Trip report - Northumberland

31st December 2017
Dates: 23rd to 30th December 2017

Destination: Northumberland



Purpose of trip:

The purpose of my trip was primarily an "escape from Christmas" short break rather than one specifically focused on wildlife watching and photography.

Northumberland was chosen since it is an English county that I am not familiar with other than a trip to the Farne Islands in June 2014 and a number of drives up the A68 from near Darlington to the Scottish border at Carter Bar en-route to holidays in the Scottish Highlands.

Primary target areas:

There were no specific target areas for wildlife watching and photography but instead more general itineraries taking in the following:

Northumberland National Park including Kielder Forest and Kielder Water, Coquetdale, Redesdale and The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre.

Northumberland coast between Newbiggin-on-Sea and Berwick-upon-Tweed including the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Holy Island and Lindisfarne Priory and Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve.

Historical Roman sites including Hadrian’s Wall, Housesteads Fort and Vindolanda Fort.

Getting there and getting around:

I rented a car from Thrifty in Basildon for the period 22nd December 2017 to 2nd January 2018 (the additional days on return from Northumberland allowing some local birding to get my 2018 year list off to a good start).

Given that this was the Christmas holiday period, the rental cost of £125.20 for 10 days was exceptionally good value, particularly when compared to the £400 to £600 quotes offered by other rental companies.

The car provided was a Renault Megane which proved to be very comfortable to drive both to and from our base in Northumberland (around 650 miles return) and for our daily visits out and about. It was also very economical (61 mpg) so total fuel costs were much less than originally anticipated.


Photo: a red and white rental car on "snowy Friday"

Although the journeys to and from Northumberland were immediately prior to the Christmas and New Year holidays, traffic en-route was much less than expected and both journeys were completed with no issues.

Accommodation:

Our base in Northumberland was Chicken Coop Cottage at Elishaw Farm Holiday Cottages. The accommodation is situated in the Redesdale valley 2 miles north of Otterburn and 13 miles south of the Scottish border at Carter Bar.




Source: Elishaw Farm Holiday Cottages

The initial communication with Tina by e-mail to confirm availability was very friendly and helpful and my BACS payments of the deposit and balance were quick and convenient. The total cost for the week was £595 and, whilst this was more expensive than a non-Christmas week, it still represented good value for a peak holiday period.

Elishaw Farm Holiday Cottages are situated in a stand alone location surrounded by beautiful Northumbrian countryside although the main A68 road does pass by the boundary of the property and traffic noise can be quite intrusive especially from the HGVs travelling at night. However, the accommodation is in an excellent central location for travelling around Northumberland.

Chicken Coop Cottage was cosy, clean and comfortable and provided everything we needed for our "escape from Christmas" break. The “welcome pack” of a bottle of mulled wine, mince pies, chocolate Matchmakers, home-baked cake and eggs from the free range chickens were much appreciated. There is a small supermarket in nearby Otterburn but we arrived with our food and other provisions for the week having bought these before our journey north together with an additional stop at Tescos in Consett.

The Shetland Ponies, Sweep, Biscuit and Ginger, in the field adjacent to Chicken Coop Cottage were quick to say “hello” when we arrived and clearly enjoyed (expected) the offerings of carrots, parsnips and apples at various times during our stay.

Many thanks Tina and Alan for your welcome and hospitality .... we enjoyed our Christmas break at Elishaw Farm Holiday Cottages.


Photo: Elishaw Farm Holiday Cottages


Photo: Elishaw Farm Holiday Cottages


Photo: Chicken Coop Cottage (left)


Photo: grounds of Elishaw Farm Holiday Cottages


Photo: grounds of Elishaw Farm Holiday Cottages


Photo: River Rede at Elishaw Farm Holiday Cottages


Photo: Sweep, Ginger and Biscuit waiting expectantly for carrots, parsnips and apples!


Photo: location of Elishaw Farm Holiday Cottages at A68/A696 junction


Photo: England-Scotland border at Carter Bar .... 13 miles north of Elishaw Farm Holiday Cottages


Photo: England-Scotland border at Carter Bar .... 13 miles north of Elishaw Farm Holiday Cottages


Photo: England-Scotland border at Carter Bar .... 13 miles north of Elishaw Farm Holiday Cottages

Weather:

Following a sunny day driving up to Northumberland, we arrived at Elishaw Farm to a grey, cloudy and windy afternoon. The following day, Christmas Eve, was similar whilst Christmas Day was most definitely not “white” but instead the worst weather day of the trip with heavy rain. However, the following days were much better with very cold and bright or sunny weather with some overnight frost and light snow. The last full day saw heavy snow throughout the morning and in to the early afternoon whilst the first stage of the drive home south on the A68 was somewhat difficult with blinding sunlight and some slippery roads.


Photo: A68 outside Elishaw Farm Holiday Cottages


Photo: England-Scotland border at Carter Bar


Photo: England-Scotland border at Carter Bar

Highlights:

During my trip, I was able to record 58 bird species and 3 mammal species.

Trip list - Northumberland

The trip totals were quite low due to the trip being taken during the winter period and the fact that it was not focused on wildlife watching.

However, with regard to the birds, I was able to add the welcome sighting of Common Crossbill in Kielder Forest (a male and female of this elusive species) to my 2017 year list, bringing the total to a record equalling 234 species for the year.


Photo: Male Common Crossbill (courtesy of Carol Potter .... thank you!)


Photo: Female Common Crossbill (courtesy of Carol Potter .... thank you!)

In addition, the most notable sightings were small flocks of Pale-bellied Brent Geese around the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, a small group of Purple Sandpipers at Stag Rocks north of Bamburgh, a fly over male Hen Harrier between Otterburn and Kielder Water and 2 Dippers on the River Coquet in Coquetdale.

Although not included on the trip list, a fly over Red Kite near the A1(M) and A64 junction in north Yorkshire on the journey home was also a welcome sighting.

Mammal sightings included 3 separate “dash across the road” Stoats, a single Bank Vole and several Rabbits.

The main disappointment was the absence of any sightings of Red or Black Grouse, Whooper Swan, any owl species, any wintering sea ducks other than Eider, any of the rarer grebe species, Red Squirrel or any deer species although a more concerted effort to see these would doubtless have brought some success.

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