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

 

 




Dark Sky Park: a window to the stars


Come and marvel at the stars and planets revealed by a truly dark night sky

Northumberland International Dark Sky Park is officially the best place in England to gaze in marvel at the stars. The International Dark Sky Association has awarded the park its top “gold tier” designation. The park is Europe’s largest area of protected night sky, some 572 square miles, and the third largest Gold Tier Dark Sky Park in the world.

 

nlandstars - the land thats just as good with the lights off - banner

 

Darkest skies in England

Northumberland National Park’s status as the darkest in England was confirmed in recent work by the Campaign to Protect Rural England. The CPRE analysed satellite imagery from September 2015 to produce a map of England’s light pollution and dark skies. The map was produced from data gathered by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration via satellite visible and infrared imagery to determine the levels of light spilling up into British skies. This revealed 96% of the Northumberland National Park to have pristine night skies and very little light pollution elsewhere.

Stay and Gaze

Dark Sky Stay and Gaze logo

Homildon is a “Dark Sky Stay and Gaze” cottage

Homildon Cottage holds “Stay and Gaze” status, in recognition of our facilities for enjoying the night skies. It is lucky enough to sit on the edge of the dark sky park, allowing the spectacle to be enjoyed from the comfort of our back garden. The cottage is fully equipped for the budding stargazer from guides to our very own telescope!

Alternatively the cottage makes a great starting point to hike up a hill for wilderness stargazing – Humbleton Hill just next door to the house makes for a phenomenal view of the skies. For those who prefer to be guided, you can join a Northumberland Stargazing Event or extend a NEWT wildlife safari into the hours of darkness.

What can you see in the dark sky?

Perhaps four fifths of the UK population has never experienced a truly dark sky or the sense of wonder that it inspires. The glory of the Milky Way is revealed along with hundreds of stars visible to the naked eye. Shooting stars are another highlight especially during peaks of activity such as the Perseids.

The autumn and winter months, when the nights draw in, are an excellent time for stargazing. It also helps if the moon is not too full. These factors combine to allow for a properly dark night sky. However the wonder of the brightest stars and our fellow planets in the solar system can be experienced on a clear night throughout the year.

See the Northern Lights?

If you are very lucky, you may see the aurora borealis (or Northern Lights), a spectacular natural phenomenon rarely seen in the night sky over Britain. These light up the night sky with a green glow as solar wind hits the upper atmosphere. For the latest scientific data and alerts on possible northern lights events, see AuroraWatch UK.

Stargazing equipment

Stargazing equipment at Homildon Cottage
Some of the best stargazing is simply wondering at the majesty of a truly dark sky with the naked eye. However as a designated Stay & Gaze holiday cottage, we provide some equipment to ensure you can enjoy our dark skies to the utmost. We supply:

  • Red torches (to preserve your night vision)
  • Binoculars
  • Small, basic telescope (a Visionary FirstView)
  • Planisphere
  • Beginners’ astronomy guidebook
  • Outdoor blankets
  • Our outdoor decking provides a viewing area on-site away from outside lighting while being accessible from the house. There is seating and a table.
  • Picnic rug (for lying on the grass)
  • Large thermos for soup or hot drinks

What to bring to enjoy the night skies
We provide the stargazing essentials but some nights it’s worth wrapping up warm!

  • Warm clothes
  • Hat, gloves
  • iPad or smart phone if you want to use a stargazing app

 

Which stargazing app?

There are now lots of great stargazing apps to instal on your smart phone or iPad. Most of these work by allowing you to point your device at the sky and get information on exactly what you are looking at. This is our pick of some of the best:

Star Chart
£0
A free app, point your phone at the sky and it will tell you what you are looking at. It has a night mode as well as “Time Shift” to travel back or forward 10,000 years.

iOS | Android

Star Walk 2
£1.98-2.29
Top notch app. Lots of information accessible by tapping objects on screen. It shows the orbital path of a planet or moon so you’ll know when it will be visible.

iOS | Android

Sky Guide
£0.99
Our personal favourite: lots of information with a clean interface. This 2014 Apple design award winner allows you to search for a star, and the app will guide you to it by following a pop up arrow.

iOS only

 

dark sky light map
Fascinating Google Map mashup of light pollution across Europe – the Northumberland Dark Sky Park can be seen as the patch of black!

Pic: andy [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Find out more about the cottage and why our location makes a perfect base for some stargazing.




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.

About Homildon Cottage

On the very border of the Northumberland National Park, Homildon Cottage is a traditional but fully modernised cottage dating back to the early 1800s. Sleeping up to eight, it offers seclusion and tranquility while being only 15-20 minutes walk from Wooler – the “Gateway to the Cheviots”.

If you haven’t visited before, why not read our reviews from previous guests, or you could whet your appetite with pictures of the house.

A well-equipped kitchen with cherry red AGA provides a perfect place to share a convivial meal or sample the local treats from the welcome basket while the comfy sitting room – with vaulted ceiling and vintage wood burning stove – offers a welcoming space to stretch out and relax. The house lies out of sight at the end of a short dead-end track – ensuring the only passing ‘traffic’ is the occasional walker or farmer. A large rear garden is a peaceful haven looking out onto historic Humbleton Hill and the Northumberland National Park is less than a minute’s walk away.

This video was taken at the end of our garden on New Year’s Day 2018:
 

 

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.




Homildon hill walk


The start of an early morning hill walk from Homildon Cottage into the Northumberland National Park and around the base of Humbleton Hill. Recorded in February 2015, it was the day after we bought the cottage and a wonderful sunny winter’s morning – with beautiful light trickling over the hill. This is a glimpse of what makes the hills around Wooler so magical!




Humbleton Hillfort walk


A steep climb to the summit of Humbleton Hill with its Iron Age hillfort and fantastic views.

  • Start: Homildon Cottage
  • Finish: Homildon Cottage
  • Time: 30 minutes (one way – short route)
  • Distance: 0.75 miles (one way – short route)

 

Climb to the summit of Humbleton Hill (historically Homildon Hill) for expansive views over Wooler and the surrounding countryside. At the summit you will find the remains of the Iron Age hillfort that stood here. Why not take a picnic if the weather’s good!

Turn right out of the cottage gate and go through the gate into the National Park. Continue straight ahead up the track heading past farmland.

After passing by fields, keep an eye out for a footpath signed to your right, visible leading directly up the slopes of Humbleton Hill.

Turn right at the footpath and follow it as it climbs to the summit of Humbleton Hill. (This direct route tackles the contours head on – an alternative route takes a more gentle approach by looping round the hill first.) Upon reaching the summit, the 360° view will open up around you.

You can return the way you came for the shortest route back to the cottage. Or, to extend the walk, continue across the hill and descend on the opposite side. When you reach the path at the bottom (T-junction) you can choose to turn either left or right to loop back around Humbleton Hill to Homildon Cottage.

Homildon Hillfort Walk - OS Maps

Homildon Hillfort Walk – OS Maps

 

To view the route on an interactive map, visit OS Maps:

Search our postcode, NE71 6SU

STEP 1: Search our postcode, NE71 6SU

Select "Routes" at the top, then "Discover routes" on the left

STEP 2: Select “Routes” at the top, then “Discover routes” on the left

If you do not have one already, you will need to set up an account at this stage.

Click the green circle with a number

STEP 3: Click the green circle with a number

Click the green circle with a number over Homildon Cottage's location

STEP 4: Click the green circle with a number over Homildon Cottage’s location

5: In the dialog you can scroll between the routes

STEP 5: In the dialog you can scroll between the routes

If you prefer a paper map, the best choice is the The Cheviot Hills, Jedburgh & Wooler (OS Explorer OL16). Alternatively if you prefer the Landranger maps, the sheet needed is Berwick-upon-Tweed (OS Landranger Map 75)




Humbleton Hill circular


A short circular walk allowing you to get out on the moors for a brief stretch.

  • Start: Homildon Cottage
  • Finish: Homildon Cottage
  • Time: 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Distance: 3 miles

 

If you’ve got something tasty cooking in the AGA and want to stretch your legs before settling down to eat, this walk is relatively unchallenging though with some gentle uphill sections to get your appetite going. For runners, this would make a nice 5k-ish loop on nice, clear, grassy tracks.

The walk can be done in either direction; this description is of the anticlockwise walk.

Northumberland National Park near Humbleton

Turn right to skirt the edge of Humbleton Hill

Turn right out of the cottage gate and go through the gate into the National Park. In a few metres you will reach a gate on your right leading into a farm field. Pass through the gate and over a style to continue along the grassy track as it contours around the right side of the hill.

Follow the track as it bends left around the hill, before leading uphill between Humbleton Hill on your left and a grassy knoll to the right. Continue uphill on the straight track.

You will pass a footpath to your left leading to the summit of Humbleton Hill. Ignore this, unless you want to detour.

Continue following the clear track until you reach a T-junction where St Cuthbert’s Way crosses your path. Turn left along the Way and follow it until it begins to head downhill. You will reach a fenced field to your left and then a junction of paths near the overturned van. To the right is the path to Commonburn House and ahead the bridleway to Wooler. We must turn left on the footpath passing the van, leading downhill through a gate.

You will join the track that leads you back down, past farm fields and Humbleton Hill to your left, to Homildon Cottage.

 

Humbleton Hill Circular walk route - OS Maps

Humbleton Hill Circular walk route – OS Maps

 

To view the route on an interactive map, visit OS Maps:

Search our postcode, NE71 6SU

STEP 1: Search our postcode, NE71 6SU

Select "Routes" at the top, then "Discover routes" on the left

STEP 2: Select “Routes” at the top, then “Discover routes” on the left

If you do not have one already, you will need to set up an account at this stage.

Click the green circle with a number

STEP 3: Click the green circle with a number

Click the green circle with a number over Homildon Cottage's location

STEP 4: Click the green circle with a number over Homildon Cottage’s location

5: In the dialog you can scroll between the routes

STEP 5: In the dialog you can scroll between the routes

If you prefer a paper map, the best choice is the The Cheviot Hills, Jedburgh & Wooler (OS Explorer OL16). Alternatively if you prefer the Landranger maps, the sheet needed is Berwick-upon-Tweed (OS Landranger Map 75)




Walk to Wooler from Homildon Cottage via St Cuthbert's Way


Follow St Cuthbert’s Way to Wooler on a walk that mixes a little bit of everything: hills, fields and woods.
  • Start: Homildon Cottage
  • Finish: Wooler
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Distance: 2.75 miles

If you fancy a more leisurely stroll than the direct route to Wooler – perhaps before stopping for lunch at one of the local hostelries – there is a pleasant, varied walk taking around 1 hour.

Turn right out of the drive. Heading up the lane from the house, you first ascend gently past farmland before reaching the overturned van. Just beyond this, turn left joining St Cuthbert’s Way. This leads you across grassy fields before entering a wood. Keep following the Way to emerge at Wooler Common. Bear right to walk through the small car park here, turning right on to the single track road at its exit.

Wooler Common St Cuthberts Way

Follow St Cuthbert’s Way

 

There is just a short stretch of tarmac before you follow St Cuthbert’s Way to the left away from the road, first upward and then onto an open expanse. Soon you must make a sharp turn left back toward Wooler. Aim for the corner of the another woods.

The path rises a short way through this wood before emerging with some well defined mounds of a fort to the right. It then descends, turning left to come out onto a track by a house. Follow this to arrive on one of the streets above Wooler, turning right for the centre. A short stroll past well manicured gardens and Ramsay’s Lane deposits you conveniently at Market Place.

OS Maps

OS Maps: Scenic route to Wooler from Homildon

 

To view the route on an interactive map, visit OS Maps:

Search our postcode, NE71 6SU

STEP 1: Search our postcode, NE71 6SU

Select "Routes" at the top, then "Discover routes" on the left

STEP 2: Select “Routes” at the top, then “Discover routes” on the left

If you do not have one already, you will need to set up an account at this stage.

Click the green circle with a number

STEP 3: Click the green circle with a number

Click the green circle with a number over Homildon Cottage's location

STEP 4: Click the green circle with a number over Homildon Cottage’s location

5: In the dialog you can scroll between the routes

STEP 5: In the dialog you can scroll between the routes

If you prefer a paper map, the best choice is the The Cheviot Hills, Jedburgh & Wooler (OS Explorer OL16). Alternatively if you prefer the Landranger maps, the sheet needed is Berwick-upon-Tweed (OS Landranger Map 75)




Walk to Wooler from Homildon Cottage – direct route


The most direct walk to Wooler is mostly along a quiet road – aside from a short but pleasant stretch of footpath cutting a corner across a field.
  • Start: Homildon Cottage
  • Finish: Wooler
  • Time: 15-20 minutes
  • Distance: 1.25 miles

 

Walking at a reasonable pace, this can be done in quarter of an hour – or take your time at a leisurely stroll.

Start by turning left out of Homildon Cottage’s drive, and then right at crossroads in High Humbleton.

Leaving the hamlet behind you, you will come to a bench on the right, with a footpath sign (A). Take this path to cut the corner, walking through two fields. At the bottom of the hill, do not follow the track round into the camp site but exit onto the road, turning right. If you do not wish to cross these fields, you can instead continue on the road from the bench at point (A), turning right when you reach the crossroads.

Cut through to Wooler

Cut across the field to Wooler

Follow the road past the entrance to the Highburn House camp site into Wooler itself.

OS Maps

OS Maps

 

To view the route on an interactive map, visit OS Maps:

Search our postcode, NE71 6SU

STEP 1: Search our postcode, NE71 6SU

Select "Routes" at the top, then "Discover routes" on the left

STEP 2: Select “Routes” at the top, then “Discover routes” on the left

If you do not have one already, you will need to set up an account at this stage.

Click the green circle with a number

STEP 3: Click the green circle with a number

Click the green circle with a number over Homildon Cottage's location

STEP 4: Click the green circle with a number over Homildon Cottage’s location

5: In the dialog you can scroll between the routes

STEP 5: In the dialog you can scroll between the routes

 

If you prefer a paper map, the best choice is the The Cheviot Hills, Jedburgh & Wooler (OS Explorer OL16). Alternatively if you prefer the Landranger maps, the sheet needed is Berwick-upon-Tweed (OS Landranger Map 75).