It’s a starry, starry night in Northumberland, the best place in England to turn your gaze to the moonlit skies.
And we’re here at the perfect time. During the autumn and winter months, when the nights draw in, the skies in this part of the world become a clear, diamond-studded canvas.
If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of aurora borealis, the spectacular Northern Lights. The North East coast is renowned as being one of the best spots outside Norway to see this natural phenomenon illuminating the sky with intense rainbow hues.
On our weekend break in late September, we saw only stars. But visitors who head there over the next few months can better their chances of seeing the lights. A host of free astronomical events will be running in Northumberland’s International Dark Sky Park, (an area covering 1500 sq km of Kielder Forest and Northumberland National Park). There will also be family star-gazing events on the coast, a designated Area of Outstanding Beauty.
Events are thanks to Northumberland Astronomical Society, who want to raise awareness of the importance of the area’s dark skies, and include laser-guided tours of the night sky, and, weather permitting, an opportunity to observe the stars by telescope.
If you are not a night owl, worry not. Your senses will be sated by all the beautiful sights Northumberland has to offer during daylight hours... Magnificent scenery, majestic castles and beautiful, seemingly endless beaches lashed by a wild North Sea.
We walked for miles on a sandy stretch of dramatic coastline with the majestic Bamburgh Castle behind us and views to the Farne Islands out to sea. We explored quaint little Alnwick and revived our spirits in olde worlde tea shops and ancient pubs - and were so exhausted come dusk, all we wanted to do was head back to our gorgeous hotel and crash out.
We stayed at Doxford Hall Hotel and Spa, a grand and graceful 19th century 4 Red Star country hotel close to Alnwick, set in a manicured private estate with its own yew tree maze. The feel is Downton Abbey, country gentry posh - with the addition of modern day luxuries and comforts, including a swimming pool, sauna, steam rooms and spa baths.
But the best thing about Doxford is its staff. Friendly, down to earth North Easterners, they lift the atmosphere from what could so easily be starchy into something so much more relaxing.
The food in the George Runciman restaurant, which boats 2AA rosettes, was absolutely stunning; quality local produce used skilfully and creatively. There was no need to go in search of a restaurant when the very best is was a lazy walk away from our gorgeous four-poster bedroom. Joy of joys, it was a dog-friendly room, which meant we could take the faithful hound with us - a real rarity on a luxury break.
When you’re in such spectacular walking country, leaving the dog at home seems akin to animal cruelty.