Dixe Wills is the author of a handful of books including The Z-Z of Great Britain and The Armchair Naturalist. He’s just finished writing his next one, Tiny Islands, which comes out this month, May 2013, and explores 60 remarkable little isles around Britain – on lakes, lochs, rivers and offshore (and includes Inner Farne, though Holy Island sadly missed out, being rather too extensive to consider ‘tiny’). He is also a non-flying travel writer for The Guardian newspaper and lives in east London. He is a fan of Northumberland and has visited the North East of England many times.
How long have you lived/worked/visited in Northumberland?: My first trip here as a writer was in 2006 to research a book called Places to Hide (I chose two spots – one on Holy Island and the other on the ‘Get Carter’ beach at Cambois). I’ve been back a hatful of times since, usually to write pieces for The Guardian.
What is it about the county that appeals to you?: There’s something mightily attractive about its mixture of austere beauty and a wildness that can border on the inhospitable – it’s not a county for fainthearts.
What’s your favourite Northumberland/Borders beauty spot?: The Farne Islands take some beating, especially when the Arctic terns and puffins are about.
Tell us about your favourite view/walk/cycle route/town/nightspot?: My favourite walk would be St Oswald’s Way – which takes hikers from Holy Island to Heavenfield. It provides a memorable week’s walking, the first half spent along the coast before charging up the hills through the bloody cranesbills to end on Hadrian’s Wall.
The list of places to visit is endless. But some are more special than others. A trip to Northumberland/the Borders wouldn’t be complete without….: A walk around the walls at Berwick-upon-Tweed – one of the most under-rated wall walks in Britain.
Northumbrians and people from The Scottish Borders are renowned for the warm welcome they offer holidaymakers and day trippers alike. What do you think is the secret ingredient for this friendliness?: It clearly springs forth from a compassion for folk who aren’t fortunate enough to live there.
Coast or country, and specifically which part?: I’ll have both, please. The silver beaches from Bamburgh to Berwick and the intense isolation of the upper parts of the Coquet Valley.
Your favourite market town and why?: I’m pretty sure it must be Rothbury. It’s poured with rain every time I’ve been there yet I’m still fond of it, so it must be doing something right.
Your favourite historical site?: Of course, it has to be Hadrian’s Wall which never fails to impress however often I visit bits of it. However, there’s also something about Allenheads, the former lead mining village turned artistic hub way up in the north Pennines.
And the best road to take a leisurely and scenic drive along?: It’s best to ditch the car and cycle along Hadrian’s Wall – the road is a roller-coaster along which (with the wind behind you) it’s possible to breeze along almost effortlessly, with the bonus of synapse-snapping views all the way.
What would be your perfect day out in Northumberland and The Scottish Borders?: Perhaps a cycle ride that starts off with a leisurely browse around Barter Books in Alnwick, moves onto Berwick for more shameless ambling and ends with a walk across to Holy Island at low tide to watch the setting sun change the colour of the castle walls.
Category: Northumberland Best Kept Secrets