Watching the birds


Research earlier this year showed that watching garden birds is good for your mental health. We certainly find it a relaxing break from the hurly-burly of modern life, whether it’s while sipping a coffee in the conservatory or out on the hills.

Birds on feeder

Watching the birds from the conservatory at Homildon Cottage

Here is a list of our sightings over a few days in late June…

Garden: Wren, Blue tit, Great tit, Coal tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Dunnock, House sparrow, Tree sparrow, Robin, Blackbird, Song thrush, Mistle thrush, Starling, Wood pigeon, Collared dove, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow warbler, Pied Wagtail, Nuthatch, Swift, Swallow, Greater spotted woodpecker, Pheasant

Within a few hundred yards of the cottage: Mallard, Little grebe, Moorhen, Crow, Rook, Jackdaw, Heron, Oyster catcher, Curlew, Snipe, Lapwing, Buzzard, Red grouse, Red legged partridge, Skylark, Meadow pipit

Within a mile of the house: Whitethroat, Stonechat, Wheatear, Gold crest, Spotted flycatcher, Sand martin, Grey wagtail

Think this sounds soothing but don’t know where to start? The RSPB have made a handy introduction to birdwatching.




Dispatches from the Cheviot hills


Below we republish extracts from a blog by a recent guest at Homildon Cottage inspired by the Cheviots and North Northumberland in Spring.

Low, red-roofed Homildon Cottage forms the gatepost to Northumberland National Park and St Cuthbert’s Way all the way to Lindisfarne. It nestles below historic Humbleton Hill (the cottage keeps the older name) and its garden gives way to bilberry, heather and the unfurling fiddleheads of bracken. There are lapwings nesting beyond the back gate and curlew calling from the hill. All the luxurious lie-ins we’ve promised ourselves are irrelevant in an instant.

We are out first thing on the high, domed Cheviots, mountain biking, walking, birding. The dry stone walls are limed and whitened with lichen, punched through with oak and sycamore roots, haunted by wrens and redstart and threaded through with hunting stoats. The hills are alive with meadow pipits, skylarks, bright-billed oystercatchers, wheatear, whin and stonechat. And an evocative soundtrack to die for.

Red grouse display and call ‘like a duck falling downstairs’ according to my son, and follow with their famous, ventriloquistic ‘go back, go back’. But we won’t, not yet. Snipe ‘sing’ with the sound of someone sawing through wet wood and when one goes up drumming above me, my heart catches at the sound: atmospheric and all but lost at home.

We are here at such an exciting time. The migratory spring birds are coming in off the East Coast, the numbers of willow warblers doubling daily, their song a lilting laugh. Harthope valley is full of golden gorse and its scent of coconut ice cream. We walk alongside the beautiful Carey Burn as it tumbles round rocks marked by otters. I scan warm shale slopes for ring ouzels and get left behind as I try to take it all in.

But of course: Northumberland was wilder, more remote, more rugged. The house was bigger, nicer and there was a brilliant chef (in the form of my lovely Father-in-law). And the dark night skies were infinitely darker.

[On the Farne Islands,] puffins ran down turf burrows and razorbills with white ribbon bridles jostled with chocolate-brown guillemots. We spotted cormorant and shag nests and the blue enamel pears of guillemot eggs. On the boat home, soaked to our underwear, a pod of six dolphins broke the surface, rolling like the smooth submerged cogs of something working below the surface we couldn’t fathom.

On our last evening, we climbed Humbleton hill again, huddling in strong winds in the 17thC summit cairn and looked out to Scotland, the oxbow of the ottery River Till and Wooler Water below us, with views towards Yeavering Bell and its ancient herd of wild goats. Squared plantations and garrisoned woods darkened into ranks, bristling with pike-pines as we thought of the 800 Scots who died here fighting Hotspur in 1402.

The dark night sky darkened. There are stars in our hair and on the shoulder of the hill. The lights from a distant car sideswipe the hill like a searchlight, we shy away from it instinctively, fugitives from the light and the rest of the world. The last bird I hear is a grey partridge calling me home and the ‘go back, go back’ cries of red grouse. We take an emotional leaving …


Thanks to Nicola Chester for permission to reproduce extracts of her writing. She stayed as a guest at Homildon Cottage in Spring 2017. These  extracts are from her Nature Writing blog and can be read in full in the articles Eastwards: the Cheviots in Spring. and Hill forts, islands & leavings. She also runs Wild Writing Workshops and contributed to the Seasons anthologies, among The Guardian’s & The Telegraph’s 2016 Books of the Year.

 

Picture: Nicola Chester

 

 




Great reasons to Visit Northumberland


The benefits of visiting Northumberland are much in the news recently.

 

Earlier this month, the Northumberland National Park was voted the UK’s National Park of the Year while Bamburgh Castle scooped Landmark of the year.

Visit Northumberland

Tonight’s edition of London’s local paper, the Evening Standard, carries a full page on Northumberland, urging the capital’s residents to come and stay. It points out that “England’s northernmost county is less than four hours from London by train, but a world away in terms of sights and scenery”.

Suggesting that booking a break in a rural cottage might allow Londoners “space to gather your thoughts”, it also helpfully points out that many “stand within easy walking distance of cosy country pubs”.

Among the highlights listed are the 684 miles of paths amongst the stunning scenery of Northumberland National Park. Walk along St Cuthbert’s Way, join the climax of the Pennine Way – or simply strike off on your own for mile after mile of empty hill and open countryside.

The nearby coast has many beautiful spots and beaches, studded with castles. The best known of these, Bamburgh Castle, has been the site of a citadel for millennia with a history of occupation dating back to the 1st century BC.

Both the new press campaign and the BBC Countryfile award stressed the joy of stargazing in Northumberland with our Dark Skies, promising the marvel of the starlit heavens and a glimpse of the Milky Way. The Northumberland International Dark Sky Park covers no less than 572 square miles and holds “gold tier” status.

As if all this wasn’t enough to convince weary city dwellers to head to the hills, Virgin Trains are offering a 30% reduction on Off Peak fares booked this month.

With so much going for it, maybe visiting Northumberland is not a hard sell – but well done Northumberland Tourism for their “Love the North” round up of attractions and getting the word out across the country!




Gold Award from VisitEngland


We are chuffed to have won a Gold Award to sit alongside our 4 star self-catering cottage status from Visit England.

4 star Self-catering VisitEngland award

Gold Award VisitEngland

 

VisitEngland is the National Tourist Board for England, and explain their Gold Award as:

No matter what the star rating or designator, you can find accommodation which excels in hospitality and service and has top scores for bedrooms, bathrooms, food and cleanliness. These special properties hold a VisitEngland Gold or Silver Award, which offer the ‘best of the best’, regardless of the range of facilities and services they offer. There are 4,536 Gold Award properties and 1,189 with a Silver Award across England.

 

Homildon Cottage also achieved a clean sweep of the VisitEngland official “Welcome” accreditations.

 

Walkers Welcome VisitEngland logo“Walkers Welcome” award

This UK-wide scheme was developed with expert advice and support from the Countryside Agency and the Youth Hostel Association, gives walkers the confidence that they are booking quality accommodation that meets their particular needs such as boot scrapers, drying space and local maps.

Cyclists Welcome VisitEngland Logo“Cyclists Welcome”

Similar to the Walkers Welcome award, this gives cyclists the confidence that they are booking quality accommodation that meets the particular needs of cycling such as lockable undercover bike storage and an emergency cycle and puncture repair kit.

Families Welcome VisitEngland logo“Families Welcome”

We welcome families and consideration has been given to the specific requirements of families with children. See details of our facilities or contact us to ask more.

Pets Welcome VisitEngland logo“Pets Welcome”

We have always been a pet-friendly cottage, and now have the “badge” to prove it!

 

What a great way to finish 2015 … and we hope to welcome you to our cottage in the course of 2016!




Best friend has four legs? Great, we're a dog-friendly holiday cottage!


Don’t leave your furry friend at home!

 

We’re animal lovers and love being able to take our pet on holiday with us, and we want our guests to be able to enjoy Homildon and the Northumberland countryside with their loyal companion alongside. That’s why Homildon is a pet-friendly holiday cottage.

Dog friendly holiday cottage - Photo Iain Lees [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Beautiful scenery all year round! (Pic: Iain Lees [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Homildon is the perfect place to have a staycation with your dog (or dogs!). The cottage is located at the end of a quiet lane just on the border of the National Park with many footpaths and bridleways leading into the moors. The number of passing dog-walkers heading into the Park will tell you how great the Cheviot Hills are to walk (or run) with your dogs – and so peaceful you may not see another soul all day.

Humbleton Hill provides a great leg stretching walk not far from the cottage. The beaches of Northumberland’s coast are also popular for dog walking – they are huge, open expanses with shallow surf to run and play!

Northumberland holiday garden

Our back garden

But you won’t even need to strike out into the hills or drive to the coast to give your pet some fresh air and exercise. Our large garden provides a great place to supervise your dogs or play with one of the throwing toys provided.

We aim to please our four legged guests as much as our two legged ones. As a dog-friendly cottage, we provide a doggy welcome pack including a fleece blanket and microfibre towel per dog, treats, throwing toys, food/water bowls, and one large and one small plastic dog beds.

You can buy pet food supplies locally at the Co-op and garden centre. Our local butcher T R Johnson even sells his own blend of frozen dog mince, and no doubt would be able to rustle up a nice meaty bone!

Many of the local pubs allow dogs, including the Black Bull in Wooler, so after a hard day’s walking you can all retire to the pub for a restorative drink before heading back to your dinner slow-cooking in the AGA.

We only ask that our four-legged guests are flea-treated, bring their own cushion/soft bed if required, and respect the local landowners by staying on the lead in livestock fields and around nesting birds.

If your furry friend isn’t a dog, get in touch. We will try to accommodate other pets if possible, so please enquire.




Well-equipped kitchen


Created by keen cooks, Homildon Cottage’s kitchen comes well-equipped. So whether slow cooking a stew to come home, baking tea time treats or brewing early morning coffee, the budding chef will find they need on hand.




Northumberland National Park: Cottage's Phenomenal "Backyard"


At Homildon Cottage, we are fortunate enough to have the Northumberland National Park right on our doorstep: our garden fence is the boundary of the Park! In our opinion, this is one of England’s greatest landscape treasures with a breathtaking majesty.

 

  • Size: 1048 square kilometres (404 square miles)
  • Highest point: The Cheviot – 815 metres (2,674 ft) above sea level
  • Population: 2,200
  • Population density: 2.1 people per square kilometre

 

Northumberland National Park is one of the 15 National Parks across the UK, protected countryside set aside for anyone to visit, but where people also live, work and shape the landscape. It has existed since 1956 and covers over 1000 square kilometres. The least populated national park in the UK, it is also one of the least visited. It is a haven of peace, quiet and open countryside where it is possible to walk for hours without encountering another person – truly one of England’s last remaining great wildernesses.

The park occupies almost a quarter of the entire county, which The Telegraph describes as “England’s border country, where the reivers – cattle rustlers – once held sway, still feels untamed and under-explored. It boasts the least light-polluted spot in England (Kielder Water), a string of castles, the high heathered roof of the Cheviot Hills, and the Priory at Lindisfarne, Britain’s most distinctive coastal feature.”

Northumberland National Park: the overview

At the northern end of the National Park are the Cheviot Hills running to and across the Scottish border. These were formed by extensive volcanic activity some 400 million years ago. The northern Cheviots contain several well known summits including Hedgehope Hill, Windy Gyle and The Schil. This area is pierced by five main valleys: Heatherhope, Bowmont, Breamish, Harthope and College Valleys.

The Cheviot itself is the highest of the surrounding hills, being 815m and a Marilyn. It features as a short out-and-back detour on the last leg of Pennine Way. The summit lies 10.25 km (6.37 mi) from Homildon Cottage as the crow flies, and it is possible to tackle it in a day-walk from the house. Some may prefer to drive as far as Langleeford which is about 5km from the summit. The Cheviot can be boggy and, as with any mountain, should only be tackled if sure of good weather and with the correct equipment and clothing.

Further south, the hills give way to areas of rolling moorland and the Kielder Forest (England’s largest being 250 square miles) before ultimately reaching the historic Hadrian’s Wall. Built in the second century, this defensive wall at the then northern extreme of the Roman Empire ran over 100km sea to sea from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth.

Walking in the Northumberland National Park

National Park Cottage Boundary

Northumberland National Park borders Homildon Cottage: our front door is by the gate to the Park!

The best (and often only) way to see the most impressive scenery is on foot. More than 900 kilometres (600 miles) of way-marked footpaths and bridleways offer a choice ranging from leisurely strolls and picturesque village rambles through to more challenging hill and moorland treks. You can plan your route online at OS Maps. If you prefer a paper map, the best choice for the Cheviots and other walks near Homildon Cottage is the The Cheviot Hills, Jedburgh & Wooler (OS Explorer OL16). Two wheels can also carry you to the isolation of the hills and moors: no fewer than seven routes radiate out from the cycle hub of near-by Wooler.

Wildlife

The hills and moors of the northern Northumberland National Park host fauna some of which have become less common in other parts of the country, such as roe deer, hares, otters, mountain bumble bees, butterflies and heather moth. Close to Yeavering Bell a herd of Neolithic goats must be one of the UK’s oldest, most elusive – and reportedly smelly – wild herds. Further south in the Park, red squirrels can still be seen.

Birds abound including red grouse, peregrine falcon, grey wagtails, ravens, tits, nuthatches. The emblem for Northumberland National Park is the curlew. High in the hills is surely best place to see them in the summer – and hear their distinctive trill followed by “keerloo”. The upland pastures, heather moorland and deep, wet peat mires of Northumberland National Park are an ideal habitat for the curlew, and here they have been nurtured even while declining in other moorland parts of the UK. In 1912, the natural historian George Bolam summed it up by quoting an acquaintance: “A moor without a curlew is like a night without a moon, and he who has not eyes for the one and an ear for the other is a mere body without a soul”.

History

The Park and surrounding area abounds with hill forts and settlements across a 10,000 year history. These range from prehistoric monuments and Roman remains to Pele towers, constructed as a defence against Border Reivers. The Iron Age Hill Fort of Yeavering Bell is one of the best preserved in the country. Many walks feature at least one en route, and some make a feature of it such as the Hillforts Trail.

Humbleton Hill neighbouring Homildon Cottage was also the site of a fort, believed built around 300BC with ramparts of distinctive local pink stone. It was also the site of the Battle of Homildon Hill, a historic defeat of the Scots by the English.

Star gazing: the Dark Sky Park

This is one of the best places to stargaze in Europe. The Northumberland National Park forms part of the Northumberland Dark Sky Park, granted gold status by the International Dark Skies Association. This means it is a great spot to reveal the majesty of the planets or stare in awe at the Milky Way. If you are lucky, you might catch a meteor shower of “shooting stars” or even see the Northern Lights. The solitude of the night sky is shared only with the many local nocturnal animals such as barn owls, bats, badgers and hedgehogs.

Nothing can beat seeing it in person but in the meantime see the splendour of dark skies revealed in this Northumberland National Park video.

Majesty of the hills

The final word though must go to the hills: some of the beautiful scenery in the northern part of the Northumberland National Park around the Cheviot, Hen Hole, Dunmoor Hill, Hedgehope Hill, College Valley and more…




Homildon Cottage – History


With a history stretching back over 200 years, Homildon Cottage has a lot of stories to tell.

Homildon Cottage today

A traditional cottage on the very border of Northumberland National Park, Homildon Cottage is available for self-catering breaks. Sleeping up to eight, it offers seclusion and tranquility – while being within walking distance of Wooler.

The cottage provides a blend of the old and the new from a cosy, well-equipped kitchen with AGA to a large sitting room with vaulted ceiling and vintage wood burning stove. The house lies out of sight at the end of a short dead-end track from High Humbleton with the garden nestling under Humbleton Hill.

Homildon Cottage’s history

What is now Homildon Cottage was originally three cottages lived in by farm labourers. Built in the early 1800s, at one point these were home to more than 20 people. These three cottages were supplemented by a barn, which now houses the master bedroom. A separate stable outbuilding is now our games’ room. These buildings formed part of the village of Humbleton which was recorded with a population of some 125 in the census of 1811. Humbleton has been occupied since the Bronze Age and once had a chapel and schoolhouse. At one point, it is said to have been a more prominent local settlement than near-by Wooler. However the village began to decline in the years around the First World War to become the smaller, peaceful hamlet seen today.

With the waning of Humbleton, the Homildon cottages themselves fell into disrepair during the second half of the twentieth century. It was uninhabited for many years, before being restored and converted into a single dwelling in the late 1980s. Since then it has provided several sets of inhabitants some sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of modern life. The current owners bought the house early in 2015, carrying out a thorough renovation and enhancement. They now use it as their own family retreat as well as sharing the cottage as a self-catering holiday let.

The Homildon name

The cottage is named after the historic name of the neighbouring hill, Homildon Hill. Although this is now known as Humbleton Hill, it was known as Homildon at time of the famous victory of the English over the Scots: the Battle of Homildon Hill. It is this which forms the grist to the opening scenes of Shakespeare’s King Henry IV. At various times, the hill has also been known as Hameldun, Holmedon or Homilheugh. Whatever its name, it has always formed an imposing neighbour to the cottage. Look carefully and a stone hut circle with cultivated terraces can be identified on the hill.

 




Welcome to Homildon Cottage


We fell in love with northern Northumberland several years ago. It’s diffcult to pin down what attacted us the most: the hills, the people, the golden rolling light, the food, the attitude towards life, the glorious night skies … the list goes on and on. Suffice to say, it’s a very special place – quite unique in terms of what it has to offer. All of this was obvious from the first time we were lucky enough to visit but it came home to me one blustery lunchtime sitting by Eccles Cairn (pictured). Taking in the panorama, it struck me where else would be this special, where else would the cares of the world slip away, where else would I so appreciate a Scotch pie (it was November and blustery). From that moment was born our project to make a corner of this “Magical Kingdom” our own and, just as importantly, to share it with others. We hope visitors will come and share our cottage, walk the expanses of the National Park, share absolute peace looking over Humbleton Hill from the garden, enjoy the locally sourced food, meet the locals in the pub in Wooler … and fall in love as we did.