Matthew Moore played half the holes and had twice the fun on a family trip to England’s beautiful border county.
- Honesty box golf for less than £20 a round
- The oldest nine hole links in England at Alnmouth Village
- Wild and wonderful Warkworth and its ‘Killiecrankie’ gorge
- Lunch in a Treehouse at Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Castle
- Mini-golf in a Duke and Duchess’ garden
- Great Scott’s of Alnmouth – a café/deli made with love
- Cool Brittania AirBnB in an old school hall
Northumberland is England’s best kept secret.
A soothing quiet county with an ancient Roman wall, revered holy sites and a coastline framed by brooding castles that bore witness to bloody Viking raids and border feuds.
It’s where I like to escape to and get back to my roots.
My Dad is Northumbrian. The gentle drive North reminds me of childhood and visiting my Grandparents.
It’s also a place of quiet unspoilt beaches, understated but excellent golf courses and the kind of market towns and visitor attractions that make it a perfect family-friendly destination.
Any golfer with young children knows that time is precious and rounds on the links are to be cherished.
Northumberland is ideal if you want to play golf on a family break.
I’d been planning an honesty box golf tour of Northumberland for some time and wanted to play links courses that were short, visitor friendly and located on dramatic and beautiful stretches of coastline.
In early Spring 2020, before the Covid-19 pandemic turned the world upside down and sent countries into state imposed lockdowns, we booked with AirBnB to stay in the village of Warkworth.
Hugging the banks of the River Coquet, Warkworth is a living flashback to England in the Middle Ages.
A majestic castle stands on a hill at the town’s centre surveying its streets and the view South to Amble, the self-styled ‘friendliest port’ in Northumberland.
The streets winding away from the castle and close to the river are true to Warkworth’s original mediaeval layout.
Long narrow gardens run behind old stone houses, a legacy of mediaeval property divisions.
School’s Out – Luxury Northumberland Holiday Accommodation In
Our holiday rental was once the Old School Hall now converted into a chic waterfront holiday cottage.
The only clues to its former identity, a high arched ceiling, large glass windows and a magnificent central fireplace.
It was a perfect location for a family weekend and just a short drive from Warkworth Golf Club and Alnmouth Village Golf Club, two nine hole honesty box links courses with beautiful sea views and a warm welcome to visitors.
Owners Claire and Gareth have created a charming and eclectic holiday let with a sense of style that mixes the Northumberland Coast with cool Brittania.
References to seafaring and fishing blend easily with cultural art, like the large photographic print of a young Lily Allen dancing at Glastonbury, a vintage sixties radio and homage pieces to Britain’s finest fashion designers.
There is even a framed golf glove signed by former World Number One golfer and Ryder Cup hero Lee Westwood, along with a full set of Ping Golf clubs with a hand written tag that simply says “please borrow.”
There was a luxury welcome hamper featuring a selection of tasty treats (succulent olives, cheeses, chocolate coated cinder toffee, hand cooked crisps, craft beers, Tunnock’s tea cakes and a delicious Portugese red from the Alentejo countryside) all lovingly sourced from local delicatessen Scott’s of Alnmouth.
It was an easy choice to spend the first evening in front of the fireplace with a large glass of red, or two, and the contents of the hamper.
Links golf at dawn in the dunes
Shortly before dawn, I slip out for a 6.45am tee time at Warkworth Golf Club.
This nine-hole links was designed by Old Tom Morris of St Andrews, the father of modern green keeping and one of the greatest names in Open Championship history.
It took just five minutes by car from front door to first tee.
The clubhouse was closed but the entrance porch was open. There I found cards, local rules and a simple honesty box.
The opener was tough on a cold morning just before 7am.
A long downhill par three into a stiff prevailing wind with coastal flats and the port of Amble as a backdrop. The weather was wild and a well-hit three wood left me pitching in from short.
Turning back northwards, the second hole enters high dunes with purple heather and parched brown turf framing the humps and hillocks you find on British seaside links.
At the third, you hit uphill across fescue and heather to a fairway hidden behind a dune ridge.
You then have to find a long green with high sloping sides that feed your approach shot down into the centre of a fast firm green. The next is a driveable four with the wind behind and a great chance for birdie.
The par-five 5th, called ‘Wee Killiecrankie,’ is probably the most memorable hole on the course. From the tee, you fire over a steep-sided coastal gorge created by the flow of water running down to sea.
Known locally as ‘Wee Killie’ or The Birling Chine, the gorge is straddled by a long modern timber bridge and the view back and out to sea is a treat.
At only 476 yards long, it’s another birdie chance with a favourable wind and the end of a lovely five hole stretch – the best sequence on the course.
The par three 6th takes you back inland away from the coast and plays long against the breeze.
My nine holes were rounded out with three gentle par fours that run back towards Warkworth Castle – once home to The Percy Family, the Earls and later Dukes of Northumberland, and one of the most powerful families in the North.
Hole 8 and 17, is called ‘Hotspur’s Castle,’ after Henry Percy, eldest son of the first Earl of Northumberland, who led an unsuccessful rebellion to depose King Henry IV (1399-1413) and died in single combat at The Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.
Alternative tees provide some different angles and challenges on the second nine and together adds up to 5986 yards and a par of 70.
I was done and home before 9am, ready for breakfast and a full day at Alnwick Castle and Garden, a film location for the Harry Potter movies and current home of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland.
Lunch in a Treehouse at the Hogwarts Castle
If you love film and television, Alnwick Castle should be on your to-visit list.
The film set for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the first two Harry Potter movies, it has also appeared in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Downton Abbey and Transformers: The Last Knight.
It’s a great place to take the kids. They can learn to fly a broomstick, dress up as knights and princesses and stick grown-ups in the stocks.
It is also home to a fascinating restaurant in one of the world’s biggest treehouses.
The Treehouse Restaurant at Alnwick Castle and Garden is run by Searcy’s of London, a dining company whose connection to the Dukes of Northumberland extends back to 1837.
Once I was able to entice my two sons away from the rope bridges and tunnels that surround the treehouse, we sat down to lunch in a magical setting.
The interior décor is entirely wooden and while simple on the eye, it’s finished beautifully with creeping, twisted branches, soft silvery lighting and warming fire pits.
With 85 covers, The Treehouse is a large space. It’s built from sustainably sourced Canadian Cedar, Scandinavian Redwood, English and Scots Pine.
Our table was set apart in a bay window, perfect for boisterous young boys, and the menu was superb.
The children enjoyed fish fingers, sausage and chips while I feasted on a rump of Northumbrian lamb and butternut squash side salad washed down with a drop of Alnwick lager.
My wife chose the Wood Shed burger and hand cut chips.
The service was attentive and discreet while the overall vibe of the restaurant was relaxed and unpretentious. The only drawback to dining in a treehouse is the long spiral climb to reach the toilets at the top of the tower.
A great lunch was finished off with a superfruit salad, two chocolate brownies and a selection of local ice creams.
There are lots of eateries at Alnwick Castle, including classic British fish and chips, but nothing can rival the extra special novelty of dining in a giant treehouse with Searcy’s.
Poisonous rough at Forbidden Garden Mini Golf
Not wanting to leave it too long before getting back on course, the Forbidden Garden mini-golf at Alnwick Garden was a scary challenge.
Skulls, giant spiders, killer bees and devilishly placed rock features all made for a fun hour topped off by my four-year-old bagging his first ever hole-in-one.
We kept the crazy golf theme going when we got home, using the “Juliet” walkway in the rafters of the Old School House to practice some long putting before teeing up at Alnmouth Village Golf Club – England’s oldest nine-hole links – the next day.
Alnmouth is a delightful coastal village conveniently served by a railway station on the LNER (London North Eastern Railway) line between London and Edinburgh.
It’s also home to Alnmouth Golf Club, known locally as ‘Foxton,’ which has a fine dormy house welcoming golf groups and 18 great holes on high land looking down over the estuary and bay.
Hallmarks of the Home of Golf
Alnmouth fits snugly into the crook of the estuary running into Alnmouth Bay and its nine-hole links sits on its North Eastern boundary.
It was laid out in 1869 by Mungo Park, another legendary Scottish golfer and Open Champion.
Like St Andrews Old Course, the ‘Home of Golf,’ Alnmouth Village Golf Club starts in the town and finishes in the town, with a narrow side street bearing a passing resemblance to the famous ‘Granny’s Wynd’ and providing a view of the 18th green and flagstick from Alnmouth’s main streets.
At a whisker over 3000 yards, it’s a short but delightful nine holer.
Like Warkworth, it opens with a par three.
The fairways roll and undulate with linksland hillocks and the firm greens are hard to read and usually pacy.
The picture-perfect 7th tee was the highlight of the round. The course climbs high to an elevated tee box looking down over Alnmouth Bay, the town and south to Coquet Island.
At just £15 for nine holes, payable by honesty box or bookable online, AVGC is wonderful value and perfect for holiday golf.
Great Scott – can this breakfast be beaten?
Teeing off at first light can leave you hungry and thanks to the recommendation attached to our welcome hamper, we’d booked a breakfast/brunch at Scott’s of Alnmouth (15-16 Northumberland St, Alnmouth) – located a well hit drive away from the 18th green.
This family run business is a café and deli by day and occasional bistro and wine bar by night.
After a fireside breakfast of coffee, local cured bacon, bubble and squeak topped with a poached egg – it was easy to see why it has attracted numerous awards and built a far reaching reputation.
Some independent eateries have a rare quality of being made with love and after speaking with owner Andrew Scott, it was clear he’s poured heart and soul into creating a place for foodies and coffee lovers to feel utterly at home.
Guests at the Old School Waterfront Cottage receive a welcome hamper packed with Scott’s of Alnmouth goodies and we took the opportunity to restock on Smart Dog Portugese red, pimento olives, sourdough bread and local Northumbrian beers.
There was just enough time for a bracing walk on the beach and a plodge in the surf before heading back to Warkworth to pack up.
The road home took us past Warkworth Castle and offered a quick detour to Amble to explore its Harbour Village with seafood centre, lobster hatchery, eateries and promenade with 15 independent retail pods selling everything from decorative jerry cans to locally produced confectionery.
The latter was used as a location in hit ITV crime drama ‘Vera.’
While filming, lead actor Brenda Blethyn had stayed at the Old School House we’d just reluctantly left behind.
Like its nine hole links golf courses, Northumberland once again proved itself a small and beautiful world.
Northumberland Golf Breaks
Where to Stay
Old School Waterfront Cottage Warkworth
Luxury converted barn accommodation located on the banks of the River Coquet less than five minutes’ drive from Warkworth Golf Club and 10 minutes from Alnmouth Village.
*Prices dependent on dates and availability
Sleeps 4. Fishing rights from cottage garden plus rods and equipment. Cottage has its own rowing boat, Ping golf clubs (1 set) and guests receive a welcome hamper from Scott’s of Alnmouth.
Where to Play
Warkworth Golf Club
T: 01665 711596
GF: £10 for 9 holes, £15 for 18 holes
*During the Covid-19 pandemic, please call ahead or visit the website to see availability for visiting golfers. Saturday is club competition day and space for visitors is limited
Alnmouth Village Golf Club
GF: £15 for 9 holes, £20 for 18 holes.
25% reduction for a fourball – 18 holes is £60
Where to Eat
Treehouse at Alnwick Garden – Searcy’s
T: 01665 511852
Scott’s of Alnmouth
T: 07590 564963
Things to see and do
For more inspiration or other must-play courses on a Northumberland golf break, check out Coast and Castles Golf Trail featuring beautiful links at Dunstanburgh, Bamburgh and Goswick (a regional qualifying venue for The Open Championship).
If you fall in love with North East England on your visit, then you’ll find details of the best golf courses in Durham, Newcastle and Teesside here: Northern Lights – Golf Guide to North East England
Tourist Information: https://www.visitnorthumberland.com/