastes better when you’ve earned it.
8) Stephenson’s Cottage, Wylam
We love our walks before a picnic – it makes it feel like we’ve earned that extra slice of cake and that second glass of wine. And at George Stephenson’s Birthplace, you can have an easy flat walk along a good path, a look around the cottage (which, when you realise several families lived in it, one tiny room each, is fascinating), then a picnic on one of the many verdant fields as you loop back towards the car.
If you’re going from Newcastle, head along the A69 then head down Holeyn Hall Road towards Wylam. Turn left on to Main Road then, just before the bridge, turn left on to the parallel road at the sign for Wylam Nurseries on the verge. Find the sign for the cottage (indicating it is about half a mile away), locate somewhere to park up without upsetting the residents, and stride out with your butties in your backpack.
9) Wild campsites, Kielder Forest
Kielder in Northumberland is a vast pine forest and it might seem difficult to choose the best location to sit and scoff a sarnie. But not many people know that Kielder actually has a string of free legal wild campsites hidden among the trees – the only thing you have to do is make sure you get permission in advance, and refrain from lighting any fires.
They are very basic, just as you’d want with wild camping, with some simply consisting of an old sheep pen with its stone walls blocking out the wind. But waking up there is something very special indeed; one site is even next to a waterfall so, if the weather’s hot enough, enjoy a picnic, stay until nightime, fall asleep under the stars and go for a freezing cold wake-me-up paddle the next morning in the falls. That’s really something to make you wish for the warmer weather.
10) Gibside, Gateshead
Although you need to pay to get in (free for National Trust members), the choice of picnic spots will be difficult to narrow down once you go through the gates. You can enjoy the 18th Century landscaped garden, little paths through nature, and impressive restored buildings, and then plonk yourself down on the well-kept lawns and crack open the pasties and pop (or, if you’re posh, the couscous, salad and elderflower cordial).
Gibside is between Sunniside and High Spen. There are also regular events – check out the National Trust’s Gibside page to see what’s coming up.