Cragside, Northumberland

The half term holiday has passed by in its customary blur.

We did, however, manage to escape to Northumberland with my parents for a few days at the start of the week in order to visit my grandparents. Blessed with glorious weather on our drive up, the landscapes and never-ending skies were shown off to full effect as we navigated the undulations of the Roman road running parallel to Hadrian’s Wall.

As we were staying in a cottage near Rothbury, it was a perfect base from which to visit the Cragside estate, now owned and managed by the National Trust. The house itself, which was the home of Victorian inventor and industrialist, Lord Armstrong, is an austere mansion built into a rocky outcrop, and is famous for being the first in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity.

Having toured the house before (it is full of ingenious gadgets that were, in their day, state-of-the-art), we decided to explore the beautiful grounds on this visit.

These are equally impressive, and include one of the largest rock gardens in Europe, an ornate Iron Bridge, Pinetum, formal gardens and greenhouses, as well as a six-mile driving route through the estate.

The big draw at this time of year is the show of autumn colours which did not disappoint, although there was a kind of beauty to be found in seeing the structure of the formal gardens laid bare now that the beds have been cleared to make way for bulbs, and the perennial plants have started to die back.

The kids were desperate to visit Nelly’s Labyrinth, a maze created within a forest of rhododendron bushes, before we left. It possibly wasn’t the best planned of adventures, as we were all starving and had no clue as to how to navigate our way to the middle. We nearly admitted defeat on account of the mud, rain and hunger, when we thankfully heard the excited chatter of other children, and, by following their voices, found the wooden fortress at the heart of the maze.

Result: two happy children and two relieved parents.

It was a wonderful few days of fresh (if a little murky) air, family time and cosy evenings by the fire. A perfect pitstop before the craziness of Christmas begins in earnest.

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