The Northumberland countryside and coastline has something for everyone, whether it’s challenging trail runs, beach walks or gentle country ambles.
It boasts more castles than any other UK county, stately homes and gardens, plus the iconic Hadrian’s Wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the inspiration for the wall in Game of Thrones.
A record 1.5 million people visited Northumberland last year and, living in Gosforth, Newcastle, we spend most weekends exploring so we were thrilled to be invited to check out Morpeth.
We stayed at St Mary’s Inn near to Stannington village, a traditional pub and restaurant which is a short drive from the centre of Morpeth.
St Mary’s Hospital opened in 1914 as the Gateshead Borough Lunatic Asylum, was used by the military in the first and second World War, then became part of the NHS in 1948.
The site closed in 1996, and most of the hospital was demolished in 2015 to make way for housing, but the Administration Block became St Mary’s Inn.
The pub is stylish yet cosy with open fires and the rooms modern and spacious. We took along our terrier Patch – they have one dog friendly room – and had our own balcony with seating area.
Staff are accommodating when it comes to pets, with beds and bowls available if you forget to bring your own.
They even have bar snacks for dogs! We treated Patch to a pack of ‘Get Your Hound In’ chicken flavour crunchy treats which they sell behind the bar for £2.10.
While we were on a ‘healthy’ weekend, we couldn’t resist sampling the beer and wine on offer over dinner. As well as the restaurant, there’s a private dining area.
My boyfriend Tommy had the custom made St Mary’s Ale from the nearby Rigg & Furrow brewery and I enjoyed a few glasses of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
Head chef at the pub is Chris Cheek who has worked in Michelin Starred Northcote Manor and St Mary’s sister pub, Jesmond Dene House which has the Two AA Rosette.
I’ll be honest, fine dining isn’t for me, I’m a bit of a fusspot, and thankfully there was plenty on the menu to choose from.
We opted for items from the snack menu to start. I had a delicious, home-made red pepper humous and pitta bread and Tommy had a Black Pudding Scotch Egg with Tomato and Pepper Chutney.
For our mains, we had steaks with crispy onions, baked mushrooms, tomato and skinny fries.
I went for the Rump and Tommy the Bavette, sourced from R and J Butchers in Yorkshire, and both were juicy and grilled to perfection.
We shared a home-made Sticky Toffee Pudding with vanilla ice cream for dessert before turning in for the night ahead of an eight mile walk the next day.
Fuelled by a full English – Patch very much enjoyed the sausage – we set off into the middle of Morpeth for an eight mile walk around the river and woodland valley park.
It’s an ‘easy’ walk according to the map, and had I not been injured I think it would have made for a pleasant run too.
The first part of the walk takes you along the river – it’s fast moving so we kept Patch on a lead – then you cross farmland and open fields.
For wildlife lovers, there’s lots of woodland plants, squirrels and wild birds, and if you like photography, there’s plenty of stunning scenery to capture.
A short drive away is Belsay Hall Castle and Gardens, a 14th Century castle which is now an English Heritage property.
Once home to the Middleton family, you can wander around the family bedrooms adorned with wallpaper from the 1800s.
Outside, explore 30 acres of Grade 1 Listed Gardens including a Quarry Garden with its own microclimate.
Nearby is Warkworth Castle which stands on the hilltop above the River Coquet and Warkworth village. In the spring, the ground below is covered in daffodils.
It was home to the Percys, Northumberland’s greatest aristocratic family, and from the walls are stunning coastal views.
You can explore the castle, then walk along the coast to the pretty village of Alnmouth where there’s lots of friendly pubs and shops. Alnmouth Gin is a must for gin lovers.
It’s a four mile flat walk alongside a secluded sandy beach and there’s a cycle path too.
If you return to Warkworth for lunch, try The Mason’s Arms. Portions are very generous!
There’s so much to see and do in Northumberland, and St Mary’s is the perfect base.
Rooms start from £109 per night for bed and breakfast.
Find out more at https://www.stmarysinn.co.uk