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Best places to have a picnic or eat al fresco in the North East

They say life’s a picnic and this summer, hopefully, it will be. Jane Hall picks some of the region’s best picnic spots

©National Trust Images/David Levenson A picnic on the beach
A picnic on the beach

Come rain or shine, we Brits love to dine al fresco. And in the North East we have many fabulous picnic locations, from idyllic beaches to stunning clifftop stops, shady woodland glades, tranquil garden retreats and remote country corners.

Here are some top spots to lay out your blanket in the coming weeks – and some delicious locally-inspired suggestions for your hamper.

NORTHUMBERLAND

Kielder Water and Forest Park:

Plenty of opportunities for al fresco dining here, spots where you can enjoy views over northern Europe’s largest man-made lake and recover your strength after a morning’s mountain biking, walking or trail running.

Farne Islands:

©National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus Family resting on walk at Inner Farne on the Farne Islands in Northumberland
Family resting on walk at Inner Farne on the Farne Islands in Northumberland

Enjoy a picnic on the wild side by heading for St Cuthbert’s Cove on Inner Farne, open from early August to allow families to enjoy the peace, the thousands of seabirds that normally call this sandy beach home having flown the nest.

Hadrian’s Wall:

The iconic Roman landmark offers not just abundant archaeology but some of the best views anywhere in the region, with the bonus of wildlife and solitude.

So lace up your walking boots and work up an appetite as you search for the perfect spot for a bite to eat.

It could be Sycamore Gap, made famous in the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, or one of many vantage points near Housesteads Fort.

Northumberland Coast:

Where to start? With miles of sandy beaches, castles and unspoilt views, the stunning Northumberland coast is picnic heaven – even at peak holiday times.

But top spots must include Low Newton-by-the-Sea, with its incredible outlook over Embleton Bay, the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle and Bamburgh rank highly.

Another gem is Cocklawburn, at Scremeston, near Berwick, renowned for its rock pools.

The Cheviots, Allen Valley and Simonside Hills:

The only company you might have here are sheep, cows and skylarks. Northumberland’s rolling landscape offers many spots away from the hustle and bustle.

The National Park at Rothbury and the Ingram Valley are two popular spots – but even here you can easily escape the few people who make it out into the wilds.

A tour of North East restaurants and cafes which serve up a seaview with their food

Northumberland Picnic Food:

  • Cheeses from the Northumberland Cheese Company and Doddington
  • Fentimans’ Ginger Beer, refreshing Victorian Lemonade or Curiosity Cola
  • Locally roasted Northumbrian beef, rare breed pork, home cooked ham and award-winning sausages from the likes of Vallum, Blagdon, Moorhouse, Acomb, Oxford and Brocksbushes farm shops, Sunnyhills of Belford, the Barn at Beal and the Country Barn
  • Chocolate from Ken Speckle at Lynemouth, Cabosse at Warkworth, The Chocolate Spa in Alnwick or Dillies of Hexham
  • Artisan rolls, spicy teacakes, scones and brioche from the Great Northumberland Bread Company at Etal
  • Smoked fish, dressed crab, kipper pate, lobster, Lindisfarne oysters and potted shrimp from Swallow Fish at Seahouses
  • Cakes from Belford-based Cake Root including an array of mouth-watering treats all based on root vegetables. Try the magical chocolate and beetroot, parsnip with lime and ginger and crunch courgette and pistachio
  • Pies and home-made sausage rolls from Cranston’s Butchers in Hexham or WMH Butchers in Haltwhistle
  • Fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables from Brocksbushes, on the A69 near Corbridge
  • Ice cream from Morwick, Doddington, Wheelbirks and Vallum

TYNE & WEAR

Souter Lighthouse and the Lees:

The Lees is the coastal green lung between Newcastle and Sunderland.

The limestone cliffs, sculpted by the North Sea into strange shapes, are home to kittiwakes, razorbills and cormorants.

With dramatic coastal views, plenty of fresh air and miles of open grassland, it’s an ideal spot to sit, eat and contemplate.

Penshaw Monument:

©National Trust Images/John Millar Visitors at Penshaw Monument, near Sunderland
Visitors at Penshaw Monument, near Sunderland

At 70ft high, this folly based on Athens’ Temple of Hephaestus isn’t just Wearside’s most beloved landmark, but can be seen for miles around.

The views across Tyneside and Wearside from the monument which sits atop Penshaw Hill are stunning and makes it a perfect place to unpack your picnic hamper.

Jesmond Dene:

Newcastle is lucky with its open spaces but none surpasses Jesmond Dene. The wooded valley through which the Ouseburn flows is a fabulous haven of tranquillity in the heart of the city.

Stretching for more than three kilometres and encompassing Heaton, Armstrong and Paddy Freeman’s parks, there are lots of places to picnic. New paths have made it easier to get around. Then there’s Pets’ Corner, a new visitor centre and a café in case the weather does its worst!

Angel of the North:

Antony Gormley’s sculpture is seen by nearly 100,000 drivers every day using the A1 but why not take a closer look?

Standing 20 metres tall atop its vantage point and with a bigger wingspan than a Boeing 757, it makes for an unusual picnic location.

Leazes Park:

Newcastle’s oldest green space, the park was opened in 1873 and has been a welcome refuge for city workers and students ever since.

Recently restored, it has a lake, bowling green, tennis and basketball courts, a children’s play area, flowers and trees aplenty as well as lots of grass on which to sit back and enjoy the summer sunshine.

Tyne and Wear Picnic Food:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables, cakes, bread, cooked meats and pies from Newcastle’s indoor Grainger Market
  • Smoked fish, crab and prawns from North Shields Fish Quay and Latimers Seafood Deli at Whitburn
  • Pies and savoury nibbles from Gelders Bakery in Sunderland
  • Cooked hams, sausages, pease pudding, sandwich fillings and their famous saveloy dip from Dicksons
  • Sweet treats from North Chocolates. The Rose or Geranium and Orange bars fill your mouth with a summery perfume and conjure up images of deckchairs and Pimms on the lawn
  • Artisan breads from Whickham’s Original Bakehouse and Geordie Bakers (try the rosemary and sea salt sourdough)
  • Delicious home-made cakes and scones from the Baobab Bakery, Heaton; Dil and the Bear, Tynemouth; and Fenwick Food Hall, Newcastle
  • Manomasa tortillas. The Chipotle and Lime and Green Lemon and Pink Peppercorn are particularly tasty

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COUNTY DURHAM

High Force:

England’s largest waterfall can be reached via a lovely woodland walk leading from the Bowlees Visitor Centre. It takes you down a gentle slope and along a twisty path with a different view every few yards.

The rumble of water gets louder with every step before you finally reach the spectacular High Force as it drops 70 feet into a plunge pool.

You can eat al fresco on the rocks opposite the base of High Force or there is a larger picnic area in the carpark.

High Force’s power and beauty commands respect in every sense. Children and dogs must be supervised at all times.

Hamsterley Forest:

With 2,000 acres of mixed woodland lying between the Wear and Tees valleys and on the edge of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Hamsterley is a delightful destination for picnickers.

There are loads of waymarked walks, cycle routes and horseback trails. Bike hire is also available.

Once you have worked up an appetite, there are lots of places to enjoy an al fresco meal.

In addition, the Hamsterley Forest Café was revamped last year and now has a dog friendly/muddy biker area.

Durham Heritage Coast:

The Heritage Coast is now recognised internationally for its rare plants and wildlife.

This, coupled with its rugged cliffs, imposing headlands, beaches, fabulous views, geology and colourful and dramatic landscape, makes this section of the North East coast a fantastic area to explore.

There are 14km of coastal path as well as hidden denes containing remnants of ancient yew and ash woodland. The largest is the picturesque Castle Eden Dene, a National Nature Reserve with 550 acres of woodland, 12 miles of footpaths and 450 species of plants and wild flowers.

Also on this stretch is the lively harbour town of Seaham, which from its clifftop location offers dramatic views over the harbour and sandy beach below.

Pow Hill Country Park:

Set in moorland overlooking Derwent Reservoir – one of Britain’s largest inland reservoirs – there is plenty of space for children to play and woodland walks.

The word Pow comes from Old English and means ‘slow moving stream’, a reference to the boggy area to the north of the park.

It contains specialised plants such as bog asphodel, bog bean, cotton grass, ragged robin and marsh thistle and has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Enjoy heather moorland, grassland and coniferous woodland which is home to red squirrels, the common lizard and the green hairstreak butterfly.

Secluded glades offer wonderful views across the reservoir towards Castleside and the Hownsgill viaduct.

County Durham Picnic Food:

  • Durham Camembert and Mordon Blue cheeses from Parlour Made
  • Slabs of fruit cake from Jenkins and Hustwit
  • Hard boiled eggs from Lintz Hall Farm at Burnopfield
  • Acorn Dairy organic butter
  • A huge selection of breads from the Clervaux Bakery in Darlington
  • Pickles and dressings from Wildon Grange
  • Cooked meats, fresh vegetables, pies and savouries from Knitsley, Lowfields, Dropswell, Cross Lanes Gardiners, Haswell’s Homer Hill, Bradley Burn, Broom House and Farnless Farm Shops
  • Sweet treats from Truffles Chocolate Shop in Stanhope and The Sweet Box and Chocolate Fayre, both Barnard Castle
  • Hedgerow fruit jellies from Durham Greenlane
  • Meat, vegetables, real ales, game, fish, wholefoods and bread from Durham Indoor Market

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