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Travel: A fun family getaway to an historic, cosy cottage in Northumberland

© Shutterstock / Michael ConradDunstanburgh Castle remains, Northumberland
Dunstanburgh Castle remains, Northumberland

The forecast did not look good. Mizzle prevailed as we hurtled down the A1, hurrying out of London on our way to Northumberland. Two hours into the journey, however, and the rain abruptly stopped.

Rays of sunshine pierced the grey clouds as we emerged from the Tyne Tunnel and, not long after crossing Northumberland county lines, hints of blue skies appeared. This, we all agreed, was a good omen.

I was travelling with my husband and three children, and we were all eager for a break from the big smoke. With GCSEs looming for my eldest, a longer holiday overseas was not on the cards this Easter so, when the opportunity arose to visit Northumberland, we jumped at the chance. What followed was a magical four days that left us all questioning why we had left it so long to visit this captivating corner of the UK.

Granted, it helped that our home over the following few days was a truly stunning place to stay. The Gardener’s Cottage is a new-to-the-market holiday home managed by luxury lettings company Crabtree & Crabtree.

The living room at the Gardener’s Cottage © Alix McIntosh Photography
The living room at the Gardener’s Cottage.

Located on Twizell Estate in the pretty village of Warenford, both the property and grounds have a distinguished history. Twizell Estate once belonged to eminent botanist and ornithologist Prideaux John Selby. In 1819 he created a walled garden and the Gardener’s Cottage was built shortly thereafter.

The attractive stone cottage was home to a series of head gardeners for 150 years and then tenanted for a further 30. It has recently undergone an 18-month renovation by Charlie and Lizzie Maling-Dunn, the current estate owners, who have transformed the property from a run-down rural home into a beautiful bucolic bolthole.

“We wanted to bring some of the heritage of the property into the house,” says Charlie, who was there to meet us when we arrived. “That’s why we have the tree-themed wallpaper in the dining room and flowers throughout. We wanted to bring some of the outside in.”

Today, the design-led cottage is both very beautiful and very comfortable. It’s so congenial that on some days it was a struggle to drag ourselves away from the cosy living room and its wood-burning stove.

Having arrived with zero plans, we were grateful that Charlie shared some of his favourite local things to do and first up was the market town of Alnwick.

Located just a 15-minute drive from the estate, it’s famous for its castle where Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was filmed, and its garden with a mysterious section dedicated entirely to deadly plants.

One of the bedrooms. © Alix McIntosh Photography
One of the bedrooms.

What our gang of five was most interested in, however, was the whimsical play village, Lilidorei. Home to the largest play structure in the world, the £15.5 million park was conceived by the Duchess of Northumberland and opened in May last year. Although officially aimed at children aged 11 and below, it captured the imagination of my two teens as much as their nine-year-old brother.

Once we managed to drag the kids away, we wandered the streets of Alnwick, losing a couple of hours in Barter Books. Housed in the town’s former railway station, a grand Victorian structure, it is one of the largest second-hand book shops in the UK. Almost as popular is its ice cream shop next-door that serves enormous locally made scoops.

After breakfast on our second day – largely made from items left for us by Charlie and Lizzy in their generous welcome pack – we drove to the small fishing village of Craster. The sun blazed brightly in a brilliant blue sky as we wandered leisurely along the marked coastal trail.

This is not a strenuous walk by any means (a mere 2.6 miles return), but it is incredibly pretty, offering spectacular views along the coast and towards the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle, once one of the largest and grandest fortifications in northern England. When we eventually made it back to Craster we bought fish and chips from the Jolly Fisherman Inn and ate them, piping hot, watching the colourful fishing boats bobbing gently in the harbour.

Luxury dining room. © Alix McIntosh Photography
Luxury dining room.

Rain lashing against the windows woke us on our final morning but despite protests from the younger family members we grabbed our coats and jumped in the car; we weren’t going to let a little wet weather stop us from visiting Holy Island.

Also known as Lindisfarne, this tidal island is famous for its age-old priory and its 16th-century hilltop castle. After braving the wind and the rain we stopped for a much-deserved cup of hot chocolate and homemade carrot cake at the family run Pilgrims Coffee House before retreating to our cosy living room at the Gardener’s Cottage. As far as first-time experiences go, our introduction to Northumberland is going to be hard to beat.

P.S. Prideaux John Selby, the renowned botanist and ornithologist, was the former owner of Twizell Estate. He is best known for his Illustrations of British Ornithology book which featured for the first time life-sized illustrations of British birds. Many of the illustrations in his works were drawn from specimens in his collection.


Seven nights at Gardener’s Cottage, Twizell Estate (sleeps six) is available through Crabtree & Crabtree from £825. To book visit or call 01573 226711.