You may not be able to rely on the sunshine during a typical British summer but there is one thing you can bank on: our ability to make the best of whatever nature has in store for us.
Whether our summer has been and gone or there’s a brighter forecast ahead, most people are unanimous that when it comes to marking this special time of the year there’s only one pastime worth its salt – a picnic.
Come rain or shine we love to dine al fresco.
With its miles of coastline and acres of countryside, the North East boasts some top picnic locations coupled with wonderful family days out.
From idyllic sandy beaches to stunning cliff top stops, shady woodland glades, tranquil garden retreats and remote country corners, there are no shortage of beauty spots to lay out your blanket in the coming weeks and beyond.
“The North East is home to some of the nation’s most breath-taking and peaceful countryside; there are countless areas of beauty where people can enjoy fantastic family picnics and days out,” said Joanna Royle, head of marketing and supporter development at the National Trust which itself offers plenty of ideal picnic locations, including undercover areas if the weather does take a turn for the worst although, points out Joanna, “if it’s cold you can wrap up warm and still relish being outdoors”.
That’s the spirit, and she adds: “Picnics are a great British tradition and one that can still be enjoyed even if the weather does throw its worst at us.
“Picnics are very simple, traditional and nostalgic get-togethers enjoyed by all ages, and they don’t have to be taken in the countryside or on a beach. If the weather, company and food are right then urban picnics are just as wonderful.
“With our fickle British weather you can’t always rely on the sunshine – but when it does put in an appearance you need to grasp the opportunity with both hands and get out and about into the open air.”
Picnics don’t just have to be a daytime treat either. With a summer programme ranging from music to open air theatre playing out across the region, to make the most of the longer days and hopefully warmer evenings, there’s nothing stopping you packing up your picnic basket and dining out with a difference while the dusk descends.
As you pack your flasks and sarnies, here are a few location ideas to get you started, beginning with National Trust properties:
Allen Banks and Staward Gorge
One of the largest areas of ancient semi-natural woodland in Northumberland, this is an ideal place for a picnic on the wild side.
Sit outdoors under the trees, at a picnic bench or on the lush grass in a woodland clearing.
Cragside, Rothbury, Northumberland
There was a good reason why the Victorian inventor and industrialist Lord Armstrong chose Cragside to build his county residence – the views across the Coquet Valley to Simonside and the surrounding moorland are stunning.
There are myriad outdoor picnicking opportunities from lakeside dining to feasting among the trees and shrubs – a staggering seven million of which were planted in the 19th Century.
Farne Islands, Northumberland
St Cuthbert’s Cove beach on Inner Farne will be open from early August to allow families to enjoy the tranquillity with the thousands of seabirds that normally call this sandy beach home, literally having flown the nest for another breeding season.
Gibside, Tyne and Wear
A taste of the country on the edge of the city, there are wonderful Derwent Valley views, winding walks, refreshing open spaces, historic buildings and wildlife aplenty.
There’s a free to attend farmers’ market every first and third Saturday of the month where you can stock up on lots of delicious local produce before heading into the parkland itself. And on August 1 there’ll be a special street party with visitors invited to bring deck chairs, picnics and party hats from 6pm to celebrate summer on a grand Georgian scale on the tree-lined avenue with live music, tasty treats, real ale and family entertainment all promised.
There’s even a prize for the best posh picnic. And even better, it’s free entry for the evening.
The iconic landmark built by the Romans stretches across the north from the Cumbrian coast in the west to Wallsend and South Shields in the east. And 1,600 years after the Romans left these shores it offers not just archaeology aplenty but spectacular views, often rare wildlife and solitude.
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 Hollywood blockbuster Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, or one of the many vantage points offering panoramic views north and south of the wall near to the National Trust’s Housesteads Fort.
Penshaw Monument, Tyne and Wear
At 70ft high, this folly based on Athens’ Temple of Hephaestus isn’t just Wearside’s most beloved landmark – it can be seen for miles around.
The views across Tyneside and Wearside from the monument which sits atop Penshaw Hill are stunning and make it the perfect place to unpack your picnic hamper. And if you fancy something a little extra, for one day only on July 20 the monument will be turned into an open-air tea-room with probably the best views in the region as National Trust staff and volunteers serve up drinks and home-made cakes between 10.30am and 3pm. The view alone will be worth the £2.50 charge.
Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island, Northumberland
Picnic spots don’t get much more romantic or secluded than this and the grassy bank below the castle looking out across the sea towards the Farne Islands and another of Northumberland’s famous fortresses, Bamburgh, is a stunning outdoor dining setting on a summer’s day.
Roseberry Topping, Redcar and Cleveland
Roseberry Topping isn’t one of the UK’s highest hills but it is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive with its jagged half-cone summit caused by a combination of geology and a mining collapse just over 100 years ago.
There is plenty more to do than conquer the ‘Matterhorn’ of the North East, however. It’s the perfect spot to partake of a picnic while taking in the breathtaking views across Cleveland and North Yorkshire.
August 3 will see the annual Tea on the Topping event between 10.30am-3pm. For £2.50 you can indulge in a reviving cup of tea and slice of cake – your reward for climbing the 1,049ft (320m) to Roseberry’s summit.
Souter Lighthouse and The Leas, Tyne and Wear
The Leas is the coastal green lung between Newcastle and Sunderland. The steep limestone cliffs sculpted by the North Sea into strange shapes are home to an abundance of noisy birdlife from kittiwakes to fulmars, cormorants and razorbills.
With spectacular coastal views, plenty of fresh air and miles of open grassland, it’s an ideal spot to sit, eat and contemplate. You can take a post-picnic stroll along this 2.5 mile stretch of North East coastline.
Wallington, Cambo, Northumberland
With its beautiful Georgian House and grassed courtyard, acres of woodland, walled garden, landscape lawns, river walk, enchanting children’s play train and fabulous wooden fort, there’s plenty of room to escape any crowds and settle back for an al fresco meal after a busy morning’s exploring.
Hidden behind high walls at the bottom of a wooded valley, this garden includes ponds, a Nuttery and Edwardian conservatory as well as a manicured lawn perfect for picnics.
Washington Old Hall, Tyne and Wear
Set in the heart of Washington village, the Old Hall’s Nuttery garden is a haven for wildlife, and a tranquil oasis to enjoy the sound of the birds as you enjoy your picnic.
Saltwell Park, Gateshead
This Victorian oasis in the heart of Low Fell offers 55 acres of space which guarantees you’ll always find a quiet spot to call your own. If you like a buzz around you, however, you might time your picnic to coincide with a Sunday afternoon music performance in the bandstand. Elsewhere birdsong will provide a musical backdrop from the ornamental and woodland gardens which feature alongside picnic fields, play areas, a boating lake, bowling greens a maze and the distinctive Saltwell Towers.
Marsden beach, South Shields
You could pretty much settle for anywhere on the North East coastline as we’re blessed with beautiful beaches, including ones easily accessible by Metro, such as Tynemouth and Whitley Bay. So, rather than laden yourself down with a hamper, keep it simple with a few light bites and enjoy a good old-fashioned, no-fuss family picnic. Marsden has a different feel to the sandy beaches further north with its dramatic cliff landscape and plenty of caves and rocks to explore. And the lift ride down the cliff, which makes access easy to the Marsden Grotto pub at the base, is fun to ride while those dramatic views make it worth the risk of getting sand in your sarnies.
Northumberlandia, near Cramlington
Dine courtesy of the Lady of the North, the reclining body-form sculpture which is the result of fashioning 1.5m tonnes of rock, clay and soil into an artwork 100ft high and a quarter of a mile long - that’s a lot to walk and sit on. Set to evolve over time and with the seasons, the lady is set to look her sunny best in summer in the surrounding 46-acre community park. There’s a view into the Shotton Surface coal mine (Northumberlandia forms part of its restoration) as well as four miles of surrounding footpaths to walk off your food.
Causey Arch, Stanley, Gateshead
There are some fabulous woodland walks around the site of the world’s oldest surviving railway bridge, which was built around 1725-26 over a rocky gorge, and it’s a perfect spot for picnics. The area around the now-closed railway - and you can absorb its history with the help of information panels and a replica of an 18th Century coal waggon – has been reclaimed by nature and paths are lined with wild flowers. There’s an easy-access route too so everyone can enjoy post-picnic views over the arch and beneath the gorge.