Why Northumberland

Why Northumberland?

A blog post by Phil 

Last week saw the return to our screens of Tales from Northumberland with Robson Green (ITV1 8.00pm), a series which sees actor Robson Green return to his home turf tonight to lead viewers through a unique part of Britain that remains close to his heart. With this in mind, I thought I’d share my own thoughts on Northumberland and why I think that it is such a fantastic place to visit.

I’ll start with a bit of a confession. I’m not a native Northumbrian. I spent my early years in the suburbs of South Tyneside and, despite it being almost on my doorstep; Northumberland wasn’t a place I knew a great deal about. I associated it with farms and coal mines and strange accents and unpronounceable place names like Ulgham, Bellingham and Wark (pronounced Uffham, Bellinjum and Walk). I had an awareness that there was a big county up here, with open countryside, castles and a coastline; but it wasn’t until I moved up here in 2005 that I began to appreciate just how diverse and fascinating a place it actually is. It may sound like a cliché (and I try to avoid clichés like the plague), but there really is something here for everyone. 

 

Seahouses, Northumberland, glamping

Seahouses

 

There are all sorts of landscapes to take in, from the mountainous Cheviots to the forest of Kielder to the stunning 30 miles of beaches including the beautiful Druridge Bay. There are historic market towns such as Alnwick, Berwick, Rothbury, Hexham and Morpeth to visit. There are thousands of years of history encapsulated in features such as Hadrian’s Wall, Alnwick Castle (used as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films) and Bamburgh Castle, the venue for our own wedding in 2012. Some of the darkest skies in the country at Kielder Observatory, or coastal nature reserves at like the Farne Islands, Coquet Island and (of course) Druridge Bay.

 

Druridge bay, Northumberland, sunrise, glamping

Druridge Bay, Northumberland

 

So whether you’re a cyclist or a stargazer, windsurfer or walker, whether you want an adventure or a relaxing escape, whether you’re a biologist or historian or if you just want a nice pint and some home cooked food in an old fashioned country pub there’s plenty of good reasons to come to Northumberland.

 

Bamburgh, castle, beach, Northumberland, camping

Bamburgh castle

 

 

I couldn’t even begin to list everything that there is to see and do in Northumberland in one blog, much as Robson Green couldn’t fit everything into one programme (or even series), so I’ll spend the next few weeks sharing my thoughts and experiences to help you all to realise that Northumberland is somewhere that you really must visit.

You can see a fantastic video of the Northumberland Spirit at www.druridgebay.com and can get more information about the county at Visit Northumberland.

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Changes for 2015

1411 Changes

2014 was an incredible year for us. The Bells of Hemscott was born early in the year and we didn’t have long to get it up and running so that we were operational for the summer. This led to some hectic weekends and no sleep for the summer!

We did learn a LOT though, and through feedback and guest participation on our facebook page we have made some changes for 2015 that we hope you will like.

First things first, we are moving the campsite. We noted that it was a longer walk from the farm than some of you may have liked so we have decided to move the campsite right into the sand dunes. That’s right, you will now wake up to the sound of waves on your doorstep and fresh sea air.

We will have more tents next year. There will be 6 Bell Tents, each in its own little area separated by small sand banks from the other tents. Another area will house 3 Bell Tents around a central campfire that can be hired individually or the three together for families to book together.

We are making some changes to our set up too. All tents will be equipped with a double air bed, double duvets, pillows and a bedding pack. We will ask guests to bring their own bedding for children (we can supply airbeds). Guests wishing to bring their own bedding will benefit from a discounted price. We will also be doing a reduced price for out of peak season.

A new Shepherds Hut arrived last month and will be an ideal get away for couples, we are already getting enquiries for the Hut so we expect it to book out quickly.

Other changes will include more covered kitchen areas for rainy days and undercover dining areas which we will update you on soon! We will also be responding to demand for Wild Camping pitches where you can bring your own tent for the weekend.

Bye for now, Alison & Phil

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Closing the doors

This time last year the concept of ‘The Bells of Hemscott’ hadn’t even been born. I knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to run a campsite but couldn’t fathom how to make that a reality, especially as both of us have full time jobs to hold down too. An idea was born from a camping trip up the fields in our own farm (that one was down to luck and sheer lack of organisation in getting away anywhere) and it made me realise the possibilities. 

So late last year I filled in my forms and sent them off to one of the large ‘club’ campsites with the hope that they would accept us as a ‘Certificated Site (CS)’ and we could set up without the need for planning permission. A few weeks later a couple of officers from the Club came out to do an assessment and were very positive about our chances, especially when they saw the vast empty beach next to the farm. They left us with a list of what we needed to do, and some information about the Club and its members. And that is when I started feeling like my feet were immersed in ice.

Do’s and Dont’s. I understand in clubs there have to be rules, and don’t get me wrong, we have plenty of our own, but I wanted a site that was a bit different and not all about EHUs, pitch sizes, layouts and membership cards. I wanted the type of camping I read about as a child (I confess that I was a avid Enid Blyton reader as a child and have adult longing for canvas, picnics, campfires and lashings of home made lemonade – only these days a dash of gin in it works well). I also did not like the idea of having to get guests to sign up to become members for £40 before they could stay for a night or two. I understand that these sites work very well for others but it wasn’t really for us, so we thanked them but advised that we could not proceed with our application.

Then I stumbled upon glamping and I was sold. This was the type of camping that I longed for so we took over a field on my parents farm and in March got to work for our opening in April. To be honest it was all a bit of a rush, but it was important that we were open for the summer of 2014 so that we could ‘trial’ the site. I remember explaining to a friend the terror that was plagueing me of us getting our first booking as that meant we were committed and had to buy all of the kit, and my fear that we wouldn’t get any more bookings and we’d spent our savings on a solitary weekend. Sensibly I thought we would just buy 2 or 3 tents, fill them with bookings and as we filled those keep adding tents until they filled. Simple. Not so. Our very first booking was for 5 tents at the beginning of April. Which in an odd way took the pressure off, we were committed. I needn’t have worried though as a few blog reviews that you can read here, here and here, as well as a mention in The Independent as one of the best exclusive use campsites in the UK saw to it that we were well past our predicted bookings for the season. I had started this blog at the beginning of the season to write about our journey and chart the story, but as life and running a campsite took its toll the blog fell by the wayside. 

From April to August was a blur really. We didn’t really have time to reflect on the site as we threw ourselves into running it, whilst working. August was the most difficult month as we were really busy and hit hard twice by storms, one of which blew our showers over and the other took a couple of tents (fortunately the worst happened on a Sunday morning between changeovers so there were no guests on the site). It is incredibly difficult seeing the fruit of your labour suddenly threatened and all you can do is watch and hang on for dear life. But we got through. A few lost bookings and a couple of written off tents could have been far worse.

When we closed the doors we did breathe a massive sigh of relief, but it was tinged with a hint of sadness that it was over for the summer. But we’d done it and if we learned one thing it would be that those doors would definately be open again next summer.

Since closing we had a much needed holiday to Croatia and started to consider all of the feedback we had received and started the planning for next season. We are in the process of testing ideas out with past and future guests to help make the site better for 2015 and we look forward to sharing those ideas very soon. If you stayed with us in 2014 and have any feedback that will help us please drop us an email, or join in the conversation on our Facebook Page. 

 

An idea

I’m a seasoned camper and I love nothing more than getting away from it all and enjoying the smell of the grass, the dew in the fields in the morning and the space that comes with camping. Or at least I love the idea of it, as I haven’t yet found anywhere as good as my own doorstep. As for the grass, dew and space, well we’re usually pitched next to the noisiest group on the campsite, the dew is pouring rain, and the grass… Well I suffer chronic hay fever so if you see a very glam Bell Tent this summer shaking with sneezes, pop by and say hello!

For a few years now I’ve gone away with friends on little camping expeditions, husbands at home, girls together with good food and wine and the children all excited to toast marshmallows on the fire (I don’t have children but for this purpose I borrow niece and nephew who come along enthusiastically in the promise of the marshmallows and campfires). the kids have never actually gotten to the marshmallows as the mothers and aunts are so keen to get the wine flowing that they are usually tucked up in sleeping bags and sound asleep before we realise that we forgot the marshmallows and guzzle them while they sleep.

Last year was different. We were all a bit busy and disorganised and that camping trip never came to be. A last minute plan came together that some of us would camp for the night on our farm, beside the pond, in a secluded field. We launched ourselves there, 4 adults and 5 kids and a dog, by transport consisting of 2 quadbikes and a trailer, and enough camping gear and marshmallows to keep an army of campers happy for a whole summer.

We had the best time we had had from anywhere we had ever stayed. A bottle of Glenmorangie sealed this. The kids loved the open fields, the two girls loved going to the field toilet (honestly, they kept asking each other if they were ready to go again, strange) the men loved the fire and the beef stew we had cooking in the pot, the dog, well he enjoyed the lovely stew that he thought we had cooked just for him while we were distracted by said Glenmorangie, and the women felt smug that we had created this happy day. That night, after Mrs Farmer had delivered fruit crumble and white sauce to the needy campers, in the dark fields by the campfire and moonlight a idea was born of glamping holidays that were affordable, rustic and fun. We also realised that next morning that bins would be a good idea, our rustic heaven looked like a hurricane had ripped through.

So that’s where we are, we took a decision on Bell Tents as we love the space they offer and they look great. We have decided to trial the campsite for 28 days this year before we make any more decisions about the way forward. Initially we thought we’d go for August but following feedback from various sources we have changed that plan to open on selected weekends between the end of May and end of August. There will be up to six tents, all adequately spaced out in a huge field. As said field if off grid we will have long drop loos (if you’ve never seen one of these google them, they really can be very pleasant to use and don’t smell – we’d much rather go down this route than the portaloo cabin one). There will be hot gas powered showers too. With up to 6 in a tent, a whole weekend away costs as little as £26 each.

The camping field(s) are tucked away on a quiet part of the farm away from roads and vehicles and overlooking wildlife ponds that are teeming with life, including our resident swans. The no car policy helps keep the fields quiet and safe to run around. We’ll ferry guests gear from the car park to the tent though, part of the fun of glamping is bringing too much stuff!

Existing Bell Tent owners are welcome to bring their own tents and a space will be set up for them too.

Next to the farm is a beautiful stretch of sandy beach where you can run for miles, often without seeing other people. We also have a holiday cottage for relatives and friends who prefer something a bit more ‘sturdy’, see here for more information about the cottage and surrounding area.

We’ve never blogged before, so please bear with us, we hope to keep you updated of our progress throughout the summer. If you are interested in our campsite please see here and we are on Facebook at @bellsofhemscott and @druridgebayholidays for the holiday cottage, and also on Twitter. Pop by our Facebook pages now for a chance to win a free weekend stay.

Bye for now, Alison and Phil