We went to Cragside Estate on a misty October day. It was cold and wet in that northern part of England, but we didn't let the weather dampen our spirit.
Cragside Estate is the country house of Lord Armstrong, a Victorian inventor and industrialist. It is the first resident house powered by hydroelectricity. Back then, it had a working passenger lift even though there were only three floors. The Armstrongs also had a Turkish bath, which is rather cool.
When you visit Cragside, you have more than a house to see. Spare the time to explore the beautiful stone garden and the surrounding forest, lakes and reservoirs.
It resembles a castle from the outside, but it feels a lot cosier inside. There are many small rooms, thick carpets, a lot of artwork… and hats.
The stone garden is fantastic. It could be a bit slippery on a wet day, so watch out if you travel with kids. It felt ancient being there because of the rocks and tall old trees.
Just walk around, listen out for the sound of running water. You can follow the stream down to the powerhouse and check out an engine that transforms water power into electricity. If you go the other way, you’ll get to a massive iron bridge. It's so tall that I felt dizzy walking across. From there, you have a great view of the garden as well as the house.
The Estate Drive
There's a fun six-mile drive around Cragside Estate. You are in a forest but on a paved, well-maintained path. At the gate, you will get a map with the locations of lakes, dams and parking lots for this drive.
We first picked a random place to park the car and walked further into the forest. There are various sight-posted paths, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost. We also stopped by a lake, had some hot tea from my Thermos flask and watched the clouds moving across the sky. Though the house was packed with visitors, out on the drive, we saw few people and cars. Mostly, it was just us and the trees. Apparently, there were also some rare red squirrels, but we weren’t lucky enough to spot any.
Bonus: The Guardian also has a step-by-step walking guide if you want to stretch your legs even more.
To and From
The nearest village is Rothbury. You can spend the night there and drive to Cragside Estate early in the morning. The house has enough interesting stories to explore for the whole morning. Then there’s a lovely cafe at the old stable where you can have lunch. The gift shop has a beautiful collection of Northumberland products and plants. After lunch, you can explore the larger ground, go for a long walk or do the hop-in, hop-out in your car.
If you don’t want to spend the night in Rothbury, you can start out early from Newcastle. The drive takes about an hour. There’s also public transport, but it will be longer with the busses.
Cragside is close to Alnwick and Craster, and not too far a drive from Bamburgh Castle and Holy Island. You can drive up north to see any of these places and make it a weekend trip.