This Easter, we were invited to spend a long weekend in the country with English Country Cottages, and chose a break in Northumberland at Falstone Barns.
I’m a big fan of English Country Cottages – we’ve probably booked around 10 properties through them over the years, everywhere from Devon to the Lake District. But we’ve never visited Northumberland, and Falstone Barns, just a few minutes from the Kielder Water and Forest Park, looked pretty spectacular.
Kielder is Europe’s largest man-made lake and is set in 250 miles of forest. There are countless water and wood-based activities for families, and it’s also on the doorstep of the Northumberland National Park.
Once we’d chosen our property, we got regular email updates from ECC including a pre-arrival email that included directions to our property, details of how to get in, and how to contact the owner in case of any problems. It was all really comprehensive and straightforward.
Falstone Barns is just a few miles from the village of Kielder, and it’s pretty remote – there is a pub and a tiny village store, but mostly it’s just you, the sheep and the hills. Honestly, considering it was a Bank Holiday weekend, the whole place felt pleasingly deserted – it’s the perfect spot if you want to escape the crowds.
Technically it’s a three-hour drive from our home in Lytham to Falstone, but it took closer to five and a half hours through Easter traffic. We arrived at the cottage later than planned, but the keys were in the door, the lights were on, and everything was warm and clean ready for our arrival.
Unlike some cottages we’ve booked through ECC, there was no welcome pack, so do make sure you arrive with all the essentials – it’s a long old drive to the nearest decent grocery store (or I understand you can have Tesco make a delivery as you arrive, if you book online).
We did find a comprehensive guest guide with all the usual local information and leaflets, and details of how to use the thermostat, TV and similar. The guide refers to Sky TV but I suspect this is no longer available, or wasn’t working during our stay – no matter, there’s Freeview, and the WiFi is excellent, so we watched Netflix online, while sitting on the world’s biggest, squishiest sofa.
The next morning, we awoke to the sound of rain on the roof, and enjoyed our breakfast looking out over the courtyard, which is really pretty, with flowers and trees. We took a bit of time to explore the grounds, sneaking a quick peep through the window of the “posh huts” – converted shepherd’s huts on site which can also be rented.
Across the courtyard there is a small reception area where the site’s owners pop in daily to deal with any enquiries – we especially appreciated the owners popping in with some Easter Eggs so we could have an Easter Egg hunt on Easter Sunday.
Our apartment was called “French Bourgeois” and was definitely decorated on that theme. The open-plan lounge and kitchen is well equipped and offers a dishwasher, microwave, oven and washing machine, which is always nice (nothing worse than arriving home with a pile of dirty laundry!).
At one end of the apartment is the master bedroom. There’s a large, soft bed and reasonable storage, with a flatscreen TV on the wall. The curtains are really thick, meaning it’s good and dark and you won’t be woken by the birds at 5am!
The bathroom is accessible from the hallway or master bedroom, and boasts one of the deepest baths I’ve ever seen – it’s the perfect spot to settle with bubbles, candles and a new magazine. There’s also a separate shower, for a quicker start to the day.
At the other end of the apartment is a second bedroom, which is fitted with another TV and its own en-suite bathroom with shower. In here, we found a selection of books and toys, and a travel cot, which is always a bonus when you have small kids.
We found Falstone Barns to be a real luxury hideaway. There is absolutely zero mobile service for miles, and no shops, so you’re really quite remote, which is just what we wanted. The apartment has some lovely luxury touches, especially the bathroom, and we found everything super clean, and in good working order.
The kitchen is very well kitted out (although if you stay there and find the egg cups tell me where the dickens they were hiding!) and we thought the wine cooler was a particularly swish touch.
It is worth noting if you book here that you can hear EVERYTHING that happens in the apartment above, and the wall of windows in the lounge is gorgeous at creating a light-filled space but does mean you’ll be waving to your neighbours on a regular basis, and you won’t want to open the curtains before you’re dressed in the morning!
What really sells Falstone Barns though, is the location. You’re just a few minutes’ drive from Kielder Water and there are several really pretty walks within the village of Falstone. We took the short three mile walk that starts at the village pub and heads up into the hills and forest, along the River Tyne, and back to the village tea room. It’s a two-hour round trip and very suitable for kids.
Falstone has its own village pub which sells food, and there’s a tea-shop. There’s a tiny village store with a Post Office for essentials, but this was closed when we visited.
We had more luck at the Pheasant Inn, just half a mile away, although you will need to book if you want to eat here. The food here is really lovely, and it’s a proper country pub that’s very welcoming to kids. We ate dinner here and found it really peaceful and good value – two dinners with pudding and drinks came in at around £30.
I can’t promise you that you’ll get lovely weather if you visit this part of the country. Let’s face it, it’s Northumberland. We were lucky to find half a dozen moments during the weekend that were dry enough for me to shout, “It’s stopped raining! Keep an eye out for something scenic so I can take a photo!”
But Northumberland is the least visited national park in the UK and so I certainly CAN promise you an uncrowded, beautiful natural landscape with rolling hills, picturesque rivers and plenty to do for families [don’t miss our post on family activities in Kielder].
Disclosure: We were invited to review Falstone Barns by English Country Cottages, and received complimentary accommodation for the purposes of this review. A 7 night break at Falstone Barns with English Country Cottages costs from £879 in July 2016.