Northumberland
Wanderlust Travel Magazine|November/December 2021
It proved too much for the Romans, but Gareth Clark finds inspiration in the wild, empty countryside, coast and kippers of his native Northumberland
Gareth Clark

Northumberland has two speeds. It's just that neither rises much above walking pace, which suits it fine. As a child growing up here, that could be frustrating; as an adult returning after years away, it's everything I wanted.

Inland, you'll find heather-clad fells, Roman relics and sweeping valleys. To the east, a craggy AONB coastline crumbles to soft, pillowy dunes and pretty fishing villages, as Holy Island looms out of the mist, straight from a JMW Turner painting and still one of the most elegantly desolate places on Earth.

History this far north is writ in thick chunks of stone. It wasn't just the Romans who were busy Hadrian's Wall spans 117km of Northumberland hills, cols, forts and, now, microbreweries – there are some 70 castles here, too, in what was once the largest medieval kingdom in England.

It hints at a fraught past. Border-dwelling Berwick-upon-Tweed has changed hands 14 times between Scotland and England (once as a ransom for King William I). And while Rome had to build one of the greatest feats of the ancient world to keep out Caledonia's tribes, border reivers, vikings and pirates plagued the land long after they left.

That legacy is now a tangible, walkable history, and it was on the trails that I finally fell for Northumberland. Epic paths trek windswept castle ruins above long, quiet sands or thread gusty valleys and old Roman fort towns inland along Hadrian's Wall. There is such a cold, sparse beauty to it all.

For an English county it is unthinkably wild and empty here. Just 320,000 people live in an area capable of squeezing in the largest Dark Sky Park in Europe. Nearly as many seabirds pack the Farne Islands offshore, which bustle with breeding puffins and resident grey seal colonies.

Wall country or coast, I get the same feeling. The two are just an hour's drive apart, and while Northumberland doesn't give up its secrets easily - even the Romans called it a day here - that's what I like about it. Stood under the clifftop ruins of Dunstanburgh castle or atop Steel Rigg, the wind burning my cheeks, it's a love that feels earned.

55.2083° N, 2.0784° W

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