Where are Europe’s best winter beaches? The Costa del Sol? Ibiza? The Dalmatian coast?
How about northern England where the weather is bracing, windy and cold? Still not convinced?
Well, a recent trip to Bamburgh on the north east coast reminded me of how great this beach is in winter especially when the sun is shining, the skies are blue and temperatures are hovering around 0 degrees.
Before you think I’ve gone mad, I have excellent reasons for recommending this beach location for a winter trip.
First, its pristine golden sands are some of the best you’ll find anywhere in Europe. Secondly, its relative solitude and unspoilt sands stretch as far as the eye can see, making this a treat for beachcombers, young and old.
Finally, this is more than simply a beach…
There are great walks north to Budle Bay, a haven for birds, and south to Craster, a small fishing village renowned for its kippers.
Add to this the impressive views of the Farne Islands and the nearby village of Bamburgh with its historic associations – and you have a great beach destination.
OK, you will need gloves on to build a sand castle at this time of year, and you’ll certainly require a decent hooded jacket, walking boots and woolly hat. But it’s a stunning location with its crashing waves and golden sands.
If you’re feeling like a bit of fun, try recreating Bamburgh Castle as a sand castle complete with a moat. Tony tried his hand at sand art but didn’t get much further than building the foundations of his beach mansion.
In reality you need a small child or two to indulge in this traditional beach activity which is why Bamburgh makes for a great day out for families.
Beachcombing is a total revelation in winter.
It’s so quiet that there’s little disturbance so you never know what you might pick up on the sands. Feathers, shells, stones scuplted by the tides and oddities that have been washed up are waiting to be discovered.
Keep your eyes open for interesting objects and traces of birds, sea weed and marine life. Don’t forget a small net if you’re looking for crustaceans lurking in the rock pools.
Always remember to put marine life back where you find it and don’t venture into dangerous tidal areas on your own.
This feather belongs to a large sea bird, perhaps a Black-backed Gull, but we found many more scattered along the beach, challenging our bird recognition skills!
There’s something for everyone on Bamburgh beach from sedate dog walkers to kite surfers and dune explorers. Walkers can enjoy a great circular walk around the coast and dunes whilst those of a sportier inclination should try their hand at kite surfing.
Failing that, why not go fly a kite or even get into the sea and try some serious surfing?
But don’t forget your wet suit in winter – you’ll need one if you’re intending on spending any length of time in the freezing cold sea.
Back from the beach you can climb up through the dunes where you’ll find yourself in an entirely different, more sheltered habitat with small lagoons.
This provides different views of the castle and welcome cover during windy weather.
Continue along the footway back to the castle car park and from there it’s a short walk back down hill into Bamburgh village where there are several decent public houses and restaurants.
Take a detour to Bamburgh Castle which dates from the 6th Century. Today’s castle was remodelled is the 18th and 19th centuries but shows evidence of its early medieval routes.
In the 7th Century Bamburgh was known as “the very foundation stone of England” and became home to the powerful kings of Northumbria.
An 8th Century writer described it as a “strongly fortified city” covering an impressively large site with almost impregnable defences.
Its bloody history is well-documented including forays by the marauding Vikings who attacked and ransacked the castle in 993 AD.
After 1066, the Normans rebuilt the castle as an important military and defensive base, using it for forays over the Scottish borders.
Today the imposing Great Tower lies at the heart of the castle and its impressive fortifications. Built in 1164 at the grand cost of £4 it was visited by a succession of English kings including King John and Kings Edward I. II and III.
One of the intriguing facts I discovered was that death by assassination on the toilet was a major hazard for soldiers in medieval times.
Assassins with spears often perched waiting for their victims below the garderobes (toilets) which were positioned on the top of the steep castle walls!
In the 18th Century the castle was remodelled as a residence for the Fraser family and was further restored by a trust, led by Dr John Sharp,
The enlightened Sharp was a social pioneer who started an early ‘welfare’ system for people living in the nearby village including a surgery, midwifery and pharmacy.
The castle also housed education activities for 300 underprivileged children in an early example of philanthropy and ‘the big society’.
Dr Sharp also developed a pioneering coastguard system, rescue services and a lifeboat, thought to be the first of their kind in the world.
In 1894 the great industrialist Lord Armstrong bought the castle and restored it as a splendid Victorian mansion which is how it appears today.
The castle has many fascinating stories to tell and its well-furnished interior is worth the visit. Don’t forget to walk the castle walls and battlements for an insight into its medieval past.
Back in Bamburgh why not relax and enjoy life in this sleepy village, perhaps taking in a game of football on the sports ground next to the castle.
Just at the back of the beach look out for the regular Saturday games during the football season. We arrived in time for the Bamburgh Town versus Wooler Reserves match which turned out to be a one-sided thriller.
Although we missed the first 10 minutes the score was already 3-0 to the home team and quickly became 8-0.
We soon lost count as the balls flew into the back of the net – Bamburgh Town were on fire! Perhaps it was something to do with the sea air?
Tammy’s top tips – Bamburgh
Bamburgh is located about 50 miles north of Newcastle and not far from the Scottish borders off the main A1 road from which it is a short drive.
Bamburgh Castle is open year round including the winter months when its opening times are restricted to weekends.
There’s plenty of car parking at Bamburgh Castle, opposite the castle (pictured below), in the village or at the beach car park at The Wyndings.
The Wyndings is a great place to start a beach walk towards the castle or in the other direction to Budle Bay.
Don’t forget to check tide times to make the most of your trip. It may sound obvious but keep safe and take precautions if you’re doing sporty activities as the sea can be ferocious in winter.
Bamburgh village has lots of pubs and a few restaurants catering for all pockets, including The Olive Tree which is part of the Lord Crewe Arms pub and hotel.
Don’t forget to try the famous local Bamburgh sausages.
Whilst in Bamburgh, why not visit the Grace Darling Museum and walk the Town Trail which takes in the main sites associated with this Victorian heroine.
Down on the beach… you can walk as far as Dunstanburgh and Craster, if you’re feeling active, where you can reward yourself with some delicious Craster kippers.
The end to a perfect winter beach trip!