I’m not a camper. I was often dragged camping during school holidays as a child and it didn’t appeal to me to inflict the same on Jnr. My recollections were rainy fields, damp sleeping bags and drinking tea out of a Tupperware beaker. I grew up in the 80s, long before the days of glamping! Jnr and I both like our creature comforts: Wi-Fi, warm showers, and comfy beds.
I was looking for somewhere to take Jnr during the holidays last year. I researched going abroad, which we’ve often done on our own, but was struggling financially with the threat of redundancy. We love visiting Kielder Water and Hadrian’s Wall, so I started to research accommodation options in that area. I stumbled across the website for Herding Hill Farm quite by chance, and they had a wigwam free on the dates I was searching for. I didn’t consult with Jnr as I knew his response and booked it straightaway. I felt some time in the fresh air away from his computer would do us both the world of good. Each night in the wigwam cost £45, with firepits and BBQs available to hire at an additional cost. There were wigwams with hot tubs and their own toilets inside, but the standard option was more within our price range.
As a National Trust member I always consult the handbook to see which properties are in the area we visit. I decided on Day 1 we’d visit Allen Banks and Staward Gorge. Day 2 would be Sycamore Gap, Steel Rigg and Housesteads, and Day 3 we’d travel up to Kielder to cycle. This was quite an itinerary, but strangely Jnr was enthusiastic about my proposal. Along with petrol I had to factor in the cost of our bike rental in Kielder, but it was still a cheap staycation for us and within budget. We even had money left over for treats 🙂
I was reticent about buying sleeping bags specifically for the trip as we have very limited storage at home, but were kindly loaned some to save the expense. I also worried that if we didn’t like glamping we’d be stuck with something we’d never use again! We packed Minnie (yes, our car has a name!) up with supplies, safe in the knowledge that Herding Hill had nice heated shower blocks and drying rooms should we need them. I took crockery, towels, lots of warm clothes, BBQ food and plenty of tea bags! This was new territory for me as a Mum, and the closest to ‘roughing it’ we’d come.
We visited Allen Banks first, had a walk and picnic, then set back off up the A69 towards Haltwhistle. It took over an hour to arrive there and we got slightly lost as the signposts weren’t easy to see on the route up. Yes, make jokes about female drivers if you must! We checked in at the shop near the entrance, which also doubles as a takeaway. I paid for Wi-Fi as there was no phone signal and I wanted some connection to the outside world. I refused to give Jnr the password though, which prompted the first huff of the visit. I reasoned that it was good to get away from it all, but I still needed to let people know we were OK.
We were told the takeaway advertised wasn’t available on the evening due to unforeseen circumstances, which meant my plan for food went out of the window. We fed the alpacas and donkeys in the adjacent field to our wigwam, and Jnr was asked if he wanted to help collect eggs from the ducks and chickens. I was surprised when he happily got involved, mainly because I thought he’d find it ‘babyish’. There was a play area, but he was definitely too old for that! We made our way into Haltwhistle itself and had a meal in a pub, where we were the only non-locals present. We heard scandalous tales of residents as we ate our sausages & mash. We returned to the site early, but by this time it was pitch black. They don’t have street lights and I was thankful we’d packed a torch. We were in bed quite early, mainly because there was no TV or Internet to distract us.
The sleeping arrangements were comedic as I don’t think I properly set up the bed, which was a board placed between the two sofas. Both Jnr and I found ourselves ‘tipped up’ a number of times through the night when we moved in our sleep! We were warm through the night thanks to a heater in the hut. It was difficult to get up in the morning because of how cold it was and the run to the shower block in my PJs was brisk! Thankfully the facilities were clean and had underfloor heating. They even had Radio 2 playing as we showered!
The weather wasn’t great on the 2nd day but we soldiered on with the plan to walk along part of Hadrian’s Wall and visit Sycamore Gap. I promised Jnr that we’d have food at Twice Brewed Inn that evening when we’d finished walking. At one stage it was torrential rain and we were both drenched. It’s hard to motivate a child when you also feel cold and miserable. One of strangest moments occurred as we were walking along the roadside, trying to avoid the sodden fields. Jnr literally fell over the body of a badger and was quite shaken. It was the first time he’d seen one and couldn’t believe the size of it.
We decided to stop at the pub for lunch instead as we desperately needed to dry out. Jnr said he didn’t feel like he could walk back to Housesteads to collect the car, but thankfully the weather broke and we had sunshine the rest of the afternoon. We were exhausted by the time we got back to Herding Hill. I presumed Jnr was reading a book, but he actually had an afternoon nap! We love visiting Sycamore Gap throughout the year as the landscape changes along with the seasons.
We’d ordered a BBQ and had sausages and other treats when he woke up, which was a nice way of ending the day. We loved sitting outside, looking at the stars. Living in a suburban area means we don’t often get to marvel in this way, and Jnr said it was amazing. I felt buoyed by his positivity and started to feel that we’d missed out with all these years of hotels and fluffy towels.
The next day we had an early start to get up to go cycling. I don’t think I fully appreciated how far away it was from Haltwhistle, and I could detect crankiness from Jnr. The makeshift beds were on the uncomfortable side and I was looking forward to my Tempur mattress at home! We visit Kielder at least once a year to do a trail, usually choosing a different route each time. How far we cycle is dictated by what time we arrive as the bikes have to be returned before the store closes. We managed to get there at 10am on this visit, which meant we had time to stop at the architecture dotted around the area.
As you can tell from the pictures, it was a beautiful day. It was also the first time Jnr and I had managed to cycle right the way round the reservoir, so we were very proud of ourselves! I had a surprise for Jnr after we’d returned the bikes – a trip to Kielder Observatory. It was unfortunate that the Aurora Nights are usually booked up in advance, but we still enjoyed seeing the Sun and Moon through the various telescopes they have.
On the way back to Herding Hill we stopped off in Haltwhistle and collected a Chinese takeaway for supper. I was too tired and my muscles ached after cycling nearly 20 miles in one day to cook. I’m not used to such physical exertion! We sat outside with candles and blankets talking about school and other stuff until it was too cold to bear it any longer. That night we both slept well 🙂
To anyone who says this sort of holiday isn’t for them I’d say think again. I was able to wash my hair and straighten it every day, and while I didn’t exactly totter round in heels, I also wasn’t caked in mud the whole time. The campsite facilities were, on the whole, fantastic. Planning is important, and I made sure we were prepared for anything. I took board games & cards along to stave off boredom, and thankfully the huts had electricity so we could charge our phones and have a decent cup of tea! I think we’re spoilt in the North East with these beautiful areas and interesting places to visit in such close proximity, and we take them for granted. I’d say it’s only been in the last year that I’ve actively chosen to stay ’round the doors’ rather than jump on a train or plane when we’ve had free time.
I think Jnr enjoyed the trip and I felt like we spent quality time together. I felt liberated during the visit without the constant interjection of the phone or computer. I’m currently researching options for breaks away this year and would love people to share ideas and experiences with me.
Thanks for reading,