History is around every corner in Northumberland, a county noted for its rugged beauty, stunning coastline and imposing castles. The makers of the Harry Potter films were so bewitched by lovely Alnwick Castle, they used it to shoot scenes for the Philosopher’s Stone and its sequel, the Chamber of Secrets.
While Alnwick Castle leaves visitors to Northumberland spellbound in its own right, the surrounding gardens are worth a visit too. A dramatic water cascade is the focal point of a growing tourist attraction that appeals to all ages, and it’s also home to the UK’s most dangerous garden, one with poisonous plants that harm instead of heal. For the morbidly curious, the informative and entertaining guided tour ticks all the boxes.
From a golfing point of view, so does Bamburgh Castle Golf Course, less than half-an-hour’s drive away. Bamburgh is a quaint village that was once the ecclesiastical and cultural centre of Western Europe, due to its close proximity to Lindisfarne, better known as ‘The Holy Island’. Way back in the seventh century, Saint Aidan chose to settle and spread the Christian message from his monastery on the Holy Island and pilgrims and more casual visitors still flock there to this day. Located a mile off the mainland in the North Sea, Lindisfarne can be accessed via a causeway — but only when the tide is out. Tales of stranded cars being washed out to sea are more frequent than you’d imagine.
Water isn’t a problem on the local golf course, which is playable virtually all year round and can be found a short stroll from the heart of the village, perched high up on the clifftops. From numerous vantage points on the golf course there are stunning views of the magnificent Bamburgh Castle, once home to the ancient King of Northumbria and still occupied as a private residence to this day. Visitors to the castle are more than welcome, unlike in the past when it was badly damaged while under siege during the 15th-century War of the Roses. You can even stay there too, in Neville Tower, a unique three-floor apartment built within the castle’s walls. On this occasion, we chose The Victoria Hotel, which was more than adequate for our party of three.
With the castle’s brooding presence, and the Farne Islands, famed for their large puffin presence, and the Cheviot Hills both looming in the distance, Bamburgh’s golf course has so much more to offer than 18 holes.
“I imagine that the golfer’s eye must be taken off the ball more often at Bamburgh than any other course,” wrote Bernard Darwin in his 1920s book Golf on the LNER (London & North Eastern Railway), “the view is so compellingly beautiful that we really have to look at it, no matter how critical the shot.”
Forming part of the three-legged ‘Northumberland Coastal Classic’ ticket along with Alnmouth to the south
and Berwick (Goswick) to the north — a bargain at only £105 for the three — Bamburgh is one of those must-play courses that even legendary golf commentator Peter Alliss admitted was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The welcome we received from the community-based club is a lot warmer than the climate on the day in question. And, even if the strong offshore winds get the better of you, you can’t help but leave with a smile on your face.
Before heading north to Goswick Links in Berwick-on-Tweed for the second leg of the Coastal Classic, our three-ball of very average golfers dine at The Mizen Head before taking on another course whose skyline is dominated by a castle. Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Club neatly wraps around Embleton Bay, recently voted the best stretch of coastline in Britain, and provides a traditional links golf experience. Once again, the scenery was far better than the golf played on the day. Sliced shots and missed putts were discussed afterwards at the widely-acclaimed Craster Seafood Restaurant; the food and views on offer didn’t disappoint.
Goswick, Northumberland’s number one rated course, does not need ‘bigging up’. At just over 6,800 yards long, from the medal tees, it’s a thing of size and beauty, although Britain’s long, dry summer of 2018 had left the ground parched at the time of our visit. The sumptuous selection of food and beverages on offer in the quaint clubhouse meant we were far more replenished than the fairways and, overall, the experience was top drawer.
Located on the outskirts of the border town of Berwick-on-Tweed, Goswick is an ideal stop-off point for golfers looking to go on and explore the east coast of Scotland. That said, Berwick has plenty to offer in its own right. Over the years it’s seen its fair share of struggles and large sections of the town walls, originally built in the 13th century to repel Scottish invaders, are still visible to this day.
For those seeking tranquility, Northumberland is one of England’s least densely populated regions and offers all manner of peaceful retreats. The fabulous Northumberland International Dark Sky Park at Kielder Park gives you the chance to lift your head and look up and marvel at the skies — a rarity for any self-respecting golfer. Due to the lack of light pollution, it’s the best place in England to see the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.
If you want to indulge in a bit of star-gazing of the golfing variety, Ryder Cup legend Lee Westwood has strong links with Close House Golf Club. Set in stunning Northumberland countryside, it’s close to the village of Heddon-on-the-Wall, where the longest unbroken stretch of Hadrian’s Wall can be found.
Time was against us heading inland to play the superb Hunting Course at Slaley Hall, near Hexham, but it was fitting that, in a county with so much history, our parting shots were at Alnmouth (Foxton Hall), the fourth-oldest course in England.