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Alnmouth Beach

28 Feb

Check out the kite skills:

We are pretty spoilt for beaches here in the North East. From the vast expanse of Druridge Bay, to secluded spots like Sugar Sands or the all-action Tynemouth Longsands.

But one of my favourite all-rounders is Alnmouth. Parking practically on the beach almost feels like cheating, and is especially handy when it’s just me and the kids. I can keep nipping back to the car for the kite, ball, blanket, buckets, spades, rug, picnic, change of clothes, and the rest of the paraphernalia you bring to set up camp for the day.

Gazing out across the white sand and sea, you get that desert island feeling – but just a few minutes walk and you are in Alnmouth – with ice cream parlours, pubs, fish and chips and the glamourous but handy toilet facilities!

The walk round to the village takes you past fishing boats and keep going you will come to a lovely play park.

Or walk to the left and there is a great walk along the beach, up over the sand dunes and back to the car park.

Visit Alnmouth

Random fact: not one for the kids perhaps but Alnmouth is home to the UK’s most haunted hotel…

Read about The Schooner Hotel and its resident spirits here

 

 

 

 

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Geocaching with kids: treasure hunting in a digital age

5 Feb

 

I had heard of the term geocaching, but to be honest, had no idea what it was. It conjured up in my mind images of shivering computer geeks meeting up in a forest somewhere for a purpose I couldn’t imagine…

So I was intrigued when a friend told me they had tried it with their kids  -and were hooked.

Once I “googled it,” I couldn’t understand why I had not discovered this before. I am constantly trying to come up with ways to bribe/trick my kids into “going for a walk.” I learned long ago that this was one phrase you never said. Instead, there has to be a purpose, eg. “let’s go collect shells on the beach,” “let’s go and see if there is any snow at the top of this hill,” or usually “look at this massive cookie you can have once we get to the top.”

But now I had geocaching up my sleeve, or basically treasure hunting in the digital age.

It originates from an original “stash” that was placed in a wood in 2000 by Dave Ulmer, an IT expert from Oregon, who then posted the coordinates on the internet.

The public GPS signals we enjoy today were limited due to security fears until May 2000, when, Bill Clinton, decided that GPS could be made more useful to people and organisations across the globe.

The Ordnance Survey explain the basics:

What is Geocaching? 

Geocaching can be described in simple terms as treasure hunting for the digital generation. Instead of using the conventional compasses and printed maps more commonly associated with orienteering, participants rely on global positioning system (GPS) technology to find their way to certain points around the globe. These spots are found using coordinates published online by other forum members who have hidden boxes or containers (caches) there.

These boxes – often airtight Tupperware-style containers – can contain pretty much anything. In their most basic form, they’ll usually have a log book for hunters to record their names and the dates on which they find the stash. Much of the excitement, however, lies in seeing what other trinkets and souvenirs have been left. If the finder decides to take anything away, they’re required to leave something of equal or greater value for the next person to discover – and the chain begins!

– read all about it from the experts here

To the test: 

We went to geocaching.com where you can sign in for free or log in with facebook.

We then put in our postcode and it brought up a surprisingly high number nearby.

They are rated by difficulty, and being our first time, we went for the easiest.

Even though you have the coordinates – there is still quite a bit of searching involved, and I wasn’t even really sure what I was trying to find.

Thankfully there are extra hints to help. Ours was this:

Face the roundabout and choose the seat on the right. Sit on the left hand side and look down to the left. This will crack you up!

As we wandered round and round and fumbled through leaves, I was starting to think this was a bad idea – if I couldn’t produce a winning result on our first attempt – this plan of mine was doomed.

Thankfully, in the spirit of all things digital, previous treasure hunters can leave further hints and tips to help you on your way and soon I spotted the green tube in a crack in the wall and jackpot – relief all round.

The girls enjoyed unravelling the log role and writing in our name – there was no trinket left behind, which was a bit disappointing, but as we hadn’t come prepared with our own gift to leave behind it was probably for the best.

Sign up for geocaching and you also enter into a worldwide community, which is centered around sharing information and also respect for the environment  – our clue urged us to pick up any litter we found lying around too.

Gaining in confidence, we headed on a second mission. This one completely brought out my inner geek, combining a mini history lesson and code breaking…

geocacheemily

In memory of Emily Wilding Davison, a prominent member of the Suffragette Movement, who died a few days after she walked in front of the King’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby. This incident was one of the first sports disasters caught on film and shows the horrific impact and aftermath of the collision.

St. Mary’s Churchyard in Morpeth is very old and its residents diverse. It has a Lychgate at the entrance from the A197 and somewhere within it is a watchtower used to protect the fresh graves from the resurrection men (yuk).

The coordinates will take you to Emily’s grave in St. Mary’s churchyard. Use the inscriptions on the grave to find the missing numbers in the coordinates to the cache.

N 55° 09.abc
W001° 41.def

a = age of Ethel at death
b = numeral of month of Alfred’s death
c = second numeral of Charles’ age at death
d = half the number of fenceposts at the grave
e = number of letters in the word describing ‘princess’
f = day of the month on which Charles died

 

The verdict? 

Yes, so OK, perhaps the other half and I did get slightly more excited about it than the kids… and yes, I think I will still need that emergency massive cookie in my bag. But they did enjoy ‘the hunt’ and opening the little barrel, especially when there was a bit of ‘treasure’ left inside. So I am preparing our ‘geoswag’ and am looking forward to our next family geocaching adventure (and maybe even one without the kids too…)

What do you need to get started?

A GPS device or smartphone

An account with http://www.geocaching.com

Geoswag – trinkets to swap eg keyrings, loombands, shopkins, matchbox cars

A pen and paper for any extra note taking/code cracking

**a hand held mirror for looking under things once you get super advanced!

Find out more:

  • Read more expert advice from experienced family geocachers here
  • A list of what to take with you here
  • advice from netmums here

 

 

Cragside and the Labyrinth

30 Sep

Cragside is so vast, we are always finding new areas of the estate to explore. Spotted this good place for a breather before we got lost in the Labyrinth… enjoy the surprise if you find the middle!

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Cragside House & Gardens

Family bouldering at Shaftoe

18 Jul

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Northumberland has so many natural playgrounds. We headed to Shaftoe crags for a family bouldering session.
Great for parents to have a play as well as the kids for a change!

Despite being only a short drive from Newcastle, there is something about the crags of Northumberland that makes me feel I have ventured into another world or far into the past. And the children enjoyed hearing how the rocks have their own names such as Devil’s Punchbowl and Piper’s Chair.

Parking:

From Belsay on the A696, head for Bolam Lake. Go past the lake car park on the right to a crossroads, turn left along an unmetalled road past a row of cottages. Park by the wall on the moor just over the cattle grid.

To the crags:

Follow the wall up the hill until you go through the gate, then turn left and follow the path along the wall that takes you down in amongst the rocks.

Bolam Lake

18 Jul

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A natural playground, this easy walk round Bolam Lake has trees to climb, swans to feed and lots of places for hide & seek.
Free parking & a cafe.

http://www.northumberland.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=1894

Scowling dwarfs and ancient stones: a walk at Simonside

12 Jul

Despite being carted up hills and even the odd mountain since they were bairns in backpacks, mention the word “walk” to my kids (six and four) and the response is something like eurghhharrrgh and “why?”

So I have to get a bit more creative to lure them out to where I want to go and think “will be good for them really.”

And this week my creativity involved some stories about the ancient scowling dwarfs said to roam the hills of Simonside dressed in lambskin and a moss hat – and basically bribery of an amazing picnic once you got to the top…

But the odd whine and whinge from my own “scowling dwarfs” was definitely worth it as wow, there is some view and it is not every day you get to eat your lunch next to rock carvings said to be 4,000 years old.

For anyone not familiar with the history of Simonside, near Rothbury, Countryfile sums it up pretty well here:

“The fell sandstones of the Simonside Hills were deposited from a river delta some 330 million years ago. Weathering

and erosion have led to their dominant aspect, which makes them recognisable throughout the county. Their spiritual significance to the Bronze Age people, 5000 years ago, is evident in the burial tombs and rock carvings that adorn the slopes and summits.”

The main car park, just a few minutes drive from Rothbury, has a map of the  area. We followed the red route  (pictured below)  and it was very well signposted and easy to follow. But a shorter route which may be better for younger children is available here along with lots of extra info about the area.

http://www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/simonsidefamily-adult-lo.pdf

Points of interest:

Little Church Rock This isolated outcrop of fell sandstone is hidden within the forest. Its name may be a reference to the rock’s use as a gathering place. There is a set of cup marks in the stone on the lower right side of the rock which are thought to be man-made and could be over 4,000 years old.

The Simonside Dwarfs also known as Brownmen, Bogles and Duergar are a race of ugly dwarfs. Their leader was said to be known as Roarie. They are said to mostly appear at night, when they prey on lost travellers by showing a light to draw the traveller nearer, and then tricking them into a bog or luring them over the edge of a precipice. Read more about these little critters here:

http://faeryfolklorist.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/duergars-of-simonside.html

 

 

 

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Bluebells and stone skimming in Plessey Woods

26 Apr

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Like the blue sky, breaking up through the earth”

The bluebells are just starting to flower in Plessey Woods so I’m going to make sure I head back again next week, as I’ve heard it’s a wonderful sight.
Spotting signs of spring is a popular past time in our house at the moment. “Mummy, mummy, come and look at THIS!! Look NEW LEEEAVES!!!” And our walk to school takes twice as long as they fill their pockets with fallen blossom.

 

 

 

 

 

wpid-img_20150426_175024.jpgI may not get as excited as my four-year-old but I do love spring and those first hints of the summer to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

wpid-img_20150426_173400.jpgAnother past time I also never seem to grow out of is stone skimming. There were some crackers down by the river today, dare I even say I think I found the perfect one?! Although I still lost out to the other half in the distance competition.
After much coaching and a few near knock outs (of me as stones came whizzing past my head) Charlotte managed to skim her first stone too, even if just two hops.

Her sister meanwhile looked more like she was auditioning for the highland games and was happier hurling small boulders in to the water, I kept my distance.

 

 

 

 

We then headed home via the play park, which is next to toilets (always handy!) and a small cafe.

There’s a good size car par that is now free too!

Plessey Woods Country Park (Bluebell Woods) is located near Hartford Bridge, off the A192, mid way between Bedlington and Cramlington and about 5 miles south of Morpeth.

The Park offers 100 acres of woodland, meadow and riverside to explore. The woodland is home to many birds such as the great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch and tree creeper, as well as animals including red squirrel, roe deer and fox. The banks of the River Blyth are also an important habitat for wildlife, such as kingfishers, dippers and otters.

http://www.northumberland.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=1892

 

Apparently our beloved bluebells are facing a fight for survival… read more here:

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/britains-bluebells-now-face-a-fight-for-their-very-survival-10204300.html

 

Other Bluebell Walks:

  • I grew up in Middlesbrough so naturally Roseberry Topping has to be my number one. The walk through Newton Wood to the top is simply stunning  http://www.northyorkmoors.org.uk/visiting/enjoy-outdoors/walking/our-walks/walking-routes/roseberry-topping-and-cooks-monument
  • The National Trust recommends Allen Banks, Northumberland and
  • Dunes behind Embleton Bay, Northumberland
  • Ratcheugh Observatory & Bluebell Walk, Alnwick http://www.visitnorthumberland.com/outdoor-event/ratcheugh-observatory-bluebell-walk
  •  Longacre Wood Hidden between the A1 at the Angel of the North and the main railway line this is Gateshead’s best bluebell wood with three ages of woodland to explore.
  • Northumberland Wildlife Trust suggests Goose’s Nest Bluebell Bank – This small site lies on a steep bank above the Ray Burn near Knowesgate and possesses a swathe of bluebells forming a magnificent display in late spring.

A few facts about Bluebells:

  • In folklore, bluebells are also known as ‘fairy flowers’. It was believed that fairies used bluebells to trap passersby particularly small children,
  • Other folklore tales would have us believe that by wearing a wreath made of bluebell flowers, the wearer would be compelled to speak only the truth. Or that if you could turn one of the flowers inside out without tearing it, you would eventually win the one you love.
  • Bluebell plants are poisonous.
  • 25-49% of the world’s population of bluebells are found in the UK.
  •  Bluebells can also be white. These rare individuals lack the pigment that gives bluebells their distinctive colour.
  • The bluebell is being studied for its medicinal qualities because it contains things called water-soluble alkaloids that could be useful in developing drugs to fight cancer.
  • “We love native bluebells for their wonderful scent of cooking apple, mango, lychees, ginger and freshly mown grass,” said Dr Trevor Dines, a botanist for Plantlife.
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson described bluebells as ‘like the blue sky, breaking up through the earth’.

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