As founder of Housesitmatch it has been my real pleasure to venture to new housesits in a new locations. Yet one of the greatest pleasures is venturing into Northumberland and the North East of England. Housesitting in the Scottish Borders has been one of the most surprising and delightful experiences of running this business. I strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t yet ventured into this vastly understated territory to visit quickly, before everyone else finds out about it.
Love housesitting in the Borders
I simple love this part of the world. It is often overlooked with tourists ploughing on to the grander Highlands in Scotland or the vibrant cities of Newcastle or Edinburgh. But take a little perambulation in Northumberland or just over the Scottish Border and you’ll find an exciting landscape, rich in history and culture. Let me take you on a tour of some of my favourite places in the area, all worth a visit. You wont regret it.
I first started visiting the Borders after marrying my other half David. This is his homeland really, where he had holidayed as a child with his Dad and brother. So we went every time we had an opportunity. As we worked in London and slept in the commuter belt we lived a city to city commuting routine. Traveling to the borders offered new landscapes in Northumberland and beyond, a real escape from the our humdrum routines.
First we started visiting David’s family in the wilds of Northumberland. The landscape in and around the town of Rothbury, near where we would base ourselves, is highly dramatic and totally absorbing. I became obsessed with this landscape, and still am.
British artists over the centuries like Derwent Wise have tried to capture the alchemy of both scenery and weather. But to really experience what happens in these vast landscapes you really have to experience for yourself. I have lived in Minnesota in the USA which also has vast plains of flat landscape and tundra. But this feels different, you feel absorbed by the scene, you become integral to the drama of landscape and climate.
Landmark towns – Scottish Borders United Kingdom
Another town I grew to love in Scotland is Hawick (locally pronounced Hoick!) in Roxburghshire, it’s such a historic town with great character. I believe it is the largest of the Scottish Border towns. It has grown over the centuries mainly due to the textile industries and its location at the confluence of two rivers, the Teviot and Slitrig Water.
Don’t miss the Borders Tower House it has a great display of local history. And the building somehow survived the rather vicious Border Wars which lasted almost three centuries.
It can be surprising if you are a town dweller, or ‘Toonie’ a we’re called locally to find working ports that are accessible and still sell fish to any passing trade. If you like fish and stunning scenery, visit Alnmouth. It’s a corker, with wonderful cafes and restaurants on the portside.
From the port at Amble you can look across the water from one side and see Warkworth Castle – worth a visit. And before you ask, yes Amble is aptly named, you can walk from the port all around the town via the Pier and through the park and cemetery past the miners cottages and back to the port.
As you are walking along the pier you find that you are walking someway into the bay. There you can see Coquet Island wild life sanctuary, weather permitting!
These are the treacherous waters that Grace Darling’s family were employed to survey as lighthouse keepers. She famously helped her father rescue nine of the 62 people on the Forfarshire ship, rowing the rowing boat herself. Look her up; it’s quite the story
Going a little further South head towards Alnwick, an ancient market town wrapped around a medieval castle. Alnwick Castle is the second largest inhabited privately owned castle in the UK. It has been associated with the Percy family since 1309! I love the town there is a lot to enjoy here.
Visiting Alnwick Castle
While you visit the castle make a point of popping into the Duchess’ Garden. It’s a rather splendid modern fountain extravaganza, with splendid planting. It will delight gardeners, engineers and children (the Duchess had several children when she designed the play fountains to entertain them and any visitors). So if you have spend time at the Castle, please don’t forget the town. It is a splendid place with many attractions and shops to visit.
Nooks and crannies to discover
In between pet sitting duties, you could easily spend day after day walking the cobbled streets and discover new nooks and crannies, shops and pubs and of course the wonderful weekly farmers market every Thursday and Saturday. Then once a month there is a market also on the last Friday of the month. the highlights I would offer include –
- Barter Books – Best second hand bookshop in the world; Discoverers ‘WW2 ‘Keep calm and carry on’ posters; Have a ginger biscuit in their cafe
- The Swan Hotel – Olympic Dining Room – wood panelling from the Olympic cruise liner, sister ship to the Titanic
- Proudlock’s House and Home – Excellent supplier of home and craft wares, lots of local crafts sold here, the best of its kind.
You may have heard of the port of Craster for various reasons. It was extremely popular in the Victorian era as a great source of smoked kippers. Today there is only one remaining smoke house owned by Robson & Sons. If you are headed there you should visit, they really have excellent smoked fish. We like to talk from Craster along the coast to Dunstanburgh Castle, past the links golf course and then onto Newtown by the Sea.
If you watch Vera the TV series or read the books by Ann Cleeves, you may recognise this stretch of coastline. It often comes features in these stories. I am always heartened to remember that she is an author who writes about the county she lives in. And the books definitely reveal her in depth knowledge.
If ever we find ourselves visiting or house sitting in the North East we find our way here. We just love to walk all the way along to the Ship Inn. Located in a charming National Trust hamlet it is a very atmospheric pub that calls back to yesteryear.
While it is not a town you could start a walk along Hadrian’s Wall from Housesteads Fort. There are stunning views over to Scotland to remind you just how intimate the landscape is as the wall weaves between hillocks and copses.
From Wallsend to River Tyne
Hadrian’s Wall runs for 73 miles in total. Running from Wallsend on the River Tyne in the east to Bowness-on-Solway in the west of what is now northern England, it was a stone wall with large ditches in front of it and behind it that crossed the whole width of the island.
Soldiers were garrisoned along the line of the wall in large forts, smaller milecastles and intervening turrets. You may recall the WH Auden poem Roman Wall Blues. If walking on a rainy day you really get his poem.
Characterful watering holes
While I wouldn’t want it to be to widely know we are partial to sample a local tipple. We have tried Alnwick Rum at the Turk’s head in Rothbury (tastes like licorice!); a pale ale called ‘Shapeless malice’ at Harry’s Bar in Alnwick (tastes like nutty caramel). I have also been known to enjoy Hepple Gin and a fine malt whisky. Visit the Borders Distillery in Hawick, Scotland. They even offer a guided tour. Definitely worth a side trip.
Final thoughts on UK house sitting in the Borders
We have been to Northumberland and Scotland, both pet sitting and house sitting UK, renting and visiting many times. I have lost count of how many castle ruins or stunning seascapes. And yet we still have so many more to see.
I wish we had many many more opportunities to visit this part of the world. If you get the opportunity to housesit in either Northumberland or Scotland and the Borders do. You wont regret it. The landscape, the intermingled history, the culture are all gripping and unforgettable.
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Further reading on housesitting for housesitters
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